Podcast #33: Council elections in South-East Queensland

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Ben is joined again by Alexis Pink from 4ZZZ to discuss elections for the councils surrounding the City of Brisbane: Gold Coast, Ipswich, Moreton Bay, Logan and Sunshine Coast.

You can subscribe to this podcast using this RSS feed in your podcast app of choice, but should also be able to find this podcast by searching for “the Tally Room”. If you like the show please considering rating and reviewing us on iTunes.

How do you vote in a pandemic?

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Applications for postal voting close at 7pm on Monday night. Click here to apply for a vote.

Elections are due in Queensland in less than two weeks. Every council in Queensland goes to the polls on Saturday, March 28, along with two state by-elections for the seats of Bundamba and Currumbin.

I’m not an expert on public health and I won’t try and speculate about what the COVID-19 situation might look like in Queensland in two weeks time, but there’s widespread expectation that the disease will be spread further.

With people being encouraged to work from home and large gatherings being shut down, what is the impact of bringing everyone together at their local polling place to cast a vote. This often involves people in queues and could potentially cause some problems.

Presumably there is some things that could be done, such as encouraging spacing in queues, providing hand sanitiser in the booths and spreading out the voting stations (often they take up only part of a large school hall) – I haven’t seen any reporting about whether any of these tactics will be used.

The other option is to find another way to vote. If you want to cast a postal vote you will need to make an application by 7pm on Monday, March 16.

Pre-poll voting will open on Monday and will be open until the day before election day. While you may still come into contact with other voters using this method it does allow the voting volumes to be spread out. I encourage Queenslanders, particularly those at a heightened risk, to use one of these methods to reduce any danger to their health.

But what happens if you find yourself ordered into self-isolation after postal voting closes? Do you just miss out on casting a vote?

Victorian council wards – how they have changed

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I blogged the other day about Victoria’s system of independent reviews of each council’s electoral structure (the number of wards and the number of councillors elected per ward).

This system has existed for at least two decades, and over that time it has caused a transformation in terms of how Victoria’s council wards are structured. I’ve pulled together a dataset of every review under this system since 2003 (those published on the VEC website) and have identified trends in this data.

You can look at this data yourself here.

Through this data you can see how this system has gradually, through local independent processes, revealed a preference for multi-member wards that voters are generally more happy with, and tends to not be reversible. It can help you understand why forces opposed to proportional representation have needed to change the process to get their way.

Victoria’s ward review system: what has been lost

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One of the truly sad things about the new local government legislation passed on Thursday night by the Victorian upper house is how it will send a wrecking ball through the independent and transparent system Victoria has used to not just determine ward boundaries, but more broadly determine the electoral structure for each council – ie. how many members each ward will elect.

The existing system sees each council subject to a “representation review” at least once every twelve years, where the structure is considered. Single-member wards can be drawn, but multi-member wards are also possible, and a mix of wards of different numbers of councillors can be used. Each review considers the local demographics and the communities covered by the council, and also receives submissions from members of the local community. A number of boundary options are drawn up, and a final decision is taken.

Such a process echoes the processes we use all over Australia to draw state and federal electoral boundaries, which are out of the hands of politicians and are made after a transparent and consultative process of drawing draft maps. But it goes further by also considering what district magnitude (the number of members elected in each ward) is best for each community. Federal redistributions cannot consider drawing multi-member districts: these powers are tightly controlled by the politicians.

Of course politicians, be they local councillors or state MPs, have vested interests in how the electoral map is drawn. We can only avoid partisan gerrymandering by taking this power out of the hands of politicians.

Nominations close in Brisbane City and Bundamba

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Nominations closed for Queensland’s local government elections, as well as the Bundamba state by-election, on Wednesday. These elections will be held on March 28, along with the Currumbin by-election, whose nominations were declared earlier.

In this post I thought I might quickly run through who is running in Brisbane City and elsewhere.

Some thoughts on the single transferable vote

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The single transferable vote (STV) is used widely in Australian elections, under a variety of names. Sometimes it’s called Hare-Clark, but it’s often just referred to as “proportional representation”, or PR. We know no other kind of PR in this country.

