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Malcolm Mackerras
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Leadership shakeup for WA and SA?

Thursday, February 09, 2017

By Malcom Mackerras

During the period between now and the winter of next year there will be state elections in Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania. Two have fixed dates. Western Australia goes to the polls on 11 March 2017 and South Australia on 17 March 2018. For the other two states, the dates will be determined by the Premier. However it would not surprise me if three states – Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania – went to the polls on the same day on 17 March 2018. Such chance simultaneous state elections have happened in the past.

My predictions

I plan now to predict the results in Western Australia and South Australia and leave the other two for the time being. So here goes.

  • In Western Australia, the Liberal-National coalition government under Premier Colin Barnett will be defeated and there will be a new Labor government led by Mark McGowan.
  • By way of contrast, the opposite will happen in South Australia in March 2018. The Labor government there will be defeated and replaced by a government composed of one party only, the Liberal Party. Labor’s Jay Weatherill will lose the office of Premier to Steven Marshall.

In a sense, of course, they are the same result – an incumbent government is defeated, as seems to happen so often these days. Each of McGowan and Marshall will have waited five years as Opposition Leader before becoming Premier. Each will have lost one previous election, McGowan in March 2013 and Marshall in March 2014.

At about this time next year, I shall predict the South Australian details and give advice to the incoming Premier and his party. Today, I deal with Western Australia where I begin with a brief history. Barnett is the senior leader of government in Australia. He won his first election on 6 September 2008. It was quite close but 24 Liberals, four Nationals and three conservative independents created a majority of three seats for what they called the “alliance” government. Labor won 28 seats at that election. The distribution of the two-party preferred vote was 51.9% for Liberal-National and 48.1% for Labor.

Barnett had a remarkably successful first term. Everything went right for him and wrong for Labor. Consequently, he romped home at his re-election for the first election under fixed terms. It was held on 9 March 2013, the second Saturday in March. (This forthcoming election is also to be held on the second Saturday, 11 March 2017). At that re-election, the two-party preferred vote was 57.3% for Liberal-National and 42.7% for Labor, a pro-Barnett swing of 5.4%. The Liberals won 31 seats and The Nationals seven, a total of 38 compared with 31 for the conservative side in 2008. Labor dropped to 21 seats, a loss of seven.

Normally such a bad result would be a disaster for McGowan. However, it needs to be remembered that the most recent defeats for Labor at that time had come in New South Wales in March 2011 and in Queensland in March 2012. At both elections Labor had been decimated. They were big defeats for Labor, real landslide losses. Furthermore, the unpopular Julia Gillard was Prime Minister at the time and McGowan had to put up with that fact. Consequently, McGowan’s performance was generally perceived to be a pretty respectable sort of a loss.

Just about everything that could have gone wrong for Barnett over the past four years has gone wrong. However, since I am writing about details I should mention that there has been another redistribution of electoral boundaries. There is a new seat for Labor called Baldivis but two Labor-held seats – Collie-Preston and West Swan – have become notionally Liberal on the new maps.

My prediction is that Labor will get a big enough swing to hold both Collie-Preston and West Swan. Labor will also gain these ten seats from the Liberal Party, Balcatta, Belmont, Forrestfield, Joondalup, Kalamunda, Morley, Mount Lawley, Perth, Southern River and Swan Hills. That means Labor will, on my prediction, have 32 seats.

I think the Liberal Party will get a consolation prize, however. The Liberals will gain the seat of Roe from The Nationals. Under the redistribution, the abolished rural seats of Eyre (Liberal) and Wagin (National) are merged into the new seat of Roe, which is notionally National. However, I think the Liberal candidate, Graham Jacobs, will defeat Peter Rundle of The Nationals. So the total number of Liberals will be 21 while there will be six Nationals.

Under the semi-proportional system for the Legislative Council (where there are 36 members) the result in March 2013 was 17 Liberals, 11 Labor, five Nationals, two Greens and one for the Shooters and Fishers Party. My prediction for this election is 14 Labor, 13 Liberals and three each for Nationals, Greens and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.

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

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Why Hillary Clinton was very, very unlucky

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Regular readers will not be surprised to know that I have spent a significant amount of time in the last two months analysing the US presidential elections last year. The more time I spend, the more I realise how hopelessly inadequate every piece of analysis I have read has been in Australian newspapers over that period. I think I can do better - so here goes.

For Barack Obama’s second term win, the dates were Tuesday 6 November 2012 for the popular vote and Monday 17 December 2012 for the electoral college vote. For Donald Trump’s win, the dates were Tuesday 8 November 2016 for the popular vote and Monday 19 December 2016 for the electoral vote. Candidates from the Democratic Party won both popular votes.

In 2012, they were 65,915,796 for Obama (51.06%), 60,933,500 (47.20%) for Republican Mitt Romney and 2,236,178 (1.74%) for all others combined.

In 2016, they were 65,834,793 (48.31%) for Hillary Clinton, 62,946,472 (47.19%) for Republican Donald Trump and 7,508,332 (5.50%) for all others combined. The 2012 statistics are absolutely final, while those for 2016 are 99.9% final.

Source: AAP

The American people do not elect their president

Of course, the American people do not elect their president – they merely participate in the choice of presidential electors. For that reason, these events should be seen strictly in two-candidate terms. Consequently, I say (and every academic analyst agrees) that in 2012, there were 2,236,178 votes thrown straight into the rubbish bin and 7,508,332 in 2016. Therefore, the Obama vote in two-candidate terms was 51.96% and 51.12% for Clinton. Thus, in 2016 the popular vote swing to the Republican Party was a miserable 0.84%.

The electoral votes

However, here are the electoral votes won by the four candidates. In 2012, Obama won 332, while in 2016 Clinton won 232. In 2012, Romney won 206, while in 2016, Trump won 306.

Exactly a hundred votes transferred from one party to the other resulted from such a miserable popular vote swing! Note that both elections sum up to 538 votes in all. From these statistics, I draw three conclusions. The first is that this is a truly horrible system. Second, Clinton was incredibly, repeat incredibly, unlucky. Third, Trump was very good at gaming the system.

