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Malcolm Mackerras
Political Expert
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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.

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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.

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Brexit and The Donald: both big mistakes, Take 2

Friday, February 01, 2019

The time has come for me to update two articles published on this website some time ago. The first was “Brexit and The Donald: both big mistakes?” posted on Thursday 17 November 2016 and the second was “Soft-as-soap Brexit on the cards?” posted on Wednesday 14 June 2017. My first comment on them is to say that the then editor of the website placed the question marks after the titles. I would not have done so. I did think (and still think) that both Brexit and Donald Trump’s election were big mistakes by the British people and the American system. I still insist that a soft-as-soap Brexit is very much on the cards.

Sandwiched in between those two articles was this one: “Theresa May: The first great British PM of the 21st century?” posted on Wednesday 26 April 2017. Unlike the other two, in that case I would have placed the question mark there myself. I now very much doubt she will be regarded in that way and my reasoning in that article turned out to be quite wrong. I do, however, think she will come to be seen as an admirable woman, who was a very interesting British Prime Minister.

On Trump, let me give some statistics of recent US elections. In November 2016, Hillary Clinton won 65,853,510 popular votes to 62,984,824 secured by Trump. (The percentages of the two-party vote were 51.11 for Clinton and 48.89 for Trump). Then there were mid-term congressional elections two years later, at which Democratic candidates received 60,727,598 votes (54.36 per cent) to 50,983,895 (45.64 per cent) won by Republican candidates. To me, therefore, it is quite clear that Trump has no mandate but the Democrats in the House of Representatives (235 of them) do have a mandate. The 200 remaining Republicans in the House must support Trump.

Therefore, it was always obvious that if Trump tried to shut the government down, he would lose face badly. It is now even more obvious that any further attempt will result in yet more humiliation for him. The House of Representatives is under no duty to vote money for a discredited President like Trump. He should now resign himself to reality and obey the instruction of Section 3 of Article 2 of the US Constitution which remains: “He shall take care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

On Tuesday, there were votes in the British House of Commons that created the impression of Theresa May on a high. However, with the EU emphatically rejecting any variation to the May-EU Brexit deal, there is no way for the British to come out of this looking good. Whichever way it goes, they will look foolish. So, what should they do and what will they do?

They should have another referendum. It would give remainers the win they should have enjoyed back in June 2016. However, I do not think that is now likely. The British have this incredible idea that a Brexit vote of 51.89% (with remain being 48.11%) can be called “52-48” and be pronounced a “solid win”. My Australian knowledge tells me that no amendment to the Australian Constitution has been carried on such a miserable affirmative vote. So it is all nonsense but British pride will, I think, prevail over my idea of common sense.

In my article “Soft-as-soap Brexit on the cards?” I did not define precisely what I meant. Let me now do so. The May-EU Brexit deal would qualify for such a description. Its chances are, I think, much better than pundits will now allow. I predict it will come to pass some day about the middle of March. Those who rejected it a month ago will have a massive amount of egg on their faces.

In that article I coined my own quip which was: “British politicians can always be relied upon to do the right thing – but only after they have exhausted every alternative.” I followed that with this: “I predict within two years I shall be saying that.” A hard no-deal Brexit would not reflect the will of the British people. That is so obvious it will not happen. The only alternative left is the May-EU deal. British politicians will hold their noses while they vote for it but they will vote for it none-the-less. Perhaps, for reasons I did not then have in mind I say this: Theresa May will be regarded as the first great British Prime Minister of the 21st Century.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.

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3 disgraces in our political system

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Should readers of my articles wonder what I have been doing over the holiday period I give this answer: I continue to research and write my book “Unrepresentative Swill” in which I advocate reforms to the three Australian upper house voting systems, each of which can be described as “a disgrace”. They are for the Senate and for the Legislative Council of each of Western Australia and Victoria. Referring to Victoria, however, I begin by reporting on the full analysis of Victoria’s November elections I promised in my last article published here in 2018.

It cannot be disputed that Daniel Andrews has won a landslide victory. However, it needs to be noted that the second win for Andrews has been distinctly inferior to the second win Steve Bracks achieved for Labor in November 2002. On that occasion, Labor won 62 seats, being a majority of 36 over the combined conservative number of 26 - 17 Liberals, seven Nationals and two independents, both being in seats that had been National, Mildura and Gippsland East.