This method of voting has suffered a major setback with the Victorian parliament passing legislation to force single-member wards on most Victorian councils, after a process over two decades where independent reviews have considered the best electoral structure for each council, gradually replacing single-member wards with multi-member wards elected using STV.

I just wanted to remind people of the origins of this method of voting, and why it’s so vital to increasing political freedom and choice for the voter.

The “Hare” in Hare-Clark refers to Thomas Hare, who was a philosopher in the 19th century. While others had developed similar ideas at other times and places in the 19th century, his version of the single transferable vote is the one which evolved into the model used in Australia, Malta, Ireland and other places.

Hare first developed a concept of a single transferable vote in 1854 as a response to the system of local constituencies used to elect the House of Commons. He proposed that, instead of electing representatives for each local electorate, voters should be able to choose to come together with fellow voters from all over the country to effectively form their own constituency to vote for their preferred MP, rather than being restricted to choosing from those who runs in their own local electorate.

He proposed a quota of voters who would be sufficient to elect one MP, with the entire country voting as a single constituency.

2019 election – states swing in opposite directions

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This post draws on analysis in my chapter in Morrison’s Miracle, a forthcoming book from ANU Press and Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia about the 2019 federal election.

The Coalition gained an overall swing towards them at the 2019 federal election but it wasn’t a consistent story across the country.

There were swings back towards Labor in wealthier areas while the Coalition gained ground in areas with lower income. This trend was seen in every state, and often manifested itself within individual electorates.

But today I wanted to focus on the swings at the state level. Labor gained a swing towards them in Victoria and the ACT, while the Coalition gained swings elsewhere. In most places the Coalition swing was small, but it was much larger in Queensland.

This is the latest chapter in a long-running trend whereby Queensland has become stronger for conservatives, New South Wales has drifted towards the national median, and Victoria has become a stronghold for progressives.

This chart shows how the three largest states’ two-party-preferred votes for Labor have changed relative to the rest of the country since 1958.

Back in the 1950s, the Coalition performed most strongly in Victoria while New South Wales was best for Labor. Queensland lay somewhere in between.

Queensland became much stronger for the Coalition in the 1970s and with a few exceptions has largely stayed there, although 2019 was the worst relative result for Labor over this 61-year period.

Victoria has gradually trended towards Labor, with Labor first overperforming there in 1980. Labor has done much better in Victoria compared to the rest of Australia since John Howard’s prime ministership, and the gap in 2019 was the second-biggest for Labor in Victoria on record (the biggest was in 2010).

Meanwhile New South Wales lies somewhere in the middle, with its last hurrah as a strongly pro-Labor state taking place in the early 1990s.

Thanks to Antony Green for the historical data I used for this analysis in my book chapter.

Will Victoria abandon proportional representation?

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Victoria’s Legislative Council is today considering legislation which would significantly worsen Victorian council elections by changing the voting system.

The bill, amongst other reforms, would introduce a preference for councils to be elected by single-member wards. At the moment Victorian councils have a mixture of single-member wards and multi-member wards, and the decision about their structure, as well as the exact boundaries, is made by an independent body on a regular timetable.

Since the early 2000s there has been a consistent trend towards multi-member wards, which allows for the use of proportional representation.

I wrote about why this change was a bad one back in July, but I wanted to emphasise some particular points.

The Andrews government’s proposal claims that this change would “make councils more accountable” but nothing could be further from the truth.

On the contrary, single-member wards, along with the return of Labor to council elections as is planned in 2020, would likely result in some wards becoming solidly safe wards without any serious electoral competition. Multi-member wards, particularly those electing three or more, usually have at least one seat which is in play, and make elections far more competitive.

It is true that there is inconsistency in ward structures across the state, with proportional representation used in some councils but not others. But you could just as easily solve this problem by requiring a minimum ward size of three, and by requiring (as is the case in New South Wales) that all wards elect the same number of councillors.

