Belittled Bernardi still fighting

23 July 2018


The pride of Cory Bernardi would’ve taken something of a pounding during the last few months.  Having walked out of the Liberal Party early last year to start his own political party, he imagined that his party would have an impact on the Australian political scene.  But now it looks like the party won’t last much longer.

A prominent conservative, Bernardi first entered the Senate in 2006, following the resignation of Liberal stalwart Robert Hill.  He became close to Tony Abbott, before the rise of Abbott to the Federal Liberal leadership.  They remained close for years, during which time Abbott became Prime Minister.  After Abbott lost the leadership to Malcolm Turnbull in 2015, the Liberals were gradually seen as less conservative than their strongest supporters liked.  This degree of change might well have been what drove Bernardi out of the Liberal ranks.

Following Bernardi’s departure from the Liberals, a new conservative party came into being.  This conservative mob ended up taking over what was left of another party regarded as conservative, the Family First Party.

Created more than a decade ago, Family First won a few parliamentary seats over the years.  Its first seat was in the South Australian Parliament in 2002.  A few years later, it won a seat in the Senate, with Steve Fielding elected in Victoria.  It continued to have a presence in the South Australian Parliament for more than a decade, and while Fielding lost his Senate seat in 2010, it wasn’t out of the Senate for very long.

In 2013, the party won a Senate seat again, with Bob Day elected in South Australia.

Day held his seat at the most recent Federal election, in 2016.  But when that year ended, he was gone from the scene.

Before entering Parliament, Day had established a massive construction business and was very wealthy, although he had to let go of ownership of the business when running for Parliament.  In the second half of 2016, Day’s business collapsed, and Day felt that he couldn’t stay in Parliament because of this.

But before long, Day went back on his resignation, saying that someone had been willing and able to provide funds to keep his business afloat.

However, another scandal broke, surrounding his electoral office, and that caused his disqualification from Parliament, via a court ruling.  All politicians have their own electoral offices, where they do work for constituents when they’re not actually sitting in their parliamentary chambers.  Federal politicians, when they don’t attend Parliament in the national capital, go back to the states where they are based, and they do constituency work from offices in them.  In the case of Day, his issue was having his electoral office in a building owned by his former business – he therefore got public funds from a governmental body which rented out an office within that building, and this was a conflict of interest.  This ended Day’s career.

With Day gone from politics, Family First disappeared soon after.  The remaining politicians in that party, and various resources, ended up joining Bernardi’s new conservative party.

Ironically, someone who declined to join Bernard’s party was the person running behind Day on the Family First Senate ticket in South Australia in the 2016 election, Lucy Gichuhi.  After Day was disqualified, the Senate vote in South Australia from that 2016 election was recounted, and Gichuhi, the second Family First candidate, was declared the winner.  But with Family First no longer existing when Gichuhi entered the Senate, she sat as an Independent.  She’s since joined the Liberals.

At the start of this year, Bernardi might’ve thought that his party could win some seats at pending elections, including in his home state of South Australia.  By then, his party had two seats in the South Australian Parliament, and one of those seats went up for grabs when a general election was held in South Australia in March.

But at that election, his party lost that South Australian seat, having won a rather small share of the statewide vote.  In the aftermath of the election, the remaining State MP in Bernardi’s party, Dennis Hood, defected to the Liberals.  One wonders whether Family First might’ve been considered an offshoot of the Liberals.

These recent events have almost certainly left a belittled Bernardi.  But he’s still around the political scene and fighting.  Because he was a Liberal candidate going into the last Federal election, and one of the first Senators elected, he won’t face voters again until the election after next, due in about 2022.  The bad luck bearing down on him could wear off before then, but he no longer seems like the political force that he might’ve envisaged himself as.



Upper hand helps Hodgman

21 July 2018


Having enjoyed a general election win in March, albeit not by much, Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman continues to enjoy good fortune.  Since that election, he’s enjoyed another election win of sorts, and boosted his parliamentary numbers.

To understand this, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Tasmanian Parliament looks, to some extent, like an upside-down version of its counterparts in other Australian states, though not all of them, as well as Federal Parliament.  It has two chambers, namely the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council – the former being where governments are made, as is the case with its counterparts.  But elections for these chambers look like their counterparts in reverse.

Members of the Legislative Council, or MLCs for short, are spread across fifteen divisions around Tasmania.  They’re elected in the same way that people are elected to the House of Representatives in Federal Parliament, for example.  On the other hand, elections for the Assembly are like elections for the Senate in Federal Parliament, using proportional representation based on support across a bigger region than just a cluster of suburbs.

