A few observations on the Australian election

When Kevin Rudd was deposed, it was an exercise in the supremacy of party machinery over the choice of the electorate. Labor thought that victory would be secure, because parties hardly ever lose after only one term. Julia Gillard has shown that neither being born in Wales, nor being a woman, provides any inoculation against being a bastard. I'm pleased to see that Labor's calculations have backfired.


The House of Representatives was elected by AV, and its inherent unfairness is shown in the fact that the Greens got 11.5% of the vote, but only one out of the 150 seats.

Labor ... 37.9% of vote ... 72 seats = 48% of seats
Coalition ... 44.0% of vote ... 73 seats = 48.7% of seats
Greens ... 11.5% of vote ... 1 seat = 0.7% of seats
Others ... 6.6% ... 4 seats = 2.7% of seats

The Senate is elected under STV. And as a result the Greens now have 9 of the 76 seats (though only half the seats were up for election this time). A much fairer reflection of the way the votes were cast.

Labor ... 31 seats (15 new) = 40.8% of seats
Coalition ... 34 seats (18 new) = 44.7% of seats
Greens ... 9 (6 new) = 11.8% of seats
Others ... 2 (1 new) = 2.6% of seats

As a very good example of how counting for an STV election works, look at this page. It looks complicated but isn't. The first four of the six seats were decided very quickly (in the first five rounds of counting) with their surpluses redistributed. Then candidates with low support were eliminated and their votes redistributed until the two other candidates eventually reached the quota in rounds 33 and 36. I have to congratulate ABC for presenting the information so clearly.

We should use what has happened in Australia to inform our debate about the merits of AV and STV.


The Coalition is an arrangement between the Liberal and National parties. I wonder if that will be the fate of the Tories and LibDems in the UK. Doing this sort of deal might be the only way for the LibDems to avoid being wiped out.


As for the outcome, everything will now depend on the four Independent and one Green representative. One of the independents, David Wilkie, is very close to the Greens. It's very hard to imagine these two supporting the Coalition. If Labor were to pick up the remaining doubtful seats, they might just join with them at the price of getting Labor to pursue a more Green agenda. But I don't think Labor will.

Bob Katter is best described as an ex-National Party maverick, and as right as you can get. Robert Oakeshott is an ex-National, and will surely remain on the right. So is Tony Windsor, who is only standing as an independent because he wasn't selected as his party's official candidate a few years ago. These three should be natural allies for the Coalition which, added to the Coalition's projected 73 seats, will mean that Tony Abbott will become Prime Minister with a majority of two seats.

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James D said...

Ah, yes, the National Party of Australia. Formerly known as the Country Party, they changed their name to sound less parochial. But their insistent assertion of their identity separate from the Liberals did lead to one of the best political heckles ever. In the words of the heckler, Gough Whitlam (he of the Dismissal):

'Never in the House did I use the word which comes to mind. The nearest I came to doing so was when Sir Winton Turnbull, a member of the cavalleria rusticana, was raving and ranting on the adjournment and shouted: "I am a Country member". I interjected "I remember". He could not understand why, for the first time in all the years he had been speaking in the House, there was instant and loud applause from both sides.'

But I do think it's wishful thinking to think that the present coalition in Westminster will result in a merger of parties any more than Labour and Plaid Cymru have merged in Cardiff Bay. If anything, it's made less likely by the cavalleria rusticana being in the larger of the two parties.

Anonymous said...

Rudd was kicked out because his colleagues hated him, that combined with the fact that he was leading the party to a landslide defeat meant he had to go. I guess any soft-hearted ALP supporters who couldn't bear the assassination and didn't vote for Gillard will be happy with Abbott - same with the Greens.

That STV system gives the Greens 16% of the NSW Senate seats with 10% of the vote.

Anonymous said...

It really is far to early to draw conclusions and Australian politics is far more complex than it appears.

Anon 2, for instance assumes the Greens will win a senate seat in NSW. I'll bet they don't!

A few more bets. While the parts of "The Nationals" who are cemented into the coalition (NSW and VIC and the merged party in QLD) will support the Monk the CLP in NT and WANat might not.

The major problem with the (federal) form of AV in Austrlia is that one has to preference every party. Unlike at state level the voter isn't allowed to say "enough is enough" by refusing to preference past the point at which they feel comfortable. In other words you are forced to choose between the Shooter's Party and Family First.

MH said...

I'm not sure I'd go along with the analysis in the last paragraph, James. The Tories have defined heartlands which will always be Tory, no matter what. The LibDems don't. Therefore there is a real danger of them being wiped out. If faced with that prospect, they will do a deal with the Tories in which they get a certain proportion of seats (say 15 or 20%) which will be uncontested by the Tories. Both sides save money by not having to contest all seats, both sides hope that their joint pool at the last election will be transferred to the agreed candidate at the next. Doing it this way will guarantee the LibDems say 30 seats in the Commons. Going it alone might see then reduced to a rump of 10.


