WA 2021 – broken upper house voting system elects Daylight Saving

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We’ve now got results for the three non-metropolitan regions for the Western Australian Legislative Council, with the metropolitan regions due to be decided after the Easter long weekend.

In two of the three regions, an MLC has been elected representing a small minor party. In the South West region, the Legalise Cannabis party has won a seat off just 2.1% of the vote (less than either the Greens or the Shooters, who both missed out). But the far more outrageous result is in Mining and Pastoral region, where the Daylight Saving Party won a seat off just 98 above-the-line votes, or about 0.2% of the total.

We don’t have the final figures now – the figures on the WAEC website and on ABC Elections don’t appear to include below-the-line votes, or possibly include them lumped in with each group’s above-the-line votes. Those votes could have theoretically shifted preference flows and produced results different to those predicted by the ABC’s preference calculator, but that did not happen in any of the three regions decided so far. I’ll do another analysis once we have the final figures.

It seems likely that the preference distribution followed the pattern seen on the ABC website.

The DSP was ranked fifth-last in a large field on primary votes. Daylight Saving then receives preferences from the first three groups knocked out, and the full list of parties whose preferences flow to them are:

  • Christine Kelly independent ticket (0.1%)
  • Health Australia (0.2%)
  • Great Australian Party (0.2%)
  • Sustainable Australia (0.3%)
  • Liberal Democrats (0.4%)
  • Tayla Squires independent ticket (0.3%)
  • Animal Justice (0.8%)
  • Liberals for Climate (1.1%)
  • Western Australia Party (1.3%)
  • Legalise Cannabis (2.6%)
  • The Greens (4.7%)
  • Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (3.5%)

That’s a full quota there, mostly from parties that polled more than the DSP, and from a wide variety of different ideological persuasions. I don’t think anyone could argue that all of these voters would’ve genuinely preferred this party, certainly not with any degree of unanimity sufficient for every single above-the-line vote to go to them from those parties.

If you need more evidence of how this is a democratic travesty, check out the results of the Daylight Saving referendum in 2009. I posted some simple maps showing the vote by electorate on this website at the time.

While the electoral boundaries have changed, the Mining and Pastoral region still covers mostly the same area. In 2009, 65.9% of formal votes in the referendum in that region were against daylight saving. Admittedly not as strong as the 83% no vote in the Agricultural region, but still very decisive.

Daylight Saving Party did not win a seat because people care about their issue – they only polled 0.2%. They also didn’t win a seat because other parties think voters care about that issue. It’s clearly not a popular issue in the region. They won thanks to reciprocal deals and a system which treats a party’s whole vote as a single entity, not as the votes of independent voters.

And this anti-democratic travesty is made worse thanks to the severe malapportionment which means Mining and Pastoral region voters are significantly overrepresented in the upper house.

Labor now has a clear path to reform. They have a supermajority in both houses. It’ll be up to them to decide if they care about fixing this failure of democracy, or they would prefer to keep it in place. Victorian Labor has shown no interest in pursuing similar reforms, but faces a big and complex crossbench in the balance of power. WA Labor has no such excuse.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Ben, while I agree entirely about the farcical nature of this result, I think it’s at best a dubious argument to conflate the daylight savings referendum results in the way you have. In a multi-member electorate, where 34% of the electorate voted for daylight saving, it would not be unreasonable for at least one of the members to be representing this point of view. That doesn’t make the outcome any more justifiable, though!!

  2. While the Daylight Saving Party’s win in Mining and Pastoral is plainly down to organising the GVT’s you can’t begrudge Legalise Cannabis taking the 5th spot in South West. Statewide, Cannabis had the biggest vote of all parties after the 4 majors (ALP, Libs. Greens, and Nats) just ahead of the Christians. If you ran the WA upper house proportionally on a statewide basis similarly to NSW then the result would probably have been; ALP 23, Libs 7, Greens 2, Nats 1, Cannabis 1, Christians 1, and a toss-up between the Shooters and One Nation for the last spot. Apart from removing the Nat’s gerrymandered advantage, not that much different from what has happened.

