Territories’ voters facing election fatigue

26 June 2016


The second half of this year looks like seeing some Australians worn down with election fatigue.  It’s not so much because of the current Federal election, which was always due before year’s end, but because that election isn’t the only one happening.

Certainly the Federal election is happening earlier than was predicted at the start of the year.  The previous election was in September 2013, and with Federal elections due every three years, an election in September or October this year was thought most likely.  Therefore, with the election now happening in July, it won’t be that much earlier than would’ve been due.

But it wasn’t going to be the only general election happening this year.  Both the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory have general elections coming up in the next few months, with the former going to the polls in August and the latter going in October.  Their last elections were both four years ago, in the second half of 2012, and they have, like most Australian states, fixed parliamentary terms lasting four years.  If not for the decision of the Prime Minister to call the Federal election earlier than had been expected, it might’ve fallen between the two territories’ elections, but instead they’ll both come after it.  As such, the territories’ voters are facing election fatigue.

Not much attention is generally paid to general elections in the territories, probably because of their relatively small populations, and their impacts on national politics aren’t considered too significant.  But they can’t always be unnoticed.

I remember both territories holding elections just before a Federal election in 2001, with the Labor Party winning office in both territory elections.  Few remember that 2001 was quite a year politically, with Labor winning almost every election of note during that year.  First, Labor won office in a state election in Western Australia, and then Labor won a state election in Queensland with a massive majority after a term of governing with crossbench support there.  After those two wins, Labor won a Federal by-election caused by the resignation of a rival MP, whose seat was never considered winnable for Labor, and months later came Labor’s two territory election wins.  But despite these successes, Labor ended up losing that year’s Federal election.  I guess that it shows how political success in one region doesn’t always follow in another.

Nonetheless, in the coming months general elections will take place in the two territories.  They both have single-chamber parliaments, each of them known as the Legislative Assembly, with different means of representation and voting.

The Northern Territory Legislative Assembly has elections akin to those for the House of Representatives in Federal Parliament, for twenty-five single-seat electorates, while the ACT Legislative Assembly has elections akin to those for the Senate in Federal Parliament, for seventeen seats across three electorates.

Currently the Country Liberal Party governs with crossbench support in the Northern Territory.  Of twenty-five seats available, the CLP holds twelve seats, and the Labor Party holds seven, with Independents holding the remaining six seats.  The CLP won office at the last election, with a clear majority, but several MPs have since quit to sit on the crossbenches, and the CLP governs with their support.  Indeed the CLP has been through leadership turmoil during much of the past four years, with Terry Mills ousted in a leadership coup less than a year after he led the CLP to victory, and new leader Adam Giles having endured threats to his leadership since then.

In the ACT, the Labor Party has governed continuously since 2001, mostly with crossbench support, but with a majority in its own right between elections in 2004 and 2008.  Of seventeen seats available, both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party hold eight seats each, with a Green holding the balance of power.  Jon Stanhope led Labor to victory in 2001, and was Chief Minister of the ACT for nearly ten years before departing in 2011.  Katy Gallagher led Labor after Stanhope left, and was Chief Minister for less than four years before switching to Federal Parliament.  Andrew Barr has led Labor since Gallagher left.

Rarely have opinion polls been done for the territories, probably because they have so few voters.  But at this stage my feeling is that Labor will win both territory elections this year.  The CLP has been in a mess since winning in the Northern Territory, and Labor has been pretty steady in the ACT.  Voters will be fatigued after both elections, regardless of who wins them.



Smaller quotas to aid minor players

19 June 2016


Much speculation of late has revolved around what the result of next month’s Federal election might be.  About this time last year, when Tony Abbott was Prime Minister but very unpopular, polls were widely showing that he’d lose the next election.  After he was dumped in favour of Malcolm Turnbull in a Liberal leadership coup a few months later, the polls pointed to a clear win for Turnbull.  But now the election is up in the air.

Few were predicting that Turnbull, a figure more immensely popular than Abbott, would fall from a seemingly unassailable lead over the Opposition to potentially losing, as Abbott looked like doing, within a matter of months.  And I dare say that nobody was predicting the Labor Party, having lost office in a big way to the Liberal-National Coalition after years of turmoil and problems, would ever be within striking distance of victory.

It’s also remarkable to think that, after the tumultuous years of a hung parliament from 2010 to 2013, the country would look like going down that road again.  But now it looks like it might just happen.

What probably won’t happen, however, is a majority in the Senate for whoever wins the election.  Only once since the 1980s has anybody won a majority in the Senate as well as the House of Representatives, the latter of these two chambers being where governments are formed.

Seeing the Senate with crossbenchers holding the balance of power is nothing new in Australian politics.  And the last Federal election, in 2013, saw no fewer than eighteen crossbenchers among the seventy-six Senators to take their seats as a result.

Normally, there’d be six Senators per state facing the voters at election time.  But various things have meant that at this coming election, all Senators in every state and territory will face the voters.  There’ll be twelve Senators per state and two per territory.

Because Senators are elected on the basis of how much of the vote their parties win in each state or territory, those in the states would normally need just over a seventh of the statewide vote in order to win a seat.  But now they need just over a thirteenth.  To explain why this is so, I’ll use a different setting to illustrate how it works.

You could imagine a community group of exactly one hundred people, needing to elect a representative council of four people, and having five people seeking to be among those four.  Because five into four won’t go, you’d need an election.  All five candidate could win the same number of votes – twenty each, or a hundred divided by five.  But you’d still have no result.  However, if one candidate gains a vote to go to twenty-one votes, and another candidate loses a vote to fall to nineteen votes, while the other three candidate still have twenty votes each, there’d then be a result.  The candidate with the least votes, in this case nineteen votes, is defeated, while the candidate with twenty-one votes and the three candidates with twenty votes each will win those four council spots.  And the total of twenty-one votes becomes known as a quota, which a candidate must fill in order to secure a spot.

Using this case as an example, the way to work out how many votes you need is to divide the total vote by a number which is one more than the number of seats actually up for grabs, and then add one vote to that divided total.  And while the number of seats might vary from election to election, this process remains the same.

Therefore, with twelve Senate seats up for grabs in each state in this coming Federal election, just over a thirteenth of the statewide vote will be required to fill a quota and win a seat in the Senate.  In percentage terms, the Senate quota equates to about 7.7 per cent of the vote.

To win more than a single seat, here’s a guide to rough percentages.  Roughly 15.4 per cent of the vote will earn a second seat, 23.1 per cent will earn a third seat, 30.8 per cent will earn a fourth seat, 38.5 per cent will earn a fifth seat, and 46.2 per cent will earn a sixth seat.

Naturally, these smaller quotas will act to aid minor players in their efforts to win Senate seats at this election.  Some currently there will win, and some will lose.

Governments might’ve complained about crossbench Senators in the past.  But they have to learn to live with them.  This coming election will probably be no different.