Back in the days when I taught American Politics to university students, I used to defend this system in the way I still defend the Australian constitutional monarchy. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I should have known better. After all, I knew that in 2000, the equivalent popular votes were 50,992,335 (50.26%) for Al Gore, while there were 50,455,156 (49.74%) for George Walker Bush. But, of course, that was universally recognised to be a very, very close election. By contrast, 2016 was not close, either in the popular vote (won easily by Clinton) or in the Electoral College, which Trump and his supporters claim to have been a landslide vindication for him and a mandate for all his policies.

The defence I used to give was that the system favoured the big states and, for a variety of reasons, that was a good thing. So, in doing my analysis for 2016, I began with the six most populous states. Here they are in rank order, giving the electoral votes for each:

1. California: 55

2. Texas: 38

3. New York: 29

4. Florida: 29

5. Illinois: 20

6. Pennsylvania: 20

That adds up to 191 of the 538 votes. Obama lost Texas, but won the others, so his electoral vote in these states was 153 while that for Romney was 38.

In 2016, Clinton’s vote improved on that of Obama in California, New York and Illinois, making them even more solidly Democratic. She also improved on Obama’s vote in Texas, turning it from very solidly Republican in 2012 to very competitive for the Democratic Party today. At the same time, Florida and Pennsylvania flipped over from very narrowly Democratic in 2012, to very narrowly Republican in 2016. So, at this election, Clinton won only 104 votes from these states, while Trump won 87.

The interesting exercise is to add up the two-candidate popular votes in these six states. For 2012, they were 25,895,692 for Obama (55.36%) and 20,879.329 for Romney (44.64%). In 2016, they were 27,644,992 for Clinton (56.03%) and 21,693,564 for Trump (43.97%). So, there was a popular vote swing to Clinton of 0.67% in the six biggest states combined.

Why the Trump win is not like Brexit

Many commentators are seeing a likeness between Trump and Brexit. I could not disagree more. I do admit that, if I had been British, I would have voted Remain, as did my sister, two sons and daughter-in-law. However, I am quite glad Brexit won. It won fair and square with a 52-48 popular vote win over Remain. That is British democracy for you. I approve of British democracy which is majoritarian in concept and I approve of the way Theresa May is implementing the will of the British people. To that extent I have revised my opinion on this website of November 17 “Brexit and The Donald: both big mistakes? 

Source: AAP

My main thought on the anachronistic American system is that it is supposed to be semi-democratic, and it is that. It is also based on the theory of checks and balances. Yet, for the next four years, it will have the Republican Party running all four branches of government. In the case of the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court, that will be so because they will be rigged that way. In the case of the Senate and the President, that will be so because the Founding Fathers substantially made the decisions on the rules in 1787. In practice, therefore, the “majority” party, Republican, will dominate over the “minority” party, Democratic. The checks and balances will operate in one direction only, and not according to the theory that “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition” (James Madison in the “Federalist Papers”, 1788). So much for political theory! 

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

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Turnbull’s 2016 report card

Friday, December 16, 2016

By Malcolm Mackerras

In September, I had published on this website my article Malcolm Turnbull’s report card: the verdict. It referred to the fact that September 14 marked one year of Turnbull leading the government as Prime Minister, having taken that office from Tony Abbott on September 14, 2015. I rated his performance as a B minus. 

Now that Turnbull has completed a full calendar year as leader, do I change my mark? I am genuinely sorry to need to write this but I HAVE changed my mark. It is now C plus. I am surprised at this but the optimistic predictions I made for him in October and November have not materialised.

Back in September, Turnbull had only one legislative achievement, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Act 2016 in which he, in collaboration with Barnaby Joyce, Richard Di Natale and Nick Xenophon, foisted this awful Senate electoral system upon us so that there could be a double dissolution. 

I began the year 2016 with my article Senate reform still crucial. It was crucial then – and it still is. Turnbull’s choice of the WRONG Senate reform makes it so.

One should not condemn a system purely because one dislikes its party effects, but the fact remains, as I predicted, that the Senate of the 45th Parliament is worse than was the Senate of the 43rd or 44th Parliaments. 

My election-eve prediction (posted here on Thursday June 30) was Xenophon tipped as biggest Election Day winner. Was that a good prediction? Should I not have predicted Xenophon and Pauline Hanson as the TWO biggest winners? No, I think today Xenophon WAS the biggest winner. He, and one other NXT senator, have six-year terms and there are no signs of any defection from his ranks. By contrast, only Hanson herself has a six-year term and her team is lacking in discipline with the likelihood of Rod Culleton (WA) defecting in the New Year. See my article posted here on Wednesday August 24: Was Pauline Hanson elected to a six-year term? Please explain.

The Power of Xenophon

I happen to think that the power of Xenophon is bad for economic policy – and the same applies to Derryn Hinch (Victoria) and Jacquie Lambie (Tasmania). The three of them, combined together with Labor and the Greens, damage the legislation for which the government had a mandate. When the double dissolution was proclaimed on Monday May 9, the list of three deadlocked bills included two related bills to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). The third was the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014. The achievement of Turnbull on that is not disputed. It was passed in a form GENUINELY acceptable to the government.

The ABCC will be re-established. However, amendments to its operation made at the insistence of Xenophon and Hinch essentially mean that Turnbull’s face has been saved. No more. Here is where Turnbull’s boast is hollow. In various newspapers on Saturday December 10, Turnbull was quoted to say: “We are the first government since 1951 to take legislation to a double dissolution election and get it carried through the Senate without going to a joint sitting. That was Menzies in 1951. That’s no mean feat. The superannuation changes were very substantial. There are over $6 billion in savings over the forward estimates.”

