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Malcolm Mackerras
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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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The Senate as unrepresentative swill

Friday, June 08, 2018


On Wednesday June 6 the distinguished journalist Paul Kelly had an opinion piece published in The Australian of which he is Editor-at-Large. It was titled “Anarchic Senate is undermining our Democracy” to which the sub-editor added this description: “It looks like disruptive minor players are here to stay in the so-called house of review”.

After reading Kelly’s article, I sent him an e-mail in which I wrote this: “What you are REALLY saying is that the Senate is unrepresentative swill”. I told him about my Senate reform proposal and he responded by inviting me to dinner to discuss it when next I am in Sydney.

The description “unrepresentative swill” must be the most widely used expression ever uttered by Paul Keating who served as Prime Minister from 20 December 1991 to 11 March 1996, a period of four years, two months and 24 days.

His Treasurer was John Dawkins and during question time in the House of Representatives on Wednesday 4 November 1992, questions were being asked about whether Dawkins should appear before the Senate Estimates Committee. Addressing the then Leader of the Opposition, John Hewson, and the then Liberal member for Mayo, Alexander Downer, this is what Keating had to say:

You want a Minister from the House of Representatives chamber to wander over to the unrepresentative chamber to account for himself. You have got to be joking. Whether the Treasurer wished to go there or not, I would forbid him going to the Senate to account to this unrepresentative swill over there.

After some interjections Keating continued:

You are into a political stunt. There will be no House of Representatives Minister appearing before a Senate committee of any kind while ever I am Prime Minister, I can assure you.

All the details are there on page 2549 of Hansard for that day. Journalists immediately went to work on Keating’s language. They discovered that the then Macquarie Dictionary defined “swill” as “liquid or partly liquid food for animals, especially kitchen refuse given to pigs.”

Keating was never asked for more detail to explain himself. However, I have no doubt about what he had in mind, which is not what I have in mind. He was referring to the constitutional arrangements, whereas I am talking about the voting system. His reform would require a referendum to change the Constitution. My reform would need only changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act. Once a government had the political will, the changes I seek could be implemented in a fortnight.

My conversation with Kelly will take place on Monday 18 June at his Sydney office. In my next article I shall brief readers of this website about our progress. In the meantime, it is my policy to encourage journalists (and commentators generally) to describe the Senate as “unrepresentative swill” whenever they are talking or writing about that body.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


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Who will win the Super Saturday by-elections?

Thursday, May 31, 2018


Pardon me that I should say this myself, but I have made a pretty good collection of Australian election predictions since I became the Politics Expert for Switzer. Consequently I am emboldened to make another collection for the Super Saturday of by-elections on July 28. However, before I do that I wish to make a pair of two-way classifications of these by-elections. 

The more important classification is between the normal by-election in Perth (WA) and the highly unusual collection of by-elections for Longman (Queensland), Braddon (Tasmania), Mayo (SA) and Fremantle (WA). Those four have the unusual distinction that the sitting member is seeking re-election. The less important classification is between those contested by the Liberal Party (Longman, Braddon and Mayo) and those where the contest is effectively between Labor and The Greens. 

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. However, before I stick my neck out too much, I make a probability statement by way of clarification. 

I give the Liberal Party a 40% chance in Mayo, a 30% chance in Braddon and a 20% chance in Longman. I give The Greens a 10% chance in Fremantle and a 5% chance in Perth. 

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. 

How one reads these results depends on what one thinks these contests are about. To me, the voting public will answer this question – and voters will see themselves as answering that question: did the judges of the High Court judge fairly the sitting members who have been forced to contest totally and hopelessly un-necessary by-elections? 

To me the answer to that question lies firmly in the negative, and I have history on my side. In all of the cases of Wills in March 1993, Lindsay in October 1996 and New England and Bennelong in December last year the sitting member has stormed back to another easy victory. 

If I am right then we shall have eight cases of the same phenomenon. Ordinary people do not react favourably to the highly-paid Pharisees meanly laying down the law from the grandiose and ugly High Court building in Canberra. Opinion polls may say otherwise, but when it comes to the point, that is what happens when voters give any serious thought to this question. It happened spectacularly in Bennelong. Even on polling day itself opinion-poll-induced pundits proclaimed it “too close to call”. I knew otherwise: John Alexander was always going to win easily. 