The difference from other parts of Australia is that, in Tasmania, the Council is the Upper House of Parliament and the Assembly is the Lower House, so the way to win seats here is like an upside-down version of elsewhere.  The Upper House arrangement of single-member seats, won by obtaining a majority of the vote in a seat, is what you find in the Lower House of Tasmania’s parliamentary equivalents elsewhere, as well as in Federal Parliament, where the House of Representatives is the Lower House.  On the other hand, the Lower House arrangement in Tasmania, of multi-member seats which are filled on the basis of a party’s strength across a region, rather than a strict majority, is what you find in the Upper House of Tasmania’s parliamentary equivalents elsewhere.  Tasmania basically has Upper House seats won by majority vote and Lower House seats won by proportional vote, whereas elsewhere it’s the reverse.

But the differences don’t end here.  General elections in Tasmania, such as what took place in March this year, are only for the Lower House, and they usually happen every four years.  On the other hand, Tasmanian MLCs face voters on a cyclical basis every year, specifically during May.  You get a handful of MLCs going to the polls at a time, while election cycles usually last a number of years.

Interestingly, when electoral redistributions take place in Tasmania, MLCs sometimes find their seats abolished.  But this doesn’t end their careers on the spot.  Instead, they are allocated seats – sometimes there can be two MLCs sharing one seat, while a newly-created seat lies vacant until its scheduled election, whenever that comes.

Indeed there was an electoral redistribution in Tasmania last year.  One Independent MLC, Greg Hall, found his seat of Western Tiers abolished.  Having last faced the voters in 2012, he was due to face them again this year.  As such, he was put in another seat, together with another MLC, until the time when he was due to face the voters.  This arrangement is common in Tasmania.  In the end, Hall ended up retiring.

In terms of MLCs facing the voters this year, there was only one current MLC facing them, specifically an Independent in Hobart.  The Liberal Party, which had won power back in 2014, contested this election in Hobart, but the Independent won.

There was also an election in a new seat called Prosser, in eastern Tasmania.  It was where Hodgman got another win – or an Upper hand, if you like!  Here the Liberals ended up winning, so an extra parliamentarian helps Hodgman.

The general election win in March would have been encouraging enough for Hodgman, now into his second term as Premier.  But another win is always welcome.  The fortunes will probably smile on Hodgman at least until the next Upper House election next year.


Rural decline shown in lost seats

15 July 2018


The large electorates of Barwon and Murray cover much of western New South Wales.  Certainly Barwon is the more vast of these two electorates in the State Parliament, but Murray isn’t exactly that small.  Mind you, the electorates border each other now, although two decades ago they didn’t do so.

Back then, around this time in 1998, Barwon covered a large region in the state’s north, and Murray covered a large region in the state’s south-west.  Now Barwon stretches from the north to the west, while Murray covers a larger region than what it did in 1998.

These electorates, to no small extent, show how much regional NSW has declined in terms of population since 1998.  Indeed going back to 1998, a general election was held in NSW the following year, and an electoral redistribution took place before it.  That redistribution saw Murray abolished, along with a neighbouring electorate, Broken Hill, and a new electorate called Murray-Darling was created, while Barwon became bigger.

In order to understand this decline in the regional population in NSW, I include three other electorates in this context – Burrinjuck, Lachlan, and Murrumbidgee.

Together with Barwon and Murray, as well as Broken Hill, these six electorates covered a decent chunk of NSW in 1998.  Today, only Barwon and Murray exist today, with the other electorates abolished in subsequent electoral redistributions.

Admittedly, there are three other electorates still around today which were mixed with these five back in 1998, but I exclude them because they still exist – I refer here to Albury, Dubbo, and Wagga Wagga.

As mentioned, Murray actually didn’t exist for some years after 1998, because there was an electoral redistribution around that time before a general election coming in 1999.  Broken Hill was also abolished, while emerging was a larger electorate called Murray-Darling.

Since that election in 1999, there have been four elections in NSW, with electoral redistributions ahead of two of them, in 2007 and 2015.  And both redistributions saw one less electorate in this large part of NSW.  Before 2007, a redistribution abolished Lachlan.  Before 2015, there was again one less electorate out there, albeit not as clearly.

That pre-2015 redistribution saw Murray-Darling abolished, together with both Burrinjuck and Murrumbidgee.  There was again an electorate named Murray following this redistribution, along with an electorate named Cootamundra.

As for Barwon, it’d grown quite a bit in the pre-1999 redistribution.  And of course it grew bigger in the next two redistributions, to the point where it now stretches from the state’s north to the state’s west.

Politically, the Nationals have copped the brunt of the lost electorates in these redistributions, holding most of those abolished ones.  And they actually hold those electorates existing there today.

