Western allies trying to avoid Hansonites

25 June 2017

 

Queensland has always been the strongest state for Pauline Hanson.  Ever since she was elected to Federal Parliament more than twenty years ago, winning a seat in Queensland, support for her has been stronger there than in any other state.  Although she lost her seat less than three years after winning it, and then tried numerous times to win seats in elections, she eventually made it back in 2016.

Public support for her early in her parliamentary career prompted her to start her own political party, which won a number of seats in a state election in Queensland not long after.  And it was there that her party won a Senate seat at a Federal election in 1998.

Outside Queensland, support for Hanson and her party has probably been strongest in Western Australia.  It was there in early 2001 that Hanson’s party won a few seats in a state election, after polling strongly there at the 1998 Federal election, and where the party won a Senate seat in 2016.  Although the party also won a seat in a state election in New South Wales in 1999, as well as a Senate seat there in 2016, it’s fair to consider WA the second-strongest state for the party.

Earlier this year, at a state election in WA, Hanson’s party ended up winning three seats in the Upper House there.  Although failing to win a seat in the Lower House, where governments are formed, the party still had clout with those Upper House seats, because the Upper House had crossbenchers holding the balance of power.

The Labor Party won that election in WA easily – at least in the Lower House – but didn’t win enough seats to obtain a majority in the Upper House.  This meant that Labor would need the support of crossbenchers to get legislation through the Upper House.

The very presence of people from Hanson’s party – often referred to as Hansonites – in any parliamentary chamber has long been offensive to Labor, which has always denied the legitimacy of Hanson’s presence in politics.  Having derided Hanson as ill-informed and racist, in relation to immigration and indigenous affairs, Labor has done whatever it could to keep her and her party at bay.

Now, with Hansonites in the Upper House of State Parliament in Western Australia, Labor can only pray that it’ll have enough support from other crossbenchers to avoid needing the votes of the Hansonites.  And that mightn’t be easy.

Labor holds fourteen of thirty-six seats in the Upper House, meaning the need for five crossbench votes to get legislation through there.

Already, you’d expect Labor to have the support of the Greens, who increased their overall numbers at the election from two Upper House seats to four, because they’ve traditionally supported Labor on most issues.  The Greens actually gained three seats, but one MP, Lynn LacLaren, lost her seat.  However, even with the support of the Greens, Labor would still be one vote short.

Labor would therefore be trying to court the votes of other crossbenchers.  But in seeking to avoid the support of the Hansonites, the options are limited.

Western allies, if you’ll pardon the pun in relation to Australia’s westernmost state, might well emerge in this situation.  Labor and the Greens mightn’t agree on everything, but in trying to avoid the Hansonites, Labor might end up forming strange alliances from time to time, because the other crossbenchers seem at odds with the Greens on many issues.

One of the other Upper House crossbenchers is Rick Mazza.  He won a seat for the Shooters and Fishers in 2013, and he made it back this year.  Now fighting for farmers as well as shooters and fishers, all of whom you wouldn’t consider environmentally friendly in the eyes of the Greens and environmental activists, might it seem unlikely for Mazza to vote with Labor and the Greens?

Another of the crossbenchers is Aaron Stonehouse, who won a seat for the Liberal Democrats this year.  The Liberal Democrats fight for smaller governments and bureaucracies, and less regulation and laws, as well as for people to marry same-sex partnerse and own guns and take drugs currently deemed illegal.  Although Labor and the Greens seem to share this liberal approach on same-sex marriage and drugs, they’re not as likely to support reduced regulation or laws, because they don’t trust people or businesses to act ethically or avoid exploiting others for their own gains.  Would Labor and the Greens tolerate the Liberal Democrats as such?

As for the Liberals and the Nationals, who traditionally govern together, they’re free to cross the floor and vote against their colleagues if they see fit.  What’s the chance that any of them would cross the floor to support Labor on any issue?

Labor has always sought to avoid needing the support of Hanson and her party, and nothing looks like changing now.  The preference for avoiding the Hansonites might lead Labor into doing deals which might seem different from normal.

