Archive for March, 2012

QLD 2012: A broken system

In my previous posts I examined the results of the Queensland 2012 election and what it means for the ALP to be so decisively defeated.

The defeat of Labor by such a massive margin raises other questions about how well Queensland’s electoral system represents the will of the people, and whether it will be able to produce fair results in a multi-party system.

Our single-member-electorate system tends to produce results in Australia that are not proportional, but still give a solid proportion of the seats in parliament to the defeated major party. While the winning party usually wins a majority of seats without winning a majority of votes, the other major party (counting the Coalition as a single party) usually wins enough to be able to form a credible opposition. The lack of proportionality falls hardest on minor parties, who are usually locked out.

Yet there is nothing about single-member electorates that ensures such a balanced result, with one party winning a solid majority, but leaving the party enough seats to function in Parliament and serve as an effective opposition. The distribution of swings can mean the same statewide result can produce wildly different outcomes.

This can be seen in Queensland, where Labor managed 7/89 seats on 26.6%, compared to New South Wales a year earlier, where Labor managed 20/93 seats on 25.5%.

A large part of the explanation as to why Labor was hit so hard can be found in the high vote for minor parties. The Greens and Katter’s Australian Party together polled over 19%, with an additional 4% for other parties and independents.

When large minor parties take a large part of the vote and fail to win many seats, the result is that the dominant major party can win a super-majority with about half of the vote. This is particularly the case when most of those minor-party voters choose not to preference, as they did in Queensland.

A single-member system can become much more severely disproportionate and produce more lopsided results when a large number of voters cast their ballots for minor parties, and then choose to exhaust, effectively taking their votes out of the race. Katter’s party polled 13% and the Greens polled 7%. While there was a small number of seats where these parties were in the top two, most of these votes ended up exhausting, taking a fifth of Queensland’s voters out of the game.

As long as there are two large minor parties, a large proportion of voters will be taken out of play, and as long as those two parties take a large chunk of Labor’s vote away, the party will find it hard to compete. Even if the party can win back many of its seats in 2015, it will find it very hard to return to a majority without working more closely with either of those minor parties.

If Queenslanders continue to vote in such large numbers (over 23%) for candidates outside the major parties, the issue of proportional representation isn’t going to go away. We will continue to see around a quarter of the voters barely represented in that Parliament, and if the voters that Katter’s party and the Greens have taken from Labor don’t go back to Labor as preferences, it becomes very hard for the ALP to build the numbers needed to win government. This is going to be a long-term structural problem for Labor in both New South Wales and Queensland.

I think it’s a mistake for people to focus on campaigning for a proportional upper house. It is difficult to explain why we would create a second, less powerful house that would be elected by a different system. If the current system is unfair, why not change it? Extremely lopsided results like this one can make the issue of electoral reform relevant for people who wouldn’t normally see it as something that affects their lives.

In 2001, the governing centre-left New Democratic Party was decimated at the provincial elections in British Columbia, only winning 2 of 79 seats in the Assembly. The new Liberal government held 77. The extreme result was such that the issue of electoral reform took off, and a referendum on electoral reform almost passed at a referendum in 2005, only failing due to a 60% threshold imposed by the government.

History of electoral reform campaigning in countries like New Zealand suggests that the issue gains power as minor parties grow stronger, and in different parts of the political spectrum. At the moment the issue of electoral reform in federal politics largely benefits the Greens. If a significant right-wing minor party was to emerge, the issue would have a much large base of support.

I don’t think Katter’s Australian Party are going to disappear overnight. Australia’s right-wing minor parties remain divided and scattered, with different parties in each state. As long as there isn’t a right-wing minor party with similar levels of success to the Greens, able to win ground from the Liberals and Nationals, issues of electoral reform and fairness will be confined to the left. If Katter’s party is able to replicate its success on a national stage, or could bring in people who have supported other small right-wing parties, it may well produce the kinds of results that usually force a change on this issue.

If Labor continues to have its base eaten away on the left by the Greens and on the right by parties like the KAP, the electoral system will become a long-term problem for the centre-left. If the issue is no longer seen as one that only benefits the Greens, we may see some real movement on it.

