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Malcolm Mackerras
Political Expert
+ About Malcolm Mackerras

The Senate voting system: confusion, deception and manipulation

Thursday, June 20, 2019

On the afternoon of Tuesday 18 June there was published on the website of the Australian Electoral Commission these final two-party preferred vote aggregates: 7,344,813 for the Coalition (51.5%) and 6,908,530 for Labor (48.5%). Since the Coalition had secured 50.4% nationwide in July 2016, that means Scott Morrison’s Coalition has achieved a swing in its favour of 1.1%. Beyond recording these statistics, I have nothing to add to or subtract from my most recent article “Why did ScoMo win only one seat more than Malcolm Turnbull did in 2016?

On the same afternoon, there were posted the final Senate results for all eight jurisdictions. When I have time to digest all the statistics, I shall post my overall analysis on this Switzer website.

In the meantime, I discuss certain details of interest to me arising from the election of senators for New South Wales and Tasmania. These details illustrate why I hate the Senate voting system. In short, my objection is that those politicians who designed it set out to confuse, to deceive and – most important of all - to manipulate the voters. They did that to the benefit of the machines of the two biggest political parties. It is not surprising, therefore, that I object to the behaviour of the Liberal Party in the first case and to Labor’s behaviour in the second. In the third case, I commend the wise decision of the Tasmanian Liberal Party to place a popular senator at the top of its ticket.

In New South Wales, only one incumbent senator has been re-elected, Mehreen Faruqi of the Greens. Three senators have been defeated, Jim Molan from the Liberal Party, Brian Burston from Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party and Duncan Spender from the Liberal Democrats. It is the defeat of Molan that excites my hostility as I explained in my article posted here on Thursday 13 December 2018 titled “What a Disgrace!” Let me quote myself from that article:

“Before his election Senator Jim Molan (Liberal, NSW) was Retired Major-General Jim Molan AO DSC and he has the distinction of being the highest-ranked former military commander to enter any Australian parliament for sixty years. A decent party would want to keep such a senator. Molan, after all, was the man who stopped the boats, surely Tony Abbott’s greatest achievement as Prime Minister. Not this Liberal Party, however. The party bosses wanted to keep a trouble-maker like Craig Kelly in his seat (Hughes) but the NSW machine decided to single out Molam for defeat. After that defeat the party bosses will pretend that Molan was defeated by the vote of the people!”

Here are the NSW statistics, the quota for election being 670,761 votes. The total formal vote was 4,695,326 of which 1,810,121 was for the Coalition (38.6%) and 1,400,295 was for Labor (29.8%). Within the Coalition, the votes begin with the lead candidate, Hollie Hughes (Liberal), who scored 1,664,188 votes of which 28,336 were cast below the line. The remaining votes were 2,533 for Andrew Bragg (Liberal – elected), 3,030 for Perin Davey (National – elected), 137,325 for Jim Molan (Liberal – defeated), 959 for Sam Farraway (National – not elected) and 2,086 for Michael Feneley (Liberal, not elected).

So Molan scored 54 votes for every one vote for Bragg and 45 votes for every one vote for Davey. Yet Bragg and Davey are certified to have been “directly chosen by the people”, while Molan came nowhere near having any chance to be re-elected. That is because the machine wanted Bragg but did not want Molan.

The July 2016 Senate election in Tasmania was utterly peculiar in every way. Anyway, two senators were dumped to unwinnable positions by their big-party machines. They were Labor’s Lisa Singh and Richard Colbeck of the Liberal Party. Both campaigned for below-the-line votes in much the same way as Molan did in May 2019. Both beat the machine – Singh immediately and Colbeck after the High Court’s exercise of its power. (See my article “Judges in our High Court are Pharisees”, posted Thursday 10 May 2018).

In 2019, the Labor Party set out with a determination to defeat Singh – and succeeded in much the same way as the Liberals with Molan. The total formal vote was 351,988 so the quota for election was 50,285 votes. Labor’s score was 107,670 votes or 30.6%. Here are the numbers ranked in the order of candidates. The lead candidate was Senator Carol Brown who scored 83,829 votes of which 5,921 were cast below the line. The remaining votes were 1,588 for Senator Catryna Bilyk (elected), 1,217 for John Short (not elected), 19,984 for Senator Lisa Singh (defeated), 366 for Wayne Roberts (not elected) and 686 for Robert Flanagan (not elected).

