Archive for July, 2009

Labor letting 16-year-olds vote?

This morning, The Australian reported that the Labor Party is considering introducing non-compulsory voting for 16-year-olds as part of its second white paper.

I think it’s a great idea to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote. We should, as a society, allow as many people as possible to vote, so the voting age should be set at the lowest level where people can make a informed, educated decision (although many adults don’t make informed decisions, so I don’t know why we would expect anything more from teenagers).

16 year olds have almost reached adulthood and have a lot of responsibility, with many having jobs and most having an interest in government through their education.

Young people are a very weak voting bloc, partly due to the fact that most young people can’t vote. Teenagers’ interests and political beliefs often don’t align with their parents and we can’t expect parents to represent their older children’s interests in the political process. It strikes me that most policy regarding education and youth is aimed more at parents than the actual children affected.

Although I don’t generally support compulsory voting, I find it bizarre that we would treat teenagers differently in this regard. It’s true plenty of teenagers might be unenthusiastic about voting, but all of these arguments against letting teenagers vote can be applied to letting anyone vote, considering many voters are apathetic, unengaged and uninformed. It’s not a good reason to deprive them of a vote.

From a political perspective, lowering the voting age undoubtedly helps the Labor Party and the Greens. But I think it would be more significant in shifting policy to areas more favourable to youth. And the idea of state education ministers having to consider the impact of their policy on voting Year 11s and 12s is revolutionary.

So what do you think? Should we lower the minimum voting age?

Update: I did an interview this evening for ABC News Radio Drive. You can listen to it here.

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Yet another UK map update

So I’m still working on my UK House of Commons map, and I’ve reached the Scottish border! As the map below shows, I have now completed 7 of the 9 regions of England, after just finishing North West. I only have yet to do North East and Yorkshire and the Humber, as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I’ve uploaded the latest version on the maps page.

uk450

Queensland redistribution draft report

The Australian Electoral Commission has announced the draft boundaries for Queensland’s federal redistribution, which will see the state gain a thirtieth seat. The AEC has proposed the creation of a seat using the name of ‘Wright’ in the rural hinterland south of Brisbane and west of the Gold Coast. The seat is named after the poet Judith Wright. The name was originally proposed for the central Queensland seat created for the 2007 election, but was changed to Flynn in consideration of the history of the disgraced ALP MP Keith Wright, who had previously represented a seat in central Queensland.

Antony Green has crunched the numbers and come up with the notional margins in each seat. The new seat of Wright is a marginal Liberal seat, while the redistribution sees two very marginal Liberal seats, suburban Brisbane Dickson and the Townsville seat of Herbert, both become notional Labor seats, although in the end both seats remain incredibly marginal. I’ll leave the rest of the broad picture to Antony Green’s commentary:

In the South East corner, Treasurer Wayne Swan’s seat of Lilley has its margin cut from 8.6% to 5.9%, but Labor’s position in the marginal seats of Blair, Moreton and Petrie is strengthened but weakened in Longman. The Liberal seat of Ryan has its margin cut from 3.8% to 1.2%.

The marginal seats on the old boundaries are shown below. Labor held 15 seats, the Coalition 13 (Liberal 10, national 3) with Independent Bob Katter holding the northern outback seat of Kennedy. Nine of Labor’s 15 seats were marginal on the old boundaries.

[…]

On the new boundaries, Labor now notionally hold 17 seats with the addition of Herbert and Dickson to the Coalitions 12 (Liberal 9, National 3) with one Independent. The Liberal margin in Bowman is so narrow it could almost be a Labor seat.

Nine of Labor’s 17 seats are marginal, but this includes Herbert and Dickson. Three of Labor’s former marginal seats, Blair, Moreton and Petrie, have been substantially strengthened, while Brisbane has moved into the marginal category.

I have uploaded the maps as a Google Earth file, which you can download here. You can also download the 2007 boundaries and use them to compare each seat’s changes and do your own analysis. The following maps show Brisbane as a hold on the 2007 and draft 2010 boundaries:

Brisbane, 2007 federal boundaries

Brisbane, 2007 federal boundaries

Brisbane, 2009 draft federal boundaries

Brisbane, 2009 draft federal boundaries

One seat I wanted to particularly point out is Ryan, which is the sole remaining Liberal seat in Brisbane proper. Ryan was held by a 3.8% before the redistribution, while on the draft boundaries the seat is held by a bare 1.2%.

Elsewhere: A discussion thread at Poll Bludger.

