Australia Archive


Labor leadership: Shorten wins

The ALP has just announced the result of the Labor leadership election – the first election that gave a say to members.

Overall, Bill Shorten won a large majority amongst MPs, while Anthony Albanese won a large majority amongst members. Shorten’s majority in the caucus was larger, and that produced a 52.02% majority.

CandidateMPsMPs %MembersMembers %Overall %
Bill Shorten5563.95%12,19640.08%52.02%
Anthony Albanese3136.05%18,23059.92%47.98%

Overall, the result was quite close and was ultimately decided by a very solid victory for Bill Shorten amongst fellow MPs.

While Shorten’s victory amongst MPs was decisive, winning almost 60% of the grassroots vote was very impressive from the Albanese campaign. No-one had any experience running such a ballot in Australian politics, and the Albanese campaign were first out of the blocks.

While it was a positive move giving members the vote, it remains to be seen whether Labor members will feel empowered by a result where one candidate won the membership vote by over 6,000 votes and failed to win the election.


The built-in coup

As yesterday’s abortive coup played out, Nick Bryant from the BBC penned a fascinating piece laying out the differences in political cultures between Australia and the United Kingdom when it comes to leadership coups. Australia’s culture of sudden, brutal and frequent internal leadership changes is not at all seen in British politics.

Bryant, however, missed the primary reason why Australian politics has so many leadership coups compared to countries that appear to have similar political cultures. Australia is the only Western English-speaking democracy where the choice of political leaders is made solely by that party’s members of parliament.

Read the rest of this entry »


Electoral Reform Green Paper released

The federal government today released its second Electoral Reform Green Paper, following on from a Green Paper dealing with election funding released in December 2008.

The document is a comprehensive examination of all issues around Australian elections, blowing out to 260 pages in total.  Each chapter includes a section on areas for potential change, and in these areas the paper canvasses a mind-boggling range of options in terms of changing our electoral system and electoral practices. The mainstream media coverage has largely focused on issues like fixed four-year terms and lowering the voting age to 16, but the paper also covers issues such as:

  • Introducing proportional representation in the House of Representatives, either through Hare-Clark or a list system.
  • Creating special electorates for expatriates or indigenous Australians
  • Requiring the registration of how-to-vote cards
  • Regulating internal party processes such as preselections to ensure internal democracy
  • Introducing optional preferential voting
  • Reforming enrolment systems and many elements of AEC processes
  • Abolishing compulsory voting (11.71)
  • Allowing permanent residents to vote
  • Disenfranchising the 157,000 British subjects who are currently enrolled without Australian citizenship

It’s well worth a read, if only for learning a lot more about how elections work in Australia. It’s fair to say that the paper brings up many options that are politically unpalatable and very unlikely, but it is a fascinating read.

Submissions can be made up to 27 November, while they will also have an online discussion forum from the 9th to the 13th November to allow interested persons to discuss the paper online.


Brilliant new booth maps

Nathan Lambert has extended the work that Possum has done in mapping election results by booth. He has produced excellent Google Earth maps showing vote levels, which you can access here. I’ll probably spend all day playing with them.

Update: Lambert’s go great with my Google Earth maps showing electoral boundaries. You can download them from my maps page, and you can overlay the boundaries and the booths.


Submissions to the Republic inquiry

I had a read through the submissions to the Senate inquiry into Senator Bob Brown’s legislation to hold a plebiscite to gauge support in the community for severing Australia’s links with the British monarchy, before future plebiscites and referenda to resolve the issue.

Most submissions are from monarchists, who put similar arguments, mainly that:

  • A plebiscite is unnecessary
  • The constitution is perfect as it is
  • A plebiscite is costly.
  • The Republican model must be clearly set out (missing the point entirely)
  • The issue was decided in 1999. Monarchists repeatedly refer to an “overwhelming defeat”, overlooking the fact that the “No” vote only was about 54%, hardly an overwhelming landslide.

After you skip through the many repetitive submissions from monarchists, there are a few interesting submissions.

One in particular grabbed my attention, from Dr. Klaas Woldring, a former academic and member of the small republican group Republic Now! Dr. Woldring proposes what might be considered to be a “maximalist” model.

His submission suggests that, in addition to a question asking voters to state their preference regarding severing ties with the monarchy, a series of other questions are asked, such as method of election, the powers of a new President, and who can nominate them. He also suggests questions regarding the rewriting of the constitution, the introduction of citizens-initiated referenda, proportional representation, reform of the federation and reforming the Westminster system.

I find this approach fascinating and interesting. Personally I have never had a great interest in the Republican debate, even though I’m a Republican myself. Like a lot of republicans, I would support abolishing the monarchy but don’t see it as a priority. If we see the republican debate as an opening for a wholescale re-evaluation of our constitution and governance, with a multi-question plebiscite, followed by a constitutional convention and a public debate over a number of months.

As well as giving Australia an opportunity to deal with big issues like reform of our federation, such a debate would introduce much more meaning to constitutional change debates. So far the republican debate has largely focused on models that replace the Queen and Governor-General with a President with similar powers, with the only big disagreement over whether this person would be chosen by a similar process, in practice, to the Governor-General, or by a national election. It’s not much of a surprise that such a debate hasn’t grabbed Australia’s interest.