Let me describe what I make of that. There have been seven double dissolution elections. In three (1914, 1975 and 1983) the government lost office. In four, the government retained office – 1951, 1974, 1987 and 2016. So, Turnbull’s DD belongs to the successful half. However, Menzies in 1951 and Hawke in 1987 genuinely achieved what they set out to achieve – and remained in office long thereafter. Who was more successful, Whitlam in 1974, or Turnbull in 2016? If Turnbull wins again in 2019, I would say Turnbull was more successful. However, I would point out that Whitlam was able to get all his DD bills passed by the August 1974 joint sitting UNAMENDED. Turnbull failed to achieve that. His election win was so weak he was forced to accept a miserably compromised ABCC instead.

The political year effectively ended on Friday 9 December. That day ended a horror week for Turnbull. On the preceding Monday, Josh Frydenberg, his hitherto very successful Environment and Energy Minister, was humiliated when he released the terms of reference for the government’s long-scheduled review of climate policy. After making his full statement he said the following in answer to a question: “We know that there have been a large number of bodies that have recommended an emissions intensity scheme, which is effectively a baseline and credit scheme. We’ll look at that.” After Senator Cory Bernardi raised hell against that innocuous statement, Turnbull denied Frydenberg. I think I have given enough explanation as to why I have lowered the B minus mark I gave to Turnbull back in September.

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

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Brexit and The Donald: both big mistakes?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

By Malcolm Mackerras

Both Brexit in June and Donald Trump’s victory in November were mistakes by the British and American people, respectively. Both will have bad effects for those foolish people – but those bad effects will take time to become manifest. Both nations will be poorer in the long run as a consequence of their 2016 folly. Those decisions were made by a relative majority of British voters and a largish minority of the Americans. The British decision was more intellectually defensible but, on the other hand, it’s possible (if unlikely) that ‘Trumpism’ can be consigned to the rubbish bin of history by waiting a mere four years. The British are stuck with their decision permanently. Thank God I am an Australian. I do not need to apologise for either my head of government or my head of state. If I were an American, I would apologise for both!

For me, personally, the difference between Brexit and the election of Trump is this: although I followed both events closely I never made any predictions about Brexit. By contrast, I did make American predictions in my conversation with Peter on Switzer TV and in an article on Switzer Daily. In that conversation, I predicted the vote would be 49% for Hillary Clinton and 42% for Trump. I described Clinton as “unpopular” and Trump much more unfavourably. In my article, I predicted that 384 electoral votes would be cast for Clinton and 154 for Trump.

The outcome

On the latest figures, the percentages of votes are 47.8% for Clinton and 47.2% for Trump, with Clinton leading by 1.5 million votes. The electoral votes are 306 for Trump and 232 for Clinton. Consequently, I over-estimated Clinton’s vote by 1.2% and underestimated Trump’s by 5.2%.

I over-estimated Clinton’s electoral vote by 152 and under-estimated Trump’s by the same amount. My excuse is easy to explain. I know nothing more about American public opinion than the polls tell me. Consequently, I made opinion-poll-induced predictions, which turned out to be wrong. In the case of Brexit, I also made opinion-poll-induced predictions. The polls in that case were so close the wise pundit knew the result was quite unknown, so I decided to make no predictions. The betting markets indicated a belief that Remain would win but I have never accepted the view that opinion polls are inferior to betting markets as a source of good predictions. Usually the betting markets merely follow the polls.

What went wrong?

Both my article and TV conversation with Peter came before the FBI director, James Comey, intervened in the election campaign. I agree with Clinton that the FBI inquiry came at a time when her campaign was riding high – and had the effect of defeating her. Being so, it tells us that her arrogance in having a private e-mail server while Secretary of State was fatal to her presidential ambition.

So one reason the polls were wrong was that voters changed their minds late in the campaign. The other reason may have been that Trump was the “disreputable” candidate in respect of whom voters were reluctant to admit an intention to vote. So-called “shy” and/or “sly” voters intended to vote for Trump, but told pollsters otherwise. The failure of the polls is best illustrated by Michigan and Wisconsin. Not one serious poll had Trump ahead in either state all year, but both finished up voting for Trump.

I wrote above something I hope is wrong but expect to be a correct prediction: “it is possible (if unlikely) that Trumpism can be consigned to the rubbish bin of history by waiting a mere four years”. Let me explain: I think of American politics as consisting of periods of one-party dominance. Andrew Jackson was the first President to call himself a “Democrat”. So the First Democratic Era ran from his election in 1828 until the realigning election of 1860 which ushered in the First Republican Era with Abraham Lincoln as President. That ran until the realigning election of 1932 which ushered in the Second Democratic Era with Franklin Roosevelt as President. That lasted until the presidency of Ronald Reagan which ran for 12 years from January 1981.

So 1980 was another realigning election, and like 1932, a genuine landslide. It converted “majority” party status from Democratic to Republican. Consequently, we are still in the second republican era. The three post-Reagan Republican presidents began with four years of Bush senior who was president on the coat-tails of Reagan’s success. The two most recent Republicans were Bush junior, a dud, and Trump, also a dud – so much so that neither could win as many popular votes as their Democratic rivals, Al Gore and Clinton.

Both won on the peculiarities of the American electoral system, giving the popular vote winner the historical description of “loser”.  Bush senior, Bush junior and Trump all performed worse electorally than the Republican Party as a whole. The term of Bush senior meant 12 years of Republican administration. Consequently, he was not re-elected in 1992 when it was the turn of the Democrats, according to the principle of “It’s time”. However, if a dud like Bush junior can get a second win in 2004, I see no reason why a dud like Trump cannot get a second win in 2020.

Perhaps I should explain my use of the term “dud”. There have so far been these cases of a President with fewer popular votes winning the anachronistic electoral vote: John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888 and George Walker Bush in 2000. The first three served only a single term and, for that reason, are correctly described as “duds”. Bush is different. He served a full eight years but historians generally have a low opinion of his presidency. 

Meanwhile, I hope I am wrong in all this. I can think of scenarios whereby I would be proved wrong. For example, it may be “It’s the economy, stupid” all over again in 2020. However, I believe historians will trace America’s decline to the presidency of Bush junior and will conclude that Trump was as appropriate a man as any to preside over US decline. I am pessimistic for America’s future but optimistic for Australia. 