  3. Jeremy, I do think it’s relevant. If this was a genuine movement you’d expect a presence first in the regions which voted for daylight saving, specifically parts of Perth.

    Graham, I am very happy to begrudge the Legalise Cannabis result. Yes, under a NSW-style system with everyone elected at once Legalise Cannabis may have won a single seat, but under a fair regional system they wouldn’t have come close, and they achieved this win while the Greens will likely win half their proportions. Their election does not reflect the genuine preferences of voters.

  4. I’d also note that Legalise Cannabis are 0.06% away from overtaking WAP in East Metro and winning a second seat, which would be about 3 times their vote proportion. They are villains in this story.

  5. Your trolling me surely with the villainy hyperbole?!

    Legalise Cannabis is hardly in the same category of political parties that only exist to game the preferences and get arse on leather. If they were, they wouldn’t be blowing money in elections they have zero chance. Legalise Cannabis exists because of the failure of existing political parties to deliver on policy reform that has wide-spread community support. That’s why they got the preferences that elected them from the micro-parties, and both the Shooters and the Greens.

    Daylight Savings and Glenn Druery aren’t really villains either – mere opportunists. And Legalise Cannabis ain’t even that. Afaik, it’s mostly a collection of poor/sick/criminalised people desperate for change who got electorally lucky.

    The only true villain here is the Western Australian Upper House and the way it’s elected. You can’t blame that on Legalise Cannabis WA. WA Greens on the other hand, might bear some responsibility for that…

    https://tinyurl.com/57azjewf

  6. A touch of hyperbole perhaps, but they aren’t the good guys here. Look at their preference tickets. Perfectly happy to prioritise a bunch of other minor parties before bigger parties like the Greens who they have policy affinity with. They preferenced the ex-One Nation WAP ahead of the Greens. Admittedly they weren’t as bare-faced as the parties in the Druery alliance but you don’t win one or two seats off a small vote in this system by being principled.

    I will admit that Legalise Cannabis would have benefited from being a party that a broad spectrum of other parties are happy to preference, but they also received those preferences because they were willing to do the same and they had a low enough vote that those other parties thought they had a chance of overtaking them. It’s all part of the same game.

    And I don’t accept “they’re all doing it” as an excuse. I can judge you all.

    The parties in the Druery alliance are both opportunists and villains. They’ve exploited a weakness in the electoral system to make it harder for voters to actually vote according to their principles. Other people could have done the same but have gone off and done something else with their lives.

    Let’s see how the Legalise Cannabis MP (or MPs) operate in parliament. If they are principled they should be in there advocating to fix this broken electoral system, but I expect silence.

    As for the state of the current upper house, yes the Greens share responsibility for the failure to reform the malapportionment in the upper house (although reading that paper tells a more nuanced story about the role of Labor and the ex-Liberal independent, and makes it seem like they were happy to pin the blame on the Greens but weren’t pushing hard for more equal upper house regions).

    But GVTs wasn’t a part of that, and the Greens have been the ones pushing to abolish GVTs at every level since NSW in 2001.

  7. I presume, mainly on my calculation of their self-interest, that Legalise Cannabis`s position on LC reform will be along the following lines:

    1. More favourable to reasonable government policies, the more the government moves to legalise cannabis.

    2. In favour of a single state-wide electorate, which would maximise their chances at the next election.

    3. Not particularly fond of GTV elimination, particularly if not connected to point 2.

    4. Opposed to single member-electorates in the Legislative Council (See: https://www.pollbludger.net/2021/04/01/western-australian-legislative-council-endgame/comment-page-1/#comment-3585371).

    5. Opposed to shrinking the LC (which requires a referendum).

    6. Not hugely fond of altering the boundaries of South Western region, but probably otherwise potentially favourable to reduction or elimination of malapportionment.