In all of this business I have one regret. Georgina Downer is an impressive young woman. She would make a fine addition to the federal parliamentary Liberal Party. I hope that one day she will become a senator or a member of the House of Representatives. However, the odds are against her election on July 28. I would not vote for her in this circumstance. For exactly the same reasoning as I would have voted for Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander, I would feel compelled to vote for Rebekha Sharkie – and all of the sitting members in the eight cases so far discussed. 

In fact I do believe that something sublime will come out of this ridiculous situation. It will discourage vexatious litigation.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.



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Judges in our High Court are Pharisees

Thursday, May 10, 2018


On the morning of Wednesday 9 May I walked down to the High Court expecting to hear yet another bad decision from the judges of that esteemed body. So it turned out to be. Labor Senator Katy Gallagher (ACT) became the 11th senator in this parliamentary term to have her seat confiscated by the Court. This is the Court’s latest bad decision and has driven me finally to write something I have been saying for quite some time during the terms of Robert French (2008-17) and Susan Kiefel (since 2017) as Chief Justice. The judges of Australia’s High Court are a bunch of modern-day Pharisees.

Let me explain. The Pharisees were the religious establishment in Palestine some two thousand years ago. High Court judges are the legal establishment in Australia today. Readers will know of the critique given by Jesus Christ of those elite figures of his day. In the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Chapter 23, Verse 24, he refers to the Pharisees as “blind guides” who “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel”. So taken am I with that phrase I decided to look up “The Pillar New Testament Commentary” and here is the opinion. 

“Again these guides are castigated as blind; for all their zeal they cannot perceive the right ways of God. With a humorous illustration Jesus pictures them as straining out the gnat, the point being that this little organism was ‘unclean’ and therefore should not be consumed. But these same people gulped down the camel, the largest of the beasts normally found in Palestine and, in addition, also ceremoniously unclean. They were pernickety in complying with the regulations about the smallest matters but were capable of neglecting much more important matters, things like Jesus had just mentioned. In their eagerness to avoid a tiny defilement the Pharisees are polluted by a huge one.”

When modern Australian commentators say things like “the Constitution commands this” or “the Constitution forbids that” they always neglect to tell us that really we have two constitutions, the people’s Constitution and the High Court’s Constitution. The judges are fanatical in their enforcement of the High Court’s version of that document but they often swallow a camel when they, in effect, repeal words actually to be found in the people’s Constitution. In legal language that practice is known as “reading down” the words in question. 

The eleven confiscations of the seats of popularly-elected senators illustrate the fanatical nature of the High Court’s enforcement of its own Constitution. I challenge anyone to find in the people’s Constitution any statement to the effect that the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Barbados or Jamaica can be classified as foreign powers.

Indeed the United Kingdom is the country whose legislature gave us our Constitution. The above-named countries have in common with Australia the fact of their having the same Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. The absurd idea that these are foreign powers is a concoction of the High Court in an infamous decision in June 1999 when Heather Hill, elected for Queensland in October 1998 with a quota in her own right, was not allowed to sit for even one day of her six-year term because she was born in London. She did not realise the judges would deem her to owe allegiance to a foreign power. That she was an Australian citizen did her no good in the eyes of the Court.

Even as the High Court engaged in the fanaticism of its straining out of gnats like Gallagher (who topped the poll in the ACT in July 2016) it swallowed a camel in May 2016 when it upheld the constitutional validity of this outlandish Senate voting system the politicians foisted upon us. It is patently a violation of the commandment of section 7 which asserts that “The Senate shall be composed of Senators for each State, directly chosen by the people of the State, voting as one electorate.”

That commands the system be candidate-based but in reality it is party-based. Senators are not directly chosen by the people, they are appointed by party machines. As a result of the negligence of the High Court in its duty to uphold the people’s Constitution the words “directly chosen by the people” are not operative. They can be made to operate if the politicians so decided - but there is little chance of that. The machines of the big parties run the show. They would be very reluctant to transfer power from party machines to those who actually vote for the party.