Back in 1998, the Labor Party only held Broken Hill.  After it was abolished, Labor managed to win Murray-Darling in 1999, but lost it to the Nationals in 2007.

While Broken Hill and then Murray-Darling had been relatively solid for Labor over time, the Nationals ended up representing the regions that they covered.

While there’s clearly been a rural decline in NSW, as shown through these lost seats, there was an irony in the pre-1999 redistribution.  Usually with electoral redistributions, rural seats disappear and new urban seats emerge.  But in 1999 there were actually more urban seats disappearing than rural.

The declining population in rural NSW, like in other states, shows in the declining number of parliamentary seats.  This trend looks like continuing for a while yet.


Leader’s by-election boost

17 June 2018


The closeness of a general election can leave a leader governing with a majority of one legislative seat, or maybe two seats.  Sometimes the leader doesn’t even enjoy the luxury of a majority, and needs crossbench support to govern.

But there was one instance of a leader coming out of an election with the barest of majorities, until the leader’s party managed to win a by-election for a seat held by some other party.  This by-election win boosted the leader’s majority, and after this boost, the leader didn’t look back.

However, I’m being cheeky here – this isn’t a prediction that the Turnbull Coalition Government, which won the last election by two seats, will win any one of several by-elections about to held in seats that its rivals hold.

Instead, this is a recollection of the fortune of Bob Carr, who was Premier of New South Wales from 1995 to 2005.  He led the Labor Party to victory by a single seat at an election in 1995, which wouldn’t have been comfortable for either Labor or him, but Labor’s gaining of a seat in a by-election the following year enabled him to breathe easier, and he went on to comfortably win two more general elections and rack up a decade as Premier before retiring.

Perhaps ironically, a Federal election set in train Carr’s by-election boost.  In early 1996, several State MPs in New South Wales switched to Federal politics, which in turn caused by-elections in State seats.  It was a traumatic time for Labor, as John Howard became Prime Minister with a huge win over Paul Keating, who led Labor to one of its biggest Federal election defeats in history.  But Labor got a boost from one of the State by-elections taking place in NSW because of the switches.

The by-election boost was in Clarence, a seat in northern NSW, taking in Grafton and surrounding areas.  Ian Causley, a National who’d taken the seat from Labor in 1984 upon the retirement of former minister Don Day, resigned to contest the Federal election.  He ran against Labor MP Harry Woods in the seat of Page, and won.  He was among countless new MPs in the Liberal-National Coalition.  But his old State seat was subject to a by-election after he departed for Federal politics.

Having been elected to Federal Parliament in 1990, Woods probably still had much to offer Labor when he lost his seat.  As such, he became the Labor candidate for the Clarence by-election, held to replace Causley.  And he won that by-election.

That victory by Woods was the boost for Carr.  He’d become Premier by arguably the narrowest of margins at an election in NSW the previous year, winning by one seat.  This meant that one resignation or death or change of mind could possibly cost Carr his majority, or even put him out of office altogether.  But Woods, with his victory in the Clarence by-election, increased Carr’s buffer to three seats.

At the 1995 election in NSW, Labor won fifty seats out of ninety-nine up for grabs, while the Coalition won forty-six seats and Independents won three – hence that one-seat majority for Carr.  The victory by Woods took Labor up to fifty-one seats and dropped the Coalition to forty-five seats – hence a one-seat majority increasing to a three-seat majority.  And Carr didn’t look back after that.

This story of a leader’s by-election boost came back into my head when I learned about a series of Federal by-elections to be held soon, in the wake of new problems of Federal MPs with dual citizenship arising.  When stories broke last year about MPs with dual citizenship, Labor insisted that none of its MPs had any such issues over this.  But with most of the coming by-elections triggered by Labor MPs found to be dual citizenship, Labor now has a credibility problem.

The Coalition doesn’t hold any of the seats where by-elections will take place.  But three of those seats were in the Coalition’s hands before the last election.  Two of them fell to Labor, and one of them fell to a candidate aligned with popular South Australian politician Nick Xenophon.

Victory for the Coalition in any of these by-elections will give the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, quite a boost.  With his two-seat majority, winning one of those by-elections will increase his majority.  Time will tell if it happens, but the massive boost from it could be what Turnbull needs right now.


Victoria’s games of leapfrog

4 June 2018


Victorians will go to the polls before year’s end.  A State election is coming up in Victoria in late November, and the Labor Party seeks a second term in office, having been elected in 2014 after just a single term out.  The Liberal-National Coalition, which was elected to office in 2010 but lasted one term there before losing, seeks to reverse the last result.

