Sky News launches A-SPAN

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Sky News, Foxtel and Austar announced today that they will be launching a new network, A-SPAN, modelled on the US C-SPAN, which broadcasts live, unedited feeds of the US Congress.

The network will launch on January 20 broadcasting the inauguration of US President-Elect Barack Obama. In addition to broadcasting the Australian Parliament, A-SPAN apparently also plans to broadcast question time sessions from the Parliaments of NSW, Victoria and Queensland, as well as broadcasts from the NZ Parliament and the UK House of Commons.

Apparently it will be affiliated with C-SPAN, and will broadcast some of C-SPAN’s content on A-SPAN. Apparently, in addition there will be broadcasts of the Australian Parliament on C-SPAN (in the middle of the night when US members of Congress are sleeping), which is a fascinating idea.

It’s a bit unclear how all of this can be screened in only 24 hours a day. After all, C-SPAN is made up of three channels in addition to C-SPAN radio, but it’s still sure to be very interesting to see.

In addition to being part of the basic package of both Foxtel and Austar, it seems that A-SPAN will also be available online and digital free-to-air television.

It’s also a rare example of commercial media in Australia making a decision that isn’t simply driven by ratings, which is fantastic.

Italy’s overseas seats

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ABC Radio National’s Background Briefing program broadcast a fascinating program two weekends ago regarding the interaction of Italian and Australian politics arising from Italy’s expatriate seats.

The 2006 Italian election was the first election since the Italian electoral system was changed to include seats in Parliament dedicated to Italian citizens living abroad. This system divides the entire world into a number of electorates, including the “Oceania” electorate, which elects one Italian MP to the Chamber of Deputies and one Senator, in an area covering Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, Asia, Africa and Antarctica. Despite the vast expanse of the electorate, most live voters live in Australia, particularly in Melbourne.

The program lays out the fascinating complications added to the political system when elections spill over national boundaries. In particular, the centre-left coalition L’Unione came into conflict with Italian-Australians and particularly Italian-Australian members of the Australian Labor Party through the Italian-Australian Labor Network. Figures such as Victorian state MP Carlo Carli and Mayor of Moreland Joe Caputto. The IALN signed a factional agreement with Italy’s centre-left parties agreeing that Italian-Australian ALP members would support the centre-left candidates in exchange for control over future preselections.

It raises interesting questions about its effectiveness, the ethics of giving citizens living abroad a say over the government of a country they no longer live in, and how it could be used for other countries.

In New Zealand, the NZ Green Party has repeatedly nominated a handful of NZ expatriates living in Australia and the UK, some of which are active in the local Green parties. Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples recently proposed that, now that one-eighth of Maoris live in Australia, an eighth Maori seat should be established in Australia. How would this inter-relate with Australian politics, particularly in Queensland where a majority of Maori expatriates live? What about the large numbers of New Zealanders living in Australia?

Over one million Australians live overseas. Should electorates be established in the UK, China, Japan, the United States? It might seem unconstitutional at first glance, but then again there is no reference to Territory electorates in the constitution either. The concept of a Member of the House of Representatives representing Australians in China raises the issue of how a foreign democratic election could be conducted in a dictatorship.

What do you think? How do we represent the hundreds of thousands of Australian voters disenfranchised by living overseas? How would Australian politics be influenced by electing MPs representing expatriates?

Federal redistribution update

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The AEC is currently in the process of concluding the current federal redistribution for Tasmania and Western Australia, who have maintained their numbers of seats at 5 and 15 respectively. The new GIS data has not been uploaded yet, and as soon as it is I will produce new Google Earth maps for these states for the 2010 federal election.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has also released its latest population statistics, which confirm that New South Wales will lose another seat, falling to 48, in favour of Queensland, which will increase its representation from 29 to 30. This will be reflected in more redistributions prior to the next election.

Westminster falls apart in Canada

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Following Governor-General Michaëlle Jean’s decision yesterday to prorogue the Canadian Parliament until January 26, Canada’s parliamentary democracy is effectively suspended, and the decision has grave consequences for all countries that follow the Westminster system of government, including Australia and the UK.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who theoretically holds office because of success in elections to the House of Commons, now serves in office despite a clear majority of the House making it clear that they plan to vote against his government and support a new Liberal-NDP coalition government.