So Singh scored 13 votes for every one vote for Bilyk but Bilyk was re-elected and Singh defeated. Singh never had a chance because the machine wanted Bilyk and Short but was determined to punish Singh for having defeated the machine in 2016.

Whereas the NSW Liberal Party and Tasmanian Labor displayed their mean-ness in relation to Molan and Singh the Tasmanian Liberals displayed maturity in relation to Colbeck. They placed him top of the ticket in a team of only three candidates. It scored a total of 110,730 votes or 31.5%. Senator Colbeck scored 106,577 votes of which 15,298 were cast below the line. The second candidate, Claire Chandler, was also elected with 1,687 votes but the third candidate, Tanya Denison, was not elected with 2,466 votes.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au. His website can be visited at www.malcolmmackerras.com)

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Why did ScoMo win only one seat more than Malcolm Turnbull did in 2016?

Thursday, June 13, 2019

On the afternoon of Tuesday 11 June the Australian Electoral Commission removed from its website the list of closely contested House of Representatives seats. The last seat to be removed was Macquarie (NSW), covering the area of the Hawkesbury-Nepean rivers and the Blue Mountains. The final count was 48,661 votes for sitting Labor member Susan Templeman and 48,290 for the Liberal candidate Sarah Richards. Macquarie is an unlikely Labor seat and was a surprise Labor gain in July 2016 so the party felt relieved to hold on there so well.

We do not yet know the overall two-party preferred vote but it seems to be that the Coalition has 51.4% this year, compared with 50.4% in 2016, a swing against Labor of an even 1%, in effect accounted for entirely by the swing of 4.3% against Labor in Queensland. In that state, we do have the final two-party preferred vote and it is 1,653,261 for the Liberal National Party (58.4%) and 1,175,757 for Labor (41.6%).

We now know the final result in seats. It is 77 for the Coalition, 68 for Labor and six for the combination of all the rest, so 74 for the entire non-Coalition. In 2016, it was 76 for the Coalition, 69 for Labor and five for the combination of all the rest, so also 74 for the entire non-Coalition.

In 2016, there were two surprise Labor gains in Queensland, the seats of Longman, just north of Brisbane, and Herbert based on Townsville. In 2019, both returned to the Liberal National Party, Herbert with a massive, swing making it no longer marginal and Longman with a smaller swing that makes it the only Queensland LNP marginal seat. Labor now needs a swing of 3.3% to re-gain Longman – now my new median seat.

With those two LNP Queensland gains, why has Scott Morrison won only one more seat than Malcolm Turnbull did in 2016, 77 compared with 76? In net terms, the short answer is that Tony Abbott lost Warringah to Zali Steggall.

Outside of Queensland, everything cancelled out in party terms, both in votes and in seats. Labor gained from the Liberal Party Gilmore in New South Wales and Corangamite and Dunkley in Victoria but lost Bass and Braddon in Tasmania and Lindsay in New South Wales.

For the most part, the non-Queensland individual seat swings are explained in terms of what we psephologists call “retirement slump” and “sophomore surge”. For example, big swings to Labor in Higgins (inner Melbourne) and Curtin (inner Perth) are explained by the retirements of Kelly O’Dwyer and Julie Bishop, respectively. Both are exactly equivalent upper class seats, created in 1949 and always won by the candidate endorsed by the Liberal Party. The cancelling NSW gains/losses are explained by the retirements of Ann Sudmalis (Liberal) from Gilmore and Emma Husar (Labor) from Lindsay. Macquarie and Lindsay adjoin each other and Lindsay is a far more natural Labor seat than Macquarie – Lindsay having been lost by the machine’s sacking of Husar and Macquarie retained by the hard work of Templeman.

The American term “sophomore surge” refers to the ability of a first-term incumbent to perform well at the first election when he/she seeks re-election. Thus 2019 good Labor performances in Burt (WA), Cowan (WA), Lyons (Tasmania), Macarthur (NSW), Macquarie (NSW), Perth (WA) and Solomon (NT) are explicable  (in part, at least) in terms of “sophomore surge”.

Why so few net Coalition gains in seats, given the pro-Coalition swing in votes? Essentially, the answer lies in the strengthening of Coalition margins in what were its own marginal seats, especially in Queensland. On my post-2016 pendulum Labor needed a uniform swing of 1.3% to win government. It now needs 3.3%.