If the Coalition defeats Labor, it’ll be a case of two first-term governments in a row losing office.  You don’t see that happen very often.

However, regardless of who wins the next election overall, at least from the perspective of winning a majority in the 88-seat Lower House of Parliament where governments are formed, the winner probably won’t obtain a majority in the 40-seat Upper House.  While the Lower House has single-member seats where you need a majority of the vote to get elected in the seat that you contest, the Upper House has multi-member seats where you only need a proportion of the vote across a designated area to get elected.

It’s easier for Independents and minor parties to win seats in the Upper House, because they don’t require a huge share of the vote in any electorate, known in political language as a province, which has five seats.

About 16.7 per cent of the vote in a province therefore will get you into the Upper House.

There are eight Upper House provinces – five of them covering the Victorian capital city, described as metropolitan, and three of them covering the remainder of Victoria.  The five metropolitan provinces are divided to cover the west, the north, the south, the east, and the south-east.  The three rural provinces are known as Eastern Victoria, Northern Victoria, and Western Victoria.

The last State election, in November 2014, saw some minor parties win seats in the Upper House despite winning relatively few votes.  In more than one instance, a minor player actually had less votes than another minor player, but got elected on preferences.  When minor players manage to win seats with a smaller share of the vote than another minor player, it’s a case of what I call leapfrogging.  And it’s not exactly rare.

All Upper Provinces had at least one player elected, and sometimes two minor players, behind Labor and the Coalition in 2014.  But in every province, Labor and the Coalition won the most votes, albeit not always in that order, and the Greens came third.  Usually, if seats go to minor players, those finishing third would be the ones to get them, but this only happened in three of the eight provinces.

In the capital’s east and south and south-east, the major parties and the Greens won all five seats per province.  These provinces ended up being free of leapfrogging.

The other five provinces had games of leapfrog, some worse than others.

In the capital’s north, Labor won two seats while the Coalition and the Greens finished with one seat each.  The last seat went to Fiona Patten, whose party ended up finishing fifth on primary votes.  To be fair, though, both her party and the fourth-placed party ended up with roughly 2.9 per cent of the vote, so there wasn’t much in it.

In the capital’s west, the seat tally also read two for Labor and one for the Coalition and one for the Greens.  The last seat went to Rachel Carling-Jenkins, whose party finished sixth, despite another party winning more than twice as many votes.

The Shooters and Fishers won two seats, in Victoria’s east and north.  But these resulted from leapfrogging, as they finished fifth in one province and sixth in another.

But the worst case surrounded James Purcell, who grabbed a seat in Western Victoria despite finishing eleventh.  Preferences from other players got him elected.

Victoria’s last election therefore had several games of leapfrog, which many observers would describe as insulting to democracy.  Why should those with less votes win seats?

The next election might see more leapfrogging.  The minor parties know how the system works, and they’ll make use of it when they can.


Greens hardly wilting but still bothered

28 May 2018


This political year so far hasn’t been the best for the Greens.  Two months have passed since they suffered losses in perhaps their two strongest states around Australia, but the losses might only look like temporary setbacks.

Back in March, the Greens lost a seat at a general election in Tasmania, which had long been their strongest state.  Later that month, they lost a Federal by-election which had been touted as theirs for the asking in Victoria, probably their strongest state following the retirement from politics a few years ago of their Tasmanian godfather, Bob Brown.

The Tasmanian result was a bit of surprise in my opinion.  The Greens only held three seats there, but I didn’t expect them to lose any seats.  They ended up losing one seat in Tasmania’s north-east to the Labor Party.  Noting that Tasmanian elections contain five electorates with five seats apiece, and that parties win seats on the basis of the strength of their vote across each electorate, the Greens had one seat in three of those electorates, two of them around the state capital of Hobart and one of them in the less-urban north-east.  Before the election, there’d been talk that their seat in the north-east was at risk, but I felt that they’d hold it – they ended up losing it.

The Labor Party, which had lost office in Tasmania in 2014 after four years of governing in alliance with the Greens, probably had to put some distance between itself and the Greens.  The Liberal Party, which won in 2014 and won again in March this year, was able to convince voters that only it could deliver stable governance for Tasmania, and that a vote for Labor or the Greens might mark a return to the old alliance.  Labor was able to win a few seats from the Liberals in March this year, but winning an extra seat from the Greens would’ve been something of a bonus.  However, the Liberals only hold the narrowest of majorities – one seat – in Parliament.  Although Labor must win three seats to win the next election in Tasmania, this is doable.

