Sub-tropical Fascism (Part 6): Stealing elections

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In this final part of his six part series on Australian fascism, Dr George Venturini looks at Australia's undemocratic electoral system and wraps up the series.

[Read Part One] | [Read Part Two] | [Read Part Three] | [Read Part Four] | [Read Part Five]



Strictly speaking, and barring some rare, isolated cases, there is no electoral fraud in Australia if by that one means ‘illegal interference with an election process’. None of the defining instances of ‘electoral fraud’ is present in Australia — not intimidation, vote buying, misinformation, misleading or confusing ballot papers, ballot stuffing, mis-recording of votes, misuse of proxy votes or destruction or wrongful invalidation of ballots. It is ‘the electoral process’ itself which is fraudulent.

Nevertheless, to the extent that the term is sometimes used to describe acts that, although legal, are considered to be morally unacceptable, outside the spirit of electoral laws, or in violation of the principles of democracy — there is fraud.

Show elections, in which only one candidate can win, could sometimes be considered to be electoral fraud although they may comply with the law.

In national elections, successful electoral fraud can have the effect of a coup d'état or corruption of democracy. In a narrow election, a small amount of fraud may be enough to change the result. If the result is not affected, fraud can still have a damaging effect if not punished, as it can reduce voters’ confidence in democracy or, through the voters’ general indifference to politics and the process, can traduce the very substance of democracy.

Electoral fraud is not limited to political polls and can occur in any election where the potential gain is worth the risk for the cheater/s — in elections for corporate directorships or  Labor union officials, student councils, sports judging, and the awarding of merit to books, films, music or television programmes. Harsh penalties aimed at deterring electoral fraud make it likely that individuals who perpetrate fraud do so with the expectation that it either will not be discovered or will be excused.

There had been for long time – in the State of Queensland in particular, but not exclusively – serious ‘Gerrymandering’ issues. This is the practice of political corruption which attempts to establish an electoral advantage for a particular party by manipulating geographical boundaries to set up partisan, incumbent-protected, and neutral districts. It takes its name from Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts governor who tried it for the first time 200 years ago.

During the 2010 Australian Federal election, there was an attempt at disenfranchising a large number of electors who had not enrolled in the lists before the election was called. After the ousting of Prime Minister Rudd, to justify the manoeuvre, the newly chosen Prime Minister Gillard saw fit to call a snap election, under pressure of media and corporate interests. Australian federal parliaments have three-year terms.  The exact timing of national elections is in the hands of the prime minister, and an announcement on 17 July 2010 for a snap poll on 21 August meant that the campaign would last only five weeks and, more importantly, that given that an estimated 1.4 million unregistered voters – a third of them aged 18-24 – had just one day to apply for enrolment, under amendments to the Electoral Act 2006 put forward by the Howard Government, a large number of persons would be unable to vote. The minimum legally permissible time for enrolment and campaigning marked a further sharp erosion of a truly democratic process. On 6 August 2010, GetUp!, a political advocacy group, won its High Court challenge to the  constitutional validity of the changes to the Electoral Act. This led to up to 100,000 more Australians being added to the roll for the election.

After much experimentation and change over the past 150 years, Australia has settled for electoral arrangements which are portrayed by the Federal Government of either hue as “accepted by Australia’s people, political parties, and parliamentarians.” This is far from the truth.  Nevertheless, the system is used in the Federal and many State parliaments of Australia and in municipal, major political party, trade union, church, company boards, voluntary bodies and sports clubs elections!

Practically, the Australian electorate has been voting under three types of voting systems: first past the post, preferential voting and proportional representation — with single transferable vote. Voting is compulsory and secret.

First past the post – a plurality system whereby the winner is the candidate with the most number of votes, though not necessarily an absolute majority of votes – was used for the first parliamentary elections held in 1843 for the New South Wales Legislative Council and for most colonial elections during the second half of the nineteenth century. Since then, there have been alterations to the various electoral systems in use around the country.

Presently, two variants of preferential voting and two variants of proportional representation are used for all Australian parliamentary elections. Preferential voting is a majority system which attempts to ensure that a candidate secures an absolute majority of votes. Proportional representation systems are designed to allocate parliamentary seats to parties in proportion to their overall vote.

