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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. Alan
    March 22nd, 2009 at 08:01 | #1

    I have gradually come to the conclusion that the phrase “natural party of government” is useless and probably meaningless. It indicates more about the smug satisfaction of that party’s supporters than it does about the party. Enough voters pay enough attention enough of the time to ensure that any government will be turfed out if a more attractive alternative appears. In this case, I suspect the Borg’s bombastic, simplistic nostrums put people off.

    Election results usually look as if they were inevitable and governments usually seem natural – after the event.

  2. Alice
    March 22nd, 2009 at 08:17 | #2

    I think workchoices really did the conservatives in myself…left a very fishy smell that lingers a long time after you empty the garbage bin. (I dont think it will save NSW Labor though – nothing will, unless they ditch the “me too” conservatism and privatisation blunders and outsourcing contracts to India etc). There was also a bit of media about Springbords youth, inexperience and his campaign (funded by Daddy?) Its about jobs too and well back to that lingering odour…

  3. March 22nd, 2009 at 08:23 | #3

    Pr Q says:

    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.

    THat is pretty much the identical conclusion to the one I drew. Although I frame it negatively, since I think the key factor amongst Baby Boomers is aversion to LNP rather than attraction to ALP. This posted earlier at Pineapple Party Time, awaiting moderation:

    I was wrong in to believe that the cyclical theory of partisan alignment would accurately predict the adverse swing against the ALP. I expected the LNP 2PP vote to be in the ~51.5% region. Instead it only managed to muster 49.2%. So I was off by ~2.2%, which is a massive error in 2PP terms.

    Also, I was wrong on psephological method. I expected the polls to underestimate the LNP vote. In fact they overestimated it.

    What this points to is the underlying weakness of the LNP “brand”. It performed poorly in a situation where an Opposition should have cleaned up: a massive economic downturn…and a tired and slovenly government.

    Mark is therefore being a little hasty in dismissing the notion of political hegemony. Perhaps the ALP may not be the Natural Party of Government but the LNP is definitely the Natural Party of Opposition.

    I do not think that there was any special Anna Bligh factor in the vote. Her personal satisfaction ratings actually fell as a result of calling an early election.

    I still think that ALP state governments will continue to topple over the next three years. But not nearly as resoundingly as they should based on standard cyclical theory.

  4. Socrates
    March 22nd, 2009 at 08:23 | #4

    I don’t agree with the “natural party of government” idea too. Labor just got kicked out in WA and faces great risk in the next NSW eection.

    But I think it does say something about attitudes to people and ideas. The LNP put up an old style conservative leader (Springborg) with old style conservative ideas (cut debt adn the public sector). Given that their campaign seemed OK, those have both been pretty clearly rejected.

    There seems to be a clear message here for Malcolm Turnbull: drop the rubbish about debt and mortgaging the future, and look at how we can sustain jobs. That is what people care about now.

  5. Socrates
    March 22nd, 2009 at 08:31 | #5

    One more thing on the politics – I agre with Jack Strochi that there was no “anna Bligh factor” in evidence. But that is good news. As a progressive I celebrate that this is Australai’s first female elected parliamentary leader. The fact that gender wasn’t a big factor, and she won simply because the electorate preferred her policies, is exactly as it should be.

  6. boconnor
    March 22nd, 2009 at 09:29 | #6

    I am beginning to wonder whether conservative oppositions are fundamentally lazy. They have a number of years to produce interesting, highly specific policies. These could be stressed tested internally to find any policy or funding holes and then fixed before release. They have access to enough budget information to frame alternative spending and taxing policies in good detail.

    But instead they come around at election time with platitudes and no detail. And then get surprised when voters don’t regard them as a government in waiting, with policies ready to implement. Maybe they need to spend less time following the daily media cycle and more time with their heads down working on fully costed ideas for government.

  7. paul walter
    March 22nd, 2009 at 09:43 | #7

    I agree with Alice and Socrates.
    Altho it appeared that Queenslanders were preoccupied with parochial issues, it seems that many were also influenced by the stink of the Wall St crash, all the swindles, executive bonuses etc and saw the Borg’s Thatcherite platform as just another “punish the victims for the benefit of the guilty” manoeuvre.
    They know that Labor willprobably not be aninspirational governemt, but at least Labor has enough wit not to openly valorise mass sackings, etc.