I suspect that the Greens suffered in part because voters decided that Labor was more tolerable in terms of an alternative to the Liberals, and some bad memories of instability from the alliance before 2014 might’ve lingered.  The other issue might be that Tasmania still appears largely reliant on rural industries like farming and logging – long regarded by the Greens and environmentalists as anti-green industries if you like.  Rural voters probably see the Greens as threatening their jobs, and they hate them.

Of course, this antagonism probably goes well beyond Tasmania.  I’ve lost count of how often I’ve heard about “bushies” complaining about “greenies” threatening the existence of their jobs and livelihoods.  But the complaints also have a urban factor in them, given that, over time, city dwellers have said uncomplimentary things about farmers or other rural dwellers and how their practices appear environmentally damaging.  Debates over water management, such as the growing of thirsty crops like cotton and rice, might well illustrate this urban factor.  I’ve heard people questioning why we’re growing crops such as cotton or rice in drought-prone areas inland, but I wonder what farmers across those areas would otherwise grow, and whether those crops could be grown elsewhere.

Indeed this antagonism exists in inner Melbourne, where the Greens suffered their other loss in March.  It was a by-election for the Federal seat of Batman, long held by Labor.

The Greens had come close to winning Batman in past Federal elections, but they kept coming up short.  When a by-election happened there, after the departure of Labor MP David Feeney because of suspicions of dual citizenship, the Greens were tipped widely for victory at last.  But there was a swing to Labor.

In the wake of the by-election, and noting that Victoria is probably now the strongest state for the Greens, they were in turmoil.  How could their vote suddenly drop?

Part of the reason was that Labor had a popular candidate in Ged Kearney, the former head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions – the body that Bob Hawke headed until he entered Federal Parliament in 1980 and became Prime Minister in 1983.

As well as being known to all, Kearney made comments about mining and immigration which wouldn’t have been out of place among supporters of the Greens.  Indeed Labor has many MPs who regard mining as an environmental “evil” and who hate immigration laws designed to deter people from trying to sail to Australia on leaky boats.  But Labor has long been trapped on those issues, because they are largely popular among voters across Australia, and Labor would lose any election if opposing them.

Many inner city dwellers, such as those in Batman, are pro-environment and fervently opposed to hard lines on immigration.  They’re the ones that tend to support the Greens, though they’d previously supported Labor.

Despite these setbacks for the Greens in Tasmania and Victoria, I’d hardly suggest that they’re wilting, but they’d still be bothered.  It’s been a while since they suffered these kinds of setbacks.

But the Greens still have decent support across the country.  I think that coming elections will show it.  They’ll survive despite losing some seats.


Senate careers prolonged

14 May 2018


The lucky fortunes of politics have shone on the Liberal Party and the Greens, though not in ways that you might think.  They might be far apart in terms of where they sit on the political fence, but in recent months some in their ranks have enjoyed lucky breaks.

With numerous politicians disqualified as a result of a court ruling over dual citizenship, although by-elections have followed in relation to members of the House of Representatives, the story has been different in relation to the Senate.

When Senators are disqualified, a recount of the Senate vote takes place in their former states or territories.  Usually, a disqualified Senator’s running mate from the same party or group ends up coming into the Senate.  Meanwhile, another running mate is simply moved up the order.

The lucky thing surrounding the dual citizenship saga, and those disqualified politicians, is that some people, specifically in the Senate, have found themselves taking the next election off.  The result of the saga is that some Senate careers have been unexpectedly prolonged.

Federal elections usually have six Senate seats up for grabs in each state, noting that each state has twelve Senators, with half of them facing the voters at each election on a rotating basis.  However, the last election, in 2016, was a double-dissolution, which doesn’t happen much in Australia, and all twelve Senate seats were therefore up for grabs in every state in 2016.  At that election, it was decided that, out of each state’s twelve Senators, the last six to be elected would be facing the voters at the next election, which will happen by June 2019 at the very latest, while the first six to be elected wouldn’t be facing the voters until the election after next, due by June 2022.

As such, there are four lucky Senators, specifically three Liberals and a Green.

The easiest explanation of luck surrounds Rachel Siewert, a Green from Western Australia.  She was originally elected twelfth, while another Green, Scott Ludlam, was elected third.  Although the Greens won considerably fewer votes than both the Liberals and the Labor Party, they won more than enough votes to be assured of at least one seat, and as the first candidate on the Senate ticket for the Greens, Ludlam was duly elected.  He was among those disqualified over dual citizenship, and Siewert, as the second candidate for the Greens in the 2016 election, therefore was considered their “first” candidate in the recount, so she was moved to third, while the candidate directly below Siewert, Jordon Steele-John was elected twelfth in Siewert’s former place.  Siewert was due to face the voters at the next election, but Ludlam’s disqualification enables her to have the next election off.