The new Liberal Party marginal seats are Bass (Tasmania, needing 0.5 for Labor to win), Chisholm (Victoria, 0.6), Boothby (SA, 1.4), Swan (WA, 2.8) Braddon (Tasmania, 3.1) and Longman (Queensland, 3.3). The Nationals now have no marginal seats. The only seat common to both my lists is Chisholm. Labor needed a 1.3% swing post-2016 and now needs only 0.6. So Morrison has gained a 1% swing but strengthened the government’s hold on office by 2%.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au. His website can be visited at www.malcolmmackerras.com)

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This Federal election, I got it wrong

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Following the recent federal election I received several e-mails asking me to apologise for making wrong predictions in respect of that event. For example, Greg Fraser wrote as follows: “Most pundits have blamed the polls for their prediction that Labor would win by a country mile, they were obviously listening to the inner city Melbourne Latte set rather than the Queenslanders who are sick to the back teeth with the current inept Labor government here in QLD, re jobs. There (sic) the next ones for the chopping block as Anastasia (sic) does back flips on the much needed jobs re Adani. This small apology would set you apart from the others who blamed the polls and tea leaves in their morning tea cups!”

I am sorry to tell Greg but I cannot apologise. The truth is that my predictions were just as opinion-poll-induced as all the rest. I can, however, indicate that I have developed a strategy over the years. At 80 years of age my strategy enables me to proclaim myself as the original and the best election forecaster in Australia.

Since I began forecasting as a school boy I have correctly predicted the winning party in these 24 federal elections, 1954, 1955, 1958, 1961, 1963, 1966, 1969, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2016.

In 1963 the then Gallup Poll predicted the defeat of the Menzies government but I was quite confident of another Menzies victory. Perhaps that was because I was employed as a Liberal Party research officer at the time!

In 1993, 1998 and 2004 all manner of pundits predicted the outcome wrongly. By contrast (and I can prove this from my then articles in The Australian newspaper) I was alone in predicting Paul Keating’s election win with an increased majority, strikingly accurate predictions of seats in 1998 and uniquely predicting that John Howard would win a Senate majority in 2004.

There are, therefore, two elections when I got it wrong. My experience in the first case taught me a valuable lesson for the second.

The first case was the October 1980 third victory for the Fraser Government. In that election I preceded the event with a book Elections 1980 in which I made a forecast several months before the event of another Fraser win. Thereafter it went badly for me.

Back in 1986 there was a biography published of my family titled Scholars and Gentlemen by Joan Priest and published by Boolarong Publications. On page 292 reference is made to my Elections 1980 prediction and these words follow:

“This was close to the final result. However, in the month before the election he vacillated wildly in his predictions, with the ever changing Gallup Polls, which did indeed indicate a very volatile electorate. In his Bulletin article in mid-September he stayed more or less with his original prediction (Fraser Government victory of 13-19 seats), two weeks later when Gallup Polls showed a decisive swing to Labor, he changed his tune and thought the Government would be defeated. A week later he was in a state of ‘great uncertainty’ and vacillated between a narrow Government win and a 23 seat Labor victory.

“The fact is that the electorate was very uncertain and was gearing itself for change, but being essentially conservative, took another three years to bring that change about. Malcolm was simply caught up in this vortex and would have been infinitely wiser to remain silent. His reputation as a pundit suffered badly in consequence, for he was so spectacularly wrong on this occasion that he played into the hands of critics, his predictions became something to joke about, and everyone forgot that he was more frequently proved right than wrong.”

I learnt these lessons from that experience. First, choose wisely the day for the big prediction. Second, explain yourself carefully. Third, make just one prediction and stick to it. My rule is that it is better to be wrong than to vacillate. To vacillate makes a fool of you. The occasional wrong prediction does no harm to one’s reputation.

At this recent federal election (having correctly predicted the NSW state election results) I offered articles with my pendulum to four newspapers, all of which paid me for pendulum plus article. They were Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Brisbane’s Courier Mail and Adelaide’s Advertiser.

The best presented article was in the Melbourne paper under the heading “Major swing still unlikely”, for Friday 12 April. In that article I expressed the prediction that the opinion polls would not change greatly, Labor would win 51.3 per cent of the two-party preferred vote and would, on my pendulum, therefore win a narrow majority in seats. That was repeated much later on Switzer.

