Something doesn’t add up here

The papers are abuzz with speculation about an early election. This is one of the favorite games of the political punditariat, and it usually comes to nothing, but the story this time seems to make even less sense than usual. Part of the problem is that there are three different ways an early election could be held, and the proponents seem to be assuming a “unicorn” or “Pixie horse” (to use Scott Morrison’s evocative terminology) that combines the best of all three from the government’s position.

First, we could have an immediate dissolution of the House of Representatives. This would have a chance of achieving the biggest selling point of the early election idea, cashing in on Malcolm Turnbull’s popularity while it lasts. But such obviously cynical moves have failed in the past, as Campbell Newman could tell you. Also, it would (as I understand it) necessitate a separate half-Senate election in the second half of the year. The political class, with the exception of minority and micro-parties, really hates this idea.

Second, we could have a double dissolution, based on the Senate’s failure to pass anti-union laws, and held under the existing rules. Apparently, the election would have to be called the day after Budget Day (11 May), and couldn’t be held until July. So, it would only be a few months early, invalidating the whole idea. And, of course, it would guarantee a Senate with lots of micro and minor party members.

The third idea, is the second, plus a deal with the Greens to reform the Senate voting rules to allow preferential above the line voting. This would kill off the “preference whisperer” deals that have allowed the election of candidates with almost no votes. The reform makes sense, but why on earth would the Greens rush it through to make life easy for the government? All they have to do is hold off until the Budget session and they can get the reform with no possibility of a double dissolution.

Also, the idea that the reform will kill micro parties seems to be oversold. Automatic preference exchange might be gone, but there will still be “how to vote” cards. With a DD quota of about 7.5 per cent, a candidate with a 4 per cent primary vote, or even less, could easily get in on preferences.

However, no one seems to be making any of these points. Have I misunderstood the arcana of our system, or just got the strategy wrong? Over to you.

Update In comments, Lt Fred makes a convincing case that the Greens want and would benefit from a Double Dissolution. They did much better in 2010 than in 2013, so a DD would be good for them.

28 thoughts on “Something doesn’t add up here

  1. The journalists and other commentators who write about politics frequently have a limited grasp of the system’s legal/technical/formal rules, and elections are exactly the subject area where this most often trips them up. If you’re reading something they’re writing on this subject and you think they’ve missed a crucial point and their stories don’t make sense, the probability is high that they have and they don’t.

    There are a few bloggers, such as ABC election analyst Antony Green, who have a good grasp of this kind of thing and who spend time on clarifying journalistic confusions. I haven’t checked whether any of them have written about this particular issue, but it’s likely they have.

  2. J-D @26, similar criticisms could also be made of Sam Dastyari.

    Dastyari’s claim would only make sense if the proposed changes to Senate voting rules were to make Senate voting as difficult as it was prior to 1984.

    The system used prior to 1984 required voters to indicate a valid sequence of preferences for all Senate candidates in their State. Thus, in the 1983 election voters in New South Wales had to number all squares in a valid sequence from 1 to 60 so it was no wonder that informal voting was widespread.

    By contrast, under the proposed changes voters will (to simplify) only need to indicate six preferences above the line to cast a formal vote. This means that casting a valid vote for the Senate will probably be simpler than for the House of Representatives. For the HoR there was an average of 8 candidates per seat in 2013 and there in no good reason to expect this to decline in this years election.

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