QLD 2012: Surveying the wreckage

As of this morning, the result is Liberal National Party on 76 seats, the Labor Party on 6, Katter’s Australian Party on 2, and two independents. This leaves three seats too close to call: Bulimba, Mackay and Yeerongpilly. At the moment the ALP is ahead in Bulimba and Mackay and the LNP is ahead in Yeerongpilly.

Considering the scale of the Liberal National success, I’m going to focus instead on the other parties. Needless to say, the Liberal National Party gained seats everywhere. They gained Labor seats on the Gold Coast and throughout Far North Queensland. They knocked off the last Labor seat on the Sunshine Coast and 1-2 of Labor’s three remaining seats in Central Queensland. Meanwhile they well and truly dominated the Brisbane area. Before the election the LNP held only six seats in the greater Brisbane area: now Labor only holds 4-5.

The LNP also managed to regain the seats of Burnett and Beaudesert off defectors Rob Messenger and Aidan McLindon, and regained the seats of Nanango and Maryborough off other independents.

Labor now holds 6-9 seats after the election. These seats are:

  • Bundamba – Ipswich suburbs, 21.2% margin.
  • Inala – Brisbane suburbs, 21.5% margin.
  • Mulgrave – Cairns suburbs, 8.1% margin.
  • Rockhampton – Central Queensland, 17.9% margin.
  • South Brisbane – Inner Brisbane, 15.0% margin.
  • Woodridge – Logan, 25.4% margin.

And they might also win:

  • Bulimba – Inner Brisbane, 7.8% margin.
  • Mackay – Central Queensland, 16.7% margin.
  • Yeerongpilly – Brisbane suburbs, 8.7% margin.

If you look at these seats on the pendulum, it is a clear result. Bundamba, Inala, Rockhampton and Woodridge are the party’s four safest seats, with margins over 17%. The next two most marginal are Ipswich and Mackay. Mackay is currently undecided, and Ipswich was lost with a massive 20.8% swing, as predicted by commenters on this blog. South Brisbane is not much further down the pendulum. After South Brisbane you pass another ten seats before you reach Yeerongpilly, Bulimba and Mulgrave, which all had margins of 7-9%. Curtis Pitt’s survival in Mulgrave is largely due to a massive vote for Katter’s Australian Party undermining the LNP swing, while in Bulimba and Yeerongpilly the Labor MPs managed to keep the swings to lower levels from which they have a chance of survival.

Labor’s defeats put them in a severely weakened position. They now hold no seats north of the Brisbane, all the way until you get to Mackay and Rockhampton. They also hold no seats on the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast or in Townsville. In the area of Brisbane south of the river, Ipswich and Logan, the party has been reduced to 4-6 seats, compared to 19 before the election.

In addition, the party holds 1-2 seats in Central Queensland and only one in North Queensland. In 2009 Labor won all three seats in Townsville, as well as all four covering Cairns, and Mount Isa. Out of these eight, Labor has held on to one, losing six to the LNP and one to Katter’s party.

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QLD 2012: Labor crushed

This was no ordinary election defeat. This was no ordinary landslide defeat. It is quite possibly the worst defeat of a major party at any state election in modern Australian political history.

When you look at the voting figures, it is terrible, but not unprecedented. Labor’s primary vote of 26.6% is higher than the 25.5% recorded at the 2011 NSW election. Likewise, the two-party-preferred swing will result in a similar 2PP result to the ALP’s defeat in 2011 in New South Wales.

But when you look at the seat-by-seat results, this was devastating. The LNP’s vote was incredibly well distributed, and a primary vote of less than 50% allowed the LNP to win a massive supermajority in the Legislative Assembly.

As of 10:30 Queensland time, the ABC is projecting 78 seats for the LNP, 7 seats for the ALP, 2 seats for Katter’s Australian Party, and two seats for independents.

There are probably a number of reasons for this result. Part of it was caused by the high vote for Katter’s party. Along with winning two seats in far north Queensland, Katter’s party performed very strongly in a large number of seats, and outpolled Labor in many seats.

An immediate cause is Queensland’s electoral system. Optional preferential voting, single-member districts and a lack of ultra-safe Labor seats meant that a large LNP victory almost wiped out the Labor caucus.

This reminds me of a number of Canadian elections, including the 1993 federal election, when the governing Progressive Conservative party was reduced to only two seats. At the 2001 British Columbian provincial election, the governing New Democratic Party was wiped out, only holding two seats compared to 77 seats for the Liberal Party.

We don’t usually see these results in Australia, but there’s nothing about our electoral system that stops them. It’s possible for a single-member result to produce an overwhelmingly lopsided result which doesn’t reflect the votes. While we rarely get a result that proportionally reflects our vote, the result is usually diverse enough for both parties to remain viable. Both parties usually have a solid core of safe seats that sustain them in hard times.

In contrast, Labor is going to have an extremely tough time now. With only 7 MPs, they will be completely unable to serve as an effective opposition, and will have very few resources to keep the Newman government in check. It raises interesting questions about the need for proportional representation, but I will blog about that later.

I plan on writing a second blog post focusing on the pattern of results, but here I want to focus on the general trends.

First of all, as I said earlier, this is no ordinary Labor defeat. This is a severe defeat that will make it difficult for Labor to compete in Queensland in the coming years and will likely make life harder for Labor in Queensland at next year’s federal election.

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QLD 2012 – Final predictions

As is tradition on this blog, I’ve put together my prediction of the results. I never put much stock in these – it’s always very difficult to judge what will happen in individual seats. However I do consult the polls, the pendulum and try and factor in individual seats’ conditions. Often I’ll read through the comments feed on key seats to see which Labor seats have had hard-fought campaigns, which doesn’t always match with what the pendulum predicts.

You might be interested in reading my prediction for the 2009 Queensland election. It appears in two parts.

For the record, last time I predicted a hung parliament (so trendy!), with 42 Labor, 42 LNP, 5 Independents and no One Nation or Greens. I overestimated the LNP total by 8, the independents by one, and underestimated Labor by nine. It wasn’t a great prediction.

The time I’m predicting a massive defeat for Labor. The overall figures are:

Liberal National 68 (+34), Labor 15 (-36), Katter’s Australian Party 3 (+3) and Independents 3 (-1)

I’m predicting that the two sitting KAP MPs, Shane Knuth and Aidan McLindon, will hold on to their seats of Dalrymple and Beaudesert, effectively making them losses for the LNP, who won them in 2009. I also predict that Katter’s Party will win Mount Isa, where Robbie Katter is running. I predict that three of the four independents will hold their seats, but that Dolly Pratt’s seat of Nanango will return to the LNP, although I think this will be the next best seat for the KAP.

I then predict that the Liberal Nationals will gain a further 35 seats from the ALP, on top of the ALP’s loss of Mount Isa to Robbie Katter.

I predict that, after a close race, Campbell Newman will win the seat of Ashgrove and become Premier. Kate Jones has been a strong opponent, but I haven’t seen a single poll that has had her in the lead, even if they have been very close. I just can’t see her holding on against the tide.

It will be easier to list all the fourteen seats I expect Labor to hold on to, and these are Algester, Bundamba, Capalaba, Inala, Logan, Lytton, Mackay, Nudgee, Rockhampton, Sandgate, South Brisbane, Stretton, Sunnybank, Waterford and Woodridge.

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Can the City of Sydney survive?

Last Wednesday, the ALP’s sole City of Sydney councillor, Meredith Burgmann, announced a plan for the party to use an open primary to choose their candidate for Lord Mayor of Sydney.

The following day, the Greens preselected Cr Irene Doutney as the party’s lead candidate and Lord Mayoral candidate for the election, which is due in September.

The ALP and the Greens, along with the Liberal Party, are all placed in opposition to the local juggernaut of Clover Moore and her allies. Moore has served as an independent member of the Legislative Assembly since 1988, and has served as Lord Mayor of Sydney since 2004.

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