NSW 2019 – the race for the upper house

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The NSW Legislative Council race is looking likely be one of the most complex and difficult to predict since the current system was first used in 2003.

In addition to the major parties and four larger minor parties which currently hold seats in parliament, we have a number of high-profile challengers, and not enough seats to go around.

All of this comes on top of a political environment very different to when the Liberal/National coalition won 11 out of 21 seats in 2011, suggesting the current government will face a much less friendly upper house after this election, even if they do hold onto power.

This table shows the results of the last two elections in terms of seat counts.

PartyWon 2011Won 2015
Liberal/Nationals119
Labor57
Greens32
Shooters, Fishers and Farmers11
Christian Democratic Party11
Animal Justice Party01
    These results left the the government just two votes short of a majority, and they’ve largely been able to govern just with the support of the Christian Democratic Party (led by Fred Nile).
    The Shooters party, who had previously been crucial to the government’s legislation, have drifted away from the government and become very critical in the last term.
    Recent polling has put the government around 36-39% of the primary vote in terms of the lower house race. It’s hard to see them doing better in the upper house. This result would likely give them eight seats in the upper house, which would see the coalition lose three seats, and need five votes to pass legislation.
    Labor’s primary vote is around the same position. If they were to win eight seats, that would be an increase of three seats but would still leave them seven votes short of a majority. In comparison, the last four terms of government have seen governments needing no more than four extra votes. This reflects an overall increase in the share of the vote taken up by minor parties, which has clear knock-on effects in a proportional house.
    So let’s take a look at these other parties.
    The Greens remain the biggest party, but recently lost one of their MLCs when Jeremy Buckingham resigned from the party.
    The Greens are defending three seats, but will likely only win two. Sitting MLC David Shoebridge is heading up the ticket following his victory over Jeremy Buckingham in a party preselection. New candidate Abigail Boyd should win the second seat, while sitting MLC Dawn Walker looks likely to lose from third place.
    The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers have consistently won a seat at every election since 2003. Since the last election they have performed strongly in western NSW by-elections and appear to be in a stronger position. They recently dumped their incumbent MLC Robert Brown in favour of Mark Banasiak.
    Beyond these three seats, it’s hard to predict what will happen. There is a contest both on the left and the right.
    On the right, former federal Labor leader Mark Latham is heading up Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, and it seems very likely he will pick up enough of the vote to win.
    In addition to the Shooters and One Nation, other right-wing minor party candidates with a chance of winning include Christian Democrat MLC Paul Green (an ally of Fred Nile) and recently-resigned Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm.
    Fred Nile’s party has won a seat in the upper house at every election since 1981, but lost ground at the 2011 and 2015 elections. It seems quite plausible that increased competition on the right could see them squeezed out in 2019. Leyonhjelm won’t benefit from voter confusion with the Liberal Party, which has helped his party in the past, as he drew a low-ranking position on the ballot, and doesn’t have as high a profile as the Shooters or One Nation.
    On the left, ex-Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham is heading up an independent ticket. While he has some profile, he will be running without a party name (or even his own name) above the line, and it doesn’t appear that he has much of a campaign infrastructure. There were early claims that he would be running candidates in the lower house, but this did not eventuate.
    The Animal Justice Party, Sustainable Australia and Keep Sydney Open are all running a large number of candidates in the lower house which could suggest a stronger campaign. Animal Justice in particular won their first parliamentary seat in 2015 (and have subsequently won a seat in Victoria) so are worth watching.
    If each major party were to win eight seats, that leaves five seats for the remaining parties. Possibly six or seven if the major parties perform worse.
    Assuming the Greens hold two and the Shooters hold one, this leaves 2-4 seats for the other parties competing. On the right there will likely be a tight contest. I can’t see Latham, Leyonhjelm and Paul Green all winning seats.
    Finally, preferences may well be crucial to the outcome. At the first two elections under our current voting system (2003 and 2007) preferences played no role in deciding the result – the candidates leading for the final seats ended up winning in every case.
    At the last two elections we have had a candidate miss out despite a stronger primary vote. Pauline Hanson (running as an independent) was overtaken by Jeremy Buckingham and the Nationals’ Sarah Mitchell for the final two seats in 2011, and No Land Tax’s Peter Jones was overtaken by Mark Pearson of the Animal Justice Party in 2015.
    At the 2015 election, 83% of voters simply marked a ‘1’ above the line. 15.3% of voters marked multiple preferences above the line, and the remaining 1.7% voted below the line.
    There was some variation in preferencing: minor party voters were more likely to mark preferences. The Greens in particular encouraged preferences on their how-to-vote and a large proportion of Greens votes flowed to Animal Justice when the third Green was eliminated. This trend could mean that preferences will be crucial in deciding which minor party candidates end up on top.
    It will also be worth watching to see if the new Senate voting system has an effect. While the formality rules are similar for Senate and Legislative Council elections, the federal system requires the ballot to encourage voters to number six boxes. This requirement was backed in with an advertising campaign and instructions to voters from polling clerks. This resulted in a very high proportion of voters marking six boxes above the line. If some of these people continue this practice at the state election it could see a big increase in the amount of preferences flowing.