Under ‘full’ preferential voting, each candidate must be given a preference by the voter. First, all the number ‘1’ votes are counted for each candidate. If a candidate receives more than 50 per cent – an absolute majority, 50 per cent plus one – of the formal first preference votes, the candidate is immediately elected. If no candidate has an absolute majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded. These votes are then transferred to the other candidates according to the second preferences shown by voters on the ballot papers. If still no candidate has an absolute majority, again the remaining candidate with the fewest votes is excluded and these votes are transferred. This process will continue until one candidate has more than half the total votes cast and is declared elected. Full preferential voting has been used in federal elections since 1918. Under this system, voters rank candidates in order of preference on ballot papers. With ‘optional’ preferential voting the voter may allocate preferences to as few as one candidate. This system can produce similar outcomes to ‘full’ preferential voting, but can also produce results where the winning candidate wins with less than half of the votes. It also clearly lessens the importance of preferences in many seats.

Australia has a federal system of government with a national parliament and legislative assemblies and councils — parliaments — in each state and territory, although there is no Legislative Council (upper house) in Queensland (abolished 1922), the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. This leads to a variety of systems, with a range of frequency of election calls and an unequal assignment of seats, regardless of the population. How that could be satisfactory, and above all democratic, is beyond belief. But strong-willed, ignorant, people could be made to believe anything, if sufficiently and frequently lied to.

A variety of electoral systems is used for these parliaments.

The Federal House of Representatives is composed of 150 members, elected in designated electoral divisions for 3 years with the preferential voting system and full allocation of  preferences. The Senate is elected for 6 years, with staggered re-election every three, with the proportional representation system, suitably amended.

The Legislative Assembly of New South Wales is composed of 93 members, elected for 4 years with the preferential voting system and optional allocation of preferences. The Legislative Assembly of Queensland, is composed of 89 members, Victoria has 88, Western Australia and South Australia both 47 and the Northern Territory, 25 — all elected for 4 years with the preferential voting system and fully allocation of preferences. The Legislative Assembly of the Australian Capital Territory is composed of 17 members, elected for 4 years and the House of Assembly of Tasmania is composed of 25 members, elected for 4 years with the proportional representation system of the Hare-Clark model. The Legislative Council of New South Wales is composed of 42 members, elected for 8 years with the proportional representation system. The Legislative Council of  South Australia is composed of 22 members, Victoria  (40), Western Australia (34) elected for 4 years with the proportional representation system used for the federal Senate. The Legislative Council of Tasmania is composed of 15 members, elected for 6 years with the preferential voting system and the optional (partial) allocation of preferences.

Only a person paid for her/his biased opinion could state that systems such as these do not leave Australians unequal by result, weight of their representation, at the same time in different administration of the state and territories of the country.

The results of the 21 August 2010 federal election for the House of Representatives led to a staggering comparison: the Australia Labor Party, with 4,711,363 first preference votes (37.99 per cent), obtained 72 seats. The ‘Coalition’ (Liberal Party of Australia, 3,777,383 votes, Liberal National Party of Queensland, 1,130,525 votes, National Party of Australia, 419,286 votes, Country Liberal Party of the Northern Territory, 38,335 votes and National Party for Western Australia, 43,101 votes) — and thus for a grand total of  5,406,630 first preference votes and 43.66 per cent, obtained 72 seats. The Australian Greens, with 1,458,998 votes and 11.76 per cent, obtained 1 seat. There were 312,496 votes for Independents and 510,876 votes for other groups. Four Independents were elected.

After distribution of the forced ‘preferences’, the results for the two parties of the system were: the Australian Labor Party, with 6,216,445 of the votes and 50.12 per cent, obtained 72 seats. The ‘Coalition’, with 6,185,918 votes and 49.88 per cent, obtained 72 seats.  It deserves repeating: the Greens, with 1,458,998 votes and 11.76 per cent, obtained one seat.

The consequence of this monstrous system is the axiomatic proposition that the ‘Labor’ Party cannot win anything close to a majority without the Greens ‘preferences’ and the Greens cannot win any seats without the ‘Liberals’ ‘preferring’ them in odium of ‘Labor’!  It makes for an unsavoury alliance: the Greens and ‘Labor’ are deadly enemies compelled to work together.

A minority government was possible because of the support of the one Green and three of the Independents.

