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Malcolm Mackerras
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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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Scott Morrison v Bill Shorten: who will win the next election?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

In my most recent article for this website posted on Wednesday 22 August titled “Who should lead the Liberal Party into the next election” I noted the zero success rate of my past giving of advice to the federal Liberal Party. Then I wrote: “So let me give another piece of advice to the Liberal Party. Keep Turnbull. With their record they will, I suppose, reject my advice again. It would do them no good.”

So, as I expected, they yet again rejected my advice and yet again I assert their rejection of my advice will do them no good. That, surely, must be clear to anyone with their head screwed on.

Quite apart from the crash of the Coalition in the opinion polls, we now have the phenomenon of federal members/senators from the Liberal Party being constantly asked this question: “Why did you do it?” The honest answer would be: “We did it so that Tony Abbott could get his revenge on Malcolm Turnbull” but that, of course, is not the answer they give.

In that article I also wrote: “If he (Peter Dutton) thinks he will win Dickson at the next election, he should think again. He would be better off losing Dickson as a mere cabinet minister than losing it as prime minister.”

After doing some calculations of the effect of boundary changes on Dickson, I wrote: “The truth is that all these minute calculations will make no difference. He will lose Dickson. The Liberal Party would save more pieces of furniture by retaining Turnbull as their leader.”

So, how do I rate the chances of the federal Coalition now? I think I would say that the Coalition has a 30% chance of winning government at the 2019 general election while Dutton has a 20% chance of winning Dickson again.

Posted on this website on Thursday 31 May was this article by me: “Who will win the Super Saturday by-elections?” In that article I gave the Liberal Party a 30% chance in Braddon and a 20% chance in Longman. I also wrote: “Readers may be surprised that I should rate Braddon a better chance for the Liberal candidate than Longman. My explanation is simple: on the most recent state election vote Braddon is solid for the Liberal Party, while Longman is solid for Labor.”

To my surprise, many pundits - influenced excessively by the opinion polls - thought the Liberal Party would perform quite well on Super Saturday. This warns me against opinion polls between now and the 2019 general election. They will tighten and Scott Morrison will soon lead Bill Shorten on the question of who would make the better prime minister. Readers, however, should be warned against getting too optimistic on behalf of the Coalition. The Liberal Party is in a mess.

I think Morrison will lead the Liberal Party for a long period of time – some six months as prime minister and then a lengthy period as Leader of the Opposition. It would not entirely surprise me if he is prime minister twice. To keep his leadership of his party, all he needs to do is turn in a reasonable showing at the 2019 general election. By this time next year Dutton will be out of the House of Representatives and Tony Abbott will be so discredited he would not be a threat.

For those reasons I expect the election after next will be for the House of Representatives and half the Senate and held in November 2021. Prime Minister Bill Shorten will lead Labor into that election while Opposition Leader Scott Morrison will lead the Liberals.

The 46th Parliament will be the first since John Howard’s last term (2004 to 2007) in which there is no change in the office of prime minister during the term.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.

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Who should lead the Liberal Party into the next election?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

During the three years that Malcolm Turnbull has been PM, I have had no conversation personally with him. I have, however, given him indirect advice through this website, through articles in The Canberra Times and by having private conversations with federal and state politicians and directors of the Liberal Party. My success rate has been zero.

In the first six months I advised them not to replace the second-worst-ever Senate voting system (the one which worked well during the years 1984 to 2014, inclusive) by the worst-ever Senate voting system, the present one. I advised them not to double dissolve the 44th Parliament but to have a conventional House of Representatives plus half-Senate election in November 2016. I told them of the lunacy of a two-month winter campaign.

The result is history, a Turnbull win so poor it strengthened the disruptive forces in the Coalition, Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Craig Kelly, Kevin Andrews and George Christensen. Added to that we have a Senate whose reputation as unrepresentative swill has been strengthened with Fraser Anning there on his 19 votes. I predicted Pauline Hanson’s election but I did not predict that of Anning. I did, however, assert that a result like that was entirely likely under such an outlandish system.

Since the 2016 election I advised the Liberal Party not to pester Labor Senator Katy Gallagher into testing her dual citizenship status before the Pharisees who disrupt the country from the ugly and grandiose High Court building by Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra. They rejected my advice, believing Gallagher’s loss in any case would spark off a Super Saturday of by-elections. They won that case before the High Court and proceeded to another two-month winter campaign in which they stupidly talked up their chances. I told them they would be done like a dinner – though I admitted all along that they might get an apparently decent result in Braddon - certainly not in Longman or Mayo.

Gallagher took all reasonable steps to renounce her British citizenship and will return to the Senate triumphant at the next election, whether it be in October, February or May. Meanwhile she is enjoying her schadenfreude knowing she will be a cabinet minister in any Shorten Labor government – along with Andrew Leigh, another Canberran.