Check out my guide to the Legislative Council for more background on this contest.

Also if you are looking to vote below-the-line, my friend Tom Clement at Geeklections has built a new tool to help you build a how-to-vote. Basically you can rank the parties you like, and it then orders those candidates in reverse order (to maximise the value of your vote by preventing it being used up in quotas unnecessarily). I personally will just be voting above the line, but if you’re into this check it out.

NSW 2019 – the race in inland NSW

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This area covers ten electorates, stretching from two seats in the New England region down to Murray and Albury on the Victorian border.

It’s quite possibly the most interesting region in the election. On a two-party-preferred basis, not a single one of these seats is close to being marginal. But if you factor in the role of independents and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party, a majority of this region could be in play.

I’m going to focus on six seats which could be in play, four of which were the subject of interesting by-elections in the last term.

This trend started with the 2016 Orange by-election, which was won by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party. The Shooters then did very well in 2017 by-elections in Murray and Cootamundra, without winning. The Liberal Party then lost the seat of Wagga Wagga to independent Joe McGirr in a 2018 by-election.

These seats are hard to predict: the Shooters are running across the region, but have no history of contesting lower house seats prior to those recent by-elections. It may be reasonable to assume they will poll well across the region, but that’s an assumption. It’s also very difficult to predict the performance of independents who have yet to face the voters, particularly when you lack a detailed knowledge of the local electorate. So in all likelihood many of these seats will stay in Nationals hands, but it’s worth covering them all, below the fold.

Can you spare five dollars a month?

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We’re now just over two weeks out from the NSW state election, and probably ten weeks away from the federal election, and this website is kicking up a gear. I’m posting fortnightly podcasts, I’ve started doing regular blog posts every couple of days, and maintaining over 250 separate comments threads under state and federal seat guides.

I wouldn’t be able to keep this up without the support of the 89 donors who have committed to support this work financially. But I’m looking to boost these numbers a bit during this busy time.

If you are finding this website useful, now would be a good time to consider signing up as a donor.

You can support the Tally Room on Patreon from just $1 USD per month. If you contribute $5 USD or more per month then you’ll get access to the full data repository as well as regular updates about the work I am doing.

I have also added some new goals to my Patreon page. In particular I have added a stretch goal for a new post-election project. I am planning to do a new podcast on elections history. This would involve one episode for each election, starting with the 1901-1914 period in Australian politics. I may then continue in a chronological style or jump around covering other interesting elections at all levels of government. I’m taking inspiration from Mike Duncan’s Revolutions podcast with it’s one-person-with-a-mic chronological storytelling style.

This will be a big time commitment to do properly and regularly, since I’ll want to read thoroughly about each topic and try to ensure the content is well-sourced and factual. It’ll be more work than my current podcast. So I’m aiming to get to 150 donors to cover this podcast while continuing to maintain the seat guides and other coverage I do on this website.

If these projects interest you, please think about signing up.

If you’d rather sign up as a donor via Paypal or make a one-off contribution you can do so here.

NSW 2019 – rising minor parties of the left

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When I was analysing the list of candidates running in the state election yesterday, I was a bit surprised by which minor parties were running the largest number of Legislative Assembly candidates.

Three parties outside of Labor, Greens and the Coalition ran over 40 candidates: Sustainable Australia are running 55, Animal Justice (AJP) are running 48, and Keep Sydney Open (KSO) are running 42. Quite a lot of these candidates came out of the blue – I didn’t have a single KSO candidate on my list before nominations were declared, and it’s practically impossible to find out information about most of them.

All three of these parties could be broadly described as “on the left”. Some lefties would object to that classification of Sustainable Australia because of their approach to immigration, but all three parties clearly are competing for political space with the Greens.

The right-wing minor parties have nominated a lot less candidates: the Shooters are in 25 seats, the Australian Conservatives in 19, Fred Nile’s Christian Democrats are in 18, and One Nation are only in twelve.