  8. March 22nd, 2009 at 10:08 | #8

    Queenslanders have correctly chosen the lesser of two evils

    I think Anna Bligh’s victory speech confirmed that of the poor choice on offer, Queenslanders made the right choice.

    If she proves true to her words that she understands that many voters were rightly dissatisfied with her Government and will lift her game from this point onwards, then she may yet prove to be a decent Premier, but I will only believe it when I see it.

    Had Springborg won, it would almost certainly have been taken as a mandate to proceed with slashing and burning the public sector and perhaps even accelerating Labor’s fire sale of public owned assets.

    There is no guarantee that the Bligh Government won’t do much the same, but if they do, those who are against such policies will have much more legitimacy than they would had Springborg won.

    Blatant media bias against alternatives to major political parties

    My own vote in Mount Coot-tha was not good, with only 112 or 0.6% of the votes counted thus far.

    However, given the almost complete lack of substantial media coverage, except for one interview on 4ZZZ, that result should not be not altogether unexpected.

    Your ABC’s local Brisbane radio station adamantly refused to give me any interviews or to use any of my media releases.

    As far as I can tell they did not even give coverage to a single other Independent in the Brisbane region, nor any Green. Of course, I may have missed something on the days that I did not listen to ABC 612. Nevertheless, I consider this evidence that the ABC was extremely biased.

    In my discussions with Kellie Riordon, ABC Radio’s news director, she pleaded that they simply did not have time to cover all the independents.

    However, if they did not have sufficient time to be able to inform Brisbane listeners of the alternatives on offer, then why did they not make an issue of that? Why should the ABC have meekly accepted the unnecessarily early election, the needlessly short campaign time, and Anna Bligh’s obvious deceit of the Queensland public, shown by the fact that Labor had booked so much media time, before the elections were announced?

    And why was Anna Bligh rewarded by her having been given so much air time?

    If the ABC didn’t have time to interview candidates such as myself even once, then what possible justification could the ABC programmers have had for running a human interest story about Anna Bligh’s husband Greg Withers?

    And why did they devote air time to discussing Glen Milne’s article “Springborg’s hope lies with can-do Campbell” of 9 Mar 09 — a story which included nothing of substance about policy and which surely would have held little interest to anyone who was not an LNP campaign strategist?

    I will be saying a lot more about how dismally Your ABC served Queensland electors in coming days.

    James SinnamonIndependent candidate for Mount Coot-tha,candobetter.org/QldElections/MountCoot-tha

  9. Ikonoclast
    March 22nd, 2009 at 11:34 | #9

    I’m intrigued by how wrong the polls and the newspaper pundits got it. They were predicting a comfortable LNP victory over the ALP. I wonder how much of that was wishful thinking and how much was an attempt by the media barons to manipulate public opinion.

    The campaign itself seemed to show that the LNP’s pockets were deeper in terms of campaign budget and they also won in the volunteer stakes. At my booth, the LNP workers would have made a cricket team and the ALP workers would have been lucky to make up a euchre table. LNP banners and posters (in gross area) outdid ALP posters by a ratio of about 4 to 1.

    LNP supporters seemed very cocky and self-assured. ALP supporters were subdued. Then on the night it simply wasn’t a real contest. It felt like a solid 24 – 10 victory in a Rugby League game where one team takes an early lead and is never headed.

    The ALP half understands the GFC. The conservatives across Australia do not understand it all. So on balance it was a half-good outcome as opposed to an all-bad outcome if the LNP had won.

  10. Joe
    March 22nd, 2009 at 11:39 | #10

    Is there enough egg in Qld for the faces of the pollsters?

  11. nanks
    March 22nd, 2009 at 11:58 | #11

    I am okay with the result – I think Anna Bligh is as good as we can get in politics and now we have the chance to see how she goes with greater control over process and outcome.
    But I am very disappointed at the showing for the Greens. I had hoped for Labor + Greens = govt and instead the Green vote barely changed. Of course our electoral system more or less guarantees only two parties, nonetheless it was a disappointing result.