The Westminster system, as practiced by Canada as well as Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, gives power to a government led by a Prime Minister despite the fact that neither the Prime Minister or his party faces a direct national election, as in presidential systems. The main effect of this system is that the Prime Minister remains accountable to the lower house of the Parliament throughout their term in office. During the later years of George W. Bush’s US presidency, it has been repeatedly noted that, were he a Prime Minister in a Westminster democracy, he would have been defeated.

A Westminster Prime Minister can only be considered to be a democratic leader as long as they have been selected by the Parliament for the position, either directly or indirectly through the election of party leaders. As soon as a Prime Minister loses the support of the House they become illegitimate, whether there has been an opportunity for the House to formally vote no confidence in the government or not.

By preventing Parliament from sitting for the explicit purpose of avoiding the defeat of his government, Stephen Harper has acted in the same way as many dictators around the world who have dissolved or inhibited democratic legislatures in order to prevent their opposition challenging their hold on power.

When Parliament resumes in January, it is expected that the centre-left coalition will vote no confidence in Harper’s government. It appears that the Liberal-NDP coalition will then ask the Governor-General to commission a new government. In contrast, it appears that Harper will ask the Governor-General to dissolve Parliament and call a new election. Again, it is blatantly undemocratic for a Prime Minister who has lost the one claimed to democratic legitimacy to insist on staying in office and dissolving a Parliament which has rejected him and embraced an alternative candidate, particularly so soon after an election.

In order to improve the Westminster system, a series of reforms could simplify the process, reduce the role of the Governor-General in crises and clarify the democratic solutions in positions of minority governments and constitutional crises without effecting the day-to-day functioning of parliamentary democracy when stable majority governments exist.

Firstly, the appointment of Prime Ministers should be explicitly handed over to the lower house of the Parliament. The ACT does not have a Governor, but rather the ACT Legislative Assembly elects its Chief Minister as the first act of business after the election of Speaker. Rather than making issues such as a budget “confidence votes”, simply allow votes to dismiss the Prime Minister/Chief Minister/Premier.

Furthermore, the scheduling of Parliament needs to be taken out of the hands of the government. Either Parliament could explicitly approve the parliamentary schedule, or a body that represents all parties could make the decision, to allow for urgent circumstances when the schedule must be altered without Parliament returning. This would prevent the ridiculous circumstance of a government shutting down Parliament to prevent the Parliament acting against the government.

Finally, the calling of elections needs to be reformed. I have always supported fixed terms, but I tend to think it needs to be more nuanced. There are occasions, particularly in a hung parliament where no stable government can be formed, that an early election must be held. Firstly, terms would be regularly fixed to happen on a particular day. An early election can then be held, but only with the explicit support of both government and opposition, which could be expressed through a 75% vote through both houses (or just the lower house in the UK and Canada where upper houses are unelected). This could also be used in circumstances like those in Australia in 1975. If 75% agree that the situation is irreconcilable, the Parliament can be dissolved. Short of that, the parties need to find a way to cooperate. It would prevent the reckless point-scoring of the Fraser opposition in 1975, since it would be impossible for an election to be called without the government agreeing, making the blocking of supply pointless except for policy purposes.

By adopting these simple reforms, almost all of the remaining ways that the Governor-General has a practical impact on the political system. It’s conceivable that, by taking away the power to decide government in minority government situations and resolve deadlocks, the role of a Governor-General, Queen or President could be made redundant.

Victorian Council wrap-up

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All of the results have now been entered for the Victorian council elections. The Greens have won 19 seats. Greens seats were retained in Melbourne, all three wards of Yarra, two wards of Moreland and one ward each in Moonee Valley, Brimbank, Whitehorse, Yarra Ranges and Mount Alexander. Six of these seats were retained by sitting Greens, while in the other six a retiring councillor was replaced by a new Green.

Eight councillors were elected in new places: Queenscliffe, Surf Coast, Colac Otway, Port Phillip, Glen Eira, Darebin, Casey and a second ward of Whitehorse.

Three seats held by Greens were lost: two in Greater Bendigo and one in Maribyrnong.

