Shedding the AV mask: lessons from Australia
By Nishma Doshi. This is the first in our series in the run up to the Green Party conferences, where, among other things, Green Party of England and Wales policy on the AV referendum will be debated.
The current AV reform in the UK is viewed by many in the left as a progressive move; they argue that AV will remove the idea of a wasted vote and, most importantly, keep the Tories out. This support by minority parties and their members is detrimental to bringing about change however, as AV (or preferential voting) in the Australian system has created immense difficulties for the Greens, the third largest party, to gain any seats in parliament.
In all aspects, at a glance, AV makes sense – it should be a fairer system with the notion of a wasted vote absolved, but further analysis into the way that people actually vote brings out the fundamental flaws that are accrued with voting methodology.
Let me explain: in the forthcoming election about 12% of the populace state that they are going to vote Green. The chances are that voters of other minority parties are those feeling ostracised by Labor (ALP) or the Liberal/National party and their controversial new leaders; therefore, they will probably place ALP or Liberal as their second. Alternatively, they will be voting tactically in their second to keep one of the two major parties out. As each minority party is reallocated to the other parties, the piles of ALP and the Liberal/National votes will increase at the cost of the Greens. Ultimately therefore, the two-horse race dwindles down to the two major parties, with the Greens sectioned out much more adversely than with first past the post.
Even as the third major party in Australia, the Greens (and previously, the Australian Democrats) have continually failed to get a representative proportion of the seats in the House of Representatives. Alternatively, the Senate, which operates on a state-based Proportional Representation, both have gained a much larger control. Although voters vote differently in Upper & Lower house elections, the difference of 6 versus 0 is a clear indication of the fallacies in this form of electoral voting reform. If anything, it shows the clear injustice in the system and explains how the House of Representatives retains a two-party system – detrimental to democracy.
Going for reform – All or None
There is an equally strong argument that should a referendum on voting reform pass, it will be used as an excuse to prevent real parliamentary reform. There are two key elements to this rationale:
1. The government has been successfully voted into power through the current system & are therefore obviously reluctant to do anything that may challenge that.
2. Acceptance of a limited choice (AV or not) means that we are accepting the choices presented to us rather than demanding a fair system. Once again, we are letting the right decide what we discuss rather than shifting the argument onto our side of the court.
Australian republicans are all too aware of these issues. In 1999, while all opinion polls suggested otherwise, a referendum on the monarchy failed to change the status quo. The result was not surprising, however, as the Liberal Party had taken various measures to ensure its failure, in line with John Howard’s monarchist principles. Eleven years and a new government later, there has not been another referendum on a republic.
While the Liberal Democrats have jumped into a pit of death by forming a coalition with the Tories and while Labour still doesn’t quite understand its position on reform, we have a unique opportunity to highlight the Green Party’s continued support for actual reform and our refusal to accept pointless excuses
The ConDem coalition is playing the same game: our choices are limited to AV or FPTP, not real parliamentary reform. Just as republican Australians accepted the un-alternatives to the constitutional monarchy as proposed in the referendum, we are letting the right-wing inform us on what reform is.
There is no-one else to make a stance on implementing real parliamentary reform: the Liberal Democrats have accepted AV by forming a coalition with the Tories and Labour still doesn’t know where it stands. As this point it is up to the Green Party to decide: do we want to be seen as accepting and supporting electoral reform that will do little to improve our democratic representation, or will we make a case against a seemingly half-way mark?
The chances are that this opportunity for reform will not come again, especially if we accept AV as a legitimate form of voting reform. There is a chance to make a stance and we are not alone: Unlock Democracy and POWER2010 have joined forces to push for parliamentary reform; hundreds of disillusioned Liberal Democrats will support us; and together we have the opportunity to bring true democracy into British politics.