  12. Alice
    March 22nd, 2009 at 13:07 | #12

    Ikono #9 – you said “I’m intrigued by how wrong the polls and the newspaper pundits got it.”

    Im not surprised. Back to the more one eyed views (than two eyed views) generally in Australian media. How old is stodgy old Rupe again?

  13. Salient Green
    March 22nd, 2009 at 13:24 | #13

    daggett#8, sorry to hear of your experience with ABC Brisbane.

    Here in SA, we enjoy the award winning ABC 891 Adelaide who make a feature of giving all the independants adequate time to present their policies and issues.

    Listeners obviously appreciate being fully informed, a fact which seems to have gone over the heads of ABC 612.

  14. El Mono
    March 22nd, 2009 at 13:32 | #14

    The LNP candidate for my electorate was a 19 year old son a of a billionaire. While my seat has literally always voted labour i was still relived to see his dads strategy of buyng every billboard on Sandgate road did not payoff.

    I do think that the LNP were nuts to goto the third election in a row with the same leader. I suppose when you have so few people in parliment it resticts your pool of leadership talent. I don’t think there is anyone in Queensland who thinks Labour have been doing a good job (like NSW) but there has been no evidence anyone from the otherside will do better (like NSW).

  15. March 22nd, 2009 at 14:05 | #15

    Thank you Salient Green for that most helpful information. I will certainly make use of that when I complain to the ABC.

    Another point I repeatedly made to Kellie Riordon was that public opinion polls as well as many of their callers, and, indeed, El Mono, right here made known their intense dissatisfaction with the two major parties, but it had absolutely no impact.

    It can be fairly said that one of the reasons that Queensland has been so badly misgoverned in recent is the quality of ABC reporting up here.

  16. March 22nd, 2009 at 14:14 | #16

    Whoops! I hit ‘submit’ instead of ‘preview’.

    I meant to flesh out the second paragraph in my last post further. It should have read:

    Another point I repeatedly made to Kellie Riordon was that public opinion polls, as well as many of their callers, and, indeed, El Mono, right here made known their intense dissatisfaction with the two major parties. On those grounds alone, at least enough air time should have been given to me in to allow me to tell listeners something about myself, but it had absolutely no impact on her.

  17. Peter Evans
    March 22nd, 2009 at 14:14 | #17

    I think the one house of parliament factor is not appreciated, nor its impact picked up in polling. With only one house, strategic voting (in the bet each way sense) is very limited, unless you have a very strong non-major-party candidate in your electorate. So people are forced to vote strictly one way or the other, which is bound to favour incumbency. Similar argument with above the line preferential voting. It only takes a few percent of people voting strategically in an electorate to decide it, so it’s a removal of a major cause of the reasons a seat might change hands.

  18. Charlie Bell
    March 22nd, 2009 at 14:52 | #18

    #8 and #13. I have been involved in Territory elections in the ACT as a candidate and campaign worker for the Democrats (don’t laugh) for over 20 years. Its my experience that ABC coverage of non-labor-liberal parties depends on the views of the local staff – doesn’t seem to bear any relationship to ABC policy.

    There are those in the broader community who approve of alternate views and diversity in politics and there are those who just want to choose between labor and liberal (or any two major parties). Holders of these views often flavor the coverage of non-labor-liberal candidates. In the ACT I have had both good and bad experiences at different times, depending on local decisions by local reporters or producers, about the role of the ABC in elections.

    I suspect it is a reflection of human nature. [You only have two teams in a footy match – you only need two teams in politics] I know that a number of senior newspaper people think that way. They want a confrontational front page – black vs white, good vs bad, right vs wrong. They don’t want to have to try to explain anything as complicated as a three way view on a policy issue. Its similar to the style of reporting on A Current Affair and the like.

    Arguing the point doesn’t seem to do any good. Sometimes you can break through if you drop any idea of presenting good policy ideas and play their game of conflict = news. A bit like Pauline Hanson does, so you have to be careful with that approach.

  19. Monkey’s Uncle
    March 22nd, 2009 at 16:24 | #19

    Ikonoklast says “I’m intrigued by how wrong the polls and the newspaper pundits got it. They were predicting a comfortable LNP victory over the ALP.”

