Electoral systems of the Australian states and territories

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For elections to the Commonwealth Parliament, see Electoral system of Australia.

The legislatures of the Australian states and territories all follow the Westminster model described in the Australian electoral system. When the Australian colonies were granted responsible government in the nineteenth century, their constitutions provided for legislative assemblies (lower houses) elected by the people from single-member constituencies, with all adult males able to vote. This was considerably more democratic than the system which existed in the United Kingdom at that time. To balance this democratic element, however, the legislative councils which had existed before responsible government were retained as upper houses, whose members were either nominated by the Governor or elected on a restricted franchise. This ensured that the upper houses were dominated by representatives of the wealthy. In the twentieth century, the Legislative Council of Queensland was abolished, while direct elections on a broad franchise were eventually introduced for all of the remainder.

Australian Capital Territory[edit]

The Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory has 17 members, elected for four-year terms from three multi-member constituencies by STV proportional representation. Two of the constituencies elect five members while the third elects seven. The Territory has never had an upper house. It uses the same 'Hare-Clark' system of STV used in Tasmania, with vacancies filled by countback. Nomination as a candidate requires the following:

  • Must be over 18 years of age
  • Nomination by 20 electors
  • Nomination by the Registered Officer of a political party (registration of a party requires 100 members).
  • A deposit of $250. The deposit is returned if the candidate or group gains 20% of first preference vote.

New South Wales[edit]

The administration of elections relating to the state of New South Wales are managed by the NSW Electoral Commission as prescribed in the Constitution Act, 1902 (NSW).

Legislative Assembly[edit]

The state of New South Wales is divided into 93 electoral districts, with one representative elected to represent each district in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for four-year term. The method of election is optional preferential voting, (also known as instant run-off voting). The voting system is the same as for the Australian House of Representatives except that New South Wales has optional preferential voting. This means that while voters may number every candidate if they wish, their vote is still formal if they choose not to. They may vote for one candidate only, or for as many candidates as they choose, provided that they number them in correct sequence.

The electoral boundaries are determined by the NSW Electoral Commission using a distribution process which provides for an approximate equal number of electors in each electoral district; with a margin of allowance of plus or minus 10% of the average enrolment. The Electoral Commissioner, a Judge of the Supreme Court and the Surveyor-General review and consider advice prior to determining the electoral boundaries. Electoral boundaries are reviewed after every second election or more frequently, when required under legislation.[1]

Legislative Council[edit]

The New South Wales Legislative Council has 42 members who serve eight-year terms, one-half of the body being elected every four years. The Council uses the Single Transferable Vote method, a form of preferential voting for use with proportional representation. The NSW constitution requires voters to express preferences for at least 15 candidates on the ballot[2] - either through numbering individual candidates or at least one group voting ticket - however preferences after this point are optional.

Since its formation in 1855, the Council has had three different methods of election (or appointment).

  1. From 1855 to 1933 its members were appointed by the Governor, and the Council had no fixed size. In the early part of this period the Governor exercised a personal discretion in appointing members, but once the convention became established that the Governor acted only on the advice of the Premier, this meant that the Council was in effect appointed by the Premier.
  2. By the 1920s this was felt to be undemocratic and undesirable, so in 1933 the method of choosing members of the Council was changed by referendum. From 1933 to 1978, the Council consisted of 60 members, chosen for 12-year terms by single transferable vote in a secret ballot of both Houses of the Parliament (all Members of the Legislative Assembly and the 45 non-retiring Members of the Legislative Council). One-quarter of the members of the Council (15 of 60) came up for re-election every three years. This meant in practice that the party composition of the Council reflected that of the Assembly, with a lag of some years.
  3. In 1978 Neville Wran's Labor government reformed the Council, again by referendum. Since that time the Council has been elected by the people by proportional representation, with the whole state voting as one electorate. Voting was preferential as well as proportional. The size of the Council was reduced to 45 members, serving nine-year terms, with one third of the members coming up for election every three years.

When the term of the Legislative Assembly was extended from three years to four in 1984, terms of the Council were consequently extended to twelve years. At another referendum in 1991, the membership of the Council was reduced again to its current size, and the current system of eight-year terms, with elections every four years, was introduced. The existence of the Legislative Council, its powers, and fixed four year terms for both houses are all entrenched in the NSW Constitution Act, and none can be changed except by referendum.

Nomination[edit]

Nomination as a candidate requires:

  • Must be over 18 years of age
  • a nomination form signed by the candidate and either 15 persons enrolled in the electoral district to be contested or by the Registered Officer of a political party; and
  • a deposit of $250 (Legislative Assembly) or $500 (Legislative Council) nb: the deposit is returned if the candidate gains at least 4% of the first preference vote; and
  • the candidate must be enrolled to vote in NSW, although not necessarily as a resident of the electorate for which they are nominating.

Northern Territory[edit]

The Northern Territory Legislative Assembly has 25 members, elected for four-year terms from single-member constituencies under the same full preferential form of the Alternative Vote used for the House of Representatives. The Territory has never had an upper house. Nomination as a candidate requires one of the following:

  • Must be over 18 years of age
  • Nomination by six electors; or
  • Nomination by the Registered Officer of a political party (registration of a party requires 200 members).
  • Deposit of $200. The deposit is returned if the candidate gains 20% of first preference vote.

South Australia[edit]

The 47-member South Australian House of Assembly is elected under the preferential Instant-runoff voting (IRV) system. If on the count of primary or first preference votes (votes marked with the number '1'), no candidate achieves more than 50% of the vote, the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded and their votes distributed according to the next available preferences, their 2nd or third choice candidate. This process of exclusion continues until one candidate achieves 50% of the vote.

The 22-member South Australian Legislative Council is elected under the preferential Single Transferable Vote (STV) system through a means of Group voting tickets. Voters can choose to vote for a ticket by placing the number '1' in one of the ticket boxes "above the line" or can vote for individual candidates by numbering all the boxes "below the line" (54 in the 2006 election). In above the line voting, ticket votes are distributed according to the party or group voting ticket registered before the election with the election management body. As most ballot papers are above the line, this form of voting often leads to pre-election trading between parties on how each party will allocate later preferences to other parties and candidates.

The independent State Electoral Office, which conducts elections, is responsible for a mandatory redistribution of House of Assembly boundaries before each election to ensure one vote one value.

Like all other states and territories voting in South Australia is compulsory, however unlike other states initial enrolment is not compulsory so a voter could theoretically not be compelled to vote if they chose never to enrol.

Turnout rates are above 90%. Informal voting, which occurs when a voting slip is not valid, is at a rate of under 5%. Voting slips are informal when they are not filled out correctly, such examples are not numbering subsequent numbers, not filling out all the candidate boxes with numbers (except the last candidate), or in some other way that is verified by the State Electoral Office as illegible. South Australian elections have some features that are unique to the rest of Australia.[3]

Parliaments have fixed four-year terms. The Electoral Act stipulates that the election campaign must run for a minimum of 25 days or a maximum of 55 days.

Nomination[edit]

Nomination as a candidate requires:

  • Must be over 18 years of age
  • Nomination by two electors or Registered Officer of a political party (registration of a party requires 150 members).
  • A deposit of a "prescribed amount".

Tasmania[edit]

The Tasmanian House of Assembly has 25 members, elected for four-year terms from five multi-member constituencies, each electing five members by STV proportional representation. Tasmania is the only state to use proportional representation to elect its lower house. Tasmania uses a form of STV known as the 'Hare-Clark system', which was introduced in 1909. Casual vacancies are filled by the 'countback' method, which involves recounting the original ballot papers to elect one of the candidates who stood but failed to be elected in the last election.

The Tasmanian Legislative Council is the upper house of the Tasmanian parliament. It has 15 Members, each representing one of 15 electoral divisions. Elections are conducted on a 6 year periodic cycle. Elections for 3 members are held in May one year, with elections for 2 members held in May the following year and so on. Legislative Council elections use same full preferential voting used for the Australian Federal House of Representatives. Elections are held on the first Saturday in May each year.

Until recently Tasmania required voters to be residents of the state for at least six months before they were eligible to enrol and vote. This is no longer the case, bringing Tasmania into line with other states and the federal government.

Nomination[edit]

Nomination for either house requires:

  • Must be over 18 years of age
  • a nomination form signed by the candidate and either 10 electors or the Registered Officer of a political party; and
  • a deposit of $400. The deposit is returned if the candidate gains at least 20% of a quota at time of exclusion; and
  • the candidate must be enrolled to vote in Tasmania, although not necessarily as a resident of the electorate for which they are nominating.

Victoria[edit]

Elections are held on the last Saturday in November every 4th year. The next election will be held on Saturday, 29 November 2014.

Prior to the 2006 election, Victorian parliamentary elections could be held any time at the discretion of the government in the last year of their four-year term of office. This meant that, in practice, the average period between elections was somewhat less than the maximum four years.

Legislative Assembly[edit]

The Victorian Legislative Assembly (lower house) has 88 members elected from single-member constituencies (districts) under the Alternative Vote system of preferential voting. The voting system is the 'full preferential' system used for the Federal House of Representatives.

