The election in numbers

We know the Liberals lost 13 seats, or in other words Labor gained 13 seats, with one seat, Herbert, still in the balance at the time of writing. (Labor actually won 14 but gave one back which I will come to later.) The Liberals claimed a win because they did at least manage to hang on to government, thanks to the Nationals, and Labor claimed success because of the number of seats it gained. But can either party really claim success? The numbers suggest not. The numbers also suggest that individual seats varied markedly and there was not anything like a uniform swing to Labor although swing there was overall.

This is only for the House of Representatives and the numbers I have used are not the final numbers but are from the count a day either side of 13 July, so further changes will be only fractions of a percentage and make little difference to my overall conclusions, although it is the Labor vote that is reducing percentage-wise as the postal votes are finalised. All the numbers are from, or derived from, the AEC’s Virtual Tally Room.

Overall Labor gained a swing of about 3.1% on the two party preferred (2PP) count but it gained only 1.4% on its first preference vote to about 35%.

The Liberals lost 3.4% on its first preference vote, receiving only 28.6% of first preferences, and the multiplicity of groups making up the National side of the Coalition, the Nationals themselves, the LNP in Queensland and the Country Liberals in the NT, remained static — the Nationals gaining 0.39% but the LNP losing 0.32% and the CL losing 0.07% (and their only seat) for no nett gain. The National side of the Coalition, however, accounted in total for about 32% of the Coalition’s first preference vote and its vote was also equal to about half of the Liberal first preference vote. They are now providing 31 of the Coalition’s 76 seats (or roughly 40%). So the Nationals’ argument for a greater say in the Coalition has merit.

The Nationals and the LNP each hold six very safe seats with a 2PP vote above 60%. Since the Nationals only hold 10 seats in their own right, that is a high proportion of very safe seats, whereas for the LNP in Queensland it is out of a total of 21 seats. The Liberals hold 20 such seats, for a Coalition total of 32 very safe seats. The ALP has 25 such seats, with 9 above 65% — the Liberals have 8 seats above 65%, the Nationals 3, and the LNP 2. Obviously such seats will rarely change hands unless there are major changes to the electoral boundaries or in the make-up of the population.

As is to be expected from the overall result the Coalition parties lost first preference votes in 114 seats — an overall average of -2.7% and a median of -3.7%. People may like to know that the worst result for the Liberals, -17.3%, was in the seat of Indi: even in the seat of Mayo, gained by the NXT, the loss was slightly lower at -16%. They also lost on the 2PP count in 119 seats (although in 12 seats it was less than 1%). So although the Coalition has just managed to achieve a majority government, the fact that it lost votes in almost 80% of electorates suggests it can hardly be taken as a ringing endorsement of the government or its policies.

Some of the swing to Labor was wasted in seats which it had no chance of winning or in its own safe seats. It gained 2PP swings of more than 3% in 12 seats in which the Coalition vote was above 55% (even after the swing). And it also gained swings above 3% in 29 of its own seats where its vote ended up above 55%. So in 41 seats, over a quarter of all seats in the House of Representatives, Labor’s gains did nothing to change the outcome in terms of seat numbers and it could be said to have been most successful in its own seats, basically winning back some of the Labor-leaning voters that it lost in 2013 — overall, Labor improved its first preference vote in 43 of its own seats and its 2PP in 49. (There were 10 seats in which Labor was not involved in the final two candidate battle, so Labor 2PP is not readily available for those seats.)

Labor cannot be complacent about its vote. Although it gained overall it actually had a reduced first preference vote in 50 seats (11 less than 1%) but that reduced to a smaller 2PP vote in 20 seats (5 less than 1%). It lost first preference votes in 23 Liberal held seats, 5 LNP seats in Queensland, and 5 National seats (and in 4 seats won by minor parties or independents). It also had a reduced 2PP in 9 Liberal seats, 3 LNP seats and 1 National seat.

More worryingly, Labor lost first preference votes in 13 of its own seats, five in Victoria, one in NSW, two in Queensland, four in SA and one in WA — One Nation or NXT were involved in six of those seats which drew votes from both major parties. The Greens were present in every seat and received more than 10% of first preference votes in five of the seats in which Labor lost first preference votes but that is not an explanation because Labor also gained in many seats where the Greens vote exceeded 10%.