    Joe says “Is there enough egg in Qld for the faces of the pollsters?”

    From what I’ve gathered, the final polls averaged around LNP 51, ALP 49 for the state two-party vote. Given that the polls generally have an advertised error margin of plus/minus 3 points, the polls will probably be within the standard error margin.

    So I’m not sure how anyone would have egg on their face for statistics that fall within a standard error margin. Unless pollsters are expected to be psychic and always get it 100% accurate.

  20. jquiggin
    March 22nd, 2009 at 16:29 | #20

    #19 However, the coverage in the Oz deserves criticism on this ground, with a 50-50 poll just before the election being described as “a late surge to Labor” rather than a “variation with the margin of error”.

  21. Smiley
    March 22nd, 2009 at 16:42 | #21

    Of course our electoral system more or less guarantees only two parties

    nanks, Andrew Bartlett pointed out in his link to John’s last post, that this is plainly wrong.

    As a left leaning voter I’ve been trying to spank Labor for the last decade by putting the Greens first. I only wish it would catch on.

  22. March 22nd, 2009 at 16:52 | #22

    The number of journalists and others that get the interpretation of statistics wrong is just staggering. I have always thought that a good newspaper should put its journalists through at least a basic statistics course.
    However, “Late Surge to Labor” is far more interesting as a headline than “Movement in Polling Result is Within Margin of Error”.
    That said – even margins of error are only to a certain confidence level. The margin usually quoted is to 95% confidence, so 1 poll in 20, on average, will give a result outside the margin of error from the true value.
    When you add to this the undecideds and the notional preference distributions that most of the polls use then the best the polls can usually do is look to trends.

  23. Socrates
    March 22nd, 2009 at 17:22 | #23

    Another valid criticism of the reporting of the polling discused at the Poll Bludger website was the fact that polls showed right up to the last week that in excess of 10% of voters were still undecided. To assume all the undecideds would fall the same way as those voters who had made up their minds was an assumption, not a prediction. The oz in particular was guilty on this one.

    The polls could have been perfectly accurate (slight LNP lead a week out) but the outcome greatly affected by the undecideds breaking in favour of Labor in the last week after Springborg couldn’t explain how he would save $1 billion without sacking 12000 publci servants.

  24. Chris Warren
    March 22nd, 2009 at 17:25 | #24

    I read Alan’s piece at #1, and I had to smile at his angst. Presumably his favoured party hasn’t won practically any election in recent memory.

    But sadly, it appears that there is a sort of bastard entity that is serving as the natural party of government – namely a “FUBAR Labor” Party.

    As I see it anyway.

  25. nanks
    March 22nd, 2009 at 18:23 | #25

    Thanks Smiley -that article doesn’t really address the issue I had in mind. I have seen some while ago a mathematical analysis of our preferential system that indicated it was more or less inevitable that two major parties would emerge under our system. Perhaps someone more knowledgable can provide a link as I have not been able to find one.

  26. nanks
    March 22nd, 2009 at 18:25 | #26

    @ Andrew Reynolds #22 – the lack of stats in journalism is indeed amazing. Reports of stock exchange movements are often even more startling than political polls in this regard.

  27. March 22nd, 2009 at 20:29 | #27

    # jquiggin Says: March 22nd, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    #19 However, the coverage in the Oz deserves criticism on this ground, with a 50-50 poll just before the election being described as “a late surge to Labor” rather than a “variation with the margin of error”.

    In most normal democratic polities the margin of error in the polls will exceed the margin of victory in the election. This is as we would expect with median-voter converging parties.

    The Australian’s coverage was not wholly misleading. The ALP had a substantial 2PP lead a year out from the election. Its lead was gradually narrowing as the recession deepened and contracted sharply when Bligh made her opportunistic bid for a fifth term.

    It may be that her timing was impeccable. If there are any legs left in the cyclical theory we will see the ALP’s 2PP lead shrinking and then disappearing over the next six-to-twelve months. But I am not game to predict this after having my fingers burnt just now.