It’s important to note that when Senate votes are counted, the major parties often win more than enough votes to be guaranteed two or three seats each, although the Greens sometimes win enough votes to be guaranteed seats when counting starts.  But as long as parties win enough votes to be guaranteed seats, no matter how far ahead of or behind their rivals they are, they are among the first declared elected.  In WA, for example, the Liberals and Labor won enough votes for several seats, and the Greens won enough votes for one seat, but on those grounds, they were the third to have someone declared elected.  After that, the major parties naturally had more candidates declared elected, and the Greens had more votes come to them on preferences, so they won a second seat.

Similarly, in New South Wales, Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells moved up the order from seventh to fifth after a National, Fiona Nash, was disqualified in the dual citizenship saga.  Because the Liberals and the Nationals ran a joint Senate ticket in NSW, they had a mix of Liberals and Nationals there.  In 2016, Nash was the fifth to be declared elected, but as a result of her disqualification, Fierravanti-Wells now avoids facing the voters at the next election.

But the luckiest Senators must surely be two Liberals from Tasmania, Jonathon Duniam and David Bushby.  They were elected seventh and ninth respectively, before the disqualification of Liberal Senator Stephen Parry and crossbencher Jacqui Lambie.  However, their fate is trickier to explain.

As the second Liberal Senate candidate, Parry finished up as the fifth Tasmanian Senator elected.  His disqualification moved Duniam up to fifth, enabling Duniam to have the next election off.

But the disqualification of Lambie, who was fourth elected, really messed things up.  Her party didn’t win a big share of the vote overall, but her personal vote, combined with her party’s vote, enabled her to win a seat.  Her disqualification meant that her party didn’t have enough votes to be guaranteed a seat, although the party ultimately got one on preferences.  This ultimately shifted the party down the order to ninth, while other candidates moved up the order.  Duniam subsequently ended up having been elected fourth, and Bushby moved to sixth, with a Labor candidate between them.  This means that Bushby, like Duniam, avoids facing the voters at the next election.

The dual citizenship saga therefore leaves four Senators having longer time within the parliamentary chamber than expected.  Few can enjoy such luck.


Little passion as Marshall gets home

29 April 2018


South Australian voters have turned to the Liberal Party for the first time in more than twenty years.  Admittedly, they probably were turning to the Liberals on more than one occasion after the last Liberal win, in 1997, but not enough for the Liberals to actually win an election until last month.

The election ended sixteen years of governance by the Labor Party, which gained power in early 2002.  Back then, Labor only took power with the help of crossbench support after a hung election.  The next elections, in 2006 and 2010, delivered clear Labor wins, before Labor lost its majority in 2014 and had to rely on crossbenchers to govern once more.  An unlikely win in a by-election later that year enabled Labor to regain its majority, which stayed intact until a Labor MP went to the crossbench.

Realistically, voters were wanting to throw Labor out when the 2014 election came around, but a decent swing to the Liberals didn’t deliver them victory because the votes weren’t in the swinging seats that they needed.  This time, they got the votes where they needed them.

Apart from a long stint in office and the usual signs of age, Labor had problems with a state economy in poor shape, and major concerns about the reliability of electricity supplies within the state – a series of major power blackouts in recent years really highlighted those concerns, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Given Labor’s length of time in office and the concerns over electricity, I’d suggest that voters turned out the lights on Labor.

Despite Labor’s problems going into the election last month, there were still doubts about whether the Liberals could win.  Until last month’s election, apart from their last election win in 1997, their only previous election wins over the past forty years or so had been in 1979 and 1993.  They’d arguably been in a position to win several elections during the past forty years, but they were often coming up short.  As well as this bad record, the Liberals weren’t exactly enthusing voters, even though voters were probably desperate to get rid of Labor, though opinion polls didn’t show this.

Liberal leader Steven Marshall wasn’t exactly popular with voters.  Indeed, despite the things hindering Labor, Premier Jay Weatherill was regarded as more popular than Marshall.  Moreover, when popular politician Nick Xenophon announced that he’d leave Federal Parliament to contest a seat in this election, in one opinion poll voters regarded him more highly than both Weatherill and Marshall.

Nevertheless, I predicted that Marshall would win the election, although not with that much confidence.  I just felt that voters were wanting to send Labor packing, and the Liberals were able to convince them that nothing but a vote for the Liberals was the only way to change direction in South Australia.  Even a vote for Xenophon and his party was painted as potentially enabling Labor to stay in office, whether with crossbench support or not – in other words, more of the same.

In the end, the Liberals managed to narrowly win the election, despite little passion among voters for them.  With forty-seven seats up for grabs, the Liberals came away with twenty-five, equating to a narrow win.