Proportional representation is meant to yield ‘proportional’ election results, whereby parties should win parliamentary seats roughly in proportion to the size of their vote. Ideally, 50 per cent of the votes should win about 50 per cent of the seats. Proportional representation is the clearest way of realising the basic tenet that the proportion of representatives who hold a particular view should be roughly the same as the proportion of the people who hold that view. While some systems which pursue this goal (such as closed party list) can address other proportionality issues (gender, religion, ethnicity), and these advantages are often used to promote such variants, it is not a feature of proportional representation, as such, to ensure an even split of men vs. women, or ethnic or religious representation to resemble that of the population, or any other goal.

As it is used in practice in politics, the only proportionality being respected is a close match between the percentage of votes that groups of candidates obtain in elections in representative democracy, and the percentage of seats they receive, for example, in legislative assemblies. Thus a more exact term is party-proportional representation, sometimes used by those who wish to highlight systems which emphasise  party choice less, candidate or gender choice more, or who wish not to promote systems (such as closed party-list mixed-member proportional) which overly empower the parties, at the expense of voter choice of exactly which individuals go to the legislature as representatives. In contrast, those who subordinate gender, ethnic, religious, regional or candidate choice to party choice – usually party members themselves – often use the term full representation.

Proportional systems almost always use political parties as the measure of representation -   thus in practice these systems are party-proportional. For example, a party which receives 15 per cent of the votes, under such a system, receives 15 per cent the seats for its candidates.  Different methods of achieving proportional representation achieve either greater proportionality or a more determinate outcome.

Party-list proportional representation is one approach, in which groupings correspond directly with candidate lists from political parties. The open list form allows the voter to influence the election of individual candidates within a party list. The closed list approach does not. Another variation is the single transferable vote, which does not depend on political parties and where the "measure of grouping" is entirely left up to the voters. Elections for the Australian Senate use what is referred to as above-the-line voting where candidates for each party are grouped on the ballot, allowing the voter to vote for the group or for a candidate.

The parties each list their candidates according to that party's determination of priorities. In closed list systems, voters vote for a list, not a candidate. Each party is allocated seats in proportion to the number of votes it receives, using the party-determined ranking order. In an open list, voters may vote, depending on the model, for one person, or for two, or indicate their order of preference within the list. This system is used in many countries, including Finland, with an open list;  Sweden, with an open list; Israel, where the whole country is one closed list constituency; Brazil, with an open list; the Netherlands, with an open list; South Africa, with a closed list; and for elections to the European Parliament in most European Union countries, mostly with an open list.

A mixed election system – such as is presently used in New Zealand – combines a proportional system and a single seat district system, attempting to achieve some of the positive features of each. Mixed systems are often helpful in countries with large populations, since they balance local and national concerns. They are used in nations with diverse geographic, social, cultural and economic issues. Such systems, or variations of them, are also used in Bolivia, Germany, Mexico, and for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

It may be instructive to compare the electoral results in two different countries both regarded as democratically governed: Finland, which has proportional representation on a party list, and New Zealand, which has a mixed member proportional representation system.

After the Finnish parliamentary election of  17 April 2011, the 200 seats were divided among the nine successful parties as follows:

  • National  Coalition Party, with 599,138 votes and 22.0 per cent, obtained 44 seats.

  • Social Democratic Party of Finland with 561,558 votes and 21 per cent, obtained 42 seats.

  • True Finns, with 560,075 votes and 19.5 per cent, obtained 39 seats.

  • Centre Party, with 463,266 votes and 17.5 per cent, obtained 35 seats.

  • Left Alliance, with 239,039 votes and 7 per cent, obtained 14 seats.

  • Green League, with 213,172 votes and 5 per cent, obtained 10 seats.

  • Swedish People’s Party, with 125,785 votes and 4.5 per cent, obtained 9 seats.

  • Christian Democrats, with 118,453 votes and 3 per cent, obtained 6 seats.

  • The Åland representative, with 8,546 votes and 0.5 per cent was elected to a reserved seat.

  • That is proportionality, and that is democracy.

    Finns are no different as human beings from any others. Perhaps their better way of governance may reside on their more modern view and the good fortune of not being chained to stultifying ‘tradition’ such as that of the Westminster System. Independent since 1917, with an original Constitution Act enacted in 1919, recently modified with an Act which came into force on 1 March 2000, and further amended on 1 March 2012, the Finns have declared their country a sovereign republic, in which power is vested in the people, who are represented by the Parliament. Thus begins the very first Chapter of that Constitution.