    If the ALP’s advantage strenghthens over this period then we may all have to bow to Mark Bahnisch’s Bligh’s hetereogeneity hysteria. Most likely though the ALP will continue to limp along riding the instinctive aversion of tragically hip Boomers to the incorrigibly “uncool” LNP.

  28. paul walter
    March 22nd, 2009 at 21:50 | #28

    Jack, if the Australian’s coverage was “not wholly misleading”, it would only by error or oversight.
    The Telegraph the following day wanted to tell us that the latest additions to the mortgage belt herd (people are still buying overpriced houses on the verge of a recession??) were victims of the wicked Rudd stimulus, rather than the Clowns and Hucksters of the Bush administration, Wall St and the City of London.
    Orwell’s ministry of truth and the subsequent Death of Memory, rises again!

  29. SeanG
    March 22nd, 2009 at 21:56 | #29

    The Coalition in state after state lacks drive and determination to win. It has taken them a decade in NSW to get their act together. It took them a decade in Queensland (although they lost). While I view the Labor machine as a soulless power-grabber, the coalition seem to believe that turning up for the campaign is good enough. It simply is not and unless we have an effective opposition then public services and the state of the economy will get worse without giving voters a choice in elections.

  30. March 22nd, 2009 at 22:03 | #30

    # 28 paul walter Says: March 22nd, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    Orwell’s ministry of truth and the subsequent Death of Memory, rises again!

    Oz’a editorialists do a fine line in the foaming-at-the-mouth Colonel Blimpism when push comes to shove in the Culture War, which I much admire.

    But granted that they are not always wholly in touch with reality-based thinking when it comes to other matters in the public sphere. Little things like the global ecological and global plutological meltdown seem to catch it unawares.

    ANd dont get me started on Iraq…

  31. March 22nd, 2009 at 22:13 | #31

    I dont think that the ALP inspires any great love in the general populace. That sort of feeling has ebbed away as the True Believers shuffled off the twig. You can see this in the long term secular decline in the ALP’s primary vote.

    So I am skeptical of the ALP as Natural Party of Government.

    But the LNP does provoke queasyness in a substantial fraction of the Boomer-era, metro-area demographic. No doubt there are just too many people out there who have had their noses put out of joint by snooty Right-wingers with plummy voices.

    So that effectively consigns the LNP to a default Natural Party of Opposition.

    Which is regrettable when you consider the kind of people running AUS’s most ALP-prone state.

  32. Monkey’s Uncle
    March 22nd, 2009 at 22:16 | #32

    I disagree with others here who claim that Anna Bligh’s popularity was not a significant factor.

    If anything, I think this election confirms what I have been suspecting for some time. That is, that Australian elections are becoming increasingly presidential, inasmuch as the popularity of the respective leaders is becoming more important relative to the standing of the rest of the party in determining election outcomes.

    In the past, it was something of a truism of politics that the more popular leader would not necessarily win if the rest of their side was on the nose. There are plenty of examples of this, like John Fahey in NSW, Carmen Lawrence in Western Australia, Wayne Goss in Queensland, Lynn Arnold in South Australia.

    However, more recent election results suggest the popularity of the leaders is becoming more crucial to results. For example, in 2007 internal polling and party research showed that voters generally disliked and had little confidence in much of Labor’s frontbench (Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan, Peter Garrett). But Kevin Rudd’s support among voters was enough to carry the day for Labor. The Coalition’s attempt to focus attention on ‘the team’ had little impact.

    I think much of the explanation for this is that as more voters become apathetic and disengaged from politics, people are less likely to be able to see past the respective leaders and personalities. Perhaps we live in a superficial age, where presentation is more important than substance.

    In Queensland there is little doubt that were it not for Peter Beattie’s popularity Labor would not have secured such large majorities at previous elections. Moreover, if the government had gone to the current election with a less popular leader than Anna Bligh there would have been a much larger swing against the government and the result would have been line-ball.

  33. Monkey’s Uncle
    March 22nd, 2009 at 22:28 | #33

    JQ @20, true. One of the most ridiculous aspects of political coverage is the way changes in polls that are within a standard error margin are often reported as earth-shattering developments.

    An alternative solution would be to conduct successive opinion polls among the same group of respondents. That way, there can be more certainty that changes in the polls represent real shifts in opinion and not simply changes in random sampling errors.