It all looked so correct right up to polling day – even to 6.30 pm when Channel 9 (the one I watched for the whole night) revealed an exit poll of 52-48 Labor’s way.

I ended the night saying to myself that I had learnt the lesson of 1980. Yes, I was wrong but I certainly did not make a fool of myself.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au. His website can be visited at www.malcolmmackerras.com)

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Will history view Morrison as a great PM?

Thursday, May 23, 2019

With the celebrations of Bob Hawke’s life in full swing, the time has come for me to have my penny’s worth. It takes the form of ranking Australia’s 30 Prime Ministers in order of greatness. The accompanying table is one on which I have been working for 50 years – with continual revisions as readers will see.

Take the top left-hand corner of the “great” PMs – ranked in my order of greatness. The weekend result has caused me to add the name of Scott Morrison – but with two question marks. Readers may be interested to know that following the 1993 Keating victory, I had him in the “greats” column but with two question marks. However, his full term as “elected” Prime Minister (1993-96) was such a disappointment to me, I lowered him out of the top category. The same may happen with Morrison. Time will tell.

My reasons for placing Menzies top are the number of elections he won (seven in all), the sheer length of time he spent in the office (18 years in two terms), Australia’s prosperity while he was in office and the fact that he retired on his own terms. I lack the space here to explain why Alfred Deakin is placed third on my list.

Given the tributes now being paid to Hawke, readers would be entitled to ask me why I place him “only” third among the Labor PMs and “only” fifth of the 30. This article does that by concentrating mainly on Labor Prime Ministers.

My logic with prime ministerial ranking comes from nation building, successful reforms, initiatives, election wins and longevity in office. However, I add marks for being a successful Prime Minister in either of the two world wars and for leaving on his own terms. Electoral defeat, debacles and divisiveness cause me to subtract marks. Also there is, in my opinion, a need to give handicap marks to earlier prime ministers, as they are out of memory to people living today.

The wartime Prime Ministers were Billy Hughes in the First World War and John Curtin in WW2. Historians are virtually unanimous in the view that, on almost every count, Curtin did his job better and more successfully than Hughes. So, while both men are among the “greats” Curtin comes in second and Hughes “only” sixth. By the way, Curtin died in office.

With Hawke is placed “only” fifth, I need now to explain why Fisher goes so high. First, he was so successful electorally that he established a majority Labor government in Australia in 1910. By contrast, New Zealand had to wait until 1935 and the United Kingdom until 1945 for such a success.

Fisher began construction of the Trans-Australia Railway and of Canberra, established the Royal Australian Navy, numerous social security payments and the Commonwealth Bank. He was the only Labor Prime Minister to leave office on his own terms, thus cementing his place as the party’s second greatest Prime Minister. While Hawke never took his party to an election defeat (the ultimate humiliation), he did suffer his party leadership being torn from him in December 1991 in circumstances well known to readers of my articles.

Labor supporters dislike me placing Lyons ahead of Chifley and dislike me placing both Hughes and Lyons among the “greats”. Both were “rats”, they say. So what? Anyway, I can see why objection may be taken to my high placement of Lyons. My argument is based on his electoral success, his popularity at the time, and that his sensible economic policies dragged Australia out of the depression. He never lost an election for the simple reason that he died in office.

I lack the space to explain my placements of Bruce, Keating, Fraser, Whitlam, Barton and Holt. I insist on placing Julia Gillard in the “High average” category for a variety of reasons, such as being the only woman in the job, her term being the longest of the post-Howard prime ministers (to date) and her excellent negotiating skills.

In my opinion, all of Rudd, Turnbull, Abbott and Gorton were duds. Rudd goes first since he was PM twice and Turnbull goes higher than Abbott because he was longer in the job. Abbott goes higher than Gorton because he did have one success – he stopped the boats, with the aid of dumped Liberal senator Jim Molan. For my comments on Molan see my article “What a disgrace!” posted on 13 December last year.

Those Prime Ministers who did not win an election are placed in a separate category (see bottom left-hand corner) and are ranked purely in terms of the time they spent in the office. Thus McMahon was there for one year, eight months and 25 days and Reid for 10 months and 18 days. At the bottom end, Page was there for 20 days and Forde for a mere eight days.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)

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Labor will win but by how much?