    And it goes on:
    'The constitution shall guarantee the inviolability of human dignity and the freedom and rights of the individual and promote justice in society. Finland participates in international co-operation for the protection of peace and human rights and the development of society.'

    Chapter 2 is devoted to the protection of “Basic rights and liberties”, listed one by one. In its words one could hear Sibelius, confidently declaring in a letter to his friend Axel Carpelan:
    '... I can already make out the mountain that I shall ascend (…) God is opening his doors for a moment, and his orchestra is playing the Fifth Symphony.' 

    After the New Zealand parliamentary election of 8 November 2008 the 122 seats were divided among the seven successful parties as follows:

    • National, with 1,053,398 votes and 44.93 per cent, obtained 58 seats.

    • Labour, with 796,880 votes and 33.99 per cent, obtained 43 seats.

    • Green, with 157,613 votes and 6.72 per cent, obtained 9 seats.

    • Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, with 85,496 votes and 3.65 per cent, obtained 5 seats.

    • Māori, with 55.980 votes and 2.39 per cent, obtained 5 seats.

    • Progressive, with 21,241 votes and 0.91 per cent, obtained 1 seat.

    • United Future, with 20,497 votes and 0.87 per cent, obtained 1 seat.

    • That may be democracy, representation it is not.


      This much is certain: no all purpose definition of Fascism is possible.

      Mussolini’s was born republican and anti-clerical, hired by land-owners and industrialists, for the repression of workers; soon turned monarchist, and corporatist, it found a good bed to lay down with the Fascist Popes: Pius XI and Pius XII (the latter a Nazi-sympathiser, all comfortable in ritual buffoonery) during 1922-43; it died ‘republican’ and ‘social’ under the wing of the German occupiers, 1943-45.

      Hitler’s was paid by big business, essentially pagan and anti-Christian, and lasted for twelve years of planned, unrelenting crime and genocide, from 1933-45.

      Franco’s was National-Catholic, corporatist, and luckier than the previous two to the point of becoming acceptable to the ‘western democracies’, and lasted for thirty nine years of blessed brutality, 1936-75.

      There are other examples, of course — Peron’s Argentina, Pinochet’s Chile, and others, too, of more different hue. They all share some common elements: anti-Communism, anti-Bolshevism, anti-Semitism — albeit in various degrees.

      Sub-tropical – somewhat Friendly Fascism, if that should be the answer to the original question, presents many features common to other Fascisms — and then some. Here they are, perhaps not in any specific order, but listed as constitutive essential elements:

      ◊ 1788, British invasion of Gondwana-New Holland-Australia, untouched by the ‘spirit of 1789’, as well as that of 1776; 140 years to 1928 of planned genocide of the original Black population, during decades of institutional racism; unbridled nationalism — only now and only implicitly still proclaiming the cultural superiority of the British system, from classist law to a putrescent monarchy, yet, still capable of censoring the production of a Royals' spoof by the publicly-supported Australian Broadcasting Corporation;

      ◊  a stolid insularity which proclaims Australia = the Southern Hemisphere, with ‘the world’ out there — people oblivious to the political and economic upheaval which is going on beyond its borders;

      ◊ a continuous rhetoric of freedom, liberty, democracy, and – much later – human rights, clashing with a reality of preferring authority to liberty, hierarchy to equality, and deference to fraternity;

      ◊  a close alliance of the State and the corporate world and its fraudsters;

      ◊ the domination by huge foreign business — themselves with a tradition off supporting dictators all over the world;

      ◊ the support which must be needed to participate in a transnational business-military complex, as a supplier of senseless growth;

      ◊ irrationality – largely due to ‘imported values’ – in an atmosphere of know-nothing-ism in which conformism and formal adherence to the ‘values’  of the Judeo-Christian tradition is ‘safer’, although it may bring home  varying degrees of anti-Semitism, but serves to sustain inequality and authoritarianism, and a sense of resignation which goes with that ‘faith’, superstition, predestination, delusion, and life-gambling;

      ◊ a parliamentary system in which television performance by highly paid, studiously ‘beautiful’ actors respects the game of a decaying, morally and intellectually corrupt Westminster System;

