ACT Labor hangs on again

30 October 2016


Little attention would’ve been paid to a general election in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this month.  Mind you, I suspect that little attention would’ve been paid to most elections in the ACT since it became self-governing in the late 1980s, except perhaps when governments changed.

Some people argue that the ACT Parliament doesn’t need to even exist.  In terms of governments, their idea is of the territory being worthy of deemed nothing more than a local council area, albeit a big one, with its population in the hundreds of thousands, which many local councils across Australia actually have.  But that’s probably an argument for another day.

Nonetheless, this recent ACT election resulted in a fifth straight term in office for the Labor Party, which has governed continuously since 2001.  But just like before, Labor will govern with crossbench support, having failed to win a majority in its own right.  This result was considered the most likely, according to both the experts and the pundits like myself, and indeed it turned out that way.  In fact only once has an election in the ACT resulted in a majority victory – that one being for Labor in 2004.

When the ACT next goes to the polls, in 2020, more than two decades will have passed since the last win for the Liberal Party, albeit with crossbench support.  The Liberals last won an ACT election in 1998.

This year’s election was arguably about light rail, which the Labor Government was looking to build in the ACT and which the Liberal Opposition was vowing to stop.  Putting aside the question about whether the ACT really needs a light rail network, the election might’ve been about a mood for change after fifteen straight years under Labor, as well as the fact that the ACT budget is in deficit, which isn’t exactly a sign of a good economy, while health and education would’ve been typical election issues.  But despite Labor’s long time in office and the budget deficit, the Liberals didn’t exactly give voters any kind of inspiring or positive case for change, and perhaps their opposition to light rail showed them as merely opposing without offering a better alternative.

This seems to have been a typical story of elections across Australia over many years, where governments have grown older and less competent but their rivals haven’t presented an inspiring case for change.  I’ve seen governments survive when they arguably should’ve lost, because voters couldn’t bring themselves to support the alternatives.  This is probably why ACT Labor hangs on in office again now.

The ACT election result, in which the number of parliamentary seats rose from seventeen to twenty-five, has seen twelve seats go to the Labor Government, eleven seats to the Liberal Opposition, and two seats to the Greens.  This leaves Labor one seat short of a majority and being able to govern in its own right.

This was the same story after the last election, in 2012, with Labor one seat short of a majority.  Mind you, the Labor-Liberal score then was actually a tie, of eight seats each, but holding the balance of power was a Green, who backed Labor.  Now there are two Greens, and they’re backing Labor – hence the continuation of Labor in office.

With the election seeing an increase of electorates from three to five, with five seats in each electorate, there were mixed results.  Two electorates, Kurrajong and Murrumbidgee, each finished with two Labor MPs and two Liberal MPs, plus one of the Greens.  Two other electorates, Ginninderra and Yerrabi, each finished with three Labor MPs and two Liberal MPs.  The last electorate, Brindabella, finished with three Liberal MPs and two Labor MPs.

There was perhaps one sour note for Labor.  Falling short of a majority would’ve been disappointing enough, albeit not unexpected.  But two Labor MPs were actually defeated, one of them a minister.  This would’ve been a blow to Labor.

The result of this election in the ACT has turned out to be a continuation from after the previous one, as Labor again governs with crossbench support.  There’s been a bit of change in the ACT, but things have generally stayed the same.



Big ask for minor players in Queensland

28 October 2016


The return to parliamentary life of controversial political figure Pauline Hanson has shocked many across Australia.  Just as her arrival in politics twenty years ago caused a major stir, her return after losing her seat and several unsuccessful attempts to come back has caused another stir.  Probably the bigger stir has been the fact that she’s got brought three people with her, albeit from different states.

The Hanson saga touched on concerns that countless people had about many issues, most significantly immigration and Aborigines.  Because people felt that politicians generally weren’t willing to address these concerns, a vacuum in politics was created, and Hanson stepped into it.  And most of us know what happened after that.

But in light of Hanson’s return, and the prospect of a rise in her popularity with that, there might be speculation about her prospects at coming state elections.  In my opinion, those prospects are mixed.

Hanson clearly has a great degree of popularity in her home state of Queensland.  But this mightn’t necessarily translate into seats when Queenslanders vote in their next state election, which is due in early 2018.  Mind you, the next election could be earlier because Queensland doesn’t have fixed parliamentary terms, so it’ll come whenever the Premier of the day sees fit to call it.

Ironically, although support for Hanson is likely to be stronger in Queensland than in other states, the lower levels of support for her in other states could in fact translate into seats at election time.

The thing to remember about the Queensland Parliament is that it has eighty-nine seats, made up of one member per seat.  This means that a candidate will only win a seat if he or she wins a majority of the vote in that seat – not just more votes than any other candidate in that seat, but more than every other candidate in that seat put together.  Minor players, be they minor party candidates or Independents, rarely have enough voter support to win seats under those circumstances.  This therefore makes winning seats a big ask for minor players, certainly in Queensland but also at times elsewhere.

The Queensland Parliament also has only one parliamentary chamber, whereas its counterparts in other states and at the national level have two chambers.  In all other parliaments, there’s one chamber made up of single-member seats, and another chamber made up of multi-member seats.  The former requires candidates to win a majority of the vote, but the latter has candidates elected if they win a certain proportion of the vote, rather than strictly a majority, in any given region.  The Queensland Parliament doesn’t have the latter.

Minor players can win seats more easily when they only have to win a proportion of the vote in any given region.  This arrangement applies to the Senate in Federal Parliament, to which Hanson was elected.  It also applies to the dual-chamber parliaments of both New South Wales and Western Australia, where support for Hanson was strong enough for her people to win Senate seats in both states.  This is why I tip Hanson’s mob to win seats in Western Australia when that state’s next election happens, early next year.  Although NSW won’t go to the polls for a few years yet, Hanson’s mob could win seats there if support remains strong.

