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My election night

March 22nd, 2009

I was at the tally room on election night, in time to hear Lawrence Springborg’s concession speech and see Anna Bligh claim victory as the first woman to be elected as a State Premier. Not that I’m an election tragic, but we were having a farewell dinner for a friend at Southbank, and the Convention Centre was only short walk away, so we went on to take a look. The tally room itself was a little disappointing as the old days of a gigantic board with manually adjusted vote counts for every seat are gone (or maybe only ever happened at the Federal level). Instead we got a big screen with regularly updated results including (unofficial, I assume) projections of the preference distribution: more informative, but not much different to what we could have got at home.

The result was a much bigger majority for Labor than appeared likely, even though the two-party preferred vote (to the extent that this concept is meaningful when a lot of independent candidates are actually elected) was quite close. One possible interpetation was a highly effective marginal seats strategy, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Given the government’s vulnerabilities and what I thought was a more professional campaign from the Opposition, the result gives some support to the idea that Labor has become the natural party of government in most Australian states. Nevertheless, no party is guaranteed of office, and hopefully a stronger opposition will keep the Bligh government on its toes a bit more than in the past.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner movies

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  1. gerard
    March 30th, 2009 at 08:19 | #1

    If fewer than 3,000 Queenslanders had changed their votes last Saturday it would be Liberal National Party (LNP) leader Lawrence Springborg choosing the government’s cabinet instead of Anna Bligh.

    and if my uncle had tits he’d be my auntie.

  2. March 30th, 2009 at 14:53 | #2

    Hal9000,

    If you are still paying attention, that is most interesting. Nevertheless, I would still like to see how Ronan Lee himself or one of his supporters would respond to what you have written.

    Can I take it that you don’t necessarily condemn out of hand Labor politicians who break ranks with the Labor Party on issues of principle?

    One who comes to mind is Cate Molloy, who rightly voted against Beattie’s planned ecological and social vandalism entailed in the building of the Traveston Dam. She was consequently expelled.

    Whilst I am not necessarily against Labor ‘caucus solidarity’ in principle it has clearly been perverted in recent decades to allow the pro-business, anti-democratic, anti-environmental polices of the ALP’s rulers to be imposed on its caucus and its wider membership without proper democratic discussion.

    So, however we might judge Ronan Lee, I think it would be good to see more members of the Labor caucus break ranks, but, hopefully, next time in more substantial numbers.

  3. April 1st, 2009 at 12:13 | #3

    Hal9000 wrote:

    Making it easier to waste your vote rather than to make it count surely is an incentive to waste it.

    Nevertheless, it should be every voter’s right to do that if that is his/her choice. (I also happen to think voting should not be compulsory by the way, so I guess support for making it compulsory to number all squares flows logically from support for compulsory voting.)

    However, as I argued before if voters were properly educated about the optional preferential voting system and, furthermore, not misinformed by the major parties (and by so many short-sighted independents who shout ‘just vote 1′) few would deliberately waste their vote.

    The miseducation of voters on optional preferential voting itself is only part of the broader picture of mis-informing voters about the policies at stake at election time.

  4. Hal9000
    April 2nd, 2009 at 12:09 | #4

    “you don’t necessarily condemn out of hand Labor politicians who break ranks with the Labor Party on issues of principle?”

    No. George Georges, for example, broke ranks on an issue of basic principle. Cate Molloy I’m not so sure about in terms of principle or electoral pragmatism, but at least she was up front about her position. Lee was, as is standard operational procedure for the man, entirely secretive. A wholly compartmentalised life. As I say, search Hansard or any other public record in vain for any previous commitment to environmental issues.

    re#53 Agreed in general terms, especially about voter education. My own view would be to have a senate-style published preference distribution allocation by candidates, but allow voters to opt out, either by allocating all their own preferences, or by ticking a box allowing their vote to exhaust after the expressed preference(s). That way, the most common voting pattern (following the how-to-vote card) is the easiest, but any other option is available. BTW, I like the South Australian system whereby all candidates’ how-to-votes are posted in booths.

  5. April 3rd, 2009 at 10:28 | #5

    Glad that you offered the example of the late Senator George Georges, Hal9000. I had largely forgotten his uplifting example. If we had a few more Labor politicians with his backbone and underlying decency, history would have been very different.

    I don’t think Cate Molloy is entirely without flaws, but she should have been re-elected. The biggest problem with democracy is that politicians rarely properly represent the legitimate interests their own constituencies.

    On the rare occasions when politicians do, they deserve the full support of voters. So, I believe the voters of Noosa made the wrong choice in 2006, although, given the usual likely corrupting influence of the newsmedia, it would not have been entirely their fault.

    I think your ideas for lower house voting would actually needlessly make voting in the lower house less democratic.

    For the Senate pre-determined party preference allocations may be a necessary evil, but given that there are rarely more than 5 candidates in any lower house seat, I think it would make it more, rather than less complex.

    Yes, how to vote cards should be in all voting booths as you suggest.

    However, I think the law should be changed so that the word ‘recommended’ is required to be prepended onto ‘how to vote’ at the top of how to vote cards. That way voters would be left in no doubt that they can allocate preferences as they please.

  6. Hal9000
    April 3rd, 2009 at 13:12 | #6

    I don’t want to prolong this exchange more than necessary, but…

    the idea of preferential voting is to ensure that the candidate elected has at least more than 50 percent of voters preferring her to the next most preferred candidate – placing it in contradistinction to first-past-the-post systems employed in most other countries that allowed, eg, Thatcher to romp in with a majority of the electorate loathing her. OPV dilutes this essential principle, allowing a candidate to be elected on the basis that not enough voters actually cared to express a preference. The rationales for OPV are all pretty flimsy, IMO, and the issues OPV is said to address can be better dealt with in other ways – just like the primary rationale for malapportionment (very large electorates in the outback) can best be dealt with by giving outback members more resources so they can service their far-flung constituents. The idea is that the central democratic principle of one-vote-one-value trumps the lesser principle of convenient access to political representatives.