It managed to reduce that to losses in only five of its own seats on 2PP and one of those still remained above 55%. That is where the Green vote benefits Labor, in both Labor and Coalition seats, with about 80% of its preferences flowing to Labor. The Greens, however, are a Left-of-centre party, as is Labor, and it is surprising that as many as a fifth of Green voters direct their preferences to the Right. While there are explanations for that, it is an issue for Labor.

The Greens had a first preference vote above 15% in 17 seats but 11 of those were Labor seats and the Greens held one in their own right. Of the five Coalition seats three were safe for the Coalition, Labor gained one and failed to gain one in which it thought it had a chance (Corangamite in Victoria). So that level of support for the Greens, and preferences flowing to Labor, does not translate into Labor gaining a significant number of Coalition seats. The Greens tend to do better in Labor seats (obviously Left-leaning electorates) which is not beneficial in terms of achieving a Left-of-centre government.

At a state level, the NXT vote in SA had a major impact with Labor losing first preference votes in all but one of SA’s 11 seats — but increasing its 2PP vote in every seat. At the other end of the spectrum, it gained in four of the five Tasmanian seats and lost ground on its first preference and 2PP vote only against Andrew Wilkie in Denison.

In WA Labor lost first preference votes in four of the 16 electorates, including one of its own, but lost 2PP in only one, a very safe Liberal seat (above 65%).

In the larger states, Labor lost first preference votes in 11 of the 47 seats in NSW but lost 2PP in only four, each safe Coalition seats. On the other hand, NSW was also the state where Labor improved its first preference vote by more than 4% in 19 seats, including six that it won.

In Queensland Labor lost first preferences in seven of 30 seats and 2PP in four seats. It improved its first preference vote by more than 4% in only four seats, one of which it won (Longman).

Victoria was the state in which the Labor vote suffered most but that was off relatively high levels at the 2013 election, when it had 12 seats above 55% and 9 of those above 60% on 2PP. This year it lost first preference votes in 17 of the 37 seats including five of its own. That reduced to 2PP losses in 10 seats including four of its own but in two of those seats the loss was against a Green candidate. It did improve its first preference vote by more than 4% in seven seats but six of those were its own seats and the other a safe Liberal seat (61% of 2PP at the 2013 election and still slightly over 56% at this election) so had no impact on the election result.

Victoria was the state where Labor suffered its only loss — the seat of Chisolm from which Anna Burke retired at this election. Labor received 37.3% of the first preference ‘ordinary’ votes (at the ballot box) compared with the Liberal candidate’s 44.7%. The Greens received 12.1%. While the majority of the Green preferences would have flowed to Labor, putting Labor slightly ahead, the Liberal candidate also benefitted from preferences from the Family First Party (2.3% of ordinary votes) and Rise Up Australia (1.9%). The Liberal candidate, however, received 51.6% of about 13,000 postal vote first preferences compared to Labor’s 32.4% — on 2PP that translated to 58.1% of postal votes for the Liberals and only 41.9% for Labor. If Labor had held the seat it could have reached 70 seats in the House of Representatives and held the government to 75 (if Labor wins Herbert, or 69 and 76 respectively if it does not). There will no doubt be much soul-searching within the Labor party about this loss.

As Chisolm and Labor’s loss of first preference votes in a third of electorates indicates, there was much variation. Even where Labor did well, for example in NSW, its improved first preference vote varied from 0.7% to 13.9%. For such wide variations, it obviously becomes necessary to examine what was occurring in each seat, which is well beyond the scope of this article.

The other candidates in an electorate obviously have a significant influence, as with the role of NXT and One Nation in drawing votes away from the major parties. Local issues, like the CFA dispute in Victoria, can also have an influence, as does the perceived quality of the candidates. And it is of more than passing interest that Labor did well in the states that have a Liberal state government — NSW, Tasmania and WA.