On this occasion we see the effect of the rise of the Greens. Thus, what was Labor’s share of the two party preferred vote (up to, and including, the November 2010 election) has become Labor-Greens on the one hand and Liberal-National on the other. In any event, the left numbers now are 55 for Labor and three for Greens (a total of 58), while the right numbers now are 21 Liberals, six Nationals and three independents, all of whom sit in seats that had been National, Mildura, Shepparton and Morwell.

Much has been made of Labor winning Hawthorn. It is true that the last time Labor won Hawthorn was as long ago as 1953. While it is remarkable that Labor should win Hawthorn in 2018, it needs to be noted that on this occasion the Liberals were able to retain the Melbourne suburban seats of Ferntree Gully, Forest Hill and Gembrook, all of which were easy Labor wins in 2002. Meanwhile, the Liberals have performed quite well in the country, winning Narracan (very easily) and Ripon, seats easily won by Labor in 2002.

The overall two-party preferred vote is 2,023,809 (57.6%) for Labor-Greens and 1,490,665 (42.4%) for Liberal-National, a swing against Liberal-National of 5.6%. Last time it was 52-48.

On this occasion by far, the more interesting election was that for the Legislative Council. The Senate has long been known to be unrepresentative swill but there had been a view (which I shared) that the Victorian Legislative Council system has, since the reform of 2006, been a “proper” proportional representation system. This election put paid to that illusion. It came about due to the magnitude of the success of the well-known “preference whisperer”, Glenn Druery.

There are now 10 crossbench members of whom three can claim to be democratically legitimate, Samantha Ratnam (Greens, Northern Metropolitan), Fiona Patten (Reason Party, Northern Metropolitan) and Jeff Bourman (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, Eastern Victoria).

Listing the other seven begins with the Derryn Hinch Justice Party’s three new members, one of whom has already broken with Hinch. They are Catherine Rebecca Cumming in Western Metropolitan, now an independent, Tania Maxwell in Northern Victoria and Stuart Grimley in Western Victoria. Only Grimley can make a serious claim to democratic legitimacy.

Then we have two members from the Liberal Democrats, the ultimate cases of micro-party candidates getting elected by gaming the system. They are David Limbrick in South-Eastern Metropolitan and Tim Quilty in Northern Victoria.

Finally, there are the odd three, Rodney Barton of Transport Matters in Eastern Metropolitan, Clifford Hayes of Sustainable Australia in Southern Metropolitan and Andy Meddick of the Animal Justice Party in Western Victoria.

Fixing all these defects in the unrepresentative swill of these upper house systems is really quite easy and the way to do it will be explained in my book – if I can find a publisher. In any event I shall make a submission to the Electoral Matters Committee of the Victorian Parliament when it is formed. My submissions to Victoria’s EMC have been well received in the past and I am confident mine will be well received again this year.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.

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What a disgrace!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

My two most recent articles published on the Switzer website need factual updating, so I begin with that. The most recent article was “Will Donald ride again?” published on Wednesday November 14. The second most recent was “My call on the Victorian November election” published on Thursday the first of November.

On the US mid-term elections, the final result for the House of Representatives is 234 Democrats and 201 Republicans, a Democratic gain of 40 seats, well above the long term average gain for the party not occupying the White House. Consequently I repeat my prediction that Donald Trump will not be re-elected President in November 2020. For the Senate, the final result is 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats – so that is conventionally described as 53-47, a net gain of two seats by the Republicans. Therefore, I repeat my judgment “that Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, is the winner in the Senate election, not Trump.” For reasons the details of which I shall explain in 2020, the Republicans have a good chance to keep their Senate majority at the election when Trump goes down to defeat.

Regarding Victoria, the result for the Legislative Assembly is now final but not that for the Legislative Council. In January, I shall do a full analysis of these elections and submit an article to this website. It will be possible to do that when I have had the time to sift all the data for the details that give me the chance to do a truly proper analysis. In the meantime, the state of parties in the Assembly will be 55 for Labor (a gain of eight seats on the 2014 election), Liberals 21 (a loss of nine), Nationals six (two losses), Greens three (one gain) and independents three (two gains).