Anon 20:28, Once a party starts thinking in terms of "hatred" towards anyone, let alone people in their own party, that party deserves to plummet. What happened was grubby and unseemly, and if it had not been for the good grace of Kevin Rudd not to pick a fight, it might have destroyed support for the Labor party for a long time. They had no choice but to peddle the line that they "had to do it", but the voters of Oz clearly didn't buy it.

And of course they didn't have to do it. If Labor had stuck together on the climate change and mineral exploitation issues they could have been passed. But those things obviously didn't count for much among Labor's politicians. Once you've sold out on the things that matter, the political knifework becomes easy.

And, as always, if you're stuck in the mindset that "it's either us or the Tories" (it works just as well on either side of the world) you will never notice that there is a better alternative to both.

Then you finish with a perfect example of bogus maths. You can only come to the conclusion that the Greens got 16% of the seats with 10% of the vote if you think that only first preference votes have any validity. But, if you really do think that, you put yourself in the absurd position of accepting that in a first-past-the-post system, someone can win 100% of the seats in a constituency with maybe only 35% of the vote.

Back in the real world, the Greens did get the quota in NSW. They got the 14.3% of the vote necessary for one of the six seats, because they picked up more subsequent preferences than others. Which is how it should be. That's exactly the same quota that every other candidate elected had to reach.


Anon 21:31, It would help if you'd clicked the link, then you would see that the Greens already had won one of the NSW seats when I posted the article. But never mind. I guess you must also think that Spain won't win the World Cup this year. How much did you say you wanted to put on it? ;-)

And yes, I agree that there will be a good deal of horse trading for the next few days, but once the independents have got their barrel of pork they will either support, or agree not to vote against, the Coalition. Even if they vote on an issue by issue basis, they are going to support any broadly right wing proposal.

But I definitely agree with you about having to rank every party. It's too prescriptive. But then again, so is compulsory voting. Yet having said that, I would usually recommend that people did rank every candidate (as will be the case with the AV we might get). Here, UKIP and the BNP might be at the bottom of any sane person's list, but even I would have to say that UKIP are one rung higher up the ladder to hell than the BNP.

Val the Impala said...

Rudd, Good Grace!!! So who on earth do you think was leaking the Gillard smears that turned the campaign?

Anonymous said...

BTW I think you might be a bit confused by the ABC site which as far as I can make out is predicting not reporting a Lee Rhiannon win ... like most of the results it won't be confirmed for a few days until all the postal votes and boxes are counted. The predictions are usually pretty accurate though, based on a full count of a selection of boxes. Even Lee Rhiannon herself is not claiming victory yet.

Anonymous said...

You can tell the link to the NSW Senate is a prediction because all the excluded votes are being distributed to one party ie "above the line" - that's where the vote is distributed according to the wishes of your first choice party. In the "real world" some people do vote "below the line" ie make their own preference choices.

The Australian system would be mean that Plaid, Labour etc would have to actually make a pre-election preference choice between say the BNP and some other crackpot outfit.

Another crazy thing with the Australian system is that you have to choose between UKIP and the BNP or your vote is deemed informal ie spoilt.

The problem with all these list systems is the power it gives to the party bosses rather than the electorate. The Welsh system of having 40 constituency members with a top-up list of 20 seems a bit fairer although why someone from the list should be able to swap parties is a puzzle.

Cibwr said...

STV isn't a list system, and it hands greater power to the electorate. FPTP is a list system of one, and you have no input into choosing the candidate from that party.

MH said...

Great logic, Val. Stab someone, but then blame your victim for "leaking" blood all over the carpet.

Val the Impala said...

Maybe so, but so much for your good grace comment. By the way "bastard" Gillard didn't stab Rudd, he was already a friendless corpse when she came forward to clear up the mess Kevin had made of the ALP.

Would British Labour have been wrong to dump Brown before the last UK election? Who knows they might still be in goverment.

MH said...

Not so friendless, Val ... as the election results show. The lesson is that those who wield the knife very seldom get to benefit from doing it.

Rudd's mistake was to try and get his party to take green issues seriously ... but it brought a backlash from politicians within his own party. The big winners from yesterday are the Greens. Of the votes Labor lost (-5.4%), more than twice as many went to the Greens (+3.7%) than to the Coalition (+1.8%).

Here's an interesting scenario: a Coalition government supported by a right-leaning majority in the lower house, but an ALP/Green alliance in the Senate (31+9=40 of the 76 seats) blocking the more right wing elements of any legislation. But for that to work, Labor and the Greens in the upper house would surely end up with a policy position on green issues that would be quite close to what Rudd was trying to get through.

Anonymous said...

There is a big difference between representation and influence. The Greens now have significant influence in deciding who becomes Prime Minister and hold the balance of power in the Senate. Is that fair for a party that less than 15% of the electorate voted for?
There is a debate to be had around voting systems but the debate needs to be framed in the reality of influence and not only in terms of the percentage of seats vis a vis votes cast.

MH said...

That's just more bogus maths, Anon.

The Greens will only have influence in the Senate to the extent that another party (such as Labor) can negotiate a common position with them. That common position then represents a majority.

It's like saying that a few farmers in Sir Gâr were responsible for giving us devolution. It's those farmers, plus everyone else who agreed with them. Together, we formed a majority.

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