Labor chasing nineteen seats for victory

29 May 2016


There’d been speculation a few months ago that a Federal election would happen in Australia around the middle of this year.  As it turns out, the speculation has ended up being correct.

It was common knowledge that an election was due this year, probably around September or October, which would’ve been around three years since the last election, in September 2013.  A July election was talked about, although it was thought unlikely, as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had been publicly implying that the election would come later in the year.  But now it’s happening on 2 July.

The last election was a win for the Liberal-National Coalition over the Labor Party.  The Coalition had won ninety seats, and Labor had won fifty-five seats, with five other seats going to crossbenchers.  This left the Coalition with a majority of thirty seats, and Labor needed to win twenty-one seats in order to win the next election.

Since the last election, there have been electoral redistributions in several areas.  These have left Labor chasing a slightly smaller target of nineteen seats for victory at the coming election.

An electoral redistribution usually happens every ten years or so, because of population change across a state or territory.  Some areas have population growth over time, while other areas have population decline, and the result is that some electorates have much bigger voting populations than others.  So a redistribution, or a redrawing of electorates’ boundaries, is undertaken to give all electorates, within the affected state or territory, as near as possible to an equal number of voters.  This factors in population change, be it growth or decline, not just as it’s happened over time but also how it’s predicted to happen in the years ahead.

Sometimes, electorates notionally change hands in a redistribution.  For example, a Labor-held electorate might lose some areas where the Labor vote was stronger than the Coalition vote at the last election, and gain some areas where the Coalition vote was stronger than the Labor vote at the last election, making it notionally a Coalition-held electorate, because of the Coalition vote across the redrawn electorate being stronger than the Labor vote.  And the reverse can also apply, with a Coalition-held electorate becoming notionally Labor-held.

As a result of electoral redistributions in various places, the Coalition’s majority has been reduced by two seats.  The most significant change has taken place in New South Wales, with one Labor-held seat north of Sydney being abolished and three Liberal-held seats becoming notionally Labor-held.  There’s also been a new seat added in Western Australia, which is notionally Liberal-held.

With the redistributions leaving Labor chasing nineteen seats for victory, as opposed to twenty-one in the immediate wake of the last election, Labor now needs a slightly smaller swing to win the coming election.  Labor hitherto needed a swing of about 4.3 per cent to win, but now Labor needs about 4.1 per cent to win.

The nineteen most marginal Coalition seats are spread out across Australia.  Eight of those seats are in New South Wales, so that state will be watched.  Victoria and Queensland and Tasmania have three seats apiece, while South Australia and the Northern Territory have one seat apiece.

Mixed results seem to be coming from opinion polls, but the election could go either way in many people’s minds.  Labor now needs nineteen seats for victory, and whether it can get them remains to be seen.



Shades of Beattie loom for Palaszczuk

22 May 2016


The Labor Party seems more capable than the Coalition parties in forming minority governments with crossbench support.  This is the conclusion that I draw from looking back over the political scene going back a few decades.

Few Australians need reminding of how Labor managed to obtain crossbench support after a Federal election in 2010 produced a deadlocked result.  Many people hated it, and many more didn’t mind it.  At state and territory level, Labor currently governs in three states and in the Australian Capital Territory, and three of those four Labor governments have been with minority status at one time or another.

The ACT Labor Government has survived the longest of the current governments, having been elected in 2001.  Next in line is South Australia, where Labor has governed since 2002.  Both governments initially began life with the support of crossbench MPs, and later governed in their own right after clear election wins, before losing their majority status at later elections and needing crossbench support again.  Only in Victoria does Labor govern in its own right, after winning office in 2014, while in early 2015 Labor came to office in Queensland with crossbench support.  I note with interest that in Victoria, Labor was out of office for only one term, from 2010 to 2014, and its previous stint in office had begun in 1999 with crossbench support, before it won an election in its own right in 2002.

The last of the current Labor governments to take power, in Queensland, began early last year with crossbench support.  Its story is similar to that in Victoria.  Labor had been out of office in Queensland for only one term, from 2012 to last year, and its previous stint in office had begun in 1998 with crossbench support.

It’s worth noting that Labor had memorable leaders amongst these governments.  How many people that Peter Beattie in Queensland, Steve Bracks in Victoria, Jon Stanhope in the ACT, and Mike Rann in SA all initially governed with crossbench support before gaining majorities?  Labor wouldn’t have been as successful in winning without them.

Queensland nowadays has Labor, under the leadership of Annastacia Palaszczuk, in a similar position to 1998, when it took power under Beattie.  He initially became Premier when the support of one Independent was enough for Labor to take power.  Months later, Labor won a by-election for a former crossbencher’s seat, and was able to govern in its own right, with a one-seat majority.  But a major scandal relating to electoral fraud and rorting cost Labor its majority, with three Labor MPs ending up on the crossbench – one of those MPs was Jim Elder, who’d been Deputy Premier under Beattie.  Despite this major scandal surrounding Labor, the Coalition was in disarray for various reasons, one of which was the popularity of controversial political figure Pauline Hanson, and Beattie led Labor to a massive election win in 2001.  His majority didn’t shrink by much at later elections, and after he retired, new Premier Anna Bligh was able to win an election in 2009 with relative ease, despite growing dissatisfaction with Labor among voters.

By 2012, voters were so angry with Labor that they threw Labor out of office in a huge way, reducing Labor to just seven seats – the size of a netball team – at an election in the first part of that year.  But this anger went the other way at the next election, in 2015, and under the leadership of Palaszcuk, who’d succeeded Bligh after that 2012 rout, Labor was able to take power again, with the support of one Independent.

When you compare the path of governing that Beattie took and the path that Palaszczuk has taken, you could argue that shades of Beattie loom for Palaszczuk.  Both originally took power with the support of an Independent, and later needed more crossbench support.  Indeed the Independent who supported Beattie back in 1998 was Peter Wellington, who now supports Palaszczuk.  And just as various issues saw some Labor MPs go to the crossbench in Beattie’s early years, two Labor MPs have gone to the crossbench since Palaszcuk took power.  Those Labor MPs are Billy Gordon and Rob Pyne, who are both in Queensland’s far north.

Time will tell whether Palaszcuk governs with them.  She may emulate Beattie in governing against the odds, whatever the result.