In my most recent article, I boasted of “having made a remarkably correct set of predictions for Australian elections since I became the Politics Expert of this website” but Victoria has told me to be a bit more modest in the future. I predicted that the Andrews Labor government would win another term but noticeably under-estimated the size of the win. Readers, therefore, must expect more restraint from me when I predict the result of the New South Wales state election fixed for March 23 next year.

Looking over the year 2018, I cannot fail to notice the huge number of cases of bad political judgment displayed by the Liberal Party. Until quite recently, however, I could not label any of these misjudgements as a “disgrace”. The past month has corrected that. The disgrace in question goes back to this dreadful Senate voting system the politicians foisted on the public about which there has been remarkably little complaint.

The point about the system is its blatant violation of the commandment of section 7 of the Constitution that senators shall be “directly chosen by the people”. That requires the system to be candidate-based. Yet the system is not candidate-based. It is a party machine appointment system, in which voters are told that their duty when voting is to distribute numbers of party machine appointments between parties according to a formula of proportional representation between parties.

The system does that so parties can defeat senators of their own party the machine bosses think deserve defeat. Consequently, next year, the Liberal Party’s machine will defeat its own Senators Molan (NSW), Gichuhi (SA) and Macdonald (Qld), the Nationals will defeat Barry O’Sullivan (Queensland) and Labor will defeat Lisa Singh (Tasmania). In four of the five cases of this phenomenon, there is an argument for doing so. In one case, however, it must be condemned as a disgrace.

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 Molan for defeat. After that defeat the party bosses will pretend that Molan was defeated by the vote of the people!

The long-term solution to this disgrace should be that the federal politicians decide to give the Australian people a decent Senate voting system along the lines I have explained in several of my articles on this website. The short-term solution should be to reverse this decision. One of the two non-incumbents (preferably the male senator-to-be, not the woman) should have his pre-selection withdrawn.

This is my final article for the year. I wish readers a happy Christmas and a bright and prosperous New Year.

Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.

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Will Donald ride again?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Having had my fingers burnt by predicting that Hillary Clinton would be US President, I suppose I should take the line that predicting election results is a mug’s game - best to be avoided. However, that is not me. Having made a remarkably correct set of predictions for Australian elections since I became the Politics Expert of this website, I have decided to chance my arm again on the American Presidency.

Donald Trump will be recorded by historians as a one-term President, with Mike Pence recorded as a one-term Vice-President. Their successors will be Joe Biden for President and Beto O’Rourke for Vice-President, both being from the Democratic Party.

In coming to that conclusion, I have made the judgment that the recent mid-term results for the House of Representatives constitute a far better guide to the future than is the case in respect of those for the Senate. Trump has been repudiated in the former. Although he claims victory in the latter, my proposition is that Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, is the winner in the latter, not Trump. More on that below.

The 2016 presidential elections gave Trump 306 votes in the electoral college to 232 for Clinton. However, Trump’s win was heavily dependent on his narrowly winning 20 from Pennsylvania, 16 from Michigan and 10 from Wisconsin. Subtract those 46 votes from Trump and give them to Clinton and the result would have been 278 for Clinton and 260 for Trump. However, I would be very surprised by a result as close as that in 2020. I give those figures merely to say that the Democrats secured very solid wins in those states at the recent mid-term elections for the House of Representatives.

The results are not quite final for the House of Representatives. My estimate is 229 seats for the Democrats and 206 for the Republicans. That represents a Democratic gain of 35 seats, compared with 2016 when the numbers were 241 for Republicans and 194 for Democrats. The 35-seat Democratic gain is five above the average midterm loss of 30 seats suffered by the party in control of the Presidency during the period from 1922 to 2014.

In the Senate elections two states are in doubt but, for the purposes of my argument, I give the seats to the Republicans. The states are Arizona and Florida. That being accepted, the Republicans would have 54 seats, the Democrats 44 while two “Independents” have won. They are Angus King (Maine) and Bernard Sanders (Vermont) both of whom caucus with the Democrats. One can say, therefore, that the division between right and left will be 54-46, where it is 51-49 at present.

The key to the Senate results is to understand that incumbent Democratic senators have been defeated in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota. All three are natural (and solid) Republican states. However, they are not typical in any way. Presidential elections are not decided in Indiana, Missouri or North Dakota. So why were those Democratic senators defeated?