So on the numbers it could be said that the election did not produce a clear winner. Although the Coalition scraped over the line, it lost votes in about 80% of electorates indicating the increased numbers who were rejecting the government and its policies. Labor, however, also achieved mixed results, losing votes in a third of seats and relying on third party preferences to improve its position. On that basis, both major parties have a lot of work to do to convince voters they deserve their vote.

What do you think?
Does the media pay too much attention to national trends when it appears elections are influenced just as much by local concerns and local candidates?

Were the minor parties and independents the real winners at the election?

Is a Left coalition of Labor and the Greens necessary to counter the coalition of the Right?

Let us know in comments below.

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Australia; we need to have a conversation

There are three types of people in this world, those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. Mary Kay Ash

Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, died in 2001, so it is extremely doubtful if she knew of Pauline Hanson. However, Ash’s motivational quotation above could go someway to explaining the election of Pauline Hanson, Jacquie Lambie and Derryn Hinch to the Australian Senate in 2016.

Over the last 50 years, western society has changed remarkably. A lot of us now walk around with devices in our pockets that can access the majority of information freely available in the world; we can travel across the world within a day and the rate of change is only increasing. For the past 50 years, we have had governments that generally have attempted to ensure that Australia can compete in a global economy (to greater or lesser degrees) and welcome increased investment in Australia by foreign nationals either through purchase of Australian assets or immigration.

It is also fair to say that, to an extent, the perceived need for these changes has not been well explained to Australians. Normally the conversation stops with a report that the Minister responsible has allowed or declined the purchase of some Australian company or asset by a foreign company. With rare exceptions, the need for immigration since World War 2 has been presented to Australians as a done deal. Neither of the two major parties have been better than the other one (when in government) at explaining the need for foreign influences in Australia.

It’s not a problem solely in Australia. Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican (conservative) Party nominee for the US Presidency; the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (better known as UKIP) and the success of the Brexit campaign in the UK, as well as the election of Hanson, Lambie and Hinch all point to the same problem.

Popularist politicians are popular for a reason. They say what a proportion of the population can easily believe because, while they understand their world is changing, they can’t work out how they will cope in the ‘brave new world’. When Abbott promoted the wipeout of Whyalla and the $100 lamb roast prior to the the 2013 election, he convinced enough people to vote for the Coalition to gain power. Some of those people would have voted for Abbott’s Coalition because he was just promising to return to their status quo. In a similar way, Shorten’s claim that the Coalition would privatise Medicare at the 2016 election had the reverse effect and got Shorten’s ALP a lot closer to an election victory than was generally considered possible. (Shorten’s campaign did have somewhat more truth than Abbott’s attempt as the Coalition was in the process of discontinuing some Medicare payments and freezing the rebate for a GP visit — causing a co-payment by stealth).

Mark Kenny (writing for Fairfax) suggests when Hawke became Prime Minister in 1983;
"...he did so on a slogan of "bringing Australia together. His first priority was to hold an economic summit involving all the key players: employers, academics and policy heads, public service departments, unions, state and local governments, welfare, not-for-profit sectors.

"Hawke, and the treasurer Paul Keating, believed the economy and the polity needed healing. An us-and-them division meant smarter solutions up the middle on national and distributional problems had been ignored in the adversarial mindset and architecture of the system itself.

"The immediate economic challenge was to curb wages growth to lift productivity and restart investment in jobs. The opposite problem — flat to negative wages growth — bedevils the economy and budget in 2016.

"For all its rancour, election 2016 revealed two leaders with genuine brains, and the capacity to unite people. Turnbull won, but a near dead-heat 50-50 vote means he has no partisan mandate.

"Nonetheless, he is still broadly popular, and retains the Hawke-like capacity to reach across the political aisle."
In short, Turnbull has to be the one that makes things happen for the good of our society. There needs to be a conversation that stretches across the country so that those that have been disaffected by the popularist politicians such as Abbott and Rudd see there is a need for a different future; even though they may struggle initially because they have been retrenched, or just don’t understand why Australia can’t go back to the protectionist country it was 40 years ago when we all seemed to get along okay.

