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3 disgraces in our political system

Malcolm Mackerras
Thursday, January 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published: Thursday, January 17, 2019


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