Sunday, September 8, 2013

Election Night - the Morning After

I was a bit disgruntled at having to miss the first hour of the election night ABC coverage by going to the vigil Mass – not my normal reaction to missing television! – but singing in the choir, assisting at the Sacrifice and receiving the Sacrament restored me to a more supernatural outlook. That achieved, I went home, cooked an omelette, and settled back for a marathon viewing session beginning at about a quarter past seven, armed with my laptop (connected to the ABC's excellent election website) for further reference. I turned the TV off shortly after midnight.

Well, the news was no news of course: the Coalition defeated Labor, and Tony Abbott will be the new Prime Minister (I assume Mr Rudd must first formally tender his resignation to the Governor General, and then Mr Abbott will be summoned to take the oath of office).

In my own State, the swing against Labor was more than 10%, which presages a defeat of the Labor-Green State government here come March. It's a pity that Michael Hodgman died this year, not quite making it to see his son, Will, become Premier, as now appears almost certain.

When (after confession) I went to cast my vote yester-day (at my old primary school, as it happens), it was sad to see a rather crestfallen Geoff Lyons, MP, the (entirely forgettable) local member, rather pathetically trying to persuade someone, anyone, to vote for him. I snapped a great shot of him standing in front of one of the Liberals' "Labor: failure" banners...

After filling in the House ballot (numbering the candidates from 1 to 8) and then the Senate ballot (rather than numbering all 54 candidates individually, I chose the lazy option and simply numbered the party of my choice with a "1" above the line), I was glad to come out into the fresh air, and buy a nice fresh egg-and-bacon roll from the school parents and friends BBQ, and also a cappuccino from another stall. How civilized. Then I had to fill in the day – the farmers' market, a bush walk – before Mass and Election night.

It's not a proper federal election without some nonsense emanating from Queensland: quite apart from the defeat of our just-reinstated Prime Minister (he's retained his seat, but has announced he will not lead the Party in opposition), a titanic figure has appeared, bestriding the political stage as a behemoth: the somewhat eccentric and fulsome figure of Clive Palmer (as a cartoon titled him, "Professor, VC, QC,..." – he has a weak spot for laying claim to titles). 

It appears that this reputed billionaire may well win a seat (hopefully large enough) in the House – to the undying thanks of comedians everywhere – and also has snared for his eponymous party (Palmer United: according to its website, former leaders include Billy Hughes, Joseph Lyons and Bob Menzies) not one but two Senate spots; to my chagrin, not only one for banana-benders (he having shrewdly stood a former rugby great, and scored a hefty haul of votes), but one for apple-growers down here in Tasmania!

At least the comedy will continue.

The Senate, it appears from current predictions, will – thanks to a proportional voting system in serious need of reform – end up a real dog's breakfast. 

Recall that half the State Senators (six from each State, for a total of thirty-six) are elected every three years, for a six year term, while the Territory Senators (two from each, for a total of four) are elected at every general election, for a term of a maximum of three years – meaning that forty, or just over half the Senate, is freshly chosen every three years. For the sake of convenience, these half-Senate elections are made to coincide with elections for the House, though the State Senators chosen yester-day will not take office until the 1st of July next year (the Territory Senators take office at once, however).

Now, the remaining thirty-six Senators, those elected back in 2010, took office in mid-2011, and will retain their seats until mid-2017: by party affiliation, they are divided into sixteen Coalition, thirteen Labor, six Green and one minor party (DLP) Senator.  However, according to present calculations based on the computer modelling of preference distributions so far ascertained, the new crop of forty will instead have an almost farcical rainbow distribution: seventeen Coalition, twelve Labor, four Green and no less than seven minor or indeed micro-party Senators. 

The seven Senators from the minor parties may be as follows: Senator Xenophon (a well-respected independent); two Palmer United Senators (well, at least they'll be entertaining), one Liberal Democratic Senator (it appears that, by sheer luck, that tiny party snared first spot on the NSW ballot paper, and many voted for them thinking they were the Liberals), one Family First Senator (that party being a conservative Christian group that formerly had a Senator from 2005-2011, who was known then as "Senator Fluke" for somehow snaring election despite a minuscule first-preference showing), and then two real non-entities: one Senator each from – how embarrassing – the "Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party" and the "Australian Sports Party".

I am one with the respected psephologist Antony Green in saying that the cynical preference deals that are being used to engineer the election to high office of minor party candidates of whom no one has heard are making a mockery of the Senate electoral system. Fair enough, Senator Xenophon all agree won a large share of the votes, as have Palmer United candidates; but as for the all-but-unknown LDP, FFP, AMEP and ASP, they have only come to within coo-ee of winning (for the final cut-up of preferences won't be known for weeks) because of a quirk of the electoral system, whereby such minnows, thanks to complicated mutual preference swaps as specified by their party tickets, snare votes.

Green suggests – and I hope a like reform is passed through the new Parliament – that, instead of the seductive option, whereby perhaps 95% of voter did as I did, and simply number one party box "above the line" on the Senate paper, rather than face numbering off correctly all the massed candidates below, that numbering above the line be modified. Why? because by the current system, by marking a 1 in the box for, say, the Loony Party, that means that the Loony Party's official distribution of preferences will be automatically followed when calculating how your vote is distributed; and that makes the system open for exploitation by micro-parties, which have proliferated recently, to the point that up to fifty such unknown organizations run tickets.

The suggestion is that voting above the line be changed to signify instead optional preferential voting for each party's candidates, and no others. Thus, to number 1 Loony, 2 Monster and 3 Raving would mean that your first few preferences would go to the candidates of the Loonies, then the next few to those of the Monsters, and the last to those of the Ravings – and that would be where it would stop, you having resisted the urge to allocate any preferences to the Greens, Liberals or Labor (for example). Optional preferential voting already exists in several Australian states, and would effectually stamp out the oddity of the selection of Senators on the basis of minute first-preference votes augmented by sundry second-, third-, fourth- or even forty-ninth-preference flows.

This may prove highly relevant, if the new Abbott Government cannot get its repeal of the hated Carbon Tax through the Senate, or likewise its extremely generous paid parental leave scheme. The Prime Minister-elect has made it clear that he will not hesitate to call a double-dissolution election next year if the Senate proves obstructive: and that means all seventy-six Senate spots would be up for grabs, and – because of the quota being only half its normal value – that makes the current electoral system even more vulnerable to such gaming or, to be frank, manipulation by minor parties.

At least the new Senate – if it meets – will no longer have the Greens holding the balance of power. Their tyrannical and authoritarian tendencies, as also their sanctimoniousness, are odious.

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