Democrats rebuilding effort

A friend of mine who is a former Democrats member has forwarded to me this email sent out to former Democrats members as part of their “rebuilding” effort. I post it below the fold without comment:

Read the rest of this entry »

What colour are you?

Imre Saluzinsky, the Australian‘s NSW politics reporter, wrote in today’s Australian about the Mayor of Leichhardt, Jamie Parker, and his prospective candidacy for the state seat of Balmain for the Greens. Most of the article is fairly reasonable analysis of the Balmain race and the Greens’ chance, although he mostly ignores the fact that Parker does not seem to have yet been preselected for the race:

And according to most observers and polls, he’ll win, creating history twice, by becoming the first Greens MP to crack the NSW lower house and by slaying Labor at its birthplace (the ALP was formed at Balmain’s Unity Hall Hotel, in 1891).

“We’re definitely within striking range,” is Mr Parker’s assessment.

In fact, Labor held on against the Greens in 2007 by a margin of just 3.75 per cent, and since then Ms Firth has copped plenty of political pain over Labor decisions to widen the Iron Cove Bridge and build a metro from the CBD to Rozelle.

Saluzinsky, however, veers off the rails in the last paragraph, again pushing his bizarre analysis of internal Greens politics:

According to the loose factionalism of his party, Mr Parker is a “blue Green” rather than a “red Green”. With a background in marketing rather than Stalinism, he carries none of the far-Left baggage of many senior NSW Greens.

It’s not the first time the old media has pushed a line about ideological divisions within the Greens. Indeed Saluzinsky pushed a similar line in an article about NSW Greens Senate candidate Lee Rhiannon three weeks ago:

“People constantly say that about us,” she tells Inquirer. “But I can show you the first document produced by the NSW Greens, in 1984, in which the environment is one of many issues. The Greens are an organisation where you’re looking at everything and the interactions of everything.”

Maybe, but the NSW Greens are frequently described as an uneasy alliance of urban guerillas and tree-huggers, with Rhiannon representing the former and her upper house colleague Ian Cohen representing the latter strain. This will make for some interesting dynamics if Rhiannon makes it into the senate. Federal Greens leader Bob Brown, who came to politics from the campaign to save Tasmania’s Franklin River in the early 80s, is closer to Cohen than he is to Rhiannon and is one of those Greens whose top priority is saving the planet. The destruction of Western capitalism lies further down the list.

I wonder whether political journalists ever actually speak to anyone in the Greens, or simply make their prognostications without any research. Because anyone who is actually involved in the Greens can tell you that it is complete crap. Lee was involved in environmental activism long before she was an MP, and Cohen first gained his activist cred in the 1980s as a peace activist in inner-city Sydney. And what the hell is a ‘blue Green’? Is Saluzinsky suggesting that Parker is somehow a more conservative Greens politician? Considering his origins in the student left, it seems slightly bizarre to extrapolate an ideology from his choice of a degree in marketing.

So if a marketing degree makes Parker a ‘blue Green’, and those of us who have backgrounds in Stalinism (?!) are ‘red Greens’, what colour are you, my fellow Stalinists?

I personally think I might by cyan.

Labor MP joins Nationals in WA

Bizzarely, a regional Labor MP in the WA Parliament, Vince Catania, last night resigned from the Labor Party in order to join the WA Nationals, who are in a governing coalition with the Liberal Party. Catania is a young MP who was first elected as an MLC for Mining and Pastoral in 2005 before moving to the Legislative Assembly seat of North West in 2008.

wa_northwestCatania criticised the Labor Party for being too ‘city-centric’, which is a strange comment from a candidate largely seen as being parachuted into the seat by inner-city forces, including those who supported his father, Nick Catania, who was mayor of the inner-Perth Town of Vincent, and state MP for the Perth seat of Balcatta.

Labor leader Eric Ripper described Catania’s act as “political treachery” and described Catania as “an immature and petulant young man who wants an easy ride in politics”

I’m more interested in the unusual spectacle in Australian politics of a politician crossing between the two major sides of politics. While it is quite common in the UK and Canada for politicians to defect from one party to another, and even appears in the US (think Arlen Specter and Jim Jeffords), it just doesn’t happen in Australia. We’ve had a couple of Labor MPs defect to the Greens, and plenty of MPs on both sides become independents, although in most cases these defections have taken place in the dying days of a political career.

Can anyone name the last time that a politician switched from one major party to another?

Elsewhere: Larvatus Prodeo.

Democrats MP in fight with party…wait, Democrats?

