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Electoral systems of the Australian states and territories

For elections to the Australian Parliament, see the Australian electoral system.

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.

New South Wales

Legislative Assembly

The New South Wales Legislative Assembly has 93 members elected for four-year terms using Instant run-off voting, a form of preferential 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.

Legislative Council

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. As for the Assembly, the numbering of preferences is optional.

The Council has had three different methods of election (or appointment) in its history. 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.

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 a meeting of both Houses of the Parliament. One-third of the members 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.

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, 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.

Nomination

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.

Victoria

Elections are held on the last Saturday in November every 4th year. The next election will be held on Saturday, 27 November 2010.

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

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

The Victorian Legislative Council (Upper House) has 40 members elected from eight Regions. Five are urban Regions Eastern Metropolitan, Northern Metropolitan, South Eastern Metropolitan, Southern Metropolitan, and Western Metropolitan. Three are non-urban Regions Eastern Victoria, Northern Victoria and Western Victoria. 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

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.

Queensland

The Queensland Legislative Assembly has 89 members, elected for three-year terms from single-member constituencies. Like New South Wales, Queensland uses the optional preferential form of the Alternative Vote. The Queensland Legislative Council, which consisted of members nominated by the Governor, was abolished by a Labor government in 1922.

Queensland has used the Alternative Vote since 1962. It used the 'first past the post' (plurality) system 1860 to 1892. From then until 1942 an unusual form of preferential voting called the 'contingent vote' was used. In 1942 the plurality system was reintroduced until it was replaced in 1962 by the 'full preferential' form of the Alternative Vote. In 1992 this was changed to the optional preferential system currently used.

Nomination

Nomination as a candidate requires of the following:

  • Must be over 18 years of age
  • Nomination by six electors
  • Nomination by the 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 4% of first preference vote.

Western Australia

The Western Australian Legislative Assembly has 57 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. Western Australia is the only state in which Legislative Assembly seats are deliberately malapportioned in favour of country areas. Legislation was passed in 2005 ending this situation and from the next election Western Australia will have electoral districts of equal population.

The Western Australian Legislative Council has 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, but this will change from the next election.

Nomination

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.

South Australia

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.

A referendum at the 2010 election will decide the continued existence of the chamber. Voters will decide whether to keep the chamber intact, bring the length of members terms in office down to four years and also halve the number of MPs within the chamber, or abolish the chamber completely.

The independent State Electoral Office, which conducts elections, is responsible for a mandatory redistribution of Legislative 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.

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

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

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

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.

Australian Capital Territory

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.

Northern Territory

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.

Summary

Lower houses

Body elected Unicameral System Term Preferences
ACT Legislative Assembly Yes STV 4 years Optional
New South Wales Legislative Assembly No AV 4 years Optional
Northern Territory Legislative Assembly Yes AV 4 years Full
Queensland Legislative Assembly Yes AV 3 years Optional
South Australian House of Assembly No AV 4 years Full
Tasmanian House of Assembly No STV 4 years Optional
Victorian Legislative Assembly No AV 4 years Full
Western Australian Legislative Assembly No AV 4 years Full

Upper houses

Body elected System Term Frequency Seats Seats/district Group tickets Vacancies Surplus method
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 ? 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 34 5-7 Yes ? Gregory (weighted inclusive)

Notes

See also

External links

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