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The voice of the people

By Harry Throssell - posted Friday, 13 October 2006

If Queensland had proportional representation akin to that in Tasmania, there could be half a dozen Greens in the state parliament now which could go a long way towards eradicating the often childish slanging matches between the Government and the Opposition.

The spin-off could be more statesman-like and respectful consideration of serious problems, such as the water supply, or the drastic breakdown in the health service: which means many people with serious problems wait much too long for public health care, or else have to find thousands of dollars to stave off more serious conditions even if they are pensioners.

In the September 9 Queensland state election the media virtually ignored the Greens Party even though they had a significant number of candidates and support continues to grow.


In 2004 the Greens ran 72 candidates, their largest number ever. In 2006, the number increased again to 75: 23 per cent of all candidates. They maintained votes in excess of 20 per cent in South Brisbane and Mount Coot-tha, increased the number of seats where they polled between 15 and 20 per cent from one to five (Yeerongpilly, Ashgrove, Indooroopilly, Moggill and Brisbane Central) and the number of seats where they polled between 10 and 15 per cent increased from 12 to 19.

The Greens first figured on the state election scoreboard in 1989 when they made 0.4 per cent of the runs. It increased to 2.9 per cent in 1995, dropped slightly in 1998 and 2001, then rose to 6.8 per cent in 2004, and to 8 per cent this year.

Greens spokesperson Juanita Wheeler said the party was extremely pleased with the result, “especially in light of recent polling which had many people writing the Greens off as irrelevant”. Importantly, she added, “If Queensland had proportional representation akin to that in Tasmania, we would have seen six or seven Greens elected to parliament. One in every 12 Queenslanders wanted to be represented by a Green in parliament, and yet this significant proportion of the population will not receive the representation they voted for.”

Election analyst Antony Green explained the Tasmanian system to Peter Mares of ABC Radio National in March: “It's similar to the senate system … but whereas in the senate you can vote for a single party, in Tasmania you have to vote for individual candidates”.

How to Vote cards are banned, and the listing of candidates on the ballot paper is randomised, so nobody gets the advantage of the “donkey vote”.

“If Labor and Liberal each got 40 per cent of the vote, and the Greens got the other 20 per cent in any given electorate then there would be two spots in parliament for the ALP, two spots for the Liberals and one for the Greens,” Antony Green explained. “It's a much more personal form of voting, which tends to give greater emphasis to the support of individual candidates than to parties.”


The quota for election in Tasmania is currently 16.7 per cent, so a candidate who doesn't reach that number of votes still has a chance of being elected through preferences. If someone gets more than the quota of 16.7 per cent the rest of their votes are distributed to others. Thus if someone gets 20 per cent of the vote, 16.7 per cent is set aside for their quota, and the other 3.3 per cent gets distributed to others according to a mathematical formula.

Wheeler said the electoral system in Queensland prevented the State Legislative Assembly from being truly representative of the people of Queensland. While 8 per cent of Queenslanders voted to put a Greens MLA in the Queensland Parliament but will not receive any representation, only 0.6 per cent of Queenslanders voted for One Nation but will now have one member in parliament so their voice will be heard.

“You don’t need a PhD in democracy to realise this doesn’t equate to a parliament that represents the people of Queensland,” Wheeler said. “This will be a major issue for Queenslanders and the Greens in the future.”

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About the Author

Harry Throssell originally trained in social work in UK, taught at the University of Queensland for a decade in the 1960s and 70s, and since then has worked as a journalist. His blog Journospeak, can be found here.

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