The people that vote for those that claim to be ‘anti-politicians’ such as Hanson, Lambie and Hinch have genuine concerns that their way of life is in danger — and the politicians don’t care. They aren’t making things happen; they are watching things happen and wishing they didn’t; in essence they are wondering what happened. John Harrison (writing for Fairfax media) points out :
"Much of the commentary has been about the threat to social cohesion represented by the resurgence of Hansonism.

"But there is an economic threat also, and those most likely to be damaged by a poorer national economic performance are precisely the disaffected who voted for Hanson.

"From their rhetoric this week, both major parties recognise this. As did Standard and Poors."
Harrison then goes on to recount the safety concerns of Asian students in spite of international students being a $20 billion industry for Australia as well as the additional income from tourists from Asia. For example, it is estimated that Chinese tourists alone spent $6.2 billion in Queensland during 2015. According to its Lord Mayor, Brisbane has 75,000 international students studying in the city at the moment. Those that voted for Hanson et al to keep Australian jobs and stop immigration are effectively voting against their own self interests as there are a lot of jobs involved in the services required for that number of people.

The problem is that neither of the two major political parties have been able to demonstrate to the people that vote for Hanson et al, that for every negative there are positives. Australia competes internationally in a number of industries apart from filling ships up with minerals and sending them across the world. Here are two quick examples.

While generally low paid and low skilled jobs such as vehicle manufacturing may no longer be performed here, Nissan produces and exports advanced aluminium castings for a number of their worldwide vehicle range in Australia

Ford has a Design Centre in Victoria that is one of the few places in the world of Ford where the company can design, build a prototype and test vehicles that are sold in over a hundred countries around the globe.

It is probable that the rise of Hanson, Lambie and Hinch in the the 2016 election is a combination of two factors: a general dissatisfaction with politicians generally (caused by popularist politicians not delivering as promised); and the failure to have a conversation with all parts of the Australian population that each country is no longer an individual economy that will potter along just fine if we ignore the rest of the world, isn’t helping. In short, those that ‘wonder what happened’ to their way of life need an explanation. Turnbull and Shorten (as well as their forebears) haven’t done this — and are now paying the cost.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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Sausage sizzles and mandates

There was a winner to the Federal Election last weekend. A lot of school parents’ organisations and charities made money on sausage sizzles and cake stalls across the country. While you could argue that if funding for education and to those less well-off was at a realistic level there would be no need for the sausage sizzle, it is becoming a tradition and clearly part of the Australian psyche.

Another part of the Australian psyche (according to politicians anyway) is that if they form a government, they have a mandate, and they can enact legislation to support their particular party platform ‘lock, stock and barrel’. To an extent they are correct, but the mandate they claim is nowhere near reality.

On 3 July, the day after the election, Clive Hamilton (Professor of Public Ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy & Public Ethics (CAPPE), Charles Sturt University) published a piece on The Conversation’s website arguing:
Commentators and newspaper editors who make statements such as “the nation voted for”, “the public wants” and “Australians have spoken” actually spend most of their time talking about divisions. Yet when faced with quantitative measures of public opinion that highlight the divisions (opinion polls and elections) they begin to talk as if the nation speaks with one voice.
Like most things, elections are not ‘all or nothing’ affairs. Let’s use public transport as an example. If I catch a bus to work and home every day, I might believe there is great public benefit in the government subsidising buses for the reduction in vehicles on the road, the time I can spend checking social media (or ideas for future articles) as well as thinking about what I have to do at work or just gazing out the window. I have clearly decided the cost of the bus trip both in time and fare is lesser than the comparable costs of driving my car into work, paying for petrol, additional maintenance and parking. However, I might wish there wasn’t a 5 km detour from the most direct route to my workplace, and the bus picking up enough people to make it difficult on occasions to get past those standing to get off the bus at my stop.

So in an ideal world, I would like all the advantages of public transport without the 5km detour — apart from the reduction in time taken it would also mean that the bus was less crowded. I’ve made the decision that on balance, the service is acceptable and the benefits of the bus exceed the disadvantages.