Moreover, as Marshall gets home with this narrow win, he’s only the third Liberal leader in forty years to win an election, so history won’t seem kind to him.

In terms of seats won, I tipped the Liberals to win by more than they actually did.

I correctly tipped them to win Colton and Elder and Newland, all Labor seats from 2014.  They also won the new seat of King, and regained some seats from MPs who became Independents after the 2014 election.

But I got several seats wrong.  I didn’t tip Labor to hold the seats of Lee and Mawson and Wright, or to win the new seats of Badcoe and Hurtle Vale.  Labor had won seats like these in the past when they were predicted to fall, through strong campaigning at local levels – such campaigning probably saved Labor from a bigger defeat.  Labor finished with nineteen seats.

There were three Independents elected, only one of whom I’d tipped to win.  Geoff Brock held his seat of Frome, as I’d expected.  But the other two Independents were both formerly with the major parties, and I’d tipped their seats to go back to where they’d been in 2014 – this wasn’t to be.

As for Xenophon, who ran for the Liberal-held seat of Hartley, I’d tipped him to lose, because I didn’t believe that he enjoyed a strong level of local support across a group of suburbs, which was what he really needed to win that seat.  And sure enough, he was defeated.  Surprisingly, though, he was actually eliminated during the counting of preferences.  He came second to the Liberals on primary votes, but Labor passed him with preferences from other candidates, albeit not enough to beat the Liberals.

Also, the two major parties both won four of eleven seats up for grabs in the Upper House, while Xenophon’s party took two seats and the Greens took one seat.

The result of the election will buoy the Liberals, getting their first South Australian win for two decades.  But their past record makes one wonder whether they’ll stay good until the next election.


Tasmania’s messy Senate reshuffle

23 April 2018


The Senate now looks different to what it looked like after the last election, in the middle of 2016.  While some Senators have departed voluntarily since then, more have been booted out because of court rulings.

Many of those Senators to be booted out were found to be dual citizens, meaning that they were citizens of both Australia and other countries, which in turn meant that they weren’t eligible to run for Parliament.  They started falling by the wayside in the middle of 2017, when the Greens lost Scott Ludlam, who’d won a Senate seat in Western Australia, after revelations were made that he was a dual citizen.  With more Senators suspected of dual citizenship, their eligibility to run for Parliament was examined in court.  Subsequent court rulings saw them disqualified, as a result of which the Senate vote in various states had to be recounted.

Probably the messiest recount took place in Tasmania, where popular crossbencher Jacqui Lambie and Liberal Senator Stephen Parry were disqualified.  If only Parry had been disqualified, it would’ve been a simple case of moving candidates behind him up in order.  But Lambie’s disqualification made things messy.

The Liberal Party won four Senate seats in Tasmania.  Eric Abetz led the Liberal Senate ticket at the election, with Parry second.  After them came Jonathon Duniam, David Bushby, and Richard Colbeck.  Of this bunch, the only existing non-Senator was Duniam.  With the Liberal vote at the election not strong enough to win more than four seats, the fifth-placed Colbeck, who’d been in the Senate since 2002, was the unlucky loser.  But after Parry was caught up in the dual citizenship saga and subsequently disqualified, Duniam was classified as the second Liberal candidate and Bushby was classified as the third, and Colbeck was able to return to the Senate.

However, the disqualification of Lambie ended making the Senate recount difficult in Tasmania.  The reason for this was how Senate votes are conventionally counted.

When you vote for Senators in a Federal election, you receive what is often a large ballot paper, with lots of candidates.  On the paper is a thick black line, with many boxes above it and many more boxes below it.  The boxes above the line represent parties and groups, while the boxes below it represent candidates.  You can either vote for your choice of party or group above that black line, or vote for your choice of candidates below it.

In this context, I refer to the vote above the line as the party vote, and the vote below the line as the personal vote.

When the Senate votes are counted, a party’s vote above the line is added to its first candidate’s vote below the line.  This combination of party vote and personal vote shows against the party’s first candidate.

In the counting of the Senate votes in Tasmania, candidates ended up needing over 26,000 votes to win a seat.  Lambie’s party vote came to less than 17,000.  But Lambie herself had a personal vote of over 11,000.  Adding these together, Lambie therefore was classified as winning almost 28,000 votes – more than enough to win a seat.

But when Lambie was disqualified amid the dual citizenship saga, her personal vote was allocated to other candidates, based on where voters had marked their second preferences – or a “2” – on their ballot papers.  Because her party won nowhere near enough votes to secure a Senate seat without her personal vote, the next candidate dropped down the order when party votes and personal votes were combined.

