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Malcolm Mackerras
Political Expert
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My view of Barnaby Joyce and Jacqui Lambie

Thursday, September 12, 2019

When I give talks to gatherings of one kind or another I am sometimes asked which features of the May federal election results give me the most pleasure. Having wrongly (and worse still, publicly) predicted that Labor would win, I cannot pretend to have been delighted by the return of the Morrison Government, so I content myself with expressing delight at these two features. The first was the excellent result for the Nationals. The second was the re-election to the Senate of Jacqui Lambie.

The Nationals won every seat I predicted they would win – both for the House of Representatives and the Senate. Their only loss was of a fortuitous Tasmanian Senate seat. When Lambie was kicked out of the Senate by the Pharisees sitting on the High Court bench, her votes were recounted with the effect that a certain Steve Martin became her replacement. He was her second candidate in 2016 but, once in the Senate, almost immediately joined the Nationals. That loss (universally predicted by experts) was the party’s only loss.

Following the 2016 election Barnaby Joyce annoyed me (and many other people) by his continual and excessive boasting comparing his electoral performance with that of Malcolm Turnbull. Then, when he was rightly sacked as Nationals leader, he decided to behave as though his return would be swift because Michael McCormack would prove to be such a failure. Fortunately, it did not turn out that way. The National Party’s performance was remarkably good and McCormack has been smiling broadly ever since. I admit, therefore, that one of the most pleasing features of this election result was the humiliation of Joyce. He is now just a discredited political commentator. He gets publicity whenever he opens his mouth but, frankly, I resent the publicity he gets.

One thing I have in common with Joyce is that we both think of the Senate as being unrepresentative swill. For entirely different reasons we have come to the same conclusion in that description. What annoys me is the different degrees of publicity we get for our different reform plans. My plan is eminently respectable from a principled democratic point of view but I cannot get the publicity I deserve. By contrast Joyce gets all the publicity he wants for a scheme that should be dismissed as ratbaggery of the silliest kind. The only merit of his scheme (which is also a merit of mine) is that it does not require any change to the Constitution.

He does have a point when he notes that only 18 of the 76 senators have offices located outside capital cities with 11 of the 12 senators from Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia based in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth respectively. What, therefore, does he propose? Incredibly, he proposes that each state be divided into six regions, only one of which would be for the capital city of the state. So, there would be two senators for Sydney and 10 for the five non-Sydney regions. Same with the other capital cities. Each senator would be directly chosen by the people for a six-year term with a rotation system as at present. The voting method would be the same as for the House of Representatives but there would be no by-elections, just the present system of party machine appointment to fill casual vacancies. 

It is true that the present Senate system is a giant malapportionment. There are 15 people in New South Wales for every single Tasmanian but they have the same 12 senators. However, that is justified by the federal character of the Australian Constitution. There is no malapportionment within states, only between them. So, using that logic Joyce justifies his scheme to have a malapportionment at both levels. Such a Senate, by the way, would have no Greens – a point presumably noted by Joyce, even if he dare not mention it out loud.

This coming weekend the Nationals will have their federal council meeting and Joyce will put before them this motion: “That this federal council of the Nationals move for the change in the allocation of senators from 12 per state to two per six regions within a state. No region can be larger than 30 per cent of the size of a state nor will any urban basin be allocated more than one region.” If the council is wise it will reject that motion. 

Having first been elected to a six-year term in September 2013 Jacquie Lambie was re-elected to another six-year term in July 2016. There is no point in her critics describing her low vote – that is the federal character of the Constitution. She should have been allowed to complete that term.

In my article published here on Thursday May 10 last year I gave my opinion of our federal judges, “Judges in our High Court are Pharisees”. They kicked her out of her seat so it gave me great pleasure when she became one of only four former senators to be voted back into her rightful place in the Senate. (The others were Katy Gallagher, Malcolm Roberts and Larissa Waters.) She is personally a very pleasant woman and the ultimate Aussie battler. Good on her.

How responsibly will she perform her role? Very responsibly I predict. She will copy the style of the late Brian Harradine who was also repeatedly elected on a very low vote and became one of the Senate’s adornments. He was able to use his power to bring significant benefit to Tasmania.

We know so far that she has enabled the passing of the government’s package of income tax cuts. In return she has won $157 million from the federal government to help the Tasmanian state government with its debt in respect of low-income housing. What she will decide in respect of the other measures on the government’s list time will tell. All those measures are, at best, virtue signalling only so it would be no tragedy if they were rejected as a consequence of Lambie’s vote. It might even be a good thing.

