The man behind Tasmania’s electoral system was a visionary

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THE Hare-Clark electoral system, used for Tasmanian Lower House elections, is peculiar to this state and remains relatively unknown in most places of the world. It has been in use continuously since 1907.

It is interesting to learn the history of the men behind the scenes who forced its adoption, primarily Thomas Hare, an English barrister, and Tasmanian-born Andrew Inglis Clark.

Clark was a sound lawyer. He was, however, more than a lawyer. He was also an engineer, poet, political philosopher and the father of Australian Federation.

He is credited in his first year in the House of Assembly with initiating 150 ministerial Bills, only one fewer than Henry Parkes. Some of his Bills dealt with cruelty to animals, restricting the entry of Chinese people, legalising trade unions, payment of members of parliament and reforming laws on lunacy.

The late George Howatt, an expert on the Hare-Clark system, called Clark the “Father of Federation”. Dr Howatt was an American from Pennsylvania who arrived in Tasmania on a Fulbright Scholarship in 1957 to study our peculiar electoral system and stayed.

Clark attended the first conference on federation, held in Hobart in 1886, and in 1890 was a Tasmanian delegate to the Australasian Federation Conference and to the national Australasian Conference in 1891.

Andrew Clark was born in the year of revolution 1848 and was the son of a Scottish iron-founder and engineer, Alex Russell Clark.

In his early years, he was taught at home by his talented mother, Ann Anglis. Later he attended Hobart High and, after leaving school, joined his father’s firm and qualified as an engineer. At the age of 24, he decided to study law and in 1877 was admitted to the Bar.

His liberal ideas were already taking shape. He became a passionate devotee of Mills, Jefferson and Mazzine. Indeed, years later, a visiting American Assistant Consul described Clark as a “Tasmanian Jefferson.”

Clark became a staunch republican, who almost to the point of obsession admired American ideas, institutions and its Constitution.

As early as 1874, Clark was a promoter of proportional representation voting as opposed to the one-man, one-vote concept. In 1878 Clark married Grace Paterson, daughter of John Ross, a Hobart ship builder. In the same year he was elected to the House of Assembly for Norfolk Plains, but lost in 1882.

Two years later found him forming the first true liberal political movement. Later a committee was formed, Clark included and its main principles were increased representation, adult suffrage and municipal and electoral reform, land taxation and payment of members. John Earle, later to be the first Tasmanian Labour Premier, belonged to the organisation.

In 1885 Clark founded the Southern Tasmanian Political Reform Association and unsuccessfully stood for election once again in 1886.

During the same year the movement promoting the establishment of a Commonwealth had its birth in Tasmania when on 25th January 1886, the first session of The Federal Council of Australia was opened by Governor Strahan. Clark, of course, attended.

Later as a member of the Federal Council, he would draft a Federal Constitution for the convention of 1891.

In 1887 Clark was elected and served as Attorney-General under Premier Phillip Oakley Fysh (1835-1919) until 1892.

Meanwhile he visited the land of his admiration, America and returned to Hobart further inspired by what he had seen.

After the Fysh government fell in 1892, Clark joined the Opposition and served another period as Attorney-General between 1894 and 1898, under Edward Braddon. Braddon was to urge the adoption of the Hare system.

In August 1896, Clark was able to introduce proportional representation for Hobart and Launceston for the following year, after heated discussion.

He also urged modification such as the transfer of surpluses and reducing the element of chance.

In that year, he was unable to attend the Federal convention because he was back in America.

Opposition to the Hare system was vigorous with petitions being received by the Parliament to abandon it. On the whole, it would appear electors mastered it quite well.

In 1898 Clark was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of Tasmania and a senior judge in 1901.

Two years later he was a serious contender for a position on the bench of the High Court of Australia.

His voting system, however, was still in trouble and though there were attempts to have it adopted state-wide, he wasn’t successful.

It was not until they year of his death, 1907, that proportional voting was adopted for the whole state. His name naturally is best remembered for Tasmania’s system of voting (now termed the Hare-Clark system) and though it has come under a lot of scrutiny and improvements even today are recommended by its supporters, its application mirrors the will of the electors perhaps better than any other system. The Hare-Clark electoral voting system continues to apply Statewide for the House of Assembly.

Thomas Hare, the other contributor, attracted the interest of many, including the Australian writer, Catherine Helen Spencer, who lectured extensively on the system. Clark supported the system in the belief that it would improve the quality of members, make bribery practically impossible and broaden the elector’s outlook.

The late Dr George Howatt, whom the author knew very well, often said that while he thought the Hare-Clark system was the best there is, there still needed to be refinements and amendments.

If these were made, as he recommended to the various State Governments while he lived, the criticism of the system may not be as strong as it sometimes is.

On the 20th July 2017 the decision was made to changed the name of the electorate Dension to Clark. It will take about two years for that to happen.

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