I know, I know. I’d forgotten there was any Democrats MPs left too, but David Winderlich is the sole remaining Democrat MP, holding a seat in South Australia’s Legislative Council after taking over from Sandra Kanck last November.

The party appears to be effectively dead, with a small rump of activists keeping the party going. In a desperate move, Winderlich has threatened the party that he will resign if they don’t recruit 100 members by the end of November.

“The Democrats have a proud history. Our achievements include banning tobacco print advertising, introducing World Heritage legislation, calling for a national takeover of the Murray back in 2001, and securing the independence of the ABC.

“We have always supported country SA by fighting against Government cuts to health and education services, and by opposing the centralisation of Government jobs in the city.

“But the Democrats’ membership, resources and morale have been declining for years.

“1,000 new members will secure the future of the party and ensure that South Australia has a genuine third choice.

“This bold strategy is the only way to revive the Democrats – and no one will be recruiting harder than me.

“But if the party does not embrace this challenge, or if the community does not respond, it will prove that the Democrats’ time has passed and I and others will have to look for a new way to keep Democrat values alive.

It seems a pretty unlikely strategy to work. Although to be fair, I don’t know what else you’d do in his position. If he’s a Democrat or an Independent, it doesn’t make much difference. He doesn’t have any sort of support from a real party, and has practically no chance of winning election in 2010. Might as well go for it.

What seems even stranger is the response from the party’s President, who has gone for the angle of savaging the sole shred of relevance the party still has.

The Australian Democrats were notified this morning of David Winderlich’s challenge – recruit 1,000 members or he will go independent.

National President Julia Melland rejected this ultimatum as a massive sign of disloyalty to the party, and demanded Mr Winderlich resign his seat in parliament immediately.

“We owe David Winderlich nothing. We are not going to rush our rebuilding plans just because he clearly doesn’t believe in the party.

“He would not be in parliament if it weren’t for the Australian Democrats allowing him that privilege, and as he does not respect those who have given him that privilege, he should resign his seat in parliament immediately.”

The Democrats seem to be attempting a “rebuilding” plan:

Ms Melland said the party’s extensive rebuilding efforts are going well, and are currently focused on fixing the underlying structural problems that resulted in the party’s decline.

“Previously the party membership was largely focused on support for an individual Senators and other parliamentarians, and the functions of the party largely dependent on their staff. As part of our rebuild plans we have been expressly working towards an organisational structure that is not dependent on the cult of personality.

“If we were to comply with Mr Winderlich’s ultimatum then we would only have more people who are members because they support him – rather than supporting the ideals of the party. This is not healthy for our long term prospects, and demonstrates the political naiveté of Mr Winderlich.”

“The Australian Democrats are far from dead. We have a very good strategic plan for rebuilding the party, guided by professional consultants, that is making good headway on what is a very tough road to resurgence. This latest act of disloyalty by Mr Winderlich is unfortunate, but will not disrupt our rebuilding plans.” Ms Melland concluded.

I think it’s safe to say this won’t have any success. There’s always a possibility for small political parties to grow into real forces as the Democrats, the DLP and the Greens have done in the past. But once you fall out of the sky, it’s impossible to rise again. I tend to think this is primarily because any serious political party has so much political baggage that it would not be able to rise from nothing. Small political parties are able to rise by people not having a lot of grudges against them. The Democrats are dead.

This wouldn’t be so funny if it was serious.

Rann attacks Legislative Council

South Australia’s Premier, Mike Rann, yesterday announced the details of a referendum to be held alongside next March’s state election, which, if passed, would see the number of seats in the Legislative Council cut from 22 to 16, with all MLCs elected for a four-year term at every election, and would allow the government to call an early election in the case of disagreement with the upper house.

I think it’s wise to be distrustful of any politician that proposes reducing the number of MPs. It’s a superficially populist policy that ultimately concentrates power in the hands of the government. It seems bizarre that, in a time when population is growing rapidly all across Australia you would consider reducing the number of representatives in Parliament. If anything, a larger population merits an increased size of Parliaments, state or federal.

It seems it is a blatant attempt to destroy the only serious check on the power of the Rann government. While a 16-seat Legislative Council would still allow minor parties like the Greens and Family First to win one seat each, it would undoubtedly harm the ability of the upper house to work as a house of review, in terms of forming functional committees that can investigate issues closely. I’m sure many party leaders would be happy to be rid of some of their backbenchers, who are always more free to rebel and disagree with the government’s direction. If a majority of your party are in the cabinet, it’s much easier to keep a tight leash. Yet these microparliaments result in bizarre scenarios like those in Tasmania and the ACT where a governing party has no depth on the bench, and has to bring into cabinet every MP who is not blatantly incompetent or insane.

