Towards Reintroducing Queensland's Upper House

Every state in Australia has a bicameral legislature (an upper + lower house), except for Queensland where we only have one house. The reintroduction of an upper house would result in a more stable government; one where new legislation is reviewed more carefully and the whims of the current party in charge do not dominate. Proportional representation in the upper house also allows for better representation of voters through smaller parties which are spread throughout the state.

I want to start asking local members to support the reintroduction of the Queensland Upper House in some form, preferably with proportional representation. I know the Greens want this, but I expect that the two major parties will oppose it as it cuts into their power (or possible power for when they get elected next). As such, I’m looking for advice on what aspects to mention, what questions to expect and how to answer said questions. So far I have the following:

Benefits

  • More stable governing as one party cannot pass whatever legislation they want
  • Better representation of smaller interest groups

Questions to expect (and responses)

  • It’s confusing
  • That’s insulting to Queenslanders, every other state can manage
  • Our federal system is already bicameral, we all already understand the system
  • It’s slows down new legislation being passed
  • The slow downs would be due to debate. If new legislation needs debate, it shouldn’t be rushed through
  • Elections are a waste of time
  • 30 minutes out of 1 day every couple of years is not a waste (for voters)

Now I am not saying my answers here are perfect. Maybe other people have better answers to these questions, or other questions that may be raised. That’s what I’m hoping to get from people. So if you have any thoughts or ideas, let me know. Once I have things a bit better worked out, I’ll try to write up a nice letter people can send to local representatives. Might even try to contact other minor parties to see if they’re interested at some point, but this is still early on.

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Something else just popped into my head. I expect some people (who don’t understand preferential voting) to complain about LNP getting more first preferences than Labor yet still losing the election. An upper house with proportional representation would (approximately) have LNP with more seats than Labor. It’s fairly vague though, because even though that statement might be true, both major parties will have a smaller representation in a proportional upper house than what they currently have.

I ran this as a key issue in the election, and I got fairly mixed responses.

Many greens voters were supportive, with some opposed and potentially would change their vote over it. Regular folk were disinterested and didn’t really understand. Overall we got more opposition than support for the issue.

Opposition was mostly because nobody wants more politicians or beurocracy.

Also of note is legal advice stating that we’d need a referendum to bring back the Upper House.

In the wake of this I think we should support a Multi Member Proportional (MMP) system like New Zealand. This keeps the same number of politicians, increases representation, and doesn’t require a referendum.

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I’ve heard a few people say that a MMP system would be preferable, or at least easier to promote. I think I’ll do a bit more reading first, but maybe this is a better choice. I like the way the NZ works, it feels fairly simple to explain a “party vote” and a “representative vote”.

MMP is a very generic catch-all term for a series of possibilities.

Party list proportional representation or Hare-Clark with 6-8 electorates would make the Parliament extremely more proportional without changes to the state constitution.

It would also be nice to see how a unicameral Parliament functions in Australia where consensual governance as opposed to majoritarian governance becomes a cornerstone.

It’s also way easier to explain to people of all persuasions.

I don’t think trying to convince Queenslanders to support a referendum to create a new chamber of politicians is going to succeed, so I personally think it’s quite unfortunate that the Greens, Peter Wellington and others have gone down this route rather than pushing for a form of PR such as MMP in the existing chamber, which I think would be much more easily sold given recent history. I think it’s a simple argument that you get an election result where the share of seats reflects the share of votes, rather than situations like 2012 where the LNP managed to win an overwhelming majority of seats despite receiving less than 50% of the vote.

I think a mixed-member system like NZ’s is probably the best option for Queensland. Half the seats get elected from single-member constituencies and the other half are top-up seats from party lists. Because the list seats fulfill the overall proportinality requirements it’s not much of a drama to keep the current malapportionment where a small number of rural seats are allowed to be under quota to avoid having too absurdly large seats in western Qld, and you could more easily make the argument for a handful of dedicated indigenous seats, if people wanted to advocate that.

I would however not include a threshold as they do in NZ and Germany. The thresholds distort voting behaviour and are detrimental to small and newer parties in various ways.

Alternatively you could go for a multi-member electorate model like Tasmania and the ACT. The big parties might prefer that since it would keep some smaller parties out, but you’d have to have some very large regional districts, which might generate more objections.

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I’ve had the same arguments, and I was very dismayed by Greens, both representative and supporters, unthinkingly and arbitrarily pushing for the introduction of an upper house without actually defining the problem to be solved first.

If they rush in heedlessly without defining the problem most will just assume they’re acting in self interest, trying to open a chamber they can win seats in. Anyone who considers their self interest to be different from the Greens will oppose that reflexively.

The idea of states is that they are engine rooms for trialling different ways of doing things. Electoral systems are one of they few ways they actually fulfill that purpose and the Greens would wither even that away. They should think this through a bit more.