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What will happen with Bob Day's vacant Senate seat?

Monday, November 07, 2016

There is a characteristic possessed by me to which no other Canberra-based political commentator can make claim. I am a friend to Bob Day. Naturally I am very sad at what has happened to him. He was truly an honourable senator.

Needless to say I was not aware of these things back on 11 April when my article on him was published on this website ‘Why I admire Bob the Builder’. In that article I did something I have done only very rarely. I recommended South Australians to vote for him. In my 50 years of public political commentary I can count on one hand the number of times I have done that for a politician. Below, I detail more reasons why I am very pleased with myself for having, in effect, campaigned for Bob’s re-election.

Now that Bob’s Senate seat is vacant attention turns to what will happen. My take is to say that the seat will be filled some time next month or later, in other words after the 2016 session of federal parliament is completed. In the meantime let me describe the Senate situation, which is better for the Turnbull Government than most pundits are now saying. The Senate’s size is reduced from 76 to 74, meaning that a majority is now 38 not 39, which effectively is the same as having Day automatically voting with the government on everything with the added bonus of him not being there to do it himself.

When I started to think about this article I drafted the words ‘Senate’s size is reduced from 76 to 75’ but then Rod Culleton of One Nation announced he would not vote in the Senate while his constitutional position is cleared up. So actually there are 75 senators but effectively there are 74. If the Coalition’s 30 senators are added to by three from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party, three from the Nick Xenophon Team plus David Leyonhjelm and Derryn Hinch the total is 38. If the Labor-Greens total of 35 senators is added to by Jacquie Lambie then that number would be 36. Consequently I think the government is quite correct to proceed with its legislative agenda.

Coming back to the Day vacancy I say there is an 80 per cent chance the Family First party will have that seat when the Senate resumes next year, a 15 per cent chance the seat will be held by Labor’s Anne McEwen and a 5 per cent chance it will be held by Steven Burgess of PHON. So let me say the seat is Family First’s, the problem is to name the senator in question. The answer I give is three chances in four it will be held by Lucy Gichuhi and one chance in four it will be held by someone else nominated by the FF machine. Kenyan-born Gichuhi was second to Day on the FF two-person list back in July.

The first question to be decided by the High Court is whether Day was qualified to be elected. If the Court rules he was qualified then his election was valid. That is possible but not likely. Then his resignation would be accepted and the SA Parliament would move to fill the vacancy with the FF machine nominee. If the Court disqualifies him then, based on two recent previous judgements, his seat would be filled by a re-count of ballot papers having first removed Day’s name and distributed his preferences accordingly. The precedents are those of Robert Wood in 1987 (elected as a Nuclear Disarmament Party senator for NSW) and Heather Hill in 1998 (elected as a PHON senator for Queensland).

Given my prediction that Gichuhi will be the senator all I can do is tell readers that a mathematician by the name of Grahame Bowland has done a simulation of the July votes as though Day’s name had been removed. He comes up with the calculation of 69,442 votes for Gichuhi and 65,841 for McEwen. There are other scenarios which give the seat to McEwen and one which gives the seat to Burgess but I lack the space to elaborate here.

Culleton’s position is easier to describe. Unlike Day he has not resigned. If the High Court upholds the validity of his election in July then his position is secure until 30 June 2019. If the ruling goes against Culleton then there would be a re-count of the WA vote and Peter Georgiou would be elected. He was second on the PHON three-person list at the July election in Western Australia.

I wrote above that “I am very pleased with myself for having, in effect, campaigned for Bob’s re-election”. Apart from the reasons stated in my article Why I admire Bob the Builder I make this point. It seems to me that there were only three people in the whole of Australia who REALLY understood the whole point about so-called ‘Senate reform’. Bob was one, I was another and the third was a Victorian man by the name of Chris Curtis. All of us were passionately hostile to the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Act passed in March this year.

What we understood was that the institution of the Group Voting Ticket was essential to the integrity of the above-the-line voting system. Without the GVT the ATL system is indefensible. Now Bob is gone and Chris and I differ on what is to be done. We have both made submissions to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters of the Parliament. He says, in effect, “restore the GVT but make some other changes”. I say “get rid of ATL entirely and make the system like Hare-Clark”. Due to my total lack of faith in our federal politicians I expect both of us will be snubbed. The politicians will try to ‘improve’ this disreputable system by putting lipstick on the pig, so to speak. However, in my opinion this system is so bad it cannot last very long. I am still hopeful, therefore, that I shall win this war in the long run.

Malcolm Mackerras is a visiting fell at the Australian Catholic University’s Canberra campus. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au

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Same-sex marriage referendum on February 11

Thursday, November 03, 2016

By Malcolm Mackerras

On the afternoon of Friday October 28, I went to my office at the Australian Catholic University and watched the video of my conversation on Switzer TV with Peter the previous night. I see no reason to elaborate on anything I said in the first half of the interview. However, towards the very end, I made some comments on same-sex marriage upon which I now feel the need to expound. I predicted that on Saturday February 11 next year, we would have a referendum to amend the Constitution with respect to marriage. My prediction is that the question will be titled Constitution Alteration (Marriage) 2016 with the long title being “a Bill for an Act to amend the Constitution with respect to marriage”. Let me explain.

At present, the Constitution has a section 51 which begins: “The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to . . .” There follows 39 heads of power of which the 21st is simply “Marriage”.

We all know what the Founding Fathers meant by that. They meant “Christian marriage”, that is, between a man and a woman. It would never have occurred to them to imagine that in 2014, the High Court might rule that “marriage” could be between two men or two women. In these modern days, we know all that, so why amend the Constitution to say so? I give the answer below.

Referendum on February 11

What I am predicting is that we Australian voters will be asked next February 11 to change that power to read: Marriage, including between a man and a woman, between two men or between two women”. The question I ask myself is this: we know this amendment is un-necessary, so why do it? The answer is that the politics of the situation means we shall do that, notwithstanding there is no need to do so. 