Personally I support a model that is neither “direct election” or “minimalist”, and I’ll post on that topic in the next week.


Latham revisionism

Mark Latham has made another return to Australian political debate in the last few days, with an article from his former chief of staff being published in a scientific journal, arguing that Latham suffered from a “narcissistic and paranoid personality”:

In a article written for the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, Mike Richards – who lost his job during the 2004 federal election loss – analysed Mr Latham’s behaviour during his turbulent year as Labor leader, The Age newspaper reports.

Dr Richards, who wrote his doctorate on a narcissistic personality, says Mr Latham’s promising political career was spoiled by “tragic personality flaws”.

“Latham’s narcissistic and paranoid personality shaped a consistent pattern of political behaviour,” he wrote.

“The core features of that style are a distinctive political brilliance and drive that is accompanied by paranoia and destructive tendencies – anger, rage, envy and resentment – which suggest an inner dynamic involving overweening ambition defending against (that is, compensating for) low self-esteem.”

Of course, a lot of that makes sense. But you also have to question, how many politicians fit into these criteria? I would consider narcissism, paranoia and a lot of the other symptoms described to be typical of most successful politicians.

The treatment of Mark Latham and his legacy ever since 2005 has been one of the most stunning cases of political and media doublethink in recent political history. Someone who doesn’t remember the 2004 campaign could reasonably believe 2004 was this crazy year when the entire ALP caucus went collectively insane and selected a lunatic as leader, who ran around the country tearing the place apart before receiving his rightful bollocking, at which point the ALP caucus woke up and became nice and sensible again.

Both major parties and much of the mainstream political media has conveniently spent the last four years rubbing out the history of the 2004 election. The assumption is that Howard’s victory over Latham was always inevitable.

Yet it needs to be pointed out that, for much of 2004, Latham’s polling numbers were stratospheric, before falling back down to earth in the second half of the year. Even on election day, when the result was probably certain, my memory is that, while Howard was favoured, people I spoke to weren’t as certain that Howard would win as, say, people were certain that Rudd would win in 2007.

The political journalist class has largely found it convenient to run with the “crazy Latham” meme as an antidote to their embarassing fawning over Latham during the 2004 campaign. It probably didn’t hurt that Latham didn’t pull any punches regarding the media in his 2005 diaries, giving them little motivation to treat his arguments and legacy fairly and much motivation to discredit his diaries and the opinions within. Usually such strident criticism of the political establishment by a former federal leader of a major party would be considered a key political document. Instead most who haven’t read the book would consider The Latham Diaries to be a crazy rant with little value.

The Liberal Party found value in painting Latham as a dangerous lunatic, as they could then bash the ALP for the misjudgement in electing him as leader and following his lead for an election campaign.

For the ALP, they also had strong reasons to paint the Latham experiment as a temporary bout of insanity. For the ALP political establishment that never really got onboard with Latham’s personality style (even though his actual policies were never particularly radical), it became easy during the 2005-2007 period to paint the 2004 election defeat as solely due to Latham’s role. Get rid of Latham, get rid of the problem. This avoided having to deal with the deeper structural issues. More importantly, the ALP was desperate to discredit the author of the most insightful critique of modern ALP culture, someone who has some of the best credentials to make such a critique.

Of course, Latham’s personal style probably never made it easy, and another leader may have done better. Yet you can’t ignore that, for a number of months in 2004, Latham was one of the most popular Opposition Leaders in recent years. Indeed, Mark Latham’s appeal and difficulties stemmed from the same source: he was a true outsider. He was never popular with the ALP political establishment, and his political outlook, despite fitting in perfectly with the ALP’s neoliberal economic agenda, challenged the way politics is done. The ALP first experimented with a radical choice with Latham in 2004, before succeeding with a conservative choice with Rudd in 2007. In contrast, the US Democrats went the other way, failing to elect a conservative choice in John Kerry in 2004, before succeeding in 2008 after taking a gamble on Barack Obama.

This is the real lesson of Mark Latham’s leadership. His leadership wasn’t a momentary bout of insanity, it was a gamble. It didn’t pay off, but that doesn’t mean it was always bound to fail. And if Latham had succeeded, Australian politics today would be very different, and much more interesting.

Update: Mike Richards’ article has been published online by Crikey, and you can read it here. It’s actually fascinating and well worth reading. Although I still wonder whether all the revelations about Latham’s narcissistic behaviour are any worse than the sort of stuff that could’ve come out about leaders like Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd.


The new Andrew Fisher biography

I just finished David Day’s third book in what is rapidly becoming a series of biographies of Australia’s Labor Prime Ministers: Andrew Fisher: Prime Minister of Australia. This follows on the back of his John Curtin: A Life and Chifley.

Andrew Fisher’s story is one that has mainly disappeared from Australian political folklore, overshadowed by his primary rivals (Alfred Deakin and Billy Hughes) and the passing of time. Yet he was a central figure in shaping our modern party system.

