Archive for November, 2009

Willagee by-election day

Voters in the southern Perth state electorate of Willagee go to the polls today to elect a new state  MP to succeed former Labor premier Alan Carpenter, who retired from politics in September after losing government at the 2008 election.

The seat is not being contested by the Liberals and the main two contenders are former military man Peter Tinley running for the ALP and union organiser Hsien Harper running for the Greens. Also running is Henri Chew of the Christian Democratic Party and Gerry Georgatos, a former Greens member running as an independent.

There have been comparisons made with neighbouring Fremantle, where the Greens won the seat off the ALP in a May by-election. Willagee, however, is a much stronger area for the ALP and nowhere near as strong for the Greens as their heartland in Fremantle.

In addition, the party has been damaged in the seat by the candidacy of Gerry Georgatos, who had originally been preselected for the seat when it was expected that a Willagee by-election would be held six months ago in conjunction with the Fremantle by-election. Georgatos allowed a new preselection, which saw Harper win, and Georgatos responded by running as an independent and indeed preference the ALP’s Tinley ahead of the Greens. Georgatos supporters have been fiercely critical of the party on Poll Bludger’s Willagee thread.

Post any comments about tonight’s results here. There will undoubtedly be coverage of tonight’s results elsewhere from Antony Green at ABC Elections and Fremantle local William Bowe at Poll Bludger.

Failure to pass?

With Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership now in its terminal stage, it seems likely that opposition parties will vote to defer the legislation to establish the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, with the legislation being referred to a Senate inquiry until after the Copenhagen international climate change conference.

It has been disputed about whether such a deferral would constitute valid grounds under the constitution to trigger a double dissolution.

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Breaking down the Liberal breakdown

Malcolm Turnbull looks set to lose his leadership in a push to pass the government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, causing a deeper split in the party than any seen in a long time. The split has been driven deeply through the party in all states, in the city and the country, and a mix of Senators and marginal seat MPs.

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Fred launches kooky survey in Bradfield

Fred Nile has sent out a strange survey to voters in Bradfield, asking them whether they support or oppose a series of statements, many strongly weighted towards Nile’s positions. These include:

  • “Jesus Christ is the Son of God”
  • “We should do what the Greenies want and let any foreigner in”
  • “Australia needs a ten-year moratorium on Muslim immigration, which is the official policy of the Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group)”
  • “The Federal Government should have the power to deport any Muslim”

Nile then follows up with asking voters which of a select group of politicians “have earned my respect”, including Rudd and some of his ministers, senior federal Liberals and senior state politicians, as well as Nile himself, Gordon Moyes, Bob Brown, Robert Brown (the Shooters Party MP), Barnaby Joyce and Steve Fielding.

It’s difficult to work out how this is supposed to help the CDP campaign in the by-election, beyond some fairly obvious push-polling. I don’t expect many voters will bother to respond to such a survey, and it seems like a bizarre use of resources.

The full survey below the fold.

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Wales headed to devolution referendum

Wales looks set to hold a referendum in the next to devolve substantially more powers from the Parliament in Westminster to the Welsh Assembly.

Wales voted to establish a devolved Assembly in a 1997 referendum, and the Assembly was created in 1999 at the same time as the Scottish Parliament. Although the Scottish Parliament was given wide powers to make law and vary taxes, the Welsh Assembly was much more limited in its powers, effectively only having the capacity to make secondary legislation and not set tax rates. Indeed, the UK government originally named the executive members of the Assembly as “secretaries” rather than “ministers” (although this related to the fact that “First Minister” has the same translation as “Prime Minister” in Welsh).

While the UK has seemingly moved towards a federal structure in the last decade, this has been a spotty and unequal process. The Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly and Welsh Assembly were all granted different amounts of powers with different governmental structures. In addition, plans for elected assemblies in England have not been fulfilled outside of London, meaning that the UK Parliament has uneven powers in different parts of the Union and allows MPs from the three smaller countries to vote on solely English issues.

The Welsh Assembly has gathered more powers over the last few years, particularly since the 2007 election, when the Labour Party went into coalition with Plaid Cymru. The UK Parliament has now defined twenty areas where the Welsh Assembly has gradually gathered specific powers within those areas of legislation.

The “All Wales Convention”, set up following the last Welsh election, has just brought down a report recommending that a referendum be held before the next Welsh Assembly election in May 2011. Such a referendum would give the Assembly law-making powers in the twenty areas of primary responsibilities, substantially expanding its independent power.

The All Wales Convention has recommended that such a referendum could not be held within three months of another election, suggesting such an election would take place in late 2010 or very early in 2011. The Labour Party is currently going through a process to choose a new Welsh First Minister, and all three leadership contenders support a referendum, only after the UK general election, expected in the northern spring of 2010. Leaders of the opposition Liberal Democrats and Conservatives support a referendum, and it can be assumed Plaid Cymru likewise supports a referendum. The current Welsh Secretary, Peter Hain, has previously dismissed the need for a referendum during the current Assembly term, although it’s unclear if he would block a referendum if supported by a Welsh Labour government. David Cameron has vowed to not block any referendum request if he becomes Prime Minister.