  34. paul walter
    March 22nd, 2009 at 22:48 | #34

    Monkeys Unc and Jack- too right.
    You are voting for one of two opportunist factions in a defacto one party state.
    Do the lot that’s been on the mat for a while look like they might have belatedly learnt their lesson- a little humility is finally evident, in contrast to the arrogance, venality and sloth of incumbents in for a while?
    If things are on the nose and the lot on the outer actually makes a desultory effort to “present” more effectively, you get something like Kevin 07.
    Same in WA.
    Anna Bligh knew she had blown it- the contrition was writ large, whilst Springborg was euphorically radiant over the last few days. Result: Springborg became the government voted out, in a metaphorical sense.

  35. Alan
    March 23rd, 2009 at 06:33 | #35

    Chris Warren at #24

    Not at all. I have never voted Lib or Nat and I’m glad Labor won. However, “natural party of government” means “born to rule” to the pollies but “until something better comes along” to the voters.

    If Anna Bligh permits cronyism, incompetence, faction turf wars and corruption, all of which are due (or already happening), the electorate will, rightly, tip her out.

  36. March 23rd, 2009 at 07:49 | #36

    Charlie Bell @ #18,

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Whatever motivates those at the ABC’s Brisbane local radio station, they have clearly failed in their duties to Brisbane voters and this can be shown.

    The way to rectify this is not to try to reason with them nor even to hope to one day strike the right formula with a cleverly formulated media release, rather it is to expose their conduct to scrutiny by the public, and this is what I aim to do.

  37. Hal9000
    March 23rd, 2009 at 11:02 | #37

    IMHO the effects of optional preferential voting explain much of the discrepancy between polls and results, and also much of the Beattie success in 2001 and since. The effect of opv is to replicate a first past the post system, where minor parties votes are wasted. In Indooroopilly, for example, the LNP’s Scott Emerson will romp home with 45% of the primary vote and preferences from no-one. Ronan Lee’s petulant refusal to reciprocate Labor’s preferencing him saw about half his votes exhaust. Mind you, about a third of Labor voters at the booth where I was scrutineering ignored the how-to-vote card and were unable to bring themselves to help elect a rather obnoxious rat.

    EARC’s rationale for proposing optional preferential voting was primarily to prevent tactical nomination of dummy candidates in marginal electorates, thereby causing delays and queues on polling day and discouraging some voters who would elect to pay the fine instead. In addressing this minor issue, however, Colin Hughes and his team have inadvertently depreciated the will of the people, allowing candidates despised by the majority to be elected, and marginalising minor parties. This ought to be revisited, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath waiting for a policy review in the next decade.

    Last, I do hope the Greens aren’t foolish enough to nominate Lee at the top of their Senate ticket for the next federal election. Lee is to betrayal what Jeffrey Dahmer is to homicide – a pathological serial offender. They’ll be sorry.

  38. Monkey’s Uncle
    March 23rd, 2009 at 11:48 | #38

    OPV no doubt helped Labor in the past especially when National and Liberal candidates ran in the same electorates.

    But I would assume that with a single party OPV would actually favour the LNP. Because the Greens score a large number of votes, the overall flow of preferences would have to favour the ALP over the LNP. So anything that reduces the preference flow would have to help the LNP.

    Personally, I think OPV is a better system (especially for upper house contests) because it is rather stupid to force informed voters to nominate preferences among various candidates who have no chance of winning. .

  39. Socrates
    March 23rd, 2009 at 12:19 | #39

    I agree with Monkey’s Uncle on OPV both in practice and philosophically. In practice, one regrettable consequence of compulsory distribution of preferences is the election of senate candidates solely on the basis of preference deals. Stephen Fielding getting elected on 1.7% of the Victorian vote (less than the informal %) is a case in point.

    In principle too, optional preferential voting gives the choice to the voter. That sounds like democracy to me.

  40. March 23rd, 2009 at 12:24 | #40

    Ronan Lee a ‘rather obnoxious rat’?

    Hal9000, I don’t understand why you consider Ronan Lee a ‘rather obnoxious rat’.