Single-member electorates are also bad at the state and federal level, but some of the problems are mitigated in larger jurisdictions due to the balance of different areas voting in different ways. Labor wins most seats in western Sydney and the Liberals win most on the north shore.

But at a council level, that is often not the case. Usually only one major party is strong in each council. PR can help fix this, by ensuring that party needs to actually win a majority of votes (approximately) to win a majority of seats. It often encourages the election of independents and local parties which just compete in one or two councils in opposition to the major party who dominates the area.

But single-member wards instead lead to a major party lock, which discourages competition. We saw this viscerally in New South Wales with the old Botany Bay council, where Labor won all six single-member wards as well as the directly-elected mayor, and elections were often uncontested.

If you live in Victoria, I encourage you to call or email your local members of the upper house, particularly those in the Coalition or on the crossbench, to encourage them to not pass this legislation with this particular requirement. It’s good to see that the Greens, Liberal Democrats and Animal Justice are already opposing this move:

NSW council elections – estimated votes in new wards

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I’ve previously posted about the new boundaries for wards in 18 NSW councils.

I have now finished redistributing the vote totals between wards in these councils – or at least those where partisan elections were conducted.

In this post I will run through which councils are included in the analysis and examples of wards with large changes (whereas some have experienced only very minor changed), and then post a table with all ward changes.

Johnston by-election live

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8:24pm – We got a final batch of postal votes and it appears we’re done for tonight. Labor’s vote has dropped from 51% to just under 30%, while the CLP has dropped from 31.4% to just 16.3%. The Greens have narrowly outpolled the CLP, with the Territory Alliance in second place on 22.2%.

Preference distribution only slightly assisted the Territory Alliance, who gained 52.6% of preferences, but this still left Labor in the lead by 170 votes, which should be solid even after extra votes are included.

I’ll be clocking off now, but I’ll be back later this year with a guide to the NT election, due in August.

8:11pm – Labor won 52% of the two-candidate-preferred vote at Rapid Creek, which increased their lead over the Territory Alliance by 34 votes, to 156 votes, with one booth still outstanding.

8:03pm – It seems likely that Labor will hold on, but it’s worth remembering what a massive swing this is. Labor is looking at a primary vote swing of over 21%, while the CLP vote has dropped by over 15%.

7:56pm – The more interesting angle is if the Territory Alliance falls into third place behind the Greens or the CLP after preferences. The TA is on 22.2%, the Greens 17.2% and the CLP 16.2%. But it seems unlikely the CLP will push the Greens into second place, or give them the win if they do.

7:53pm – Labor is only leading by 122 votes, but that seems likely to be enough to hold on against TA, considering there’s just two more booths yet to report. At the Rapid Creek early voting centre, Labor leads TA by 80 votes before preferences, so it seems likely Labor will top the two-candidate-preferred count there. This then leaves just one more booth.

7:46pm – We now have the two-candidate-preferred count from Moil, where Labor outpolled TA by 21 votes.

7:36pm – We now have the primary vote result from Moil, Labor again topped the poll with just 26%, followed by TA on 22%, and then the Greens.

7:14pm – Polls closed just over 70 minutes ago in the Johnston by-election in the Darwin area, for the NT Legislative Assembly.

At the moment we have results from one of the two local booths in the seat – Millner. We are waiting for results from Moil as well as the Darwin mobile team, and the early voting centre in Rapid Creek. We have results from the early voting centres in Casuarina and Darwin.

Millner is more pro-Labor than Moil, as you can see in my pre-election guide.

Labor is currently leading with 31.9% of the primary vote, followed by the Territory Alliance on 23.1%, the Greens on 18.2% and the Country Liberal Party on 14.8%. The Territory Alliance is a conservative breakaway founded by former premier and CLP leader Terry Mills.

At the moment Labor is beating the TA on the two-candidate-preferred count on the two pre-poll centres reported so far, but we don’t know if they will actually come in the top two.

I’ll be reporting back regularly as we get the rest of the results, then we can discuss possible preference flows.