It’s the same with picking a government. In the recent election I might be a vocal supporter of Medicare but as I own a medium sized company, I would also like to pay less tax on the profits my company makes. At the recent election, my perfect world is a combination of the ‘flagship policies’ of the ALP and the Liberals. Clearly, I can’t vote for both parties, so I make a decision based on the less important (to me) policies such as a Royal Commission into the Banking Industry, the benefits of the 2016 Budget to me and my business and my belief there is nothing wrong with negative gearing, as I have 10 properties in my investment portfolio.

So I make my voting decision based on a stack of policy variables from a number of parties and have to vote for one party at the end of the day. Should I decide to vote Labor, I can’t ring Bill Shorten and ask him to change his negative gearing policy because I plan to increase my property portfolio – just as I can’t ask the bus company to run a bus that suits my ‘wants’ above the needs of others.

As the final figures for the election are still a week or two away, let’s just say that both the ALP and the Coalition received 35 to 40% of the first preference vote on July 2. A number of smaller parties split the remaining 20 to 30% of the vote. In all probability, the number of Parliamentarians from the so called minor parties will go close to the number of National Party members (remember the National Party – they are the ones that argue that they have input into a Coalition government) who have a red or green seat on Capital Hill in Canberra.

Naturally, the members of the smaller parties (as well as the Liberals, Nationals and ALP) all have policies and commitments to various parts of their constituencies, which if they were broken without some discussion may result in a very short political career. By the same token, a politician cannot say that everyone in their electorate wants a certain event to occur. For example, while Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has a policy to commence a Royal Commission into Islam, it cannot be said that all Queenslanders want this to happen as Hanson’s One Nation certainly didn’t get 100% of the first preference Senate vote in that state. Hanson (in the article above) is realistic to admit she wants the enquiry but it’s not the first order of business from her point of view.

Neither Shorten nor Turnbull can claim that 100% of Australians want their particular policies enacted either – as under 100% of the population voted for their respective political parties. Whoever does eventually form the government will rely on the support of some combination of the smaller parties and Independents. The express wish of Turnbull, ‘to clean out the Senate’ certainly didn’t happen.

Andrew Elder claims the Liberals underestimated Shorten:
BILL SHORTEN should not have been competitive in this campaign. A factional warrior up to his eyeballs in Labor’s leadership changes over the past decade, a union boss targeted by the Heydon Royal Commission, he should have been chewed up and spat out by a ferocious Liberal machine and a skittish, wounded ALP. Ignored by the press gallery for two years, except as a source of zingers, Shorten should have bumbled to an honourable but decisive defeat like Howard did in 1987, or Beazley in 2001.
. . . and . . .
The mistake the Liberals are making with Shorten is the same as that Labor made with Howard. They underestimated him. They believed their own publicity, refracted back to them by a witless press gallery. Their folly has allowed their opponent not only to steal a march on them, but to present himself in his best light, using skills developed assiduously well out of sight of sniggering opponents.
It seems likely that the Liberals will not learn their lesson quickly. Shaun Carney (Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Social Sciences, Monash University) wrote in The Conversation
Malcolm Turnbull has been leader of the federal Liberal Party twice – once as opposition leader, the second as prime minister. On both occasions, he has blown it. He has not been the victim of outside forces, nor an ambush, nor terrible luck. He has inflicted the damage on himself.

The narrative he and his Liberal deputy Julie Bishop tried to get up on election night – that the near-disaster of the result inflicted on their government at the nation’s polling booths was down to Labor lies about Medicare – is not convincing.

This excuse goes to Turnbull’s real problem: he’s not a very talented politician. By focusing on Labor’s “Mediscare” campaign, he was as good as telling Australians who shifted their vote from Liberal to Labor that they were gullible dills.
Which could be construed as suggesting the mood in the Coalition is ‘how about we blame everyone else without looking at our problems’. When this article was being written, Turnbull was still claiming he would be the prime minister of a government with a working majority. He may yet get there – but it is far more likely that he won’t.

Not that the ALP is much better. The ABC’s QandA on the Monday following the election was, naturally enough, focussed on questions around who was able to form government. The panel included Chris Bowen (ALP) and Sarah Hanson-Young (Greens).
In response to a questioner who asked if Labor should "stop being so bloody-minded" and "join hands" with the Greens, with whom they share ideological similarities, Bowen said he did not agree.