Social conservatives in the Republican Party will tell you that, from their perspective, Donald trump has had only one success. He has placed conservatives on the bench of the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch back in February 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in September 2018. Mitch McConnell gets all the credit in their eyes – and I agree with their assessment. The appearance of Kavanaugh at the perfect time is what caused those Democratic defeats. They were caused by the bloody-mindedness of the Senate Democrats and the folly of those Democratic senators in going along with the party. By contrast, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin survived in West Virginia by voting with the Republicans to confirm Kavanaugh.

Finally, a word about my picks for November 2020. Joe Biden was Vice-President during the eight years of the Obama Presidency. Beto O’Rourke (born in September 1972) has been the member for the 16th congressional district of Texas since 2012. The Americans go in for numbering congressional districts. In our Australian language, we would describe O’Rourke as the member for El Paso. Likewise, incoming Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, is the member for the 12th congressional district of California. We would describe her as the member for San Francisco.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.

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My call on the Victorian November election

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Readers of this website may be interested to know that I have already made my predictions for the upcoming Victorian state election. They were published last Saturday in the Melbourne “Herald Sun” in their “2018 State Election Special – Victoria Votes” and my contribution appeared on page 53.

The title they gave to the article was “Andrews to return, a bit green about the gills”. It expressed my prediction that the Labor government of Daniel Andrews would win the election but would rely on five Greens members of the Legislative Assembly to be in government. There are 88 members of the lower house.

That article was accompanied by my usual “Mackerras Pendulum”, which makes it easier to describe my predictions. I cannot do that here but I shall try my best to explain it without the pendulum.

My predicted numbers are 42 for Labor and five Greens, a total of 47, that being six more than the combined conservative forces of 41 members, 32 Liberals, eight Nationals and Suzanna Sheed, the independent sitting member for Shepparton.

In the outgoing Legislative Assembly there were 46 Labor members and three Greens (in the seats of Melbourne, Northcote and Prahran), while the right-hand side had 39, 30 Liberals, eight Nationals and the Independent in Shepparton.

The five seats I predict for the Greens are Melbourne, Northcote and Prahran, retained, and Brunswick and Richmond, gained from Labor.

I am predicting that the Liberal Party will gain Bentleigh and Carrum from Labor.

Reactions I have had from e-mails suggest Labor may do better than that. Indeed most think that Labor will win outright. So far I have not had a single e-mail predicting a win for the Coalition. The basic arguments advanced are the strength of the Victorian economy and the extent to which the federal situation will damage the state Liberals.

For the Legislative Council, the best I can do is record the numbers elected in 2014. They were 14 Labor, 14 Liberals, five Greens, two Nationals, two for the Shooters and Fishers Party plus Rachel Carling-Jenkins, Fiona Patten and James Purcell. Their party descriptions defy classification beyond saying that most observers would describe their parties as “micro parties that gamed the system” to get elected to the upper house under its proportional representation system.

I have not made any prediction for the upper house result. It would be very foolish to do so in detail. However, I am willing to say this. Based on past experience, it is reasonable to predict between two and four micro-party members of the Legislative Council in the next term.

Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.

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“Keep Turnbull,” I told them.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

In the first of my two Wentworth articles for Switzer before polling day “How will Australia’s wealthiest electorate vote?” I wrote of the high number of renters in Wentworth and then this: “For that reason, Wentworth is not “blue ribbon Liberal” to my way of thinking. It used to be (in the fifties), when its boundaries were roughly the same as those of the present state seat of Vaucluse. That state seat is a genuine “blue ribbon Liberal” electoral district. The federal seat of Wentworth is not.”

For that reason, my first instinct when doing a post-election analysis is to look at the vote in Vaucluse (all of which being in Wentworth), compared with those in the state seats of Coogee, Heffron and Sydney combined, parts of each of which are in Wentworth.

The latest count has Kerryn Phelps on a total two-candidate preferred vote of 37,774, being composed of 19,152 from polling places in the Coogee, Heffron or Sydney state electoral districts, 15,067 from Vaucluse and 3,555 being votes for which residence cannot be ascertained, these latter being mainly postal votes. By contrast, Dave Sharma has 17,706 from Vaucluse, 13,087 from Coogee-Heffron-Sydney and 5,427 votes for which residence cannot be ascertained. That makes a total of 36,220 two-candidate preferred votes.