    That said, let’s just take OPV as a given and see what principles ought to be applied to it in order to preserve as far as possible the trump principle of majoritarianism that preferential voting enshrines.

    First, the easiest course should be to express a vote in accordance with the preference allocation determined by a party or candidate. That is, after all, what most voters actually do and always have done. [Aside: canvass for a party or candidate at any polling booth on election day and you'll find that a steady stream of confused, disabled, illiterate, infirm and non-English speaking voters will insist on being helped to fill in their ballot paper just as the party or candidate directs and no other way.] This ought therefore to be the default option, and the other options – preference expression contrary to a party or candidate’s wishes, and vote exhaustion, should be marginally more difficult. If you want to do something unorthodox, that’s fine, but it shouldn’t happen just because you don’t understand the details of the Electoral Act and Regulations.

    So, if you ‘just vote 1′, you should have to tick another box to indicate that you want your vote to exhaust if that candidate is eliminated in the count. If you ‘just vote 1′ and don’t tick the box, it’ll be understood you want your preferences allocated according to party wishes.

    If you allocate a full spread of preferences, it’s obvious that’s what you’re doing.

    Of course, there are ways of achieving a majoritarian result other than preferential voting – the most obvious being to have an exhaustive or multi-round voting process. But I’m pretty sure the Australian electorate doesn’t want to go there.

    If you want to elevate the principle of optionality above the principle of majoritarian results, you’re welcome to mount the argument but IMO you’ll end up finding yourself arguing for a debauched and undemocratic system like in the US where only a tiny proportion of citizens bother to participate.

    I’m neutral about your ‘recommended’ proposal for how-to-vote cards. I doubt very much it would make any measurable difference to voter behaviour or public understanding, however I would note that the more compliance requirements placed on parties and candidates the more likely it is that some innocent mistake will result in litigation and re-elections in the event of close results.

  7. April 4th, 2009 at 00:55 | #7

    Hal9000,

    Firstly, I wouldn’t fight to the death to preserve the optionality in OPV, but I would fight to the death to prevent the introduction of ‘first the post’. (You may find this discussion on ‘first the post’ vs preferential of interest, BTW.)

    I could live with the compulsion in a preferential system, but I still think it’s a silly idea.

    If a majority of voters knowingly decide not to allocate preferences sufficiently far so as to prevent them being exhausted, thereby allowing a candidate who does not have majority support to win, then why not accept that choice?

    Compelling voters to make that choice won’t alter the underlying reality that whoever wins won’t have majority support.

    That said, I probably agree with you that cpv with ill-informed voters would probably deliver an outcome marginally more in accord with voters actual wishes than would opv with similarly ill-informed voters.

    However, I don’t hold out much hope that voters who haven’t made the effort, with or without a proper eduction campaign, to grasp the opv/cpv systems will really be capable of voting for decisive change for the better.

    I am not really keen on encouraging voters to just go along with whatever preferences the party they wish to give their first preference to decides.

    Still, if that’s what some voters actually want, then it may not hurt to expand the opv/cpv ballot form in the way you suggest, but only if it proves not to result in higher proportion of informal votes.

  8. Hal9000
    April 7th, 2009 at 11:38 | #8

    We seem to be in furious agreement. I wouldn’t be holding my breath for any changes, however.

    FWIW, Ronan Lee came in third on every element of the vote, including postal voting which is something of a surprise given administrative blunders saw the ALP postal vote campaign kick off a week late in Indooroopilly. Scott Emerson (LNP) snuck in by 1200 votes after allocation of preferences, well under the number of exhausted Lee votes. Of allocated Lee preferences, Warner (ALP) picked up better than 70 percent. It can’t be proved empirically, but I very much doubt whether voters following the Just Vote 1 Lee ticket really intended their vote to ensure an LNP win, but that was the effect of it.

    Meanwhile, I imagine Lee will be busy white-anting the Greens organisation with the connivance of his new useful idiot Drew Hutton. Hutton and the Greens will be jettisoned the moment he gets his bum on that red bench. Lee intends to be the Brian Harradine of the new century, running the same anti-choice agenda. Remember Harradine started out as an ALP Senate candidate.

  9. April 7th, 2009 at 13:47 | #9

    Actually, a member of the Greens told me some time ago of very similar concerns about Ronan Lee.

    However, if those are Ronan Lee’s intentions, I would still consider it an extremely reckless gamble from the point of view of his own personal self-interest, that is, in comparison to having simply remained a state Labor member of Parliament. There is certainly an awful lot of scope for such a plan to come unstuck before the next federal elections.

  10. Hal9000
    April 7th, 2009 at 16:37 | #10

    Agreed that it’s all a reckless gamble. Sober reflection and clear thinking aren’t long suits in Ronan’s hand, though daggett. In scheming, plotting and betrayal, however, he holds all the picture cards. He must have run out of fellow conspirators in the ALP caucus, which is hardly surprising when you think about it: they’d had eight years to get to know him and even that wooden-headed bunch eventually worked him out.

  11. joelsarmy
    April 27th, 2009 at 04:22 | #11

    Just read this thread, so sorry its a belated comment. Dagget, if your Dave – I would have voted for you on your youtube video alone; if your James and related to Don, I would have voted for you too.

    Unfortunately I don’t live in Mt Coot-tha.

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