    Unless you are in possession of some facts about Ronan Lee. of which I am unaware, It seems to me that his defection from Labor to the Greens was a courageous and principled act.

    Surely, it would have been far easier for him to do as nearly every other state Labor MP does, that is to go along quietly with the countless pro-big-business, anti-Labor, anti-democratic and anti-environmental policies of the Bligh Government.

    Optional preferential a good idea, in spite of observed problems

    You raise some valid points about optional preferential voting, but I don’t they are sufficient reason to ditch the idea.

    The principle problem is that most parties, including the Greens (although I saw myself that Larissa Waters, to her credit, is an exception to this) choose to mis-educate the voting public about preferential voting, whether optional or compulsory, in order to turn them into voting fodder so that they can be better used in behind-the-scenes preference swapping negotiations.

    For example, a surprising number of people believe that they are obligated to exactly follow a party’s “how to vote card” or their votes. I am told that this was revealed some time about a week to three weeks ago on ABC radio.

    All the problems that you describe could be so easily fixed if the public were properly educated about preferential voting.

    There is nothing about preferential voting that is mysterious or unfathomable and which could not be easily be rectified with a modestly budgeted Electoral Commission advertising campaign before the next election.

    Should the Greens be condemned for preferencing (or not preferencing) Labor?

    I personally think that the Greens should have preferenced Labor over Liberal, but I wouldn’t condemn the Greens out of hand for not doing so in Indooroopilly.

    There were many very good reasons to vote against Labor (as even Anna Bligh implicitly admitted herself) : the Traveston Dam, Coal mining in the Felton Valley, forced local government amalgamations, etc. On all these issues the LNP had far better stances than Labor.

    Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the election of an LNP government would have been tantamount to leading Queensland out of the frying pan and into the fire for reasons I have explained elsewhere.

    I was also a victim of Greens petulance, BTW. They could have acknowledged that most of my policies were in accord with their own, by asking voters to direct their second preferences to me, but chose not to. They simply told voters to vote ‘1’ for Larissa Waters only.

  41. March 23rd, 2009 at 12:34 | #41

    Apologies, the first sentence in the third paragraph concerning OPV above should have been:

    For example, a surprising number of people believe that they are obligated to exactly follow a party’s “how to vote card” or their votes will be invalid.

  42. Hal9000
    March 23rd, 2009 at 13:02 | #42

    “his defection from Labor to the Greens was a courageous and principled act.”

    What – disenfranchising the people who voted for him? Cf Mal Colston. Seriously, though, you shouldn’t mention Ronan Lee and principle in the same sentence. Check out Lee’s contributions to parliamentary debate – no evidence of any previous Green tendencies or indeed any interest whatever in environmental issues, plenty of evidence for loony Right To Life-ism. Check out the 2007 Stem Cell Research bill debate for his shrill and hysterical contributions to get an idea of how far out on the Right To Life limb he sits. His factional allegiances were to, in succession, AWU, Old Guard, AWU. If Lee were a person of environmwental principle, why oh why was he cuddling up to Bill Ludwig and his cut-’em-down and bulldoze the stumps crew? At any event, Lee has a long and ignoble form sheet on personal and political betrayal – ask a random sample half dozen of his former wives and girlfriends, or any of his numerous and strangely short-term electoral staffers. These lists are by no means mutually exclusive, btw.

    “optional preferential voting gives the choice to the voter. That sounds like democracy to me.” Macdonalds give you lots of choices, but somehow that doesn’t particularly sound or smell like democracy to me. It was always possible to exhaust a ballot by voting 1-2-2-2-2… but virtually nobody did it, suggesting surely that democratic choice wasn’t a substantial issue. Making it easier to waste your vote rather than to make it count surely is an incentive to waste it. Last, but by no means least, opv further undercuts the influence of minor parties by devaluing their ability to deliver electoral outcomes, meaning they can be safely ignored by major parties. This is particularly so in Queensland’s unicameral single-member constituency system which guarantees that a geographically dispersed minor party is never going to get within a bull’s roar of parliamentary representation.

  43. March 23rd, 2009 at 13:28 | #43


    What you have written of Ronan Lee is of concern to me and I would be interested to know how he would respond.