Read the rest of this entry »


Essential’s “Best PM” poll

Essential Research has produced a fascinating poll, asking voters who they thought was Australia’s best post-WWII Prime Minister. The poll put the 21st century Prime Ministers well ahead of their predecessors, with 28% saying John Howard and 20% saying Kevin Rudd, followed by Bob Hawke on 12% and Robert Menzies on 11%.

Of course, it’s complete rubbish. For a start, John Howard comes out on top, although 55% voted for a Labor PM. If you used preferences, likely Rudd would come out on top. The difference was that Whitlam, Hawke and Keating all got substantial support, whereas there was practically no support for Holt, Gorton, McMahon or Fraser, so more of the Liberal vote was concentrated with Menzies and Howard.

Read the rest of this entry »


Possum takes on Australia’s electorates

Over at Crikey’s Pollytics blog, Possum has started a series profiling the demographics of all 150 Australian House of Representatives electorates. So far he has posted profiles of Adelaide, Aston, Ballarat and Banks. Check it out.


How do we elect our leaders? Part one

After the events of the last few weeks further demonstrated the inability of Stephane Dion to remain as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Dion announced last Monday that he would resign as soon as the party chose an interim leader. Dion had announced his resignation following the October election, and a leadership convention was planned for May, with three contenders. On Monday 8th, Dominic LeBlanc withdrew and supported Michael Ignatieff, and Ignatieff’s main rival, former NDP Ontario Premier Bob Rae, withdrew on Tuesday, giving room for Ignatieff to be elected interim Leader by the Liberal Party executive in consultation with the caucus on Wednesday 10th December. The convention will still be held in May, but is expected to be a coronation, with Ignatieff solidly in place as Leader of the Opposition or even Prime Minister. The difficulty the Liberal Party had in reconciling its lengthy leadership process with the need to make a quick decisions raises some interesting issues about how political parties elect their leaders. Canadian parties use various methods of allowing their members to have a say in electing members. The Liberal Party elect leaders at a convention that resembles old-fashioned US presidential conventions, where candidates are gradually knocked out until one gets support of the majority. The last convention in 2006 had about 2600 delegates voting at the convention. The NDP, BQ and the Conservatives all use various processes that give all members a vote. The NDP gives 75% of votes to members of the party, and 25% of votes to members of affiliated organisations, which are mainly labour unions. Over 58,000 votes were cast at the last leadership election in 2003. The Conservatives use a weighted system that gives 100 points to each of 308 ridings. The ridings are distributed proportionally according to how the members living in that riding voted. The BQ appears to use a simple “one vote one value” system, and the last leadership election saw about 48,000 members vote. Most Canadian provincial parties also seem to have shifted towards a “one vote one value” system as well. UK political parties likewise use various systems that put the ultimate say largely in the hands of grassroots members while giving some say to Members of Parliament. The British Labour Party uses a system which weights votes so that 1/3 of the vote is cast by members of the constituency parties, 1/3 by members of affiliated organisations (mainly labour unions) and 1/3 by members of Parliamentary Labour Party. In the only contested leadership election in 1994, Tony Blair won 57% of the vote, with a majority in all three parts of the electoral college. The British Conservative Party uses a process whereby candidates face voting by Members of Parliament until there are only two candidates remaining, and then the two proceed to a vote of all grassroots members. In the 2005 election, four candidates nominated. David Davis received the most votes in the first round, but Cameron took the clear lead after the lowest-polling candidate was eliminated. In the members’ vote, almost 200,000 votes were cast, and Cameron won clearly with 67% of the vote. The Liberal Democrats use a straight one-vote-one-value process, although each candidate must be nominated by at least 10% of the parliamentary party. Members vote with a preference ballot. Following the 2006 resignation of Charles Kennedy, 52,000 members voted, with Menzies Campbell winning 44% of the primary vote, being elected on preferences, beating Chris Huhne with 58% of the preference vote. Another leadership election in 2007 saw Nick Clegg beat Chris Huhne by a slim margin of 511 votes out of 41,000 cast. In contrast, Australia and New Zealand politics tends towards members of Parliament deciding leaders. The only exceptions I can find are the NZ Green Party and the Australian Democrats, although only two state Greens parties have official leaders (ACT and Tasmania), so Greens MPs sit in Parliaments in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia without any elected leader. The New Zealand Green Party has two co-leaders, and they are elected by delegates to the national conference of the party. Their constitution requires that one leader be male and the other female. The party’s original leaders, Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimmons, remained in place for the 1996, 1999, 2002 and 2005 elections, and the only recent election took place in 2006 following the death of Rod Donald shortly after the 2005 election. The election was contested by MP Nandor Tanczos, former MP Mike Ward and party members Russel Norman and David Clendon. Due to the fact that four of the six Greens MPs were female, there was a high chance that the new male co-leader would not be an MP, and in the end Norman defeated Tanczos in a preference ballot. Norman became leader outside Parliament and was elected to Parliament to fill Tanczos’ seat when he resigned in mid-2008, and Norman was re-elected at the 2008 election. I was planning on going into what we should do in Australia as far as electing our leaders, but this has gotten too long, so: Tomorrow: what should we do in Australia? What would happen to our politics if grassroots members got to decide who became party leader?