There is a significant body of Australian opinion that such a change should not be made except by the people. It should not be made by mere act of parliament, as in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, such people assert. Likewise, they say, it’s even less appropriate for the Supreme Court of the USA to mandate such a change. These views led to Malcolm Turnbull promising back in May that, if he won the upcoming federal general election in July, then there would be a plebiscite so that the people could have their say.

Plebiscite v Referendum

Here we strike a semantic problem. The rest of the democratic world uses the word “referendum” in a way we no longer do in Australia. For example, the Brexit referendum was not legally binding, so we would have called that a “plebiscite”, to distinguish it from a “referendum”, which we use only for constitutional amendment. The essential point is that in this case, the Senate can block the legislation for a plebiscite because a plebiscite is unusual, so it requires a special piece of legislation.

Labor’s stance

So, what do I think about Labor’s stance on this? In normal circumstances, I would agree with Labor that this is a waste of money. However, these circumstances are not normal. Turnbull promised a plebiscite when he campaigned for the July election. The Senate, therefore, should allow him to keep his promise. He won the election and Labor lost, so Labor should accept his mandate to have a plebiscite. The Labor Party thinks it’s standing on the moral high ground on this. It is deluding itself. Its belief in its moral position is given in the answer that the LGBTIQ community does not want a public vote. The reality is that the Labor Party is being bloody-minded and, for once, history will show that bloody mindedness did not pay.

I accept that the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 will be rejected by the Senate. What comes next? I predict this: the day after that Senate rejection, Turnbull will introduce the Constitution Alteration (Marriage) Bill 2016 into the House of Representatives. Here is where Turnbull’s knowledge of the Constitution will come in handy. Section 128 deals with “Alteration of the Constitution” and its second paragraph reads exactly as my next paragraph:

“But if either House passes any such proposed law by an absolute majority, and the other House rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with any amendment to which the first-mentioned House will not agree, and if after an interval of three months the first-mentioned House in the same or the next session again passes the proposed law by an absolute majority with or without any amendment which has been made or agreed to by the other House, and such other House rejects or fails to pass it or passes it with any amendment to which the first-mentioned House will not agree, the Governor-General may submit the proposed law as proposed by the first-mentioned House, and either with or without any amendments subsequently agreed to by both Houses, to the electors in each State and Territory qualified to vote for the election of the House of Representatives.”

Consequently, since the Senate can only delay, not actually prevent a referendum to amend the Constitution, the Labor Party will allow the bill passage through both houses and the referendum could then easily take place on February 11 next year. The Labor Party will, therefore, regret its decision to join with The Greens, Xenophon and Derryn Hinch in the matter of the plebiscite.

In several articles on this website, I have severely criticised Turnbull over so-called “Senate reform”. I now make essentially the same criticism of Shorten over this matter. Politicians often delude themselves by imagining they stand on the moral high ground when an outsider such as yours truly can see the situation otherwise. Turnbull did not realise that his “Senate reform” would resurrect Pauline Hanson and her One Nation Party. Likewise Shorten did not realise he was playing into Turnbull’s hands by blocking the plebiscite for which Turnbull has a clear-cut mandate. The backfire on Turnbull over Senate reform will now backfire on Shorten over same-sex marriage. Or so I predict!

(Malcolm Mackerras is a visiting fellow at the Australian Catholic University’s Canberra campus. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)

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99% chance Clinton will be President

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

By Malcolm Mackerras

Back on May 26, I had an article posted on this website titled “Are the odds in Malcolm’s favour?” The article predicted Malcolm Turnbull would win the Australian election set down for July 2.

However, it also asserted that “I have no doubt Hillary Clinton will be inaugurated on Friday, January 20 next year as the 45th American President, Barack Obama being the 44th. I prefer, however, to make a probability statement. There is a 90% chance of Hillary being the person inaugurated.”

That is the only prediction I have thus far made in print on the US elections on November 8 and, in private conversations, I have stuck rigidly to my 90% probability statement. Until today, that is.

My Clinton probability statement today is 99%, so I might just as well now have my penny’s worth and make some detailed predictions, beginning with the presidential election where I forecast that 384 votes will be cast for Clinton and 154 for Donald Trump.

The point is that the popular elections (state legislative, gubernatorial, congressional and presidential) will take place on Tuesday November 8, but, technically speaking, the election of the president will occur on Monday December 19 when the electoral college meets.

Those meetings will be convened in 51 different places. First, in Washington, where three votes for the District of Columbia will be cast for Clinton, and second, in 50 other places i.e. the capital of each state where voting will take place being the public votes cast by the electors of that state. This will occur in the legislative building of that state which Americans call “The Capitol”.

Readers may have noticed that for some forty years The Australian carried my pendulums for Australian elections but I have now been, so to speak, “sacked” by them – thus I have needed to take my Australian pendulums to the Sydney Daily Telegraph, Melbourne’s Herald Sun and Adelaide’s Advertiser. Some thirty years ago, I devised an American equivalent and in The Australian I had that US pendulum published and made predictions for the 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

The only election I called wrongly was that on Tuesday 2 November 2004 when I predicted John Kerry would be elected President. He was the nominee of the Democratic Party and is now US Secretary of State.

A peculiarity of the above dates should be noted. With the exceptions of 1988 and 2016, every one of those presidential elections was held on the same day as our Melbourne Cup. Why not 1988 and 2016?

The answer is that the Melbourne Cup is always held on the first Tuesday in November whereas the Americans have their elections on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. That, of course, is not the only American peculiarity. The ultimate peculiarity is that the Americans BELIEVE they are directly electing their president when, strictly speaking, they are merely participating in the choice of presidential electors.

Only in the states of Arizona, Oklahoma, North Dakota and South Dakota are ordinary people shown the names of presidential electors on their ballots. Those states account for only 4% of the total US population. The remaining Americans are shown only the names of the REAL candidates, Clinton, Trump and some others in most states.