In addition, five seats were lost by slim margins and could be overturned on recounts, although I’m not sure of whether these recounts have already been held: Darebin’s Cazaly ward, Cardinia’s Ranges ward, Port Phillip’s Carlisle ward, Ballarat’s Central ward and Greater Shepparton.

While these results weren’t a massive increase, the total councillor numbers ignores almost universal swings, outside of Bendigo and Maribyrnong. For example, Yarra council saw an average 7.5% swing across the council, putting the Greens within reach of a second seat in both Langridge and Nicholls in 2012. Many other councils contested for the first time could be within reach of a win next time around. In addition, breakthroughs in Darebin and Port Phillip could set the scene for more Greens wins in 2012.

I have produced updated maps. Green indicates a place where a councillor was returned, Blue indicates where a new Green has been elected, Yellow indicates a close loss that could be overturned on a recount, and Red indicates a place where a Green was not elected.

inner-melbourneouter-melbournevictoria

Update: just to clarify, it seems certain that the Greens will miss out in all five of those close wards, although the race in Greater Shepparton was on a razor’s edge.

Canadian constitutional showdown

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So it looks like Canada, only six weeks after an election saw a swing to the Conservative minority government, is headed towards another left-of-centre government.

Today the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party signed an agreement to form a coalition government, with the support of the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

The agreement would see the Leader of the Liberal Party as the new Prime Minister in a cabinet of 18 Liberal ministers and 6 NDP ministers. The government would be the third minority government, after the Martin government of 2004-2006 and the current Harper government, with the Bloc holding the balance of power. The BQ has vowed to support the government for 18 months.

The Harper government remains in office until a no-confidence motion is passed, which is currently scheduled for December 8, although there is discussion that Harper will prorogue the Parliament until January, when a budget can be presented to the House. The “opposition day”, when the Liberals have an opportunity to present motions, has already been delayed from the 1st to the 8th.

The immediate cause of the election appears to have been caused by the financial crisis, and in particular Harper’s proposal to drastically reduce political party public funding, which seems to have sparked action on the opposition benches. Harper has backed down on the proposal, but the Opposition appears to have tasted blood in the water, and are on the hunt.

While the recent election clearly saw increased support for Harper and a rejection of Stephane Dion as Liberal leader, it remains true that the three largest left-of-centre parties collectively received a significant majority of the vote as well as a majority of seats.

Indeed, it seems to make sense that the last election would end in the election of a centre-left government. Anyone who watched the election debate would’ve been struck by the clear sense of four left-wing party leaders on one side pounding the Prime Minister. It is also a good step forward for the country in terms of restoring its place in the international community’s push to deal with climate change. Along with New Zealand, Canada is only one of two countries which have gone backwards on climate change in the last decade.

The biggest complication in the Liberal-NDP plans is the upcoming Liberal leadership election. Stephane Dion announced his plans to resign as leader straight after the election, and an election campaign was kicked off. Liberal Party delegates will meet for a convention on May 2 to elect a leader from three candidates. The plans at the moment appear to be for Dion to take over as Prime Minister for less than six months, before giving it up to the new leader after May 2.

So what are the consequences for the political parties? In the short run, the Conservatives will attack the others for supposedly overturning the will of the people, but in the long run the lack of incumbency will surely hurt the Conservatives. Jack Layton’s plans for the NDP will likely remain to see his party overtake the Liberal Party, and if the Liberals struggle it could benefit the NDP. On the other hand, smaller coalition partners tend to get hurt at the next election. Yet the NDP has never previously had the opportunity to govern, and if they govern competently it could push the party to new levels of support.

Council updates

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I’ve got a few more council results to add. In Darebin, apparently the Greens have won a seat in Rucker Ward, and are in with a chance in Cazaly Ward. We haven’t heard anything about La Trobe ward, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a chance.

In Whitehorse, Bill Pemberton has been elected in Central Ward to join Helen Harris in Elgar Ward.

In Greater Bendigo both David Jones and Julie Rivendell have been defeated for re-election.

In Maribyrnong, where the primary votes have been counted, the Greens appear to be in with a shot in both Ironbark and Sheoak.