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

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Oh Brexit, what next?

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Since I became the Politics Expert for Switzer eight years ago, I have been claiming to be better at predicting Australian events than any other pundit. Notwithstanding my recent setback (“This Federal election, I got it wrong”), I still make that claim. However, I would not dare to do so for overseas events as illustrated by my 2016 article “99% chance Clinton will be President” and my 2017 article “Theresa May: The first great British PM of the 21st century?”. I cannot now imagine how I ever thought May would be a great PM. She was interesting. That’s all.

Notwithstanding the above, I remind readers of two articles by me relating to those very important democracies of the Anglosphere. The articles were “Brexit and The Donald: both big mistakes?” posted on Thursday 17 November 2016 and “Brexit and the Donald: both big mistakes, Take 2” posted on Friday 1 February 2019. The second article began by noting that the editor had placed a question mark on the first article and noted I would not have done so. I was asserting, not questioning – both Brexit and the Donald were big mistakes by the political systems of the United Kingdom and the United States, respectively.

The difference, however, is important. It is extremely unlikely that the political system of the US will make the same mistake in 2020. In the unlikely event that Trump is re-elected, it would be by getting more popular votes than the Democratic candidate. It is more likely that he will be defeated. In either event, Trump would not be President for more than two terms.

Brexit is a very different idea. The idea is that because 51.9% of 2016 referendum votes were for Leave and “only” 48.1% were for Remain, the United Kingdom should make the irrevocable and radical decision to leave the European Union. In Australia such a vote would never be considered a win for the 51.9%. Of our eight successful referendums to amend the Constitution, the affirmative vote has ranged from a high of 90.8% to a low of 54.4%. It is quite extraordinary that the British should allow a simple majority like that to prevail.

Except, of course, the British have not actually allowed that – or not yet anyway. However, I have changed my prediction. Two years ago, I thought “Soft-as-soap Brexit on the cards?” posted on this website on Wednesday 14 June 2017. I now fear and predict that the United Kingdom will crash out of the EU without a deal on Thursday 31 October this year. What would happen after that?

Surely there must be a general election within the next 12 months! What would happen? My estimate of the current opinion polls is that the division of the four-way party vote is this: 31% for the Conservatives, 27% for Labour, 22% for the Liberal Democrats and 20% for the Brexit Party.

However, in an actual election, the Conservative Party would almost certainly swallow up the Brexit party. That would leave Labour stranded between the pro-Brexit Conservatives and the pro-EU Liberal Democrats.

In a House of Commons of 650 members, a majority is 325. I see the Conservatives as getting about 340 seats, compared with 330 for David Cameron in 2015 and 317 for Theresa May in 2017. Therefore, I see Johnson crashing through, not crashing.

So, what about by-elections? Here we have the opposite picture. There have been two recently – both with bad news for the Conservatives. The first was at Peterborough on Thursday 6 June. Peterborough is a traditional Conservative seat won by an unlikely Labour candidate at the 2017 general election. The discredited Labour member was kicked out by a petition and the by-election was expected to be won by either the Conservative candidate or the Brexit Party candidate. However, they split the vote and Labour held the seat. But note that Peterborough was contested while May was in office.

More recently there was the by-election for the Welsh rural seat of Brecon and Radnorshire last Thursday. It is one of the most rural seats in the whole United Kingdom. There the Conservative member was kicked out on a petition. As generally expected the Liberal Democrats won the seat. It all goes to show what a mad system it is that has first-past-the-post voting and counting in single-member constituencies.

So, take your pick in this very unpredictable situation. My guess is that Johnson will crash through.

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

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Who gets the credit for the Libs “daily double” win on May 18?

Friday, July 05, 2019

To complete my analysis of the election results I say this: the Morrison Government did not merely win the general election for 151 members of the House of Representatives, it also won the Senate election – details given below. I also ask myself this question: to whom should the Liberal Party give the credit for each win? My answer is Scott Morrison for the House of Representatives and Malcolm Turnbull for the Senate win.

The de facto Senate win goes back to May 2014 when the Liberal Party scored a coup by persuading the federal Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters unanimously to agree to the scrapping of Bob Hawke’s Senate voting system which had worked so remarkably well from December 1984 through to the Western Australian Senate re-election in April 2014. The report was titled “Interim report on the inquiry into the conduct of the 2013 Federal Election: Senate voting practices.”

Tony Abbott was Prime Minister at the time. In a conversation I had with him in August 2016, he told me of his reaction to that report at the time of its publication. “It was too good to be true”, he said. He felt warned off it by the simple rule “be careful what you wish for”. It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that if Abbott had remained Prime Minister, the Hawke system would have remained in place and there would not have been a 2016 double dissolution. In the meantime I denounced that report up hill and down dale.

