Catherine Helen Spence, the Hare-Spence system and why the suffrage movement both won and lost
Catherine Helen Spence knew that suffrage was not enough. We quote at length from the South Australian Government website recording the work of Spence and others. The site quotes Spence herself. Spence knew that majoritarian suffrage would squash the opinion of minorities and of women and warned of 'political life thronged with second and third rate men; who either have no opinions of their own, or have the art of concealing them.'
In Australia, 2016 reforms to the Senate have effectively strengthened the major parties in the proportional representation system for that house. Women have little hope of achieving better representation in the single member electorate system of the House of Representatives.
New Zealand confronted the problem of representative government and created a system to ensure better representation of minority views in their parliament. As politics in Australia descends yet again in 2016, into an informal presidential race between two men, focusing on personalities and not policies, it is time to revive the work of Spence and others and build a better electoral system for the House and the Senate. Spence wrote her Plea for representative democracy in 1861 and it should be as well known as the works on suffrage by Mary Wollstonecraft and John Stuart Mill.
What is needed is transformative change: Democracy5050 is one way, the Spence-Hare system is another. Importantly, Democracy5050 is a certain and democratic way to flip the system to achieve equal gender representation. Change, although indescribably late, must come - as Spence put it more than a century ago:
"Reformers have applied themselves to endeavour to arrive at a true system of representation by cunning slits in ballot boxes, by equal electoral districts, and by extension of the suffrage, but all without success; for the principle itself being unjust, the fuller carrying out of it only leads to greater injustice. The more equally the electoral districts are divided, the more the suffrage is extended, the more people exercise their right of voting, the greater is the power of the numerical majority and the less chance minorities have of obtaining a hearing. The genius, the originality, the independence of the country find no majority anywhere to appreciate them, and political life is thronged with second and third rate men; who either have no opinions of their own, or have the art of concealing them.
'Political equality I understand to be something very different from the common views of it. It does not mean that if one man holds an opinion that is popular it shall be of use to him in obtaining a representative; while another man's, which is unpopular, shall be of no use to him whatever. It means this—that every man's vote shall have its weight, wherever he may live, and whatever majority or minority he may belong to. It is by the enfranchisement of minorities alone that we can arrive at the true state of public opinion.'
We want no paternal government to tell us what we ought to hear, do, or say; we want no paternal press to decide for us what we would not like to hear .... We are not children to be coaxed and managed, but men and women fit to think and judge for ourselves ... majorities always will continue to rule; we only plead for a more accurate system of recording votes, so that we may ascertain how great the majority ought to be.
Politicians ... have all gone on the principle that however the constituency was formed, the majority should have a right to their representative, and the minority none .... The minority represented, is the true sharpener of the wits of the ruling powers, the education of the people, the animator of the press.