Should any reader wish to know the precise number of electors from each state he/she could look up my table “Electoral College Voting Strength by State” accompanying my article in “The Weekend Australian” for October 27 and 28 of 2012 titled “Obama will win, but with a lower vote” to which the editor of the “Inquirer” section added “He will follow Woodrow Wilson in having a second, less impressive victory.” The article appears on page 20.

My reader might want to know how I worked out my prediction, which is 384 votes for Clinton and 154 for Trump. All you need to do is look at “The Weekend Australian” for January 19 and 20 of 2013. My article appears on page 17 of “Inquirer” and is titled “Swings and roundabouts in my American Century”. To that the editor added “Landslides have been more common over the past 120 years.” My current pendulum appears there. All you need to do is apply my well-known pendulum principles to the latest average of all the nation-wide opinion polls and that is the prediction you could work out for yourself.

To have an idea of how that Hillary Clinton victory would rate historically, I quote the two Wilson victories, the two Bill Clinton victories and the two Obama victories. Those elections are, I think, comparable to each other and to this election, they being all presidents from the Democratic Party who won two successive victories.

In 1912, Wilson won 435 votes to 88 for Theodore Roosevelt and 8 for incumbent President William H. Taft. In 1916, Wilson won 277 votes to 254 for Charles E. Hughes. In 1992, Bill Clinton won 370 votes to 168 for incumbent President George H. W. Bush. In 1996, Bill Clinton won 379 votes to 159 for Bob Dole. In 2008, Obama won 365 votes to 173 for John McCain and in 2012, he won 332 votes to 206 for Mitt Romney. All names of losing candidates given above are for Republicans except Roosevelt who described himself as “Progressive”.

Finally, I turn to the Congress. There are 435 members of the House of Representatives and at the November 2014 mid-term elections the result was 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats. This November, I predict 222 Republicans and 213 Democrats. In the present Senate, there are 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats and two Independents, one of whom is Bernie Sanders! In the new Senate I predict there will be 51 Democrats, 47 will be Republicans and again two Independents, both being essentially Democrats, Sanders from Vermont and Angus King from Maine. It is worth remembering that 34 senators will be elected, the class of 2010 requiring re-election. At the mid-term elections in November 2010 there were elected 24 Republicans and only 10 Democrats.

(Malcolm Mackerras is a visiting fellow at the Australian Catholic University’s Canberra campus. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)

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Malcolm Turnbull’s report card: The verdict

Thursday, September 22, 2016

By Malcolm Mackerras

Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, celebrated his first anniversary in that office on Wednesday, September 14. The celebration/commemoration was the consequence of the fact that he won the 45th general election for the House of Representatives on July 2. Coincidentally, Pauline Hanson, the de facto winner of the 8th Senate general election, made her maiden speech that same night. For my comment on the reaction to that speech, see below.

On the night of Thursday, September 15, I appeared on Switzer TV to have a public conversation with Peter about Turnbull. I rated his prime ministership a B minus, which Peter noted, was better than most pundits who rated it as “pathetic”.

In this article, I explain my relatively generous rating of Turnbull, which is essentially an expectation of his second year, rather than a consideration of his first.

Looking back over the past three years of my articles on this website, I notice the large number dealing with former prime ministers. They are “Rudd a gutless wonder”  on July 3, 2013, “Why I admire Julia Gillard”  on July 24, 2013, “Musings on Gough” on November 10, 2014, “Remembering Fraser and a rewrite of history” on March 31, 2015 and “Former PMs share one thing in common” on October 22, 2015. I now believe Turnbull is firmly established in the office for a term of at least three-and-a-half years, so in the reasonably near future, I shall offer an article assessing his 28 predecessors. In the meantime, I note that past legislative achievement ranks highly on my scale to assess greatness, and I consider Turnbull on that score.

Turnbull’s first year

In Turnbull’s first year, his only legislative achievement was the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Act 2016.

In purely historical terms, as an electoral reformer, that places Turnbull into the company of the following of his predecessors: Billy Hughes, who legislated for preferential voting in 1918; Ben Chifley, who introduced Senate proportional representation in 1948; Gough Whitlam, who achieved “one vote, one value” for the House of Representatives in 1974, and Bob Hawke who, in 1984, was able to achieve a massive reduction in the informal Senate vote, which had previously been scandalously high.

There is a difference between the cases, however. Hughes, Chifley, Whitlam and Turnbull all suffered a significant quantity of egg on their faces, but Hawke was able to stay Prime Minister for another eight years!

History shows that Hughes, Chifley, Whitlam and Hawke were proved right over the long term. I do not believe that will be true of Turnbull. I simply refuse to believe that a system as dishonest as this present Senate one can last very long. I think that, eventually, they will introduce a Senate system along the lines I have advocated for the past 60 years. For details, see my article “Senate reform still crucial” posted on January 15.

However, let’s get one thing straight. Notwithstanding the Greens’ denial that the new system DID resurrect Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party. Her party did, indeed, get 600,000 Senate votes, but Hanson herself received only 250,000 in Queensland, or 9.2%.

Under the old system, at a half-Senate election, she could never have reached a quota of 14.3%. Obviously her Queensland number two, Malcolm Roberts, would not have been in the hunt with his miserable 77 votes. Nor could her interstate supporters, Brian Burston (NSW) or Rod Culleton (WA) have hoped to be elected. The interesting thing, however, is the different reactions to her maiden speech. The other three parties assisting her resurrection (Liberal, National, Xenophon) listened in respectful silence. The Greens, by contrast, stage-managed a walkout after ten minutes. That was a display of bad manners which, no doubt, played well to their particular gallery, but left the rest of us distinctly unimpressed.

Turnbull – Year Two

Turnbull’s second year got off to a flying start. On Friday September 16, royal assent was given to the Budget Savings (Omnibus) Act 2016 which provided for $6.3bn in savings and $4.6bn in tobacco excise increases, an $11bn improvement to the budget bottom line. Here was bipartisanship at its best, with both Coalition and Labor securing wins.

I have no doubt that the revised superannuation package will be legislated by year’s end – thus putting the government out of several month’s torture from the Liberal Party’s base. It will also improve the budgetary situation by $3bn if my reading of press reports is correct. All this has proved that Treasurer Scott Morrison and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann have operated as an effective team – with some help from shadow treasurer, Chris Bowen.