Turnbull replaced Abbott in September 2015 and he wanted a double dissolution election fought on industrial relations reform. That such was his obvious intention (albeit publicly concealed by Turnbull) was good for me personally because it helped my campaign to persuade the Labor Party to oppose what, in the autumn of 2016, became the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Act 2016.

My strident objection to the present Senate voting system has always been based on genuine constitutional and democratic principle. However, quoting principles is no use when trying to persuade politicians to act as I request. In the case of the Opposition party, it is always necessary to persuade them that a governing party’s electoral system proposal is really a rig in favour of that party. I persuaded Labor of that and I have proved to be right. Turnbull’s system is a rig in favour of the Liberal Party. The party should send him a special letter of thanks for that fact.

So now let me give some statistics to prove my point. Before I do that, however, I should acknowledge that Senator Jacquie Lambie has been elected for Tasmania three times, in September 2013, in July 2016 and in May 2019. For the first time she will now have a six-year term. Part of the disproportion of the system is due to the federal character of the Constitution. I would never accuse Lambie of rigging the system in her favour merely because she always predictably gets elected on a very low vote.

Australian Senate elections are of two types. There are Senate general elections when the whole Senate is elected. More commonly, however, there are periodical elections for half the Senate. The former always produce very proportional results – due to the simple fact that Australia’s states are very similar to each other in their voting patterns. Half-Senate elections, on the other hand, often produce results that are quite disproportional.

So all of the recent Senate general elections of April 1951, May 1974, December 1975, March 1983, July 1987 and July 2016 produced very proportional results. However, within each Senate general election there is also a half-Senate election. It takes the form of a Senate resolution giving half the senators from states (now 36) the prized six-year term. Consequently, strange though it may seem, my first set of statistics comes from the de facto half-Senate election dated Wednesday 31 August 2016. On that day a majority of senators voted for a resolution purporting to reflect “the will of the people” in the matter.

In terms of seats the 2016 general election result was 30 for the Coalition, 26 Labor, nine Greens, four for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, three for Nick Xenophon’s team and one each for David Leyonhjelm (NSW), Derryn Hinch (Victoria), Bob Day (SA) and Lambie. Note, especially, that the Coalition number was 30 and the combined Labor-Greens number was 35.

The Coalition’s vote share was 35.2% from which it secured 17 senators with six-year terms. So a vote share of 35.2% became a seat share of 47.2%, a cool 12% over-representation. Nick Xenophon’s team also did well out of that, a consequence of South Australia being our second least populous state. The Labor-Greens combined vote share of 38.4% gave them 16 seats (13 Labor, three Greens), that being 44.4%, an over-representation only half that of the Coalition.

Fast forward now to the May 2019 result when territory senators were also elected. The Coalition won 19 of the 40 seats, or 47.5%. They won that with only 38% of the vote so their over-representation was 9.5%. Labor was again dudded but this time the Greens did pretty well. They received 10% of the votes but 15% of the seats, six out of 40. That was their reward for having helped the Liberals put this system in place. In several ways it can be said the Greens own this system as much as the Liberals do.

In the Winter-Spring of 2016 (a mere three years ago) the numbers were as I state above. Today the Coalition has, in effect, 36 senators since Cory Bernardi was elected for the Liberal Party, not in his own right.  Each of Labor and the Greens have exactly the same number, a combined total still 35. Pauline Hanson has herself – now with a short term – and Malcolm Roberts (Queensland) with a six-year term. Both SA Centre Alliance senators now have short terms – and there is Lambie.

With a modest increase in its vote the Coalition has gained a cool six seats, two from Hanson’s party and one each from Centre Alliance, David Leyonhjelm, Derryn Hinch and Bob Day. The Coalition is now 9.4% over-represented in terms of its 2019 vote and 12.2% over-represented in terms of its 2016 vote.

This is a bad system but the Liberal Party should thank Turnbull for the sweet spot in which he has placed his party successors. The system should be replaced by a decent system designed by me - but I am not holding my breath waiting for it to be implemented.

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

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The Senate voting system: confusion, deception and manipulation

Thursday, June 20, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This Federal election, I got it wrong

Thursday, May 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will history view Morrison as a great PM?

Thursday, May 23, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Labor will win but by how much?

Thursday, May 16, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who’s the greatest NSW Premier?

Thursday, May 09, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here’s how I voted in the upcoming Federal election

Thursday, May 02, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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