Consequently, the negligence of the High Court in this matter means the people are “educated” to understand that the purpose of their Senate vote is not the direct election of senators. Its purpose is to distribute numbers of party machine appointments between parties according to a formula of proportional representation between parties.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.

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The winners and losers of the South Australian election

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

At 11am, Adelaide time, on Monday 23 April, the button was pressed to complete the South Australian Legislative Council election for which polling day had been Saturday 17 March. I can now finish my analysis of the entire election which, for this website, means a statement of winners and losers. 

The only winner is the Liberal Party – but it is a poor win. There was something very peculiar about its win. It is extremely rare for an Opposition party to take government at an election when the swing in votes is against it. Consequently the Liberal Party’s win should be attributed to something in its history, rather than in its present popularity.

Back in the nineteen forties, fifties and sixties there was a huge rural bias in the SA electoral boundaries. That bias kept the Liberal Party’s Sir Thomas Playford as premier for a record 26 years, from November 1938 to March 1965. Labor’s Don Dunstan, however, won government in 1965 and, aided by a brief Liberal government under Steele Hall (1968 to 1970) went on a crusade for “one vote, one value” electoral redistributions. 

That electoral reform was completed by Dunstan who was premier from 1965 to 1968 and again from 1970 to 1979. Two changes of government after Dunstan left office, however, produced a situation whereby, in 1989, the Liberal Party won the popular two-party preferred vote 52-48 without coming close to winning office. 

From 1985 to 1993 the SA Liberal Party had an unusually smart state director, Nick Minchin, later a senator and senior minister in the Howard government. He realised that, although the Liberal Party had lost the 1989 election, its bargaining position was by no means hopeless. During the year 1990, therefore, Minchin worked on a plan which finally bore fruit in 2018! The immediate effect of the plan was that in February 1991 the SA people voted at a referendum for a scheme of fair electoral boundaries. 

However, for reasons which are not worth going into, it did not quite work out that way in the medium term. At the 2002, 2010 and 2014 elections the Liberal Party won a majority of the two-party preferred vote but Labor won the election. In any event the December 2016 redistribution finally did the trick for the Liberal Party. It meant that the Liberal Party’s majority of the two-party preferred vote in 2018 gave the Liberals 25 of the 47 seats in the House of Assembly. The Labor share of the two-party preferred vote rose from 47 per cent to 48.1 per cent but Labor went out of office. 

In primary votes the performance of the two big parties was especially dismal. The Liberal Party’s share of the Assembly first preference vote fell from 44.8 per cent in 2014 to 38 per cent this time, a drop of 6.8 per cent. Labor’s fell from 35.8 to 32.8, a drop of only three percentage points. The essential reason for these falls was that Nick Xenophon’s SA Best party was able to garner 14 per cent of the vote. 

There are three losers at this election. Labor is the first, as explained above. However, this was a very respectable loss. It was brought about almost entirely by the 2016 redistribution but also because the Liberal Party had (at last) learnt that in a system of single member electoral districts successful targeting of marginal seats is nearly as important for a party as winning a good share of the overall vote.

On election night the obvious loser was Xenophon. His party was able to get 14 per cent of the vote but that is of no use unless it translates into seats. In the proportional representation system for the Legislative Council it gave SA Best the predictable two seats out of eleven at an election for half the Council. Xenophon himself could have been elected to the Assembly but he blew it. He contested the wrong seat, leaving an inconspicuous candidate to contest the only seat Xenophon could have won, Heysen in the Adelaide Hills. 

The other big loser was not advertised greatly on election night, Cory Bernardi and his Australian Conservatives. When he defected from the Liberals he brought with him two Family First members of the Legislative Council, Dennis Hood (elected in 2014) and Robert Brokenshire, elected for Family First in 2010 and standing again as a Conservative in 2018. Brokenshire was defeated this time around and Hood joined the Liberal Party soon after polling day. 