In one sense the number of candidates running doesn’t really matter – very few of these people have a chance of getting elected, and preferential voting minimises the spoiler effect. But it is a test of organisational capacity – it takes time and effort to find people willing to put up their hand, and it costs money just to get on the ballot. As a contrast, I haven’t identified a single independent running in alliance with Jeremy Buckingham’s upper house ticket (although it is possible some have slipped under the radar), suggesting difficulty finding people and money to run lower house support candidates.

The growing presence of left-wing parties challenging the Greens is partly a story about the recent divisions in the Greens NSW (I’ve noticed more than one Sustainable Australia candidate who has previously run for the Greens), but it’s also a broader story. The Animal Justice Party already hold a seat in the upper house, and both Sustainable Australia and Animal Justice won seats in the Victorian upper house last November.

There are a few interesting patterns in terms of where parties are running. I have put together the following map which can be toggled to show three different layers.

Most interesting is where the three left-wing insurgent parties are running.

NSW 2019 – nominations close

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Nominations closed yesterday for the 2019 NSW state election, with an increase in lower house candidates but a decrease in upper house candidates compared to the 2015 election.

568 candidates nominated for the Legislative Assembly. This is an increase from 540 in 2015 and 498 in 2011, but this is less than the record nomination numbers of 732 in 1999 and 661 in 2003.

Ten candidates nominated in Murray and Penrith, and nine nominated in Barwon. Only three candidates (Liberal, Labor and Greens) stood in the seats of Riverstone and South Coast. 6.1 candidates nominated on average per seat.

NSW 2019 – pre-poll and iVote changing the way we vote

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At the upcoming NSW state election, we should expect more people than ever before to cast their votes early, while others will use online voting, making ordinary election-day voting a relatively smaller proportion of the total vote.

This story is not entirely unique to New South Wales. In similar democracies all over the world we have seen a rise in people using a greater variety of methods to vote. In particular there has been increased demand to vote early, and electoral administrators have largely tried to keep up with this demand.

I blogged about the trend in how NSW votes shortly after the 2015 election, and I’ll replicate this chart from that post:

The proportion of voters using ordinary election-day voting declined gradually from 1999 to 2007, but then fell precipitously in 2011 and 2015, with just over 67% of votes cast using the ordinary method in 2015.

The above chart shows where those voters have gone. The biggest increase has been in pre-poll voting, which has increased from 3.4% in 2003 to 14% in 2015. I expect we’ll see a further increase in 2019. Pre-poll voting made up about a quarter of votes cast at the 2014 Victorian state election, but this increased to almost 37% in 2018, with less than half of all votes cast as ordinary election-day votes.

The other big change was the rise of iVote, which made up 1% of votes in 2011 and then 6% in 2015. There had been an increase in absent votes in 2011 but that was blunted in 2015, with many of these voters likely switching to iVote or pre-poll.

iVote has been a controversial voting method, with certain computing experts being very critical of the system. I think of the problems with iVote as falling into two camps: very fixable teething and design problems, and fundamental computer security problems.

I’m not going to claim expertise in the deeper security issues, except to note that we should compare iVote to what it is replacing, not to the ideal method of voting. Postal voting is far from an ideal voting method, and particularly does not work for many voters who are overseas.

iVote had some embarrassing problems, with two parties missing their above-the-line box for the first 36 hours of voting. We also know that the first four parties on the Legislative Council ballot performed much more strongly on iVote than other types of voting, because the iVote ballot only showed the left hand side of the ballot and required sideways scrolling.

Since 2015, there has been a wholesale overhaul of the iVote technology, and a security review which made a number of recommendations.

I understand that there have been changed to the ballot design to avoid the large advantage to the left-hand parties – voters will first be shown the whole ballot zoomed out before zooming into a random point on the ballot. I do still wonder whether iVote should consider a different ballot design – if you were designing a ballot for online from scratch you would probably do it differently.

I tend to think internet voting does have value. Postal voting is a pretty poor way of voting, lacking in privacy and reliability, and internet voting is an improvement on that process, particularly for those who are having to mail their ballots from overseas. But it is inferior to voting at a polling station (whether it’s pre-poll or election day, paper or electronic) and it’s important that we don’t let internet voting become the dominant method. I’m concerned by the number of people I’ve seen saying “just say you’ll be interstate on election day, vote online, easy”. I’m not sure what the answer is to that problem, but we need to grapple with it.

Podcast #19 – The Greens and the changing NSW party system

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Ben is joined by Stewart Jackson and Geoff Robinson to discuss the NSW state election, specifically the Greens, the moving apart of the NSW party system, and historical parallels.