Melbourne counting room

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So I’m in the City of Melbourne counting room at Victoria University on Flinders Street and I’ll give you the current lay of the land.

As it stands for Council, Jetter, Oke (the Greens candidate), and Louey are the only ones with a quota. Ong stands on 0.93 quotas, Shanahan on 0.83, Kanis on 0.8 and Clarke on 0.74. Following that you have Jetter’s #2, Bini, on 0.65 and Leppert of the Greens on 0.48. On those numbers, it appears incredibly difficult for Rohan Leppert to win for the Greens. It will probably be one from each of the top seven polling tickets, with a chance that Bini could defeat Clarke on preferences.

As far as the Lord Mayoral race, the key numbers are:

  • Doyle – 26.38%
  • Bandt – 15.44%
  • McMullin – 12.26%
  • Ng – 10.82%
  • Singer – 10.33%
  • Others – 24.76%

So it appears that Doyle or McMullin, or possibly Ng, are the most likely to win, although Bandt could end up coming second. We should know later today.

Sunday morning update

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I’m going to spend some time today at the count for the City of Melbourne, but I thought I’d start by updating on some interesting races.

In Port Phillip’s Junction Ward, Greens candidate John Middleton polled 20.25% of the primary vote, and our scrutineers indicate that he is on track for just over 60% of the vote after preferences.

In Carlisle Ward, Greens candidate Cameron Pidgeon is on 24%, with the leading candidate on less than 31% on primary votes, and has a chance of winning on preferences.

In Griffin Ward of Banyule, Greens candidate Dean Winkle is on 21.48%, trailing Jenny Mulholland on 38.24%, with a third candidate on 18.67% and a number of other candidates. While it would take a strong preference flow, it appears that Winkle was preferenced by most other candidates.

The most interesting race of election night was in Ranges Ward of Cardinia. The ward elects two councillors, and the three candidates came extremely close to each other:

  • Graeme Legge – 35.74%
  • Ed Chatwin – 32.56%
  • Linda Hamilton – 31.70% (GRN)

It appears that a preference distribution gave the second seat to Chatwin, but we haven’t got the exact numbers and this could end up as a recount.

In Kangaroo Flat in Greater Bendigo, Greens Cr David Jones sits on 32.67%, with Barry Lyons on 42.03%. The other two candidates, who collectively won 25.3%, both preferenced Jones, but he would need to win at about three-quarters of preferences to win, and some may flow to Lyons as a donkey vote, meaning the leakage rate needs to be very low for the Greens to hold on.

In Hobsons Bay’s Williamstown ward, there is a three way race:

  • Angela Altair – 39.73%
  • Michael Faltermeier – 22.3% (GRN)
  • Kate Kennedy – 22.13%
  • Other candidates – 15.84%

The gap between Faltermeier and Kennedy is only a bare seven votes, so either could pull out ahead on preferences, and either would face a hard race to win, but could overcome Altair. I hear that the Greens were treated favourably by other candidates’ HTV cards.

In Greater Bendigo’s Flora Hill ward, it appears that Greens Cr Julie Rivendell has been defeated. Her seat is the only seat the Greens appear to have lost at this election.

Election night wrap-up

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So I’m calling it a night. There may be a few more results tonight, but most of the outstanding results have yet to start counting. I’ll continue reporting results tomorrow and Monday. For now, I’ve made these maps of wards in Victoria colour-coded according to the Greens’ performance. Red means that we failed to win a seat. Blue means we won a seat after previously not holding a seat. Green means we retained a Greens seat, and Yellow indicates that the result is either uncertain or no data is available. White wards had no Greens candidate.

Before I do the maps, I also have an overall seat count. On our estimates, the Greens have definitely won 14 seats, including four that have newly been won (Port Phillip, Glen Eira, Surf Coast, Queenscliffe). Three other seats are probable wins, 5 are “maybe”s, 4 are unlikely but possible, and 24 wards are definitely not going to elect a Green. In 32 cases a candidate’s fate is unknown, due to complete lack of information, although a number of these are expected to be lost.

First, inner Melbourne:

inner-melbourne

Next, a more wide-view of Melbourne:

outer-melbourne

And a map of the more rural races:victoria