In other words, my point is made. Vaucluse is blue-ribbon Liberal but Wentworth is not. So why did media commentators so regularly describe Wentworth wrongly in this regard? The answer is two-fold.

First, on the 2016 federal general election figures, Wentworth was the eighth strongest Coalition win, being bested only by the ultra-safe Victorian Nationals seats of Murray, Mallee and Gippsland and the genuine blue-ribbon Liberal seats of Bradfield, Curtin, Farrer and Mitchell. The point here is that Turnbull enjoyed an enormous personal vote in Wentworth.

Second, two historical propositions were asserted. The first was correct. It was true that the modern Liberal Party (founded in 1944) had never lost before in Wentworth. Twice it came close to losing (Eric Harrison in 1943 and Turnbull in 2004) but it did not actually lose on either occasion. Harrison was deputy leader of the Liberal Party from 1944 to 1956 when he left politics.

The second historical proposition was wrong. It was not true that the principal non-Labor party had won Wentworth at every election since Federation. Walter Moffitt Marks had won Wentworth as a Nationalist in 1919, 1922, 1925 and 1928 but in 1929 he was one of seven conservative rebels, who brought down the Bruce-Page government in a parliamentary vote. Of the seven seats in question, Wentworth was the one with the weakest Labor vote in 1928. (Its boundaries then were essentially the same as the present state seat of Vaucluse).

In 1929, there was a snap election for the House of Representatives only. Labor withdrew its candidate and Labor supporters were asked to vote for the now independent Marks on the ground that he had “saved federal arbitration”. Consequently Marks had his last win in Wentworth as an independent, strongly supported by Labor.

Readers of this website will be aware that I have long been very critical of Turnbull. However, when it came to the point my advice to the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party was clear. It was “Keep Turnbull”. That advice was contained in my article “Who should lead the Liberal Party into the next federal election?” which was published on this website on Wednesday August 22.

They were mad to sack Turnbull on Friday August 24. They must have known he would resign Wentworth very soon afterwards. They must also have known of the serious possibility that the Liberal Party would lose the Wentworth by-election. If I knew that surely they too must have known it.

Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.

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Who’ll win Malcolm Turnbull’s seat this Saturday?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Over the past 60 years, I have become the most frequently quoted forecaster of Australian election results. My strategy has been to make a forecast long out from polling day and then stick to it - except in extreme circumstances where my reputation for good political judgment required a change of prediction.

Published on this website on Thursday 20 September was an article by me under the heading “How will Australia’s wealthiest electorate vote?”. In that article, I made a probability statement on Wentworth which was to give the Liberal candidate Dave Sharma a 55% chance, the Independent Kerryn Phelps a 35% chance and the Labor candidate Tim Murray a 10% chance. The rest of the article justified that thinking by arguing that the order of votes after preference distribution would place Sharma first, Murray second and Phelps third. Since one cannot win from third place, I predicted a Sharma win.

The essence of my reasoning was that Labor has a good candidate and, for a variety of reasons, could not “run dead”. As I now see it that was my first error. Labor’s campaign has proved that it can “run dead”. Every piece of evidence available to observers is that Labor is “running dead”. Their reasoning for such a strategy is that Labor cannot win the seat but Phelps can. Therefore, Labor can inflict the most damage on Scott Morrison by coming third and hoping for a highly disciplined transfer of preferences from Murray to Phelps.

There are 16 candidates but the real question is this: “how many significant candidates are there?” My original answer was three, Sharma, Murray and Phelps. The course of the campaign, however, tells me that the answer now is two, Sharma and Phelps.

Recently the Sydney Morning Herald arranged for a local debate between five candidates, the five being those deemed by the SMH to be significant. In ballot paper order, the five SMH significant candidates are Dominick Kanak of the Greens, Murray, Sharma, Licia Heath, another Independent, and Phelps.

My guess is that there will be about 300 “donkey votes”, they being those votes which go straight down the ballot paper. For the following “donkey vote”, I am not wasting space by giving the party of the candidates deemed by no one to be significant – so here goes.

My “donkey vote” is 1. Robert Callanan. 2. Kanak. 3. Shane Higson. 4. Steven Georgantis. 5. Murray. 6. Ben Forsyth. 7. Tony Robinson. 8. Samuel Gunning. 9. Sharma. 10. Angela Vithoulkas. 11. Deb Doyle. 12. Andrea Leong. 13. Heath. 14. Barry Keldoulis. 15. Phelps. and 16. Kay Dunne.