Thanks to 2SER radio in Sydney for the use of their studio.

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.

NSW 2019 – the race on the North Coast

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There are eight seats covering the north coast of New South Wales, stretching from Myall Lakes to Tweed.

Seven of these seats are held by the Nationals, while the eighth seat was won off the Nationals by the Greens in 2015.

This is one of the two main regions dominated by the Nationals in NSW politics, the other being inland NSW. But there is a growing divide between the demographics and issues of these two regions, which was discussed in my recent podcast.

Electorates in this region have seen an influx of sea changers as people from the cities move into these regions, which has changed the dynamics of these seats.

This is most obvious in the far north, where the Greens won the seat of Ballina in 2015, and came close to winning the neighbouring seat of Lismore.

There are also pockets of Greens support further south. The Greens came second in the seat of Oxley in 2011 thanks to a collapse in Labor support, and poll particularly strongly in Bellingen (just over 30% of the primary vote in the local council area in 2015).

Independents have also had success, with Rob Oakeshott holding the seat of Port Macquarie as an independent from 2002 (when he resigned from the Nationals) until he moved to the overlapping federal seat of Lyne in 2008. He was succeeded in Port Macquarie by fellow independent Peter Besseling at the subsequent state by-election but he was swept out by the Nationals in 2011.

Labor has previously had more success in the region, holding Clarence from 1996 to 2003 and Tweed from 1999 to 2007. And Labor has been successful federally: from 2008 until 2013, the Nationals held only one of the four federal seats in the region, with two held by Labor and one held by Rob Oakeshott.

I’m going to profile four seats below the fold. These seats are highlighted on this map:

NSW 2019 – not the same old contests

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NSW state politics appears to be shifting away from a conventional Labor-Coalition contest, with different kinds of contests dominating in different regions.

While there has been a general trend in Australian politics away from conventional Labor-Coalition contests and towards races which feature an independent or minor party in the final count (what the Australian Electoral Commission calls “non-classic”), NSW has led the crowd.

There’s reason to think this trend will go further in 2019, and has interesting implications for how the NSW state election will play out in different regions.

This chart shows the number of non-classic races in NSW since 1988:

NSW 2019 – the race in Western Sydney

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Over the next few weeks I will be running regular blog posts analysing various parts of the NSW state election. This will include summaries of the race in six geographic regions, starting today with the western half of Sydney.

Western Sydney has become a cliche when it comes to Australian elections. The mythical home of the swing voter, where major parties look to decide their key policies.

The reality is a bit different. The region does contain a number of marginal seats, but it also contains a large number of safe seats, mostly held by Labor. The region is very diverse, including the most multicultural suburbs in Australia while also contained mostly white suburban fringe seats.

I have defined the region as covering 25 seats, stretching to the Blue Mountains, Wollondilly and Hawkesbury on the city’s western fringe, while also being bordered by the Hills district, Parramatta, Auburn, Bankstown, East Hills, Holsworthy and the Campbelltown area. This makes up almost half of the seats in Sydney, with another 29 loosely defined as eastern Sydney.

Twelve of these seats are held by the Liberal Party, while another 13 are held by Labor.

Six of Labor’s seats are held by margins of over 10%, with Labor’s margin peaking at 20.9% in Liverpool. They hold seats by margins of over 5% in four other seats, while Granville and Prospect are more marginal, held by margins of 2.1% and 3.4% respectively.

Five Liberal seats are held by margins of over 15%. This includes Camden and Wollondilly on Sydney’s south-western fringe, and Castle Hill, Baulkham Hills and Hawkesbury at the northern end of the region.

There are seven other Liberal seats held by smaller margins, and I will run through each of those seats individually. I’ll also mention one Labor seat which could be interesting.

This region looked very different when Labor was last in power. Labor held twenty-two out of twenty-five seats in this region at the 2007 state election, only missing out in the Liberal heartland of Hawkesbury and the Hills district. They then lost Penrith on a swing of almost 26% (two-party-preferred) in 2010, before losing a string of other seats in 2011.

They won some of these seats back in 2015, but other seats are still Liberal-held with sizeable margins. In addition to the seven seats I’ll discuss below, the Liberals hold Wollondilly and Camden by margins of 17.3% and 18.3% respectively, despite only winning them when Labor’s vote collapsed in 2011. Apart from the super-marginal seat of East Hills, the margins in the other key seats in this region are all quite substantial and will require larger swings than you would normally expect would be necessary for a party to form government.

This map shows the eight seats I am profiling, and I’ll run through each seat below the fold: