Government reform is desperately needed

Martin Gilmour
Martin Gilmour

TODAY represents an exciting day as Tasmania's 366,442 voters elect their political team for the next four years.

And, unlike the previous 20 years when Labor, Liberal and the Greens largely fought out the seats, the Palmer United Party has emerged as a cashed-up participant.

This year may also be a moment in history for the controversial Hare-Clark preferential voting system, which is largely misunderstood by both voters and candidates alike.

The Hare-Clark system has been with us since 1909 and has been blamed for producing results that don't always reflect the mood or intent of voters.

Minor parties love it because they do not have to actually win a seat or a majority, just coming fifth in an electorate and getting 16.7per cent of the votes is enough for success.

It encourages minority views rather than mainstream solutions and accountability.

Because of this reason a landslide swing to a certain party may still only result in 13 or 14 seats - a majority of just one or two that is further compromised by the winning party selecting a speaker.

There has been plenty of debate during the past four years about restoring the Lower House to 35 seats.

It was actually supported by all three parties, then the Liberals jumped ship because adding 10 new MHAs would not be politically palatable to voters and then Labor jumped ship because the $3 million price tag was too high given the state's financial position.

In additional to increasing the size of the Lower House, there is also a strong mood for change in terms of axing Hare-Clark, which could be expected to attract Liberal and Labor support.

One model that is being considered is a House of Assembly of 30 single member electorates - enough seats to have workable government and an effective opposition, but not as expensive as 35 MHAs.

There is also a school of thought that the Speaker of the House could be a professional independent speaker like a retired judge or magistrate.

This would allow all elected MHAs to actually represent their electorates and vote and be actively involved in policy and debate.

If you look across the country, with the exception of the ACT, single member electorates are the norm.

Victoria's lower house has 88 single member electorates, South Australia 47, Western Australia 59, New South Wales 93 and the Northern Territory 25. Queensland has only a single chamber (no upper house) of 89 single electorates.

The beauty of single member electorates is that the successful candidate needs to achieve at least 50 per cent of the vote, whether outright or as a result of preferences. There is no reward for a candidate from a minor party finishing second or third.

The other advantage is that members of single electorates usually have a smaller and more manageable concentration of voters.

If Tasmania was split into 30 single member electorates there would be one MHA for about 12,200 voters.

Drawing up the boundaries could also be quite simple.

We currently have 15 Legislative Council electorates of about 25,000 voters each - simply cut those in half.

We desperately need government reform and perhaps we might finally see it.


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