    However, even if that were all to prove to be true, can we entirely rule out the possiblity that he may have subsequently seen the light and turned to the Greens for reasons of principle?

    If he defected to the Greens for cynical self-serving reasons, then it seems to me to have been a bad miscalculation.

    Why couldn’t he have simply remained where he was?

  44. Hal9000
    March 23rd, 2009 at 14:18 | #44

    “can we entirely rule out the possiblity that he may have subsequently seen the light and turned to the Greens for reasons of principle?”

    To know Ronan is to be able to rule this possibility out confidently and entirely.

    “If he defected to the Greens for cynical self-serving reasons, then it seems to me to have been a bad miscalculation.”

    Yes, the man is without doubt a fool as well as a knave.

    “Why couldn’t he have simply remained where he was?”

    He’s clearly chosen to be a minnow in a small bowl rather than a large pond, allowing him to fantasise about being a big shark. It’s surprising there’s enough room in the tiny Qld Greens leadership closet for the two equally inflated egos of himself and Drew Hutton. I hear from disaffected Greens that Lee has been posing as Hutton’s Grasshopper [clunky reference to the Kung Fu tv series], although on past form Lee will turn out to be kind of pupil/mate for Hutton that Shakespeare was thinking about when he sketched the characters of Iago and Cassius.

  45. March 23rd, 2009 at 19:06 | #45

    “If he defected to the Greens for cynical self-serving reasons, then it seems to me to have been a bad miscalculation.”

    “He’s clearly chosen to be a minnow in a small bowl…”

    I am surprised at both of you and your lack on imagination. There is a Senate seat available and Ronan now has a carefully cultivated state-wide profile among the members who will be voting and a parliamentry pension. He can campaign full-time for his preselection with the promise of campaigning full-time for his election. He’s aiming to be Qld’s Brian Harradine.

    And there wasn’t room in the leadership closet for any of them. It was a secret deal hatched between Hutton, Brown & Lee. The first thing ANY of the party office holders knew about it was when they saw it on the news.

  46. paul walter
    March 23rd, 2009 at 21:27 | #46

    On two other issues.
    Firstly, Bligh has announced a number of ministers are moving on. Not being a Queenslander, would be greatful if folk could say whether they sacked for inability or because they were in a wrong faction, etc ( if so, which faction? ).
    Secondly, notice report saying Bligh is proceeding with this Travesty dam thing, which is supposed to be a bit iffy ecologically. Any help ?

  47. Smiley
    March 23rd, 2009 at 21:46 | #47

    nanks, I don’t think you need statistics to realise that a majority of the voters are still caught in a left versus right world, as Andrew seemed to be suggesting. I for one was seriously considering preferencing the LNP ahead of Labor until I learnt who the candidate was in my electorate.

    We would probably have a better system if voters ignored the apparatchik and their “how to vote cards” and judged all parties on their policies, and the sort of candidates they put forward. But I’d certainly be interested if you can find some statistics that give us some nuanced insight into the issue.

  48. Tony G
  49. jquiggin
    March 24th, 2009 at 13:42 | #49


    1. Except in the biggest of landslides, this kind of calculation can always be made. Except in the tightest of elections, it’s irrelevant.

    2. The post already noted that the two-party preferred vote (the relevant number, not the silly calculation above) was much closer than the result in seats would indicate.

  50. Tony G
    March 24th, 2009 at 13:56 | #50
  51. gerard
    March 30th, 2009 at 08:19 | #51

    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.

  52. March 30th, 2009 at 14:53 | #52


    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.

  53. April 1st, 2009 at 12:13 | #53

    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.

  54. Hal9000
    April 2nd, 2009 at 12:09 | #54

    “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.

  55. April 3rd, 2009 at 10:28 | #55

    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.

  56. Hal9000
    April 3rd, 2009 at 13:12 | #56

    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.

  57. April 4th, 2009 at 00:55 | #57


    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.

  58. Hal9000
    April 7th, 2009 at 11:38 | #58

    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.

  59. April 7th, 2009 at 13:47 | #59

    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.

  60. Hal9000
    April 7th, 2009 at 16:37 | #60

    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.

  61. joelsarmy
    April 27th, 2009 at 04:22 | #61

    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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