Chris Bowen ruled out any collaboration with the Greens, in a move criticised as "arrogant".

"We said before the election, it was a firm commitment, no deals, concessions, agreements with any minor party. Greens, Xenophon, anybody else," Bowen said, as Sarah Hanson-Young laughed incredulously.
While on an ideological level you can understand the argument that the ALP went to an election with a set of policies (with bonus points for releasing them prior to the election), given the trend towards a number of different views, isn’t it cutting your nose off to spite your face to reject any talk of alliance, coalition or discussions of equals regarding a future government – after all government is the aim, isn’t it?

On a purely practical level, whoever does form a government as a result of the 2016 election will have their work cut out for them. The ‘herding cats’ comparison has already been done so we’ll leave it there.

We are in a world where duopolies are certainly out of fashion. We don’t just go to the local Holden or Ford showroom to get a car anymore, Aldi (and to a lesser extent IGA) are doing well on their ‘mission’ to break the Coles versus Woolies supermarket stranglehold, Myers and David Jones are struggling due to the number of alternatives from IKEA to DFO that are now available and the days where the workers vote Labor and the managers vote Liberal have long gone as well.

There seems to be a day of reckoning occurring where those who choose to work in politics need to understand plurality – there are a number of views, they differ from each other to some extent and they all need to be respected.

Which gets us back to mandates. Across three major English speaking democracies the people are apparently telling the political leaders of their country what they want rather than what the politicians and business leaders would prefer. In the US, it could be argued that Bernie Sanders was far more popular with individuals than Hillary Clinton who is perceived as ‘establishment’, while the ‘anti-establishment’ Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee. In the UK, the Conservatives won the election in 2015, however, the 2010 election winners were the Conservatives in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The ‘Brexit’ vote was also unexpected. In Australia, neither major party is making a convincing argument to obtain over half the vote at a general election; as demonstrated at the 2010 and 2016 elections.

Clive Hamilton was quoted earlier in this article arguing that the nation doesn’t speak with one voice. In a postscript to his article, written on Monday 4 July, he reinforces the point to counter the MSM’s ‘silliness’ in claiming that Turnbull was rejected:
“Australians have resoundingly rejected PM Malcolm Turnbull”. No they haven’t. Some 42% of Australians (of voting age) accepted him.

And “Voters have sent a loud and clear message”. Well, the message of 42% was “We want the Coalition to form the next government” while 35% sent the message “No, we want the ALP to do it”. And the loud and clear message of the 10% who voted for the Greens was a completely different one.

To say Australians sent "a message" is an incoherent averaging across various messages, and is a bit like saying "Australians on average have 1.99 legs".
While both major parties have significant volumes of work in front of them to sort out who will govern (because the public ‘will’ speak with one voice if there is another election anytime soon), how to manage themselves and form alliances to be effective in the 45th Parliament and beyond – self-preservation will ensure it happens. There will be missteps, scandals and dramas along the way but there will be a stable government, just as there was in Gillard’s Australia between 2010 and 2013 (where a lot of good social policy was legislated) and Palaszczuk’s Queensland seems to be sailing serenely along; despite the feeling at times that there is a lot of furious paddling going on under the surface. The days of two major parties and majority governments are coming to a close – which really isn’t a problem, New Zealand and most of Western Europe have operated in this way for decades.

We do give our politicians a mandate. It is to turn up at the appointed time in Parliament, listen and contribute to the debate and make decisions in the best interests of the community they represent and also the nation; no more than that and no less. The decision on who to send to Canberra is based upon the policies they stand for, our personal observations of the candidate in question and the competing priorities that support the way each individual numbers the ballot paper.

The good thing about Australia is that while the politicians (and political nerds) sit there and fret about what may come, those who catch the somewhat crowded bus to work inclusive of the 5km detour will continue to do so, the sun will come up in the morning and the only thing that will go up in flames on election days in this country are sausages, not democracy.

What do you think?
Will the Coalition split into separate ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ parties?

Will the ALP learn to ‘play nicely with others’ again?

Let us know in comments below.

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