The disaster for Xenophon was widely noted but actually it was not nearly as great as that for Bernardi. Xenophon’s vote was good enough that he could well be elected again to the Senate in 2019. Bernardi is finished. He sits in a Senate seat given to him by the Liberal Party. When he next contests that seat as a Conservative (in 2022) he is sure to be defeated. 

Finally, The Greens did not perform well but at least they did not perform badly. They were able to secure the re-election of Tammy Franks to the Legislative Council. Consequently in the coming term there will be nine Liberals in the upper house, eight Labor, two Greens, two SA Best and one independent who was elected in 2014 as a Xenophon supporter but broke with Xenophon during the last term.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.

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The race for Australia's PM is becoming clearer

Thursday, April 19, 2018

It had been my intention today to write another article as a compare/contrast exercise between the Liberal Party’s recent victories in Tasmania and South Australia. However, the count has been very slow for the South Australian Legislative Council election. Given my desire not to write until an election is fully wrapped up, I am deferring that article. Suffice it to say, however, that both of our least-populous states now have majority Liberal governments.

In South Australia the Liberal Party has 25 of the 47 seats in the House of Assembly. Its share of the two-party preferred vote is 51.9 per cent compared with an even 53 per cent in 2014. In other words there has been a swing to Labor of 1.1 per cent. That the Liberal Party won in March 2018 when it lost in March 2010 and March 2014 simply tells us that the boundaries were unfair in 2010 and 2014. This time the boundaries are eminently fair which gives the Liberals a victory long overdue.

If I have been surprised at the slowness of the SA Legislative Council count, I have been even more surprised at the speed with which federal redistribution committees have produced their proposed new maps for those jurisdictions whose seat entitlement is changing. Due to the fact of Victoria and the ACT growing in population more rapidly than Australia as a whole, Victoria will have 38 seats in 2019 compared with 37 at present. The ACT will have three where it now has two. By contrast, South Australia will have 10 where it now has 11. Consequently, 151 members will be elected to the House of Representatives in 2019 where at present there are 150.

What interest’s people is the politics of the numbers. That interests me too since I draw up a new diagram known as “the Mackerras Pendulum”. These pendulums (of which I have drawn about a hundred over the years) are always shown on the basis of the two-party preferred vote in each electoral division. Consequently, my current one (drawn following the July 2016 federal election) has the number of Coalition supporting members as 79 and the number of Labor supporting members as 71. The Coalition side has 60 Liberals and 16 Nationals as a majority. However, it also has three independent members on the Coalition side, in the seats of Indi (Victoria), Kennedy (Queensland) and Mayo (SA) since there was a Coalition majority of the two-party preferred vote in those seats.

The redistributions for South Australia and the ACT have turned out exactly as I expected. Labor has lost a seat by the abolition of Port Adelaide, but gained one by the creation of a third Labor seat in the ACT. Victoria, by contrast, has been highly controversial. The effect is that the Coalition has lost its absolute majority. On the Coalition side of my new pendulum there are 77 seats compared with 74 on the Labor side. The majority, in other words, has been cut from eight to three.

The reason is that the new Victorian seat is in the western suburbs of Melbourne and will be safely Labor. In addition, however, the committee has changed the Liberal Party’s share of the two-party preferred vote in Dunkley from 51.4 per cent down to 48.3 per cent while in Corangamite they have changed it from 53.1 per cent down to 49.9 per cent. In addition, they have made the totally stupid proposal to change the name of Corangamite to Cox. 

Consequently the new median seat on my pendulum will be Gilmore on the NSW south coast where Labor needs a swing of 0.8 per cent to win. The current pendulum has Robertson on the NSW central coast as the median seat where Labor needs a swing of 1.2 per cent to win. These may sound like trivial differences but the point is that they add further doubts as to whether the Turnbull government can win the next election. 

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 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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How Australia’s smallest states gave the Libs two clear-cut victories

Friday, March 23, 2018

Political historians of the future will, no doubt, record that in the month of March 2018, Australia’s two least populous states gave the Liberal Party two apparently narrow but clear-cut victories. No doubt they will also record that in March 2006, March 2010 and March 2014, these two states had gone to the polls on the same day. But in 2018 Tasmanians voted a fortnight earlier than South Australians, as a consequence of the fact that Tasmania’s four-year term is not fixed. South Australia’s four-year term, by contrast, has seen fixed election dates since 2006.