  8. There is nothing wrong with supporting single state-wide electorates. It doesn’t have to be self-interest. Although technically, neither of LCWA’s or DST’s vote matters. Their political voice might be influential though.

    Scapegoating LCWA and DSP for a system they didn’t create is just wrong. AFAIK there is no evidence LCWA were even part of the Druery alliance. The only real surprise for me with the LCWA preference tickets was the Greens were consistently higher preferenced than Liberal Democrats which is usually the biggest debate in the drug law reform movement. Even Shooters didn’t seem to do so well in their tickets and they have stated a public affinity with them. But in electorates of 35000 there is probably personal dynamics involved in some of these preference decisions. As far as I can tell The Greens would have been beneficiaries of most LCWA’s vote if they hadn’t received their lowest vote since the 90’s and been overtaken by them on preferences.

    I support the abolishment of GVTs and the ridiculous malapportionment but GVT’s aren’t the current biggest problem. The Legislative Council is actually MORE representative of people’s vote than the Legislative Assembly.

    Decreasing major party loyalty has increased the volatility of single-member electorates such that it’s become disturbingly common for even the major parties to be wiped out beyond functional democratic opposition. That is the bigger problem that needs to be addressed with electoral law reform.

    Forest/trees birds/rock etc.

  9. It’s interesting to read all the speculation about how the minor party MLCs will behave when it comes to electoral reform, when it seems likely that thier views will largely be irrelevant. The more interesting question will be how the ALP MLCs behave. Given the overwhelming level of self-interest that each will have in any changed system, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see some rogue behaviour there. With 10 ALP MLCs from non-metropolitan areas, they will clearly be aware that in a one vote one value electoral system, based on the maintenance of electorates, the TOTAL country representation in a 36 member Legislative Council is likely to be no more than 9, rather than the current 18! So expect the country ALP members to look for all sorts of ways, including substantially increasing the number of MLCs, to try to improve their chances of survival! I fully expect to witness some breathtaking hypocricy in the name of “ensuring country people aren’t ignored”! They will, of course, be fully supportive of getting rid of GVTs, as this serves them.
    I don’t know if it has ever been done in a Parliament, but I would love to see a situation where each MP’s vote in Parliament would be be weighted to reflect the number of people enrolled in their electorate at the previous election. In the absence of a PR sytem, that at least would ensure equal representation for each elector!

  10. https://www.tallyroom.com.au/41416/comment-page-1#comment-752441

    The greatest support for electoral reforms almost always comes from its beneficiaries and their chances of re-election increase dramatically with a single statewide electorate. The political voice of elected micros matters more if there is a referendum.

    The biggest wipe-outs are rare, particularly with compulsory preferential voting. This result was a genuinely unprecedented collapse in the Liberal vote, due to their then leader having taken a stand on the border closure issue that was divisive within the Liberal voting base, which was then quickly hit with Victoria`s second wave making the WA Government`s policy look very sensible (because much of it was).

  11. https://www.tallyroom.com.au/41416/comment-page-1/#comment-752446

    I don`t think rouge behaviour by ALP MLCs is likely for three main reasons reasons:

    The ALP has a very strong towing the party line when voting in Parliament culture, so there are unlikely to be enough seats defector to vote down any ALP legislation. Their position likely only matters for internal numbers within the ALP partyroom.

    The ALP can preselect current non-metro MLCs to metro seats or a statewide list fairly easily, the ALP is not big on local seats for local candidates when there are other candidates they want to preselect.

    The win is so big that it is inevitable an number of ALP MLCs will loose next election, so many of those ALP MLCs would not survive anyway, even if there was no reduction in non-Metro MLC numbers.

    Also, weighting votes in parliament would be incredibly inefficient. Doing so by enrolment would not solve all the issues PT would, as it would treat votes for and against (and also informal and non-cast votes) the same. Adjusting member numbers is the only way of sorting malapportionment out. That means adding metro seats/removing non-metro seats or adopting a Weimar Republic-style fixed quota (chamber size would be far less volatile than Weimer Germany because of compulsory voting).

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