On Monday May 9, the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, by proclamation dissolved the Senate and House of Representatives simultaneously, and listed three proposed laws which met the conditions of Section 57 of the Constitution. They were the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill 2013, the Building and Construction Industry (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013, and the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014. During the 44th Parliament, they had been passed by the House of Representatives and rejected by the Senate in a way which created a Section 57 deadlock. Their future is still unknown, but I confidently predict all three bills will pass both houses soon. There will be some further amendments to secure passage, but there will be no joint-sitting of the two houses. To that extent, the double dissolution was justified by these bills and will be seen by historians to have been a success.

Problematic plebiscite

In one sense, a big problem for the government is the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016. It was presented to the Parliament at the very tail end of Turnbull’s first year. My own view continues to be that which I expressed in this website on September 4 last year, namely “Same-sex plebiscite a waste of money”. I expect the bill to be rejected by the Senate, but, in the unlikely event of the plebiscite being held, I would cast an affirmative vote, though without any great enthusiasm for the cause.

On the politics of the situation, I think Turnbull is positioned well. His speech on the bill was impressive, a neat balance of moderation and resolution. It looks as though Labor will take my advice and reject the bill, but its arguments for doing so will ring hollow. It lacks consistency on this subject, unlike The Greens.

Suppose the plebiscite is not held and Turnbull wins the next election, likely to be held in May 2019. Australia would then be without same-sex marriage, Turnbull having held the line, quite properly so. He would still be the Prime Minister, having won the July 2016 and May 2019 elections. Labor would then have rejected Turnbull’s plan to settle the issue in February-March 2017. Were that to be the way it works out, I would then be entitled to publish another article similar in judgment to that published on this website back on July 22, namely “Should Malcolm Turnbull be quietly crowing?”.

(Malcolm Mackerras is a visiting fellow at the Australian Catholic University’s Canberra campus. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)

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Was Pauline Hanson elected to a six-year term? Please explain

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

By Malcolm Mackerras

I have had two public conversations on Switzer TV since the July 2 elections. The first with Marty, the second with Peter. Both conversations were dominated by our exchange of views on this awful new Senate the Australian people have elected. As usual, I made the point that the 76 senators have been elected under a new voting system. That system is a result of the collaboration between Malcolm Turnbull, Barnaby Joyce, Richard Di Natale, Nick Xenophon and their parties at the tail end of the 44th Parliament which was double dissolved on 9 May.

In my second interview, I told Peter quite dogmatically: “Pauline Hanson has been ELECTED to a six-year term, and her three deputies (one each from Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia) have been elected to three-year terms.” That statement has been criticised in other media on the ground that the Senate itself decides who gets six years, and who gets three. My critics say, however, that Pauline Hanson will secure a six-year term under a deal between the major parties.

So, was Hanson ELECTED to a six-year term, or is she to be given it by grace and favour of the generosity of the Labor and Liberal parties in their deal? Let me explain. 

We have recently voted in Australia’s eighth Senate general election. The previous seven took place in March 1901, September 1914, April 1951, May 1974, December 1975, March 1983 and July 1987. Back in the 19th century, a collection of statesmen drafted Australia’s Constitution. They believed in the concept of what was then called the “gentlemen’s agreement”. Knowing nothing about the toxic politics of 1987 or 2016, they assumed their “fair go” democratic values would always prevail. 

Consequently, section 13 of their (our!) Constitution reads: “As soon as may be after the Senate first meets, and after each first meeting following a dissolution thereof, the Senate shall divide the senators chosen for each State into two classes, as nearly equal in number as practicable ...” So it is technically correct to say that the Senate itself decides who gets six-year terms, and who gets three.

The Senate general elections of 1901 and 1914 were conducted under an electoral system we psephologists call “multi-seat plurality”. Each elector had one vote which was actually six votes – and they were counted. The top six scoring candidates (all men, by the way) were elected; then the top three scorers for each State were given six-year terms by the Senate itself under a common sense gentlemen’s agreement. Since the States then were the same as now, the total size of the Senate was 36.

In 1948, the method of counting votes was changed to the present single-transferable vote system. Several things were not noticed about the change at the time – and this was one of them. Following the 1951 election, I noticed that the nominal order of election was clearly an unfair way to distribute the five long terms and five short terms in Tasmania. However, I was only a schoolboy at the time so I did nothing about it. The size of the Senate then was 60.

The Senate general elections of 1974, 1975 and 1983 passed by without anyone suggesting that the nominal order of election method had resulted in any unfairness. However, due to the unsatisfactory nature of the entire federal electoral system at the time, the Hawke government, elected in March 1983, decided to set up an all-party joint select committee on electoral reform. That committee later became the present Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. An Adelaide mathematician by the name of Alastair Fischer (among whose distinctions is the fact of being the father of actress Kate Fischer of “Sirens” fame) proposed a new section of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. 

That is now section 282, which requires an additional count of any Senate general election votes as a guide to the future. The Australian Electoral Commission is currently doing the section 282 counts for the July 2 elections in the States. These counts convert the full-Senate votes into a half-Senate election count. Section 282 was inserted in 1984 to the universal approval of all the psephologists of the day and ever since. On every score, if the present politicians were to implement section 282 early next month, they would enjoy universal third-party validation for their decision.

It happened that the first possible use of section 282 would have given the Coalition two extra senators (net) with six-year terms. Consequently, the Coalition wanted its use in 1987. However, Labor and the Democrats voted together to give those two seats to the Democrats, justifying that decision by asserting that the nominal order was fairer – pure nonsense, of course, but they had the numbers. At the time, the senator who most disappointed me was independent Brian Harradine. He should have known better – and voted with the Coalition. However, when I accosted him and berated him he explained that he would always favour minor parties at the expense of the bigger parties – hence his sympathy with the Democrats on this issue.