I hope, but do not expect, these historians will notice that Australia’s longest-standing elections analyst (yours truly) predicted the number of Liberal Party members of the House of Assembly with striking accuracy in both cases. For that reason, both election results should be described (historically speaking) as “entirely predictable”.

These two least-populous states combine together to account for 9.4 per cent of Australia's total population. The Liberal Party's victories, however, are more notable for their differences than their similarities. In Tasmania on March 3 the Liberals won a majority of seats with a majority of votes. In South Australia on March 17, by contrast, they won a majority of seats with a miserable 38 per cent of the first preference vote.

Liberal Party historians will note that both Will Hodgman (Tasmania) and Steven Marshall (SA) promised to govern alone or not at all. Both men judged correctly, notwithstanding that some "nervous nellies" in their parties disputed their judgment.

My practice has always been to wait until all details are known before further comment. For that reason, today’s article is about Tasmania, which has a uniquely excellent system of proportional representation by which its House of Assembly is elected. The result in the 25 seats (every one of which I predicted correctly) is 13 Liberal, 10 Labor and two for The Greens. For my detailed predictions see my article “Island politics: Spotlight on Tasmania’s election” posted on Wednesday February 7. 

The Liberal Party’s Tasmanian victory would have been seen as a landslide had the voting system been the same as in South Australia. For that reason I say Marshall had a poor victory whereas Hodgman’s victory was magnificent.

The Tasmanian Liberal Party won 52% of the seats for 50.3% of the votes, Labor won 40% of the seats for 32.6% votes while The Greens won eight % of seats for 10.3% of votes. The remaining 6.8 % of votes were effective only in their preferences.

Hare-Clark has its critics who describe it as “semi-proportional”, as though that were a defect! They would say it is wrong that Labor be over-represented by 7.4% whereas the Liberal Party is over-represented by only 1.7%. My answer is to say that the normal pattern of Hare-Clark is that the biggest single party is significantly over-represented. However, Labor was exceptionally lucky this time.

A more typical case of the operation of Hare-Clark can be seen from Hodgman’s 2014 victory. Then the Liberal Party won 51.2% of the votes but 60 % of the seats, 15 out of 25. Labor and The Greens in 2014 were “correctly” represented while 7.7% votes for “Other” were effective only in their preferences.

In reality, the parties of the left came nowhere near depriving the Liberal Party of its majority. They were lucky in Franklin where the result was two each Liberal and Labor and one for The Greens. That is a left majority in seats for a very slender majority in votes. Labor was lucky also in Braddon where the four-one Liberal win in 2014 became three-two this time. However, the solid reality of three Liberal, two Labor in all of Bass, Braddon and Lyons means Hodgman is actually very safe.

Yet Bass, Braddon and Lyons are all Labor seats federally. How can Labor and The Greens have performed quite so badly in all three? Therein lies the reason I describe Hodgman’s victory as “magnificent”.

When all the votes are counted (likely to take a month) I shall write a considered analysis of the SA election. The main thing to be said today is that Marshall did not perform significantly better than Turnbull but Hodgman did, as I show above.

Finally, I should make another comment on Hare-Clark. When the Tasmanian results were finalised last Friday the main thing journalists noticed was that a majority of members of the new House of Assembly are women. That fact was treated as though it made Tasmania unique. The reality is that BOTH lower houses which are majority-female were elected under Hare-Clark. The difference is that in the ACT Legislative Assembly the Labor and Liberal parties are BOTH majority-female while The Greens pair are one man and one woman. In Tasmania, by contrast, the Liberal Party is majority-male. Labor’s ten members comprise seven women and three men. For The Greens both Cassy O’Connor (Denison) and Rosalie Woodruff (Franklin) are women.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


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SA Election: Will Xenophon be king-maker?