The effect of such a “donkey vote” is that Murray gets that vote but when Murray is excluded (as I now think that’s highly probable), it is then classified as “leaking” to Sharma, since he is placed ninth and Phelps fifteenth.

The big question, therefore, is this: “How much Labor leakage will there be?” The answer I feel now compelled to give is that, say, one fifth of Labor preferences will “leak” to Sharma. For that reason I have changed my probability statement. I now give Phelps a 55% chance of being the next member for Wentworth, with a 45 % chance for Sharma.

Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.

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How will Australia’s wealthiest electorate vote?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

When I had my first Super Saturday article published on Thursday May 31, I asked myself this question: “Who will win the Super Saturday by-elections?”. The answer I gave was a series of probability statements, which look pretty good in the light of the results on July 28. Consequently I have decided on the same approach for the forthcoming Wentworth by-election on October 20.

I give the Liberal candidate Dave Sharma a 55% chance, the Independent Kerryn Phelps a 35% chance and the Labor candidate Tim Murray a 10% chance. I’ll now explain the concepts behind those figures, beginning with the assertion that Sharma will enjoy a big lead on first preference votes. However, either Phelps or Murray can win after the distribution of preferences. The only certainty is that Sharma’s preferences will not be distributed. He will be a finalist, competing with either Phelps or Murray.

At this point, I must introduce readers to a new psephological concept. It is “Condorcet winner” called after the French mathematician, philosopher, historian and republican politician, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet (1743-94). It is defined as “a candidate in an election who can defeat any other candidate in a pair-wise contest.” The classic recent case of a Condorcet winner is Scott Morrison. The classic recent case of a Condorcet loser is Julie Bishop.

What killed Bishop’s chance to become Prime Minister was the existence of a “Stop Dutton at Any Cost” campaign. The line of argument was that if Morrison was second to Dutton on the first count, he would win because all of Bishop’s votes would transfer to Morrison. However, if Bishop was second to Dutton, then too many Morrison votes would transfer to Dutton. So Bishop was a guaranteed Condorcet loser. Her position was, more or less, the same as Murray’s in the by-election.

The problem for those who would say “Stop Sharma at Any Cost” is that a mass electorate of 110,000 voters in Wentworth cannot be relied upon to behave like an elite electorate of 85 federal politicians of the Liberal Party. Consequently, whereas Rebekha Sharkie was always likely to be a Condorcet winner in Mayo against Georgina Downer, Phelps is not likely to be a Condorcet winner against Sharma.

In a nutshell, the natural Labor vote in Wentworth is quite high. Consequently, Phelps is likely to come third with enough of her preferences “leaking” to Sharma – and giving him victory. Consequent upon the Labor vote being naturally quite high, Labor cannot be expected to “run dead”, as happened in Mayo.

The media tells us that “Wentworth is Australia’s Wealthiest Electorate”. In two senses that is true. Wentworth has more voters who are “seriously rich” than any other. It also has the highest incomes, well ahead of the second highest, which is North Sydney. However, it also has a substantial number of high-income earners who rent and live in modest dwellings. Labor does very well among renters who live in modest dwellings!

For that reason, Wentworth is not “blue ribbon Liberal” to my way of thinking. It used to be (in the fifties) when its boundaries were roughly the same as are those of the present state seat of Vaucluse. That state seat is a genuine “Blue ribbon Liberal” electoral district. The federal seat of Wentworth is not.

For that reason, my concept of wealth is different. My concept is “relative socio-economic advantage rank” and it goes in this order: Bradfield, Berowra, North Sydney, Mitchell, Warringah, Ryan, Curtin, Kooyong, Mackellar, Goldstein and Wentworth. The next down is Canberra in which I live. It is a safe Labor seat!

Suppose Turnbull had been the member for Bradfield, Berowra, Mackellar or North Sydney, then Labor would have “run dead”, as they did in Mayo. The essential reason why Sharma is more likely to win than not is that the Labor vote is too high. Labor cannot “run dead” in Wentworth because it has some chance of winning. It would have no chance in Bradfield, Berowra, Mackellar or North Sydney. Therefore, Phelps is likely to come third. The candidate who comes third is a guaranteed Condorcet loser.

Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.

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