 

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Hard Senate contest for minor players

17 June 2017

 

Frustration with one thing or another led to Federal Parliament becoming what it looks like today.  Although a Federal election was always expected last year, a few different things would’ve made Parliament a little different.  Mind you, the frustration could’ve also produced a different result.

Last year’s election was a rare double-dissolution, meaning a complete dissolution of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  There haven’t been that many double-dissolution elections since Federal Parliament was established in 1901.  Normally, Federal elections would involve a complete dissolution of the House of Reps, but not of the Senate.  However, because the Liberal-National Coalition became increasingly frustrated with being unable to get legislation through the Senate over time, as well as other reasons, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull saw fit to call a double-dissolution.

Had the election last year been like most other elections before it, there’d have been six out of twelve Senators from each state facing the voters – hence the term “half-Senate election”.  But the Senators up for election wouldn’t have been those who won seats at the previous election, in 2013.  Instead, the Senators winning seats at the election before it, in 2010, would’ve been up for election last year, while the Senators winning seats in 2013 would’ve been due to face the voters at the next election, due in 2019.

When the Coalition won office in 2013, it ended up having to deal with a large number of crossbenchers who held the balance of power in the Senate.  There were eighteen Senate crossbenchers, and the Greens made up the bulk of this bunch – ten in all.  The other eight included of three people from a political party set up by billionaire Clive Palmer, as well as individuals from other parties.  Most of these people were elected in 2013, so they wouldn’t have been facing the voters again until 2019.  Had there been only a half-Senate election instead of a double-dissolution last year, the Coalition would’ve found itself still having to deal with many of those crossbenchers after the election.

This would’ve frustrated the Coalition, and was probably one of the reasons why a double-dissolution was called.  Because many of those Senate crossbenchers won their seats on other people’s preferences instead of their own popular votes, it was thought that some of them could lose their seats, especially as the Coalition was able to get enough support in the Senate to reform Senate voting.  But instead, the double-dissolution produced a larger crossbench in the Senate, with controversial figures Pauline Hanson and Derryn Hinch among those elected, although some of those Senators elected in 2013 ended up losing their seats.  In that sense, the double-dissolution arguably backfired for the Coalition.

The reform to Senate voting meant that voters could direct preferences to their choice of parties, rather than just candidates.  It used to be that, as a voter, you’d have two choices with the Senate – you could choose one party and vote for only it in a box above a thick black line on a ballot paper, or you could vote for every candidate from every party and group below that thick black line.  When people voted above the line, parties decided where votes went after candidates were elected or eliminated.  This meant that parties could direct votes to their choice of other parties, or away from those that they disliked, regardless of whether voters liked those choices or not.  In 2013, many minor parties decided to direct preferences amongst each other, so that votes wouldn’t reach the major parties – this led to minor players, such as Ricky Muir, winning seats with minuscule shares of the popular vote.  By reforming Senate voting, it was thought that this kind of event couldn’t happen again, unless voters themselves indicated that they wanted it.

Whatever the merits of reforming Senate voting, I suspect that the major parties wouldn’t have been too thrilled to see a larger Senate crossbench, especially with the likes of Hanson and Hinch there.

The next election, regardless of frustrations in dealing with Senate crossbenchers, will likely involve a half-Senate election.  With more votes therefore needed to win Senate seats, it’ll mean a harder Senate contest for minor players, unless their vote in any state is really strong.

To win a seat in a half-Senate election, you need about 14.3 per cent of the vote in one of the states.  Looking at the last election results, only the party of popular Senator Nick Xenophon would’ve won a seat on popular votes alone, with about 21.7 per cent of the vote in South Australia.

The Greens probably would’ve won enough votes in some states to have Senators elected on preferences.  They won about 11.2 per cent of the vote in Tasmania, 10.9 per cent in Victoria, and 10.5 per cent in Western Australia.

Similarly, Hanson probably would’ve won enough votes to get elected on preferences, with about 9.2 per cent of the vote in Queensland.

To win Senate seats at the next election, you’d be needing huge votes.  For example, in New South Wales you’re looking at well over 600,000 votes.  Getting that many votes won’t come easy for minor players in particular.

The hard challenge thus looms for minor players at the next election.  How or whether they obtain a bigger vote remains something to watch.