It’s understandable that South Australians would not want to continue to elect MLCs for an eight-year term. However, you could achieve a four-year term in the upper house without reducing the size of the Legislative Council to a ridiculously small size. Either you could leave the chamber at its current size, which would produce a quota only slightly lower than in New South Wales. Another option, which would probably be prefered in terms of the types of MLCs you would elect, would be to adopt the Western Australian/Victorian model with MLCs being elected to represent a region. You could easily elect the Legislative Council from five regions, with each region electing 5 MLCs.

The ABC’s story also includes bizarre comments from Business SA, who, like many business lobby groups, appear to want to strip away any semblance of democratic accountability from our modern governance, be it upper houses not controlled by governments or local council control of planning decisions.

Chief executive officer Peter Vaughan says Legislative Councillors have promised to address key issues for the business community but the the nature of the Upper House prevents them from doing so.

“When that’s denied by a coalition in the Upper House that can have very low electoral mandates and be one-purpose only elected personnel in the Upper House, that defeats and destroys the real reason for electing governments in the first place,” he said.

“There is far too much government and far too little action.

“Let the people have their say, I think that’s an appropriate way to go by referendum and let’s see if we can reform a form of governance in South Australia which really belongs more to the 18th and 19th centuries than it does to the 21st.”

I could go on about how the real 18th century form of governance is the bizarre system of single-member electorates which forces a two-party system on a political world where there are never only two sides to an issue, and locks in majority governments when no political party commands the support of the majority.

The Legislative Council in South Australia, like its counterparts across the Australian mainland, represents the democratic voice of the people in a political system where major political parties try their hardest to streamline government decision-making to prevent any sort of democratic accountability. Rather than attacking the upper house, we need to take lessons from upper houses to reinvigorate lower houses that have become little more than electoral colleges for the purposes of supporting elective dictatorships.

It is particularly bizarre that the proposal has arisen only a day after former Beattie cabinet minister Gordon Nuttall was convicted for corruption. Queensland is Australia’s only state without an upper house, and this lack of democratic oversight arguably has allowed state governments runaway power. New Zealand likewise abolished its Legislative Council in 1951, and New Zealand’s system of one-party governments controlling a unicameral parliament helped lead to runaway neoliberalism in the 1980s and 1990s, creating such a backlash that led to the introduction of proportional representation in 1996.

Mike Rann’s referendum, rather than improving South Australia’s system of government, simply is a blatant attempt to grab further power and prevent pesky oversight of government.

My new Amazon ads

At the bottom of each post and page on my blog I have now replaced my Google ads with an ad from Amazon.com. If anyone is planning to buy any books through Amazon, you might consider clicking through from those ads. If you buy anything from Amazon after clicking to get there through my blog, I get a small commission out of it. So if you appreciate the blog and wanna help out a bit, that’s a small thing you could do.

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Pembroke by-election

There will be a by-election in the Tasmanian Legislative Council electorate of Pembroke on August 1. Pembroke covers the eastern shore of the Derwent River, and is one of the seats covering the Hobart area. The seat was held by Labor MLC Alison Ritchie since 2001. Ritchie won re-election in 2007 and briefly served as a Minister in 2008 before resigning due to ill-health.

Ritchie resigned last month over a scandal involving the employment of her mother and other family members in her parliamentary office. Ritchie was one of four Labor MLCs in the Legislative Council.

pembroke

Labor generally is more aggressive in Legislative Council elections, with the Liberal Party rarely running for seats. Interestingly, Pembroke was previously held by a Liberal, with Peter McKay, a conservative independent MLC since 1979, joining the Liberal Party in 1991 and serving until 1999, which included a spell as a minister.

In a surprising twist, the Liberal Party have nominated Vanessa Goodwin for the seat. Goodwin came close to winning a second seat for the Liberals in Franklin at the 2006 state election and performed strongly for the party in the 2007 federal election in the same seat. She was expected to win a second seat for the party at the next state lower house election in Franklin.

Labor are not running a candidate, however a number of pro-Labor independents are standing, most interestingly Honey Bacon, the widow of former Labor premier Jim Bacon. The Greens are also standing a candidate.

Elsewhere: Coverage from Peter Tucker at Tasmanian Politics, Poll Bludger, Mumble, and Malcolm Mackerras.