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The time has come for me to put numbers on my predictions for this Saturday. As I did with NSW, I begin by predicting the size of the swing to Labor. That means also a prediction of the overall two-party preferred vote. I am predicting the swing to be 1.7%. Such a swing would raise Labor’s share of the two-party preferred vote from 49.6% last time to 51.3% on Saturday. The Coalition’s figure would, therefore, fall from 50.4% to 48.7%.

I now apply that to my pendulum – this is my really important prediction for the House of Representatives election. The result would be 79 seats for Labor and 72 for all the rest combined. That is an outright Labor majority of seven seats but it is really 81 for the left and 70 for the non-left. That is so because Melbourne and Clark are left-of-centre seats held by Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilkie respectively.

For the non-left, I divide it this way: 51 for the Liberal Party, 15 for the Nationals and 4 independents. The independents, therefore, would sit in the seats of Cowper (NSW), Kennedy (Qld), Mayo (SA) and Warringah (NSW). Note, here, that I predict Dave Sharma to defeat Kerryn Phelps. Were Phelps to retain Wentworth, then the number of Liberals would be 50 and the independents would be one clearly of the left (Clark), two sitting in seats naturally of the Nationals (Cowper and Kennedy) and three sitting in seats normally won by the Liberal Party, Mayo, Warringah and Wentworth. That total of six is what the betting markets suggest.

As to the seats distributed between the Coalition and Labor, I rely on the deviations from uniform swing as shown on my pendulum to cancel out. On a uniform swing Labor would hold all its seats and gain Capricornia (Qld), Forde (Qld), Gilmore (NSW), Flynn (Qld), Robertson (NSW), Banks (NSW) and Petrie (Qld).

My belief is that Labor will lose Herbert to the Liberal National Party and fail to gain Capricornia, Flynn and Banks. However, Dickson (Qld), Hasluck (WA), Chisholm (Victoria) and La Trobe (Victoria) would fall to Labor by way of compensation. In the unlikely event that Labor lost Lindsay (NSW), then it would be compensated for that failure by the gain of Bonner (Qld).

Turning to the unrepresentative swill of the Senate, I have, from the first of July, 28 Labor, eight Greens plus Jacquie Lambie from Tasmania (those being counted as of the left) adding up to 37. On the right I have 33 for the Coalition plus Corey Bernardi (SA), Pauline Hanson (Qld) and Clive Palmer (Qld). Holding the balance of power, therefore, would be Derryn Hinch (Victoria) plus two senators from the South Australian Centre Alliance, Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)

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Who’s the greatest NSW Premier?

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Readers of my articles here will know of my style when it comes to elections. It has always been to make clear predictions a week or so out from polling day but then conspicuously to make virtually no comment after the event until all the votes are counted. In respect of the recent event in New South Wales, my predictions were contained in the article published here on Thursday 14 March where I predicted that the overall two-party preferred vote would favour the Coalition over Labor by 51% to 49%.

I have now calculated the precise figures and they are 2,053,189 (52.02) for Liberal-National and 1,893,618 (47.98) for Labor. So I was 1% out. In seats, however, I was “spot on” – except I wasn’t. If readers care to refer to my article in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, they would notice that I predicted 33 Liberals and 15 Nationals in the Legislative Assembly, a total of 48. In fact, the result was 35 Liberals and 13 Nationals, also a total of 48.

The reason is that I made four cancelling errors. I was wrong to predict that the Nationals would win Ballina (won by the Greens) and Murray (won by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party). I was also wrong to predict that Labor would win East Hills and Goulburn. Both seats were retained by the Liberal Party. That success resulted in the Liberals getting one more cabinet post in a post-election ministry expanded by one.

Let me remind readers of the concluding paragraph of my predictions article. Referring to Gladys Berejiklian I wrote: “It is being widely written that she has adopted a strategy to crash or crash through. I believe historians will record that she succeeded in crashing through.” Let me now go further than that – as I explain below.

Historians like to rank leaders of governments in order of greatness. I have no doubt that when the historians of the NSW Division of the Liberal Party set themselves to this task, they will decide that Nick Greiner was their greatest Premier and Berejiklian the second greatest. They will also notice that both are of non-Anglo Celtic background. Coming in at third greatest would be Sir Robert Askin.