When Lambie was a candidate, her party vote and personal vote got her into fourth place.  Without her vote, her party’s next candidate dropped to ninth.

In the recount, Liberal candidate Duniam went from seventh to fourth, while the Labor Party had Senator Helen Polley moving from sixth to fifth.  The Liberals had Bushby going from ninth to sixth, and Labor Senator Carol Brown went from eighth to seventh.  Colbeck went from being defeated to taking eighth spot.

This basically illustrates Tasmania’s messy Senate reshuffle after the disqualification of Lambie from Parliament.  Reshuffles often happen in Senate vote recounts, but the mess after Lambie’s disqualification mightn’t be repeated for some time yet.


Greiner’s close victory

16 April 2018


Last month marked a political anniversary of sorts.  But hardly anybody in the Liberal Party, especially in New South Wales, needs reminding of it.

I even wonder if the Liberals, when looking back on that anniversary, find themselves pondering how it went wrong after what seemed so momentous an event for them.

Political enthusiasts would know that last month marked thirty years since the Liberals, led by Nick Greiner, took power with a memorable election win, in March 1988.  This election win ended twelve years of power for the Labor Party.  When Greiner won in 1988, his triumph was seen as a big one.  I was a teenager at that time, and I remember Greiner as a very popular leader in those days.

As Premier, Greiner turned out to be quite good, especially when it came to managing the NSW economy.  For sure, he made some unpopular decisions which were considered sensible for the economy, but he still seemed popular enough.  On the other hand, might he have looked popular simply because Labor didn’t look credible?  People will probably agree to disagree over that.

But when you look more closely at Greiner’s 1988 election win, it probably wasn’t that big at all.  It might’ve felt big because of how long it’d been since the last Liberal election win in NSW, back in 1973.  If anything, the results of that election in 1988 were closer than they looked, and Greiner’s win wasn’t that big.

Needing 55 seats to win the election, out of 109 available seats, the final tally for Greiner and his team was 59.  This hardly equated to a big win, at least in a mathematical sense.

Perhaps the thing making Greiner’s close win look bigger was Labor’s tally from that election.  Labor won only 43 seats – 16 seats less than Greiner and his team won.

Greiner could only afford to lose a relative handful of seats to protect his parliamentary majority.  But Labor needed several such handfuls of seats to get a majority.  And having lost in a big way, Labor didn’t look like it could get near Greiner and the Liberals when the next election came.

History shows, however, that when voters next went to the polls in NSW, Greiner ended up losing his majority, and could only govern with crossbench support.  In the aftermath of Labor’s 1988 loss, Bob Carr had become Labor leader, and he didn’t look like a leader capable of troubling Greiner.  But Carr brought Labor really close to victory, and years later he managed to lead Labor to an election win and was Premier for ten years.  Labor won another election after Carr stepped down – only to implode and comprehensively lose an election to the Liberals in 2011.

Going back to 1988, while Greiner and the Liberals hadn’t won the election by a large margin, something making Labor’s recovery harder was the size of the crossbench.

No fewer than seven crossbench MPs were elected in 1988.  Three of them were already there going into the election – North Shore MP Ted Mack, Wollongong MP Frank Arkell, and South Coast MP John Hatton.  There was a fourth crossbencher with them, namely former Labor MP George Petersen, but he was defeated in his seat of Illawarra at that election.  Despite Petersen’s defeat, four new crossbenchers were elected.

Possibly the most famous of the new crossbench MPs was Dawn Fraser, a legendary swimmer from the 1950s and 1960s.  She stood as an Independent in Balmain, a Labor seat in inner Sydney, and won.  Labor lost two other seats to Independents, both outside Sydney, with Ivan Welsh winning Swansea and George Keegan winning Newcastle.

Interestingly, the other new Independent from that election, Clover Moore, triumphed over a Liberal MP, in inner Sydney.  She defeated Liberal frontbencher Michael Yabsley in the seat of Bligh.  Yabsley’s defeat would’ve been one of the few lowlights for Greiner and the Liberals in their moment of triumph.

When the next election in NSW came, in 1991, most of the Independents were defeated, with only Hatton and Moore making it back.  However, two more Independents, Peter Macdonald and Tony Windsor, were elected.  With Greiner losing his majority in 1991, he became reliant on these Independents to govern.

The following year, a scandal involving a former minister forced Greiner to resign from the top job.  Some say that the Liberals, shellshocked at losing him, recovered perhaps more slowly than they should have when he went.  They didn’t enjoy a leader like him for many years.

Considering that Greiner’s close win happened just over thirty years ago, the Liberals might still wonder today how different things would be if not for his departure.