For the Liberals to talk up their chances on Super Saturday was the most incredible folly I have ever seen in my 60 years of watching Australian elections. It meant that a wholly predictable set of results, including a decent result in Braddon, is viewed as a massive failure, emboldening the Abbotts and Shortens of this world.

So let me give another piece of advice to the Liberal Party. Keep Turnbull. With their record they will, I suppose, reject my advice again. It would do them no good.

I have only ever once had a conversation with Peter Dutton. I developed a personal liking for him for one reason only. It became clear that he is a fan of mine! However, if he thinks he will win Dickson at the next election he should think again. He would be better off losing Dickson as a mere Cabinet Minister than losing it as Prime Minister.

There has been a minor boundary change to Dickson in the redistribution. A slice of Liberal-voting territory in Bridgeman Downs and McDowall has been added to the current seat. The numbers are 100,974 for the existing Dickson plus 3,873 for the added territory, making a total of 104,847 electors in the new Division of Dickson. Labor now needs a swing of an even two per cent, not the 1.6 the media are quoting.

The truth is that all these minute calculations will make no difference. He will lose Dickson. The Liberal Party would save more pieces of furniture by retaining Turnbull as their leader.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.
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Why the Saturday by-elections were entirely predictable

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Super Saturday of five federal by-elections produced results which were wholly predictable.

During the eleven-week campaign I would often be asked for my predictions and I would always loudly reply that “all four sitting members will be re-elected.”

Of course, technically Susan Lamb was not the sitting member for Longman. Nor were the others in Braddon, Mayo and Fremantle. During a general election they would be called “sitting members” and keep their offices (both local and at Parliament House) until defeated.

These members were, by contrast, kicked out of their offices which excited my sympathy for them, just as I was sympathetic to Phil Cleary in 1993, Jackie Kelly in 1996 and Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander late last year. As a matter of democratic principle I would have voted for all eight members of the House of Representatives and am glad they were all easily re-elected, once in Cleary’s case and four times in Kelly’s case.

Equivalent senators were not so lucky. I have compiled a list of eleven senators who were kicked out of their offices with dim chances of getting back into them. A further two (Heather Hill, One Nation, Queensland, in 1999, and Hollie Hughes (Liberal, New South Wales, in 2017) were never allowed even to serve a single day of the term to which they had been elected.

A benefit conferred upon us by these eight registrations of the will of the people is that the apologists for the High Court may tone down the decibels of their propaganda. In any event I am entitled to assert that the people have spoken. They have agreed with me that the entire blame for the citizenship fiasco should be placed at the door of the grandiose and ugly High Court building by Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra.

In my article posted on Thursday May 31, titled “Who will win the Super Saturday by-elections?” I wrote this: “My prediction is that Patrick Gorman (Labor) will win Perth and the other four will follow the pattern of New England and Bennelong in that the sitting member will be re-elected.” I then gave the Liberal Party a 30% chance in Braddon and a 20% chance in Longman. That was followed by this paragraph:

“Readers may be surprised that I should rate Braddon a better chance for the Liberal candidate than Longman. My explanation is simple: on the most recent state election vote Braddon is solid for the Liberal Party while Longman is solid for Labor.”

On Saturday night Lamb displayed a broader smile than Justine Keay – and well she might. Her party has given her a much better seat than was given to Keay. However, I think Keay deserves more hearty congratulations than Lamb who merely repeated the state vote federally. By contrast Keay raised the state vote substantially in a genuine rural seat. She is now one of the very few Labor members to hold a rural seat!

Super Saturday forcefully demonstrated Labor’s superior political skills. They are brilliant at expectation management. Anyone who knows anything about these seats knows that the seat now named “Fisher” is the seat Mal Brough once held as “Longman”. That is why Brough won Longman in 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2004 but, after his defeat in 2007 in Longman (by then a much weakened Liberal seat, due to successive boundary changes), returned as the member for Fisher in 2013. He won the same seat five times but with a different name. The seat now known as “Longman” is a natural Labor seat created, in effect, at the redistribution of Queensland federal electoral divisions in 2006.

Nevertheless, Labor spokespeopple were able to persuade ignorant commentators that they were terrified of losing Longman but were quietly hopeful of winning Braddon. They knew all along that Braddon was the more likely loss.

Looking back over my articles I notice that one was posted on Thursday January 25 titled “Who’s to blame for the citizenship scandal?” It contained this paragraph: “My strong advice to the federal Coalition is not to pursue by-elections in the Labor-held seats they presently contemplate asking the High Court to cause, Braddon (Tasmania), Fremantle (Western Australia) and Longman (Queensland). If by-elections were to occur it would do the Liberal Party no good whatsoever for the same reason that by-elections in New England and Bennelong did Labor no good whatsoever.”