In comparing election results there is sometimes an important difference between the statistics of an election and its psychology. In March 2011 Barry O’Farrell secured a two-party preferred vote of 64.2%. In March 2015 Mike Baird won 54.3%. Poor old Gladys won “only” 52%. Yet the party will decide that the achievement of Gladys was “the sweetest victory of all”.

Back in 2011 the Liberal Party won Blue Mountains, Campbelltown, Charlestown, Coogee, Gosford, Granville, Londonderry, Maitland, Newcastle, Port Stephens, Rockdale, Smithfield, Strathfield, Swansea, The Entrance, Wagga Wagga and Wyong. None of those seats were won by Liberals in 2019. The Nationals then won Ballina, Barwon, Lismore, Murray-Darling, Murrumbidgee and Orange. In 2019 none were won by Nationals.

Why, therefore, do I not include Barry O’Farrell as one of the greatest? The answer is that I have just given “purely corroborative detail intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.” Berejiklian will be Premier for quite a long period. She will not have the record of economic reform to which Greiner can make claim – but she will have a claim to greatness of a different kind. I ask readers to fill in further details.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)

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Here’s how I voted in the upcoming Federal election

Thursday, May 02, 2019

On the morning of Monday 29 April I went to the Canberra polling place with intent to cast an early vote. When ushered to a table for those electors with surnames beginning with M, the clerk asked me whether I was entitled to vote early and whether I lived at the address shown on the roll. He also asked me to assure him that I had not already voted. Upon receiving those assurances, he gave me a ballot paper for the House of Representatives Division of Canberra and an ACT Senate ballot paper.

For the Senate vote he said: “Vote above the line from 1 to at least 6 or below the line from 1 to at least 12.” I then said to him: “I have been told that I can place a number 1 above the line for one party only and have that counted as a formal vote for such party. Is that true?” To the question he replied: “Yes, that is true”.

My first reason to cast so early a vote was to find out what clerks at the table have been instructed to say to voters to have the informal vote be as low as possible. Essentially it is this: talk to the voter as though this is a good system designed to help the voter and do not give information the politicians do not want to be given. However, if a voter asks that question quickly, give a truthful answer.

My second reason to cast so early a vote was so that I could send articles to newspapers (and this website) telling people how I had voted. There was no sense in telling everyone how I would vote on Saturday 18 May.

For my House of Representatives ballot paper I used the pencil provided and gave my first preference vote to the Labor candidate, 36-year-old economist Alicia Payne, and marked remaining squares to record a formal vote. I have an unusual view about this. I see that ballot paper as my chance to vote for the best candidate to be my local member. If I lived in Monash I would vote for Russell Broadbent, if in Berowra Julian Leeser, if Bradfield Paul Fletcher. However, I live in Canberra and I judge Payne to be the best candidate. She will be my local member from 18 May.

If that sounds boringly conventional, my Senate vote may shock you. For starters, I brought with me my best pen so that I could write in beautiful blue ink and with the neatest hand-writing of which I am capable. On the bottom left-hand corner I drew an arrow pointing upwards to the instructions. Below that I wrote: “These instructions are deceitful.” I then went to the very top of the ballot paper and above the party boxes I wrote: “These party boxes should be scrapped.” Just below the thick black line I wrote: “This contrivance should be scrapped.”

At the very bottom I wrote: “I refuse to be manipulated by the machines of the big political parties – Malcolm Mackerras.” In short, I cast a deliberately informal vote, my first of that kind – and the best vote I’ve ever cast. I shall continue to do that until I die or until the politicians legislate a decent system designed by me. In the meantime all I can say is that I have tasted this present system and I spew it out. Should readers want to know about my alternative they should visit my website at www.malcolmmackerras.com

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)

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Election Day: 18 May 2019

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Among my fan club is a certain Ted Davis from Tugun in Queensland. In a letter to me written on the day of the dissolution of the House of Representatives (Thursday 11 April 2019) he wrote this, among other things: “Some younger members of the public – i.e. those aged about 50 years or younger, probably don’t realise that on Saturday, 18 May, it will be exactly 45 years to the day that the 1974 double dissolution election was held. If you will be doing any television commentating on election day this year, you may like to mention this.”