Going back to the coming state election in Queensland, minor players won’t win seats without strong support in relatively small areas, such as a group of city suburbs either close to each other or clumped together.  This isn’t easy to achieve.

In talking about small areas, no disrespect is meant regarding the political party set up by Federal politician Bob Katter, which holds two seats in State Parliament.  Geographically, those seats are large ones, situated in the state’s north.  But they’re large only because the population across the north is relatively small and spread out, and parliamentary seats ideally should have as near as possible to an equal number of voters.  On the other hand, in major cities with large populations, parliamentary seats are naturally smaller.

Also, despite holding two seats, Katter and his party don’t really have enough support outside Queensland’s north to win seats elsewhere.  Similarly, the Greens don’t have enough support anywhere to win seats in Queensland, even in inner Brisbane, and I don’t expect them to win seats at the next Queensland election.

On the other hand, support for Hanson might just be strong enough for her mob to win seats.  Certainly when Hanson was first on the political scene, her mob had enough clustered support to end up winning eleven seats in Queensland at a state election in 1998, which really was a shock.  But those eleven MPs subsequently broke away from Hanson’s mob, and most of them lost their seats at the next election, which came in 2001.

The prospects for Hanson and her mob really depend on how they play their cards, at least in relation to the next Queensland election.  They’ll have to decide whether to work to win a few seats where their vote appears strongest, or to field candidates everywhere and lessen their chances of winning seats.  The return of Hansonite candidates to the Queensland Parliament might happen, but mistakes could see them split again.


More of the same as the ACT changes

15 October 2016


Most elections in Australia over many decades have been essentially contests between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party.  Even though the Liberals have often aligned themselves with others during that time, such as with the Nationals in recent decades, they’ve usually been more dominant.  This is why elections are thus described as Labor-Liberal battles in general context.  But often there have been contests where the Liberals have been, in a sense, on their own in fighting Labor.

And that’s the case with a general election happening in the Australian Capital Territory today.  Voters in the ACT will decide whether to elect Labor to a fifth straight term in office, or to turn to the Liberals for the first time in well over a decade.

The Labor Government first went into office with crossbench support after an election in October 2001 – fifteen years ago this month.  Labor has since held office at elections in 2004, 2008, and 2012.  Only at the 2004 election did Labor win a majority of seats, while every other election win has come through crossbench support.

The Liberal Opposition came close to winning the last election, in October 2012, but fell just short.  That election saw the Greens, who’d been holding the balance of power, lose all but one seat held before the election.  But the support of that one surviving Green, Shane Rattenbury, was enough for Labor to hold office.

Jon Stanhope led Labor to victory in 2001, and won another two elections before stepping down in 2011, after ten years as ACT Chief Minister.  He’s served longer than any other Chief Minister since the ACT became self-governing three decades ago, and his 2004 election win is the only outright election win in the history of the ACT Parliament.  After Stanhope left, Katy Gallagher became Labor leader, and came close to losing the 2012 election, with only the support of Rattenbury keeping Labor in power.  Gallagher left after three years in the job, moving to Federal Parliament, and Andrew Barr succeeded her.

Zed Seselja, the Liberal leader who only just lost that 2012 election, has also since departed, and is now in Federal Parliament, just like Gallagher.  This means that both principal combatants from the last ACT election have gone, and the Liberal leader taking on Barr today is Jeremy Hanson.

But today’s ACT election doesn’t just have different leaders from last time.  There will be more new faces elected, with the ACT Parliament being enlarged from seventeen seats across three electorates to twenty-five seats across five electorates.  However, despite these changes, my tip is for Parliament to remain in a balance-of-power situation, meaning that the winner will govern only with crossbench support, just like now – it might be a case where the more that something changes, the more that it stays the same!

Of the three current ACT electorates, two have five seats each, namely Brindabella and Ginninderra, while the last electorate, Molonglo, has seven seats.  Currently there are eight Labor MPs and eight Liberal MPs, plus one Green in Rattenbury.  Two MPs will retire at this election.  The Labor Government will lose Deputy Chief Minister Simon Corbell, and the Liberal Opposition will lose Val Jeffery.

Electoral redistributions take place after a certain number of years, to ensure that each electorate has as near as possible to an equal number of voters.  A redistribution ahead of this ACT election has seen Molonglo abolished, and three new electorates created, named Kurrajong and Murrumbidgee and Yerrabi.  While there were seven seats in Molonglo, there’ll now be five seats in each electorate, hence twenty-five seats.

It’s worth remembering that to work out roughly how many votes you need to win a seat in any electorate, you have to divide the total number of votes in that electorate by a number which is one more than the number up of seats up for grabs.  This means that in this ACT election, candidate will be elected if they win just over a sixth of the vote in each five-seat electorate, or 16.7 per cent of vote in proportional terms.

In terms of election issues, the big talking point in the ACT light rail, which the Labor Government intends to build but the Liberal Opposition intends to stop.  Both sides are making plenty of promises to spend more on health and education and other things, but the Liberals’ promise is to use funding for light rail in other areas.  That aside, the ACT budget is in deficit, and Labor’s long stint of fifteen years in office should arguably help the Liberals.  But voters haven’t warmed to them generally, or their leader Hanson particularly, so it’s hard to tip them, especially when voters are so distrustful of established politics now.

My tip is for Labor to hold office, albeit with crossbench support, while the Liberals will fall short again, just like in the last election.  The Greens will probably win a few seats, but I see no other crossbenchers being elected as such.  It’ll therefore be a case of more of the same, even as the ACT changes in some respects.

There won’t be too much different coming out of the ACT tonight.  Despite some change, sameness will prevail.