So what do I think about the overall situation? I explained it in my article posted on Thursday April 19 titled “The race for Australia’s PM is becoming clearer.” It concluded with this paragraph: “The election of Donald Trump to the US presidency in November 2016 left egg on the face of virtually every pundit. It has made me more cautious about Australia also. Consequently, I shall predict our election date and make a probability statement about the result. My prediction is that the date will be Saturday 18 May 2019. Consequently, we shall know the name of the prime minister by July next year. My assessment is that there are three chances bill Shorten will be that prime minister for every one chance it will be Malcolm Turnbull.”

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.

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The problematic reign of our Senate

Friday, July 06, 2018

Whenever I go to social gatherings, some long-lost acquaintance is very likely to ask me this: “Why are you out of the news these days? What are you doing with yourself?” I reply to the effect that I am writing a book intended to be called “Unrepresentative Swill”. To that the next question would be: “Is it about the Senate? Or is it about the entire federal parliament?” That surely indicates the extent of the discredit our federal politicians have brought upon themselves by their behaviour. Ordinary Australians think of both the Senate and the House of Representatives as being unrepresentative swill.

Anyway, the answer is that the book is about the Senate. I do not think of the House of Representatives as being unrepresentative swill for the simple reason that every lower house member has always been directly chosen by the people as required by section 24 of the Australian Constitution. The situation is very different in the Senate. As a result of changes to the voting system made by the Hawke Government in 1984 (and reinforced by the Turnbull Government in 2016) senators are not directly chosen by the people. They are appointed by party machines. Consequently, the Australian Electoral Commission “educates” the people to understand that the role of voters is merely to distribute numbers of party-machine appointments between parties according to a proportional representation formula between parties. That is why the Senate has been unrepresentative swill since 1984.

In recent times I have had some success in persuading commentators to describe the Senate in this way. The process began with Paul Kelly in The Australian. In an article on Wednesday 6 June titled “Anarchic Senate is Undermining Our Democracy” there was a sub-heading which reads: “It looks like disruptive minor players are here to stay in so-called house of review”. The gist of his view was given in the middle of the article and reads: “The record of these minor parties shows they are just as cynical, deceptive and self-interested as the major parties”

As recorded in my most recent article on this website, I sought an appointment with Kelly and we spent two hours together on the morning of Monday 18 June. I believe I have converted him to my view which is that the above-the-line voting system in place since 1984 needs to be replaced by the genuinely democratic voting system I propose. My reform would do away with all the contrivances of the present system which are there purely to serve the convenience of party machines and seem designed to confuse and deceive voters. My reform would take a fortnight to implement by normal legislation. No change would be needed to the Constitution.

Kelly followed up our conversation with an article on Wednesday 20 June titled “Senate needs to Rise above this Squalid Dysfunction” which quoted me as follows: “Voting systems make or break democracies. Psephologist Malcolm Mackerras calculates that had the last New Zealand election been held under Australia’s superior preferential voting system then Bill English would have been re-elected PM and the darling of the progressive media, Jacinda Ardern, would be in opposition.”

Kelly’s article was followed with a piece by Professor George Williams who is one of my unfavourite psephologists. Published in The Australian on Monday 25 June it was titled “Chaotic, Unrepresentative – our Senate is the Swill Keating described”. To that the editor added this description: “The rules have to change to stop this chaotic game of political musical chairs”. He thinks the problem lies with senators changing their party as several have done during this present term. Consequently his conclusion is: “Parliament should change its standing orders to remove the benefits and voting rights of senators who abandon their party without resigning from parliament. It also should reform the law. Where a person leaves the party that has enabled their election to the Senate, their seat should be vacated. The seat then would be filled by a member of their former party. These changes are needed to restore the proper functioning of the Senate and to rebuild public confidence in the parliament.”

In my book I take Williams to task in several places, most particularly in Chapter 14 titled “The Senate as Unrepresentative Swill”. I lack the space here to explain why I dismiss that article out of hand. Anyway, the Williams article was followed by another from Professor James Allan titled “Plenty wrong with the Senate: here are some Fixes” to which the editor added this description: “But trying to rid it of the party-hoppers is fraught with complexity and danger”. He points to overseas experience whereby attempts to prevent party-hopping have made the situation much worse.

The Allan article ends this way: “I’d be in favour of holding a referendum to propose reining in the powers of our Senate, say, to give it only a delaying power as regards money bills (the situation in Canada and Britain, neither of which has yet lapsed into totalitarian anarchy). We also might pick up a former prime minister’s suggestion to propose a referendum to make it easier to use the joint sitting provision, which in most situations allows the House of Representatives to outvote the Senate” 

In Australia we all get a vote to decide on our senators. It is the wrong kind of vote but we do get to vote. That is not the case in Britain or Canada. Consequently, these Allan proposals have a zero chance of being implemented. My effort is directed towards a democratic solution which can be implemented quickly by normal legislation. Therefore, I conclude by noting the remark attributed to the failed 1928 US presidential candidate, Al Smith, that all the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy. Whether that is true of American democracy has long been contested. It is certainly true of Australian democracy so far as its Senate is concerned.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.




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