Unfortunately, this point was quickly noticed by a number of journalists – so much so that it would be old hat news for anyone to mention it on polling day. I sent to him copies of articles illustrating the extent to which journalists were on to this point.

There is another similarity/difference I think should be noticed. The day of the dissolution of the House of Representatives this year was Thursday 11 April. By pure chance, that is the same day of the week and date as that of the double dissolution in 1974. The circumstances, however, could scarcely be more different.

Dissolutions of the House of Representatives are common place but double dissolutions are rare. Their dates have been 30 July 1914, 19 March 1951, 11 April 1974, 11 November 1975, 4 February 1983, 5 June 1987 and 9 May 2016.

The date of expiry of the terms of senators was set at 30 June in 1906. The intention was to make May the normal month for our elections. Scott Morrison, therefore, is to be strongly commended for his choice of date. Almost every other prime minister, however, has called an early election on that way of measuring the word “early”. The great majority of half-Senate elections have been simultaneous with those of the House of Representatives and held in September, October, November or December of the previous year – meaning a long wait for senators to begin their fixed terms of six years.

For these reasons, I think this election is most comparable with that of May 1917, it being the most recent case of a normal joint election held in May. The similarities include that the previous election was caused by a double dissolution. What is unique about these two elections is the simple fact of their being the only cases of our federal elections in which Easter lay between the day of dissolution and polling day. In every other respect, the 1917 and 2019 elections are as different as chalk and cheese.

The above is interesting political trivia. My main purpose today, however, is to notify readers of the fact that I have set up a website. It can be visited at www.malcolmmackerras.com. Its theme is “Unrepresentative Swill”. Readers who wish to understand what I am on about are invited to turn to the commentary page of “The Australian” for Monday 22 April, Easter Monday. In the middle of the page there is an article by me titled “Shenanigans keep voters in the dark like mushrooms” to which the editor added this description: “Blame politicians for the disgrace that is our Senate”. On the same page 10 there are articles by Nick Cater, Paul Fletcher and Maurice Newman. It is a page that is interesting to read!

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)

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Who is my favourite federal pollie?

Thursday, April 11, 2019

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only but his judgment, and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” Those famous words were spoken in 1774 by the Conservative British statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797) in a speech to the electors of Bristol after he was elected as its member in the House of Commons. That in shorthand means a member of parliament should be a representative, not a delegate.

So, what is the relevance of that to modern Australian federal politics? The answer I give is to refer readers to an earlier article of mine on this website. It was titled “Why I admire Bob the Builder” and was posted on Monday 11 April 2016. I explained this at the beginning of the article: “Towards the tail end of each federal parliamentary term I work out my favourite politician of that term”.

Therefore, today I announce that my favourite politician of the 45th Parliament is Russell Broadbent, the Liberal member for McMillan in Victoria. He will be the member for Monash in the 46th Parliament as a consequence of the Electoral Commission changing names of some electoral divisions as they change the boundaries. Therefore, I would say he has been the member for West Gippsland continuously since 2004.

My reasoning for this nomination is that, of all the 150 members of the House of Representatives, Broadbent is the one coming closest to fulfilling Burke’s principled view of the role of a member of parliament.

Before becoming a politician, Broadbent (born in 1950) was a retailer at Koo-wee-rup and Pakenham selling men’s wear and ladies wear clothing. That background made him very sympathetic to small business throughout his career. He joined the Liberal Party in 1980 and unsuccessfully contested the then federal seat of Streeton in 1984 and 1987.

In 1989, the Victorian federal redistribution of seats created a new seat in outer south-east Melbourne (but also including Koo-wee-rup) called “Corinella” (an Aboriginal word meaning “falling water”, also a local town name) and Broadbent became its first member, elected in 1990 but defeated in 1993. Then in 1996 he was elected for McMillan but defeated in 1998. Elected again for McMillan in 2004, 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2016 his personal following plus good boundary changes made it a safe seat for him. In 2019, Monash (the new name) is one of only four Victorian seats generally thought to be safe for the Liberal Party, the others being Goldstein, Kooyong and Wannon.

Being a champion of small business, Broadbent was exceptionally strong in his promotion of Work Choices at the 2007 election. It led to a widespread view that he would be defeated at that election, which saw the demise of the Howard government. Instead of the predicted defeat, he increased his majority!