Thanks for all the responses. I think Brendan + MarkG hit what I was looking for on the head. We need to sell this to the general population. I personally think that having not all members elected at the same time would avoid any short-term politics. It might also keep “other” members of big parties more honest if their colleagues are up for election soon.

But baby steps. I think the things that the majority of voters want, in no particular order, are:

  • No more politicians than what we have now
  • No extra/more complicated voting
  • More honest(local?) politicians

Some form of MMP would solve the 3rd point and satisfy the first, but it would make the voting slightly more complicated. We already have optional preferential voting, if we add a party list I fear many people will shy away just because they don’t want things more complicated.

The MMP part will at least allow more special interest parties into the game. From the recent election results the greens would probably benefit the most (and ALP/LNP lose the most), but it can also let smaller groups have a say. Is this the best way to sell it? Depending on who you talk to, you can tailor the interest group. Maybe some people are interested in small business, so they could make a party that works for small businesses. Or maybe saving the reef. Or cattle farmers could have a party. Just throwing ideas out there.

One other idea is that MMP could force the big parties to be more honest. At this last party (and at latest polling results) ALP+LNP together got 78.8% of first preference votes, but 95.5% of seats. Proper MMP would make it harder for them to get such a majority. Of course, this will also probably force “minority government” which some people may instinctively shy away from.

Voting wouldn’t get any more complex. In fact, most multi-member proportional systems internationally are non-preferential quotient based systems, like the Sainte-Laguë or D’Hondt methods. The outlier here is Ireland, using STV (our Senate system) for each of their constituencies to elect the lower house.

The argument that this would lead to long ballots also don’t hold because of simple logic. If more representation is possible, more people are likely to not be willing to take that jump to create a new party. That’s why in the Nordic countries, it was effectively a five party system from the 1920s until the 70s. The 70s saw the Greens, Christian Democrats and a couple of xenophobic parties enter the arena, and then us. Also, some of their party lists go to around 20 candidates per party iirc.

By comparison, Australia currently has over 30 registered parties, an entrenched two party duopoly, and a voting system that enables you to express your views, but nobody can express them in a reasonable order for 110 candidates.

tl;dr we can make STV work in multi-member proportional, and indeed that is its purpose. Using it for our Senate is just a dodgy hack job with bad workarounds.

I was considering mixed-member proportional systems, not multi-member, where some representatives are selected by geographical constituents and others based on party lists. This would mean that voters must fill in two ballots, one for the (enlarged) electorate and one party list for the state. From the few people I’ve talked to who are not interested in politics, having yet one more piece of paper to “fill out” will make them instinctively not want this.

Another option is to amalgamate electorates, then run some straight multi-member system in each electorate. That would keep things simple (1 ballot paper), but choosing how to amalgamate electorates would be tricky. Even deciding numbers would be hard. 3 representatives per electorate probably is too small to get proper proportional representation. I’d personally want something like 7 representatives for each of 13 electorates or 9 representatives for each of 10 electorates. This last choice does have exactly 90 representatives, which could be bad for deadlocks however.

You wouldn’t need two ballot papers. My recollection is that in NZ they have a single ballot paper with the constituency candidates on one side, and the party lists on the other, and voters just have to mark one choice in each column.

That’s a single piece of paper, sure. But in terms of election systems, it’s two ballots. We could also (in Australia) put our HoR and Senate ballots on one piece of paper, but that doesn’t simplify anything.

The sample ballot paper on this page doesn’t seem too complicated to me

By contrast, with the current voting systems I don’t think you could practically have the HoR and Senate ballots on one paper.

I never said it was too complicated. I said it was more complicated than the current system, where Queenslanders only have one list of usually 3-5 people to choose from.

Couldn’t you make it even more simple by using the preferential voting system?
I was thinking that the first preference also counts the “Party Vote”?

Then again this does mean that that party vote is restricted basically to the main parties: LNP, Labor, Greens, Family First, Katter’s Australian, Palmer United and any other party that can place a candidate in most, if not all, electorates.

I’m pretty sure the only ones that can do that are LNP, Labor and Greens. I think the greens even made a point of saying that this time they’re actually running in each electorate. The others are far off from putting a candidate in each electorate. I mean, it’s an option, but I don’t think it’s the best option.

I see your NZ ballot and raise you a Dutch party list:

I remind you that this isn’t a preferential ballot.

I think it’s not too complicated, since the Federal elections have two papers already, and a MMP party vote paper is similar to voting above the line.

If we’re serious about testing difficulty, we’d have to survey some people.

As I said earlier:

From the few people I’ve talked to who are not interested in politics, having yet one more piece of paper to “fill out” will make them instinctively not want this.

I’m happy to see a more proper survey done, and I’d be happy with two ballots per voter, but the anecdotal stories I’ve heard so far indicate that it won’t easily be accepted. I’m expecting both major parties to talk their supporters into voting against any change to proportional representation since it takes away their advantage, so my guess is that the disenfranchised voters are the ones we’d need to win.