In 1947 Winston Churchill said that “… democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. Churchill was talking about representative democracy, where we the voters choose people to make decisions for us. There are different kinds of democracy: such as the ancient city state of Athens where the whole voting population would gather to vote every time a decision was needed. But we prefer to elect people to make decisions about laws, government services and policies on our behalf. There are many different ways of electing people, and of these only one is the Gold Standard, the best system around: Proportional Representation by the Single Transferable Vote (PR-STV).
We live in an era of Government providing services that we all use every day: Transport services, roads, rail; Health services, hospitals and access to medical practitioners and medicines; Education services, schools, Universities. And many more. These services are provided by Governments that are set up in a range of different ways. They include:
- Democracies, where the decision makers are elected by those that have the right to vote,
- One party states, where decisions are made by a party structure, and
- Military rule, where decisions are made by the leaders of the armed forces.
Democracy is considered to be the best of those systems, and the kind of democracy that applies around the world these days is based on the idea of electing representatives to make decisions on our behalf.
Back in the days of Ancient Athens, decisions were often made by a gathering of the voting public (which were all male, and all privileged, the large number of slaves and ‘guest workers’ not being allowed to attend!). In those days, Government did not provide anywhere near the range of services that Government provides today, and over time representative democracy has arisen to ensure that Government services are provided.
We need and want clean streets, good drainage and sewerage, police and emergency services to help when there is a problem, reliable electricity and gas services, reliable communication services by phone and internet and so on. These services may sometimes be provided by private companies, but the quality of access is overseen by Government. This access to services is something that most people regard as being to our considerable benefit.
There will always be different views about what services Government should provide and how to pay for them. So in representative democracies, we have regular elections in which the voting public elect people to make those decisions. Should we raise additional funds via taxation to fund a National Disability Insurance Scheme, for example? In Australia we have decided to do this. Our elected representatives, our politicians, have the responsibility to make those decisions and we are the ones that give them that responsibility.
There are many ways to decide how those representations, the politicians, are elected. The Gold Standard – the very best system – is called Proportional Representation (Single Transferable Vote) (PR-STV). That’s a mouthful to pronounce, but what it means is that the representatives that serve in Parliament are
- directly elected by our votes, by the ballots that we cast, and
- represent the range of views in the community in the proportion that those views are held.
Another great feature of PR-STV is that well over 80% of voters end up being represented by someone that they voted for, either with their number  vote, or by a subsequent preference. This is because votes are transferable, using a preferential system.