      ◊ a central cabal to preside over a new coalition of concentrated oligarchic power and, in effect, unconcerned that pillaging over pillaging may cause shortages, pollution, unemployment, inflation and war;

      ◊  the growth of militarism as a ‘spirit of life’, early inculcated into future generations through school and family;

      ◊ duty, honour and patriotism redefined to defend observation of such business-military-corporate-transnational-bellicose ‘values’;

      ◊  a close alliance of the State, the Church and the corporate world and its fraudsters;

      ◊  all of the preceding wrapped into a flag with mixes the reference to early tax evaders with the perennial British servitude expressed in the Union Jack’s treble crucifixion — surely, surely, the surviving symbols of colonialism;

      ◊ an automatic aggressive, subservient, militaristic, ‘foreign policy’, which quietly transferred  a state of vassalage from ‘the mother country’ to a Great-And-Powerful-Friend’, always subsuming a position of superior ‘biological determinism’ — better racial superiority vis-à-vis the neighbours;

      ◊  a readiness to intervene whenever the ‘leader of the free world’ calls – if need be with a lie as in Vietnam, or to ‘export democracy’ as in Iraq – but realistically to guarantee the availability of petroleum for the ‘free world’;

      ◊ a fragmented ‘society’ in which, it may be difficult to tell and persuade an indifferent populace that homelessness, unemployment, a high cost of surviving, and urban congestion, transport, decay, and filth are good for them, although it is not too difficult to have that populace tighten the belt on an austerity programme from which the bottomless wealthy are obviously excluded by the size of their ill-gotten possessions and through recourse to tax minimisation and perks;

      ◊ an organisation of the economy to serve international and domestic cartels under the illusion of a ‘market economy’, which amounts to nothing more than a corporativist economy;

      ◊ the proclivity of a populace to ‘quick solutions’ which always end up in reduction of government spending for social services, health, fire protection, employment prospects and   –  for the few who still care – libraries;

      ◊ all this of course in strict observance of the values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in a multicultural and secular society without any concern that such mindless ‘communion’ may make no-sense, especially to those many given to an inordinate consumption of alcohol, and an increasing use of drugs and always with a structural passion for gambling;

      ◊ a militant anti-Communism – now revised as an anti-Muslim attitude – coupled with the fear of an extreme and imminent threat to ‘national security’, which justifies an even more secret police apparatus, practically unlimited by constitutional restrictions or legal requirements — there being no Bill of Rights and a colonial reliance on the common law;

      ◊ a duopoly in printed media and an oligopoly in other media totally controlled and curtseyed in fear of retribution by a band of Right-wing talking heads, or pens and noisy minions in  the parliaments;

      ◊ an ‘education’ system which indoctrinates to incuriosity, imparted by well-dressed propagandists of ‘market values’, wondrous technology, and the virtues of hard time – under the cloak of acceptable ‘respectability’ – while words such as ‘academic’ and ‘intellectual’ become an expression of contempt if not of an attribution of lunacy in a new world where language is debased, SMEssed, and increasingly closer to grunts;

      ◊ a ‘society’ in which what matters is a sum of trivia + conformity + search-for-quick-enrichment + success and ‘popularity’;

      ◊  the reliance on a pill-for-everything and technology for every need in peace as in war;

      ◊  an unquestioning confidence that violence can win in the end – preferably with  bombs to kill people, but that respect ‘real property’ – or action from a distance on an automated battlefield;

      ◊ an innate disregard for any form of economic and or political planning because that is presented, inculcated, absorbed and regurgitated as ‘Socialism’ at best when not ‘Communism’;

      ◊ a national obsession for any sport and pomp and circumstance, with the corollary passion for marching as substitute for thought: occasionally ‘slow march’, as the English do, and bag-pipes as the Scots do  ― but nothing original;

      ◊  the totally incredible, but widely believed notion, that in Australia there are some very rich, some poor – largely because they are refractory to work – and a large, overwhelming majority of people who are both ‘middle class’ and blessed by a unique form of class-collaboration;

      ◊ the rota-like repetition and mindless assertion, out of laziness and indifference, by a generally uncultured populace, of the blessing of a multicultural society — a notion totally devoid of meaning and sense, if by that one should accept populist cretinism and Government Philistinism as defining a multi-folkloristic circus.

      * This series is dedicated to the memory of my friends, Professor Bertram Gross and Justice Lionel Murphy.

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