Friday, March 09, 2018

Having made near-perfectly-correct predictions for Tasmania’s recent election “Island politics: Spotlight on Tasmania’s election”  I am emboldened now to chance my arm on South Australia whose general election will occur on Saint Patrick’s Day, Saturday March 17. I begin by noting that I have already predicted this election result – more than a year ago. In my article  “Leadership Shakeup for WA and SA?” (published on Thursday February 9, 2017) I correctly predicted the Labor win in Western Australia and went on to write: “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”. 

That, of course, was written long before Nick Xenophon decided to resign from the Senate in order to contest the state seat of Hartley in the SA House of Assembly. So, do I stick to that prediction? Or do I change it, asking to be excused my change of mind by using Xenophon’s decision as my excuse? As explained in detail below I have decided to stick to the prediction that Marshall will be Premier in a majority Liberal government. 

In the outgoing lower house, Labor held 24 seats: Ashford, Cheltenham, Colton, Croydon, Elder, Enfield, Fisher, Florey, Giles, Kaurna, Lee, Light, Little Para, Mawson, Napier, Newland, Playford, Port Adelaide, Ramsay, Reynell, Taylor, Torrens, West Torrens and Wright. The Liberal Party held 21 seats: Adelaide, Bragg, Bright, Chaffey, Davenport, Dunstan, Finniss, Flinders, Goyder, Hammond, Hartley, Heysen, Kavel, MacKillop, Mitchell, Morialta, Morphett, Mount Gambier, Schubert, Stuart and Unley. 

That left two others, both seats which would normally be won by the Liberal Party. They were Frome, based on Port Pirie, and Waite, in Adelaide’s salubrious southern suburbs. Port Pirie is a Labor town but the surrounding countryside (which is almost entirely to its south) votes solidly Liberal. It would be a Liberal seat except that it has a popular Independent member who won the seat as an Independent but supported the Labor government. Waite is blue-ribbon Liberal but its member, Martin Hamilton-Smith, decided to be a minister in the Labor government. My predictions begin by asserting that both Frome and Waite will be won by the Liberal Party. 

The big problem lies with SA Best, Xenophon’s party. However, I chance my arm on saying there will be two such members in the House of Assembly. They will be Xenophon himself in Hartley, taken from the Liberal Party, and one other member in Giles, a gain from Labor. Giles takes in the steel-making city of Whyalla plus a third of South Australia’s area to Whyalla’s west. It is Labor’s only regional seat. 

At the general election held on Saturday March 15, 2014, the two-party preferred vote was distributed 53-47 in favour of the Liberal Party, which party lost the election! Due to the obvious unfairness of such a result there has been a redistribution of seats which creates a notional result (on the new boundaries) of 27 Liberals to 20 seats for Labor. 

Having studied all the seats and much opinion poll information I now predict these 24 seat will be won by the Liberal Party: Adelaide, Bragg, Chaffey, Colton, Davenport, Dunstan, Elder, Finniss, Flinders, Frome, Gibson, Hammond, Heysen, Kavel, MacKillop, Mawson, Morialta, Morphett, Mount Gambier, Narungga, Schubert, Stuart, Unley and Waite.

The 21 seats I predict will be won by Labor are Badcoe, Black, Cheltenham, Croydon, Elizabeth, Enfield, Florey, Hurtle Vale, Kaurna, King, Lee, Light, Newland, Playford, Port Adelaide, Ramsay, Reynell, Taylor, Torrens, West Torrens and Wright. 

If all the above is correct, then Xenophon will be very disappointed – but not devastated. I say that because there are plenty of pundits who think he will not win Hartley. For that seat to be won by the Liberal sitting member or the Labor former member would be devastating for Xenophon. So I do not think it will happen. On the other hand I am not predicting he will be king-maker. Since that is the aim of his quixotic decision to leave the Senate my predicted result, if proven as correct as my Western Australian, Queensland and Tasmanian predicted results, would leave Xenophon very disappointed indeed. 

Two by-elections will be held on the SA general election day, March 17. One is very easy to predict. The Liberal Party will retain blue-ribbon Liberal Cottesloe (WA), the seat resigned by the former premier, Colin Barnett, who has retired from politics. 