This time, it is the other way round from 1987. The smaller parties would benefit from the fairness of section 282. Lee Rhiannon of The Greens and Derryn Hinch would get the long terms if section 282 were implemented. So the two big parties want to cheat both Rhiannon and Hinch out of the six-year terms to which they were elected on July 2. The confiscated goods are to be given one each to Labor and Liberal.

I should mention that I am not an elector of either New South Wales or Victoria. If I had been I can imagine I might easily have voted for Deborah O’Neill (Labor, NSW) or Scott Ryan (Liberal, Victoria). I cannot imagine my voting for Rhiannon or Hinch. However, that is not the point. Rhiannon and Hinch (like Hanson) have been ELECTED to six-year terms. O’Neill and Ryan have not. I have a unique knowledge and experience in this area and I would fail myself if I did not write the view I have expressed above.

(Malcolm Mackerras is a visiting fellow at the Australian Catholic University’s Canberra campus. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)

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Winners and losers in the new Senate

Monday, August 08, 2016

By Malcolm Mackerras 

Australia’s 8th Senate general election on July 2 was a delight to me - but due to all the reasons for which I should be ashamed to admit. By that, I mean I was delighted my Senate predictions worked out to be so close to the results. In my contributions to this website, I correctly predicted the number of Coalition, Labor and Xenophon Team senators. I was also delighted that the results have discredited the new Senate electoral system.

See my articles here: “Xenophon tipped as biggest Election Day winner”, posted on June 30, and “Senate reform must be scrapped” posted on July 6. I did, of course, make one serious error by under-estimating Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party – but I owned up to that error in my conversation with Marty Switzer on the programme on the night of Wednesday July 27. Even then I jumped the gun, saying of Hanson: “She came within a whisker of having four senators”. Wrong! She came within a whisker of having FIVE senators. Fortunately for me, the politicians who put this thing together cannot brag too much. When they did their filthy deals it, apparently, never occurred to them that they were fully restoring Hanson to her former glory, by which I mean her term as member for Oxley in the House of Representatives from March 1996 to October 1998. At least I knew she would be elected to the Senate this time, which is more than they can say. So I take the men in order of their importance. Let me describe what has happened to each of them.

Malcolm Turnbull has won a House of Representatives general election. His second success was stated by me in my conversation with Marty: “He has rigged the Senate electoral system in favour of Pauline Hanson”, I averred. However, the other Malcolm cannot be very pleased that he now has 24 Liberal senators compared with the 27 there were under Tony Abbott. Seriously, though, Turnbull has had a triumph in Victoria, gaining a new seat in the House of Representatives (Chisholm) plus a new senator – both won by women. In the days of Bob Menzies, the Liberals used to describe Victoria as “the jewel in the crown” of their party. Turnbull has restored that jewel. And perhaps another success awaits Turnbull. If he can get either Senator Hanson or Senator Xenophon on side (preferably both) he may succeed in getting his trade union governance legislation accepted by the new parliament, the 45 Parliament. That would be a REAL triumph.

Barnaby Joyce came late to the Senate deal wanted by Turnbull. He came on board only because Turnbull (and The Greens and Nick Xenophon) agreed to the third and fourth contrivances in the new system (i.e. the deceitful ballot paper instructions to voters, above the line – third contrivance – and below the line – fourth contrivance.) Joyce only came on board in the belief his party would win a senator from Western Australia. He failed miserably in that and finds himself left with the same six senators he had before the double dissolution. However, at least Joyce can crow about a very good result in the House of Representatives election.

Richard Di Natale bombed out disastrously. Before polling day, he predicted all sorts of gains of seats in the House of Representatives. None came his way. However, he did save his doubtful senators from Western Australia and Tasmania and he knew his second from South Australia could not be saved. However, think of this. In the days of Bob Brown and Christine Milne, Tasmania was the Jewel in the crown of The Greens. This time they barely scraped back in their second senator from Tasmania. The title of “best state for The Greens” has passed to Victoria where they now have two safe seats in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives. In Queensland, the Senate vote for The Greens is not even big enough to elect a senator at a half-Senate election.

Finally, a brickbat and a bouquet. First, we have Xenophon. He did get what he wanted – except for this. Contrary to his expectations, he is now outshone mightily by Hanson who has four senators - two from Queensland and one each from New South Wales and Western Australia. He has only three – all from South Australia. The bouquet goes to Senator Bob Day, whose re-election I predicted and supported. I wrote an article on him which was posted on this website on April 11. It was titled “Why I admire Bob the Builder”. In that article I wrote of him: “His case proves the political benefit of consistency based on principle.” Three cheers for the Family First senator for South Australia!

(Malcolm Mackerras is a visiting fellow at the Australian Catholic University’s Canberra campus. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)

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Should Malcolm Turnbull be quietly crowing?

Senate reform must be scrapped

Xenophon tipped as biggest Election Day winner

Turnbull's Senate reforms may come back to haunt him

Are the odds in Malcolm's favour?

Why I admire Bob the Builder

Can we trust the Greens?

A national approach

Senate reform still crucial

My key predictions for 2016

Death and by-elections

Former PMs share one thing in common

Turnbull to win next two elections

Same-sex plebiscite a waste of money

There will be no early election

A proper reform of the electoral system

A new Green - Di Natale will not be more co-operative than Milne

Why ABC’s Antony Green is wrong about the ‘feral’ senate

What do the Americans and the Liberal Party have in common?

Remembering Fraser and a rewrite of history

The political future for NSW and NZ

A tale of unusual times

The Queensland election and some advice for the Abbott Government

Musings on Gough

Why commentary on the re-election has been unsatisfactory

Senate election the best exercise in democracy

Unusual writ returns

So, who really won Griffith?

Predictions for forthcoming federal elections

The good, the bad and the defensible Abbott Government decisions

Clive Palmer launches attacks on the AEC

Senate election - drubbing for Labor and Greens; no good for Abbott

My reaction to the election - a landslide?

My final predictions: an Abbott or Rudd government?

A clever political trickster is our Tony Abbott

Why I admire Julia Gillard

Rudd a gutless wonder

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