Although commonly thought to be on the left of the Liberal Party, Broadbent told me recently that he is now far more anti-Labor than he was in 2016. The reason for that is his view that Bill Shorten’s Labor has adopted industrial relations policies, which reverse the Hawke-Keating government’s economic achievements. Labor’s proposed legislation to reverse the Fair Work Commission’s decision on Sunday penalty rates excites his exceptional hostility.

He belongs to the sensible centre of his party and refuses to engage in culture wars. An example of his position is that, in every leadership ballot in his party he has voted for the incumbent leader. Consequently, in 2015 he voted to keep Tony Abbott as Prime Minister but also voted to keep Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister in 2018.

I asked him to give me a signed copy of the best speech he ever made. It was on Wednesday 9 August 2006 on the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006. That was the first of two occasions (the second being in December 2017) when he implemented Edmund Burke’s principles conspicuously. Taking a position very much contrary to that of the majority of his McMillan electors he famously said: “If I am to die politically because of my stance on this bill, it is better to die on my feet than to live on my knees”. That is what generated the expectation of his defeat in 2007. It shows that taking a principled position on a controversial subject is often actually good politics. 

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)

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Who will win the NSW election on March 23?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Consequent upon the article “My call on the Victorian November election” published on Thursday the first of November last year, I promised a similar article for New South Wales. In this article I keep that promise. My problem has been that of promising both the Melbourne and Sydney newspapers concerned that they would get first call on my predictions.

Anyway, my predictions article was published last Saturday in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. It was published on pages 32 and 33 of Saturday Extra and included my pendulum. In this article I do not intend to repeat the seat-by-seat details set out there, except to say the following: the Berejiklian government will be re-elected and will be a majority government. On the two-party preferred vote percentages overall, it will be 51 to 49 the Coalition’s way. Last time it was 54.3 to 45.7.

I am aware that the latest opinion poll has the vote the other way round to my prediction. In the Sun-Herald on Sunday 10 March (the day after my Telegraph article was published), the poll shows 51 for Labor and 49 for the Coalition. My comment on that is to point this out: in Victoria there was a 5% swing to the Andrews government in the last fortnight of the campaign. Admittedly, that was a Labor government. However, if there could be a 5% swing to Andrews I can see no reason why there would not be a 2% swing to Berejiklian.

So let me quote to you the second paragraph of my Telegraph article. It reads: “At the time of writing the bookmakers had Labor in front – but I pay even less attention to them than I do to opinion polls! The actual numbers are $1.77 for Labor and $2 for Liberal-National.”

By the way, let me quote the third paragraph of the Sun-Herald article: “Exclusive polling for the Sun-Herald gives Labor a two-point lead, though many voters are still not convinced the ALP has spent enough time in Opposition. More than 48 per cent say Labor is not ready to govern, while just over 43 per cent say it is.”

In the outgoing Legislative Assembly, the Coalition had 52 seats, Labor 34 and the Greens three. That meant the Coalition had a majority of 15 seats over the combined parties of the left. However, in addition to those 37 sitting on the Opposition benches, there were three independents plus a member of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party in Orange. So the absolute majority for the Coalition was 11 seats.

My prediction for the election on Saturday 23 March is 48 for the Coalition and 45 for all the rest combined. Of that 45, the Labor number would (on my prediction) be 39. So the overall Coalition majority would be three seats.

Unlike that article (which was a detailed description of seats) this piece will give the broad reasons why I am confident of Berejiklian’s success.

My reasons begin with the strength of the economy whereby New South Wales has the strongest economy in the country. Coming second in my reasoning is the simple fact of many people referring to Labor under Michael Daley as being “same old Labor.” When the next election rolls around in March 2023, Labor will have lost the damage to its reputation done by the last NSW Labor government. Not this time, however.

Gladys Berejiklian became Premier in 2017. Unfortunately for her, however, she developed a reputation for being a weak leader who did not know what she was doing. Yet the stadiums policy (for which she has been much criticised) has brought out the best in her. She now comes across as decisive. While Daley can say she is arrogant, there is another side to that coin: decisiveness. She has gone ahead with the demolition and there is nothing he can do to stop her. She is not going to allow the election to be a referendum on stadiums. To do so would be to contest the election on his terms.

It is being widely written that she has adopted a strategy to crash or crash through. I believe historians will record that she succeeded in crashing through.

Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au

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