Recent polls have indicated support for more powers for the Welsh Assembly, although never by large margins. Most recently a YouGov poll in late October showed that 42% would vote ‘yes’ and 37% would vote ‘no’, although another question showed 63% support equivalent powers to the Scottish Parliament, which shows a lack of understanding of the current powers of the Assembly and the options on the table. A ‘yes’ vote in a referendum is no foregone conclusion, considering past Welsh referendums. In 1997, the ‘yes’ vote only passed by 6700 votes, with many local government areas voting ‘no’, while a similar referendum in 1979 saw almost 80% vote against devolution.

Green paper deadline looming

I have previously blogged about the Federal Government’s second Green Paper on electoral reform. The government has new set up a forum for people to discuss the issues raised in the Paper (although it doesn’t seem particularly productive).

In addition, submissions will close on November 27 for those interested in commenting on the Green Paper. I plan to put in a submission, and hopefully I’ll be able to post some ideas later this week, but I thought commenters might have their own suggestions about what to put in submissions to the Green Paper.

Roll up

The NSW Government’s proposed laws to allow the Electoral Commission to gather information from other government agencies and use it to update the roll, has caused a stir, with Bernard Keane in Crikey writing critically of it the other day:

This is about finding new ways to enforce a law that can’t be enforced effectively at the moment. But if you listen to Rees, you’d think it was for The Kids. Rees pointedly referred to the Board of Studies as one of the agencies that would be compulsorily providing personal information to the Electoral Commission. It’s characteristic of this shabby government that it would use an educational body as a means of law enforcement.

It’s disappointing to see the allegedly progressive GetUp mob not merely endorsing this shameful encroachment on basic rights but calling for it to be universal. Director Simon Sheik wants it to be applied at the Commonwealth level. “Australia has a proud tradition of compulsory voting and citizens have a responsibility as well as a right to vote to make sure that our parliaments are truly representative.”

Rubbish. Compulsory voting is a blatant encroachment on basic rights and the Rees government is now using its citizens’ private information, never intended for the purpose, to enforce it.

While Keane probably goes a bit over the top in what he says, it does make me very uneasy that the state government would use the excuse of enrolment to take people’s personal data submitted for a different purpose, even going as far as enrolling people against their wills.

While it is important that people are encouraged to enrol as much as possible, and it could make sense to allow opt-in options (such as having a box on a drivers’ licence application allowing a person to have that information forwarded on to the AEC) that could facilitate the provision of data where the voter consents, this proposal is largely about using the vast stores of information held by the state to compel voters in a more effective way.

I’ve previously posted about my opposition to compulsory voting and I won’t go into it in depth here, except to say that it gives the illusion of a healthy democracy and political participation while hiding dysfunction and allowing parties to ignore their base. One of the few limits on compulsory voting has been the fact that, if a citizen genuinely wants to avoid voting, they can simply slip off the rolls. This is obviously a flawed method, since it prevents the citizen from making a choice about whether they wish to vote at a date close to the election, since they would have had to enrol weeks earlier to get a right to vote.

The state government’s proposed changes would see privacy violated in order to compel voters to come to the polls against their will, and could also see voters avoid giving basic information to government agencies such as the RTA or the Board of Studies in order to avoid going onto the roll. If Australia didn’t have compulsory voting it would be much less objectionable to compel voters to enrol to vote, although I still think it would have its problems.

If you want to fix the problem of voters’ details not being updated and thus disenfranchising voters who move house, it is quite easy: you simply allow voters to enrol on the day and cast a provisional vote. Indeed, that appears to be included in the NSW government’s legislation. Any further moves are more about enforcing compulsory voting then preventing disenfranchisement.

Elsewhere: Macquarie Street and Poll Bludger beat me to the punch.

Junk psephology

From today’s Crikey “Tips and Rumours” section:

The Liberals have decided to preference the Christian Democrats. This is a high risk policy as if they don’t get an absolute majority initially all the preferences will keep flowing to the Christian democrat even from the Greens as I understand it. Fletcher might be responsible for electing the first Christian democrat(?) to the Federal lower house.

I don’t think I really need to explain how many different things are wrong with this story. Although to be fair to Crikey it was in their ‘tips and rumours’ section, so I’m not suggesting this is what their journos think. Still…

Hayes pushed towards Fowler

The Macarthur Chronicle has reported today that Member for Werriwa Chris Hayes has been offered a deal in which he would move to the neighbouring seat of Fowler in exchange for giving up his seat of Werriwa to a member of the Left.

Hayes has held the safe seat of Werriwa in south-western Sydney since a 2005 by-election. He was originally offered the ultra-marginal seat of Macarthur, which lies to the south of Werriwa. Instead, the seat of Fowler is very safe for the ALP and covers the centre of Liverpool, to the north of Werriwa.

It is unclear how this may be resolved, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Hayes accepted the offer of a similarly safe seat in order to resolve factional tensions. Reports today have suggested that the plan to parachute long-serving MP Laurie Ferguson into the seat of Werriwa after his seat of Reid was effectively abolished in the redistribution.

22 Candidates in Bradfield

Candidates were announced today for the forthcoming Bradfield and Higgins by-elections, and an amazing twenty-two candidates have nominated in Bradfield. In Higgins, a more reasonable ten candidates have nominated in Higgins.

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