Legislative Council[edit]

The Victorian Legislative Council (upper house) has 40 members elected from eight regions. Five are urban (Eastern Metropolitan Region, Northern Metropolitan Region, South Eastern Metropolitan Region, Southern Metropolitan Region, and Western Metropolitan Region) and three are non-urban (Eastern Victoria Region, Northern Victoria Region and Western Victoria Region). A proportional voting system is used, with each member requiring a quota of the vote to be elected.

Historically, the Council had 44 members from 22 constituencies known as provinces, each elected for two terms at alternating elections. This was changed by the Bracks government in 2003, and the current system was first used at the 2006 election.

Nomination[edit]

Nomination as a candidate requires:

  • Must be over 18 years of age
  • A nomination form signed by the candidate and either by six electors or the Registered Officer of a political party; and
  • a deposit of $350 (Assembly) or $700 (Council). nb: The deposit is returned if the candidate gains at least 4% of the first preference vote; and
  • the candidate must be enrolled to vote in Victoria, although not necessarily as a resident of the electorate for which they are nominating.

Western Australia[edit]

The Western Australian Legislative Assembly has 59 members, elected for four-year terms from single-member constituencies under the Alternative Vote form of preferential voting. The voting system is the full preferential system used for the House of Representatives.

From 1986 to 2009, the Western Australian Legislative Council had 34 members elected for four-year terms from six multi-member constituencies known as regions, by STV proportional representation. Four regions elect five members while two regions elect seven members. As in the Assembly, the regions are deliberately malapportioned in favour of country areas. Now, since the Legislative Council, elected on 6 September 2008 and commencing office on 22 May 2009, each region is represented by six MLCs, making a total Council of 36.

A recount method is used to fill mid-term vacancies in the Legislative Council. All ballots from the original election are recounted, with preferences for the vacating member ignored. If a candidate not participating in the recount would be elected, the count is restarted and their preferences are also ignored, until a participating candidate is elected. This is slightly different from the "Countback" method used to fill vacancies in the Tasmanian House of Assembly.[4] However, like the Tasmanian system, legislation provides for the ability to call a by-election if the party the vacating member stood for at the original election does not have any qualifying candidates - for instance, if all of their candidates at the original election were elected.

Nomination[edit]

Nomination as a candidate requires:

  • Must be over 18 years of age
  • Nomination by self or Registered Officer of a political party (registration of a party requires 500 members).
  • A deposit of $250. The deposit is returned if the candidate gains 5% of first preference votes, or if a group gains 10% of the first preference votes.

Summary[edit]

Lower houses[edit]

Body elected Unicameral Seats System Term Preferences
ACT Legislative Assembly Yes 17 STV 4 years Optional[5]
New South Wales Legislative Assembly No 93 AV 4 years Optional[6]
Northern Territory Legislative Assembly Yes 25 AV 4 years Full
Legislative Assembly of Queensland Yes 89 AV 3 years Optional[7]
South Australian House of Assembly No 47 AV 4 years Full
Tasmanian House of Assembly No 25 STV 4 years Optional[8]
Victorian Legislative Assembly No 88 AV 4 years Full
Western Australian Legislative Assembly No 59 AV 4 years Full

Upper houses[edit]

Body elected System Term Frequency Seats Seats/district Group tickets Vacancies Surplus method[9]
New South Wales Legislative Council STV 8 years 4 year 42 21 Yes Appointment Random
South Australian Legislative Council STV 8 years 4 years 22 11 Yes Appointment Gregory (inclusive)
Tasmanian Legislative Council AV 6 years Annual 15 1 No By-election n/a
Victorian Legislative Council STV 4 years 4 years 40 5 Yes Appointment Gregory (weighted inclusive)
Western Australian Legislative Council STV 4 years 4 years 36 6 Yes Recount Gregory (weighted inclusive)

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Electoral Boundaries". About elections. NSW Electoral Commission. 6 December 2012. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  2. ^ Constitution Act 1902 (NSW): Schedule 6 - Conduct of Legislative Council elections. Retrieved on 2009-09-12.
  3. ^ Unique Features of South Australian Elections, ABC News Online, 14 February 2006. Retrieved on 4 January 2007.
  4. ^ WA Electoral Act 1907 (as amended), Part IVA.
  5. ^ In multi-member electorates voters must indicate at least as many preferences as there are candidates. See Elections ACT FAQ
  6. ^ In multi-member electorates voters must indicate at least as many preferences as there are candidates. See Guide for Parties, Groups and Candidates at State Elections
  7. ^ See Guide for Scrutineers
  8. ^ In multi-member electorates voters must indicate at least as many preferences as there are candidates. See Information for Candidates
  9. ^ See The 1983 Change in Surplus Vote Transfer Procedures for the Australian Senate and its Consequences for the Single Transferable Vote (PDF)

External links[edit]