By contrast, Batman (Victoria) is interesting. Once again my prediction is on the record. In my article here (show “Who’s to blame for the citizenship scandal?” in blue) I wrote that “Labor will lose Batman to The Greens at the next election whenever that election is held”. Do I stick to that? I give an affirmative answer. The Greens candidate, Alex Bhathal, will be elected for Batman.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.

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Island politics: Spotlight on Tasmania's election

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Last Sunday, 28 January, Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman, announced that there would be a general election in his state on Saturday 3 March, a fortnight before the fixed date of the South Australian election, in respect of which I shall make predictions in due course. Meanwhile I feel I have a duty to readers to make my Tasmanian predictions today.

At the general election held on Saturday 15 March 2014 (which date chanced to be the same as in South Australia) the Liberal Party won 15 seats, Labor seven and The Greens three. The Liberal Party’s 15 was made up of four in Braddon, three each in Bass, Franklin and Lyons and two in Hobart-based Denison. Labor’s seven was made up of two in each of Denison and Lyons and one each in Bass, Braddon and Franklin. The Greens won a seat in each of Bass, Denison and Franklin. There are five members for each of five federal divisions which are used for state purposes. Election is by the Hare-Clark system of proportional representation.

I make absolutely firm predictions for Bass, Braddon and Denison. In Bass and Braddon, it will be three Liberal and two Labor while Denison will be exactly as last time, two for each of Labor and Liberal and one for The Greens. Thus far, therefore, Labor has nine seats, a gain from Liberal in Braddon and from The Greens in Bass. So The Greens are down to two members and that is the number I confidently predict they will have.

I am also reasonably firm about Franklin where I predict Labor will gain a seat, making it two each for Labor and Liberal and one for The Greens. I am least confident about Lyons but my prediction is that it will stay at three Liberal and two Labor. All of that would mean a total House of Assembly of 13 for the Liberal Party, 10 for Labor and two for The Greens.

Tasmanian elections are quite unlike those of any Mainland state. First, there is the Hare-Clark electoral system which means they can, in some ways, be compared and contrasted with elections in the ACT which also has Hare-Clark. Yet Tasmania is not really comparable with the ACT because Tasmania has a governor and the ACT does not. Whether the present governor, Kate Warner, will play a role post-election is hotly debated among pundits. I do not think so because I think the Liberal Party will win the election.

It is predicted by some pundits that Labor’s new leader, Rebecca White, who will be 35 years old come polling day, is going to repeat the performance of New Zealand’s new Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who is 37. The argument is that both parliaments are elected by systems of proportional representation. What such an argument overlooks is that the two PR systems are such very different types of PR. In short, Tasmania’s system is good and New Zealand’s is bad. It is not, however, quite as bad as that which gives the Australian people their 76 senators.

In New Zealand, there are 120 members of the House of Representatives of which 71 are elected from single member electoral districts and 49 are party machine appointees (called “party list” members) who “top up” the directly elected members to make it much “purer” PR (according to its supporters) than Hare-Clark. But in each of the Australian Hare-Clark jurisdictions all 25 members are directly chosen by the people which makes Hare-Clark vastly superior to the PR systems of New Zealand and the Australian Senate. For my review of the recent election across the Tasman readers are referred to my article “It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting” published on this website on Wednesday 8 November last year.

The second feature which makes Tasmanian elections so very different from any Mainland state is Tasmania’s position as a “mendicant” state. That is due to the fact of it being an island, not because it has been badly governed. Yet it leads to commentary of the kind given by Graham Richardson in “The Australian” recently. In his piece titled “Rest of country to pay for promises” for Monday 29 January he began: “It has often been said that Federation was a plot against New South Wales. It was the biggest fish in the pond and the other fish banded together to limit the power of the biggest state.”

Then he wrote this: ”The problem is that a new Tasmanian government will do what every Tasmanian government has done. It will pass a grab-bag of policies it knows it cannot pay for. The other states, with the exception of the other basket case, South Australia, will pay to keep Tasmanians in the manner to which they have become accustomed.”

There is, as they say, “something in” all of that. However, I do not think I have the space to mount a full debate with Graham Richardson about all his assertions – so I leave it at that. I agree with him about some of his assertions but disagree with others. I may return to that in a later article. 

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.

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