Tag Archives: Australian politics

Voters’ dislike of politics makes fixed four-year parliamentary terms look appealing

The Conversation

Jamie Fellows, James Cook University

Liberal MP David Coleman plans to introduce a private member’s bill to bring in fixed, four-year terms for the House of Representatives. Currently, our federal lower house is elected to serve up to three years. As Coleman notes: The Conversation

Since Federation … the average term has been a little more than two-and-a-half years, as prime ministers have wide discretion to call an election at a time of their choosing.

The House of Representatives is the only lower house chamber in the Australian parliamentary system with non-fixed three-year terms.

In March 2016, Queenslanders voted in a referendum to adopt fixed, four-year terms for members in the state’s lower house. Although the result could hardly be described as a landslide endorsement (53% yes; 47% no) the victory is a salient message to those in the federal parliament. People are likely to vote for longer parliamentary terms. They want fewer elections and are dissatisfied with politics.

Pros and cons

In Queensland it was obvious proponents of longer parliamentary terms relied on voter dissatisfaction. They claimed, among other things, fewer elections would:

  • “prevent summer holidays being interrupted by an election”
  • remove uncertainty for “families who like to plan their travel”
  • “for regional and north Queensland, it means the election period is taken out of the wet season”.

To be fair, arguments in support of longer parliamentary terms have merit. They include benefits such as:

  • certainty about election dates
  • removing the strategic and political advantage of snap elections
  • cost savings due to fewer elections
  • confidence in the business community
  • improvement in public policy outcomes and government decision-making
  • consistency with the states and territories.

The chairman of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and boss of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry claim longer terms create stability for business.

Naturally, there are also arguments against extending parliamentary terms. These might include:

  • fewer democratic opportunities and loss of voter control
  • more complacent governments and politicians
  • politicians’ job security ahead of voters’ rights
  • no guarantee of better planning and policy.

Hurdles to overcome

Journalist Mike Steketee has described federal four-year parliamentary terms as being the “bridesmaid but never the bride”. This is because the idea of longer federal parliamentary terms never actually reaches the “political altar”.

Even though the “bridesmaid” is much closer to the altar these days, there are still several potential hurdles to overcome. One major hurdle relates to the constitutional difficulty associated with referenda.

Parliamentary terms for the Senate (six years) and the House of Representatives (three years) are established in the Australian Constitution (Chapter 1, Parts 2 and 3). Any alteration to these constitutionally entrenched arrangements must comply with section 128. This requires a referendum in which a majority of people in a majority of states and territories must vote for the change.

Referenda in Australia have traditionally not fared well. Only eight out of 44 have passed.

The next impediment relates to private member’s bills – what Coleman plans to introduce. Private member’s bills are notoriously difficult to pass without overwhelming support from other members.

Support for the bill might also be required from the crossbenchers. It would be difficult to know how the Greens or independents might cast their votes.

Since Federation in 1901, around 20 private member’s bills have become law – out of more than 450 that have been introduced. Support for the bill might be easy to attract this time, though, given politicians are being asked to vote on their own longevity.

This issue may not get too much traction federally due to differences between state and federal areas of responsibility. Voters might not tolerate a longer time to cast their vote as they would on certain state or territory issues.

For many, Indigenous constitutional recognition, same-sex marriage, taxation reform, asylum-seeker policy and the National Disability Insurance Scheme – to name a few – take precedence over certain state and territory issues.

The question now is whether federal politicians are prepared to force the Australian people to vote on whether they have an extra year in the job (or possibly two years in the Senate’s case).

A cynic might say the best way to secure longer federal parliamentary terms at a referendum is to follow Queensland’s approach: adopt complete bipartisanship, say very little in the media, and harness the discontent of the electorate.

Jamie Fellows, Lecturer in Law, James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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When it comes to election campaigns, is the gambling lobby all bark and no bite?

Francis Markham, Australian National University and Martin Young, Southern Cross University

The gambling lobby’s influence in overriding popular opinion and the public interest in Australia is well-known. But is its electoral power exaggerated? A look at this year’s ACT election suggests that perhaps the gambling industry is less influential than it appears to be.

Generating fear

One crucial weapon in Big Gambling’s lobbying arsenal is its threat to campaign against MPs at elections.

Former politicians describe the fear generated by threats of being targeted at elections: that the gambling industry will bring such financial resources to bear in an election campaign that proponents of gambling reform will be defeated at the ballot box.

The 2011 campaign against federal independent MP Andrew Wilkie’s poker-machine reform agenda provides evidence of this electoral fear. Aided and abetted by a conflicted media, the gambling lobby boasted of a A$40 million war-chest that would “eviscerate the government’s ranks of ministers and parliamentary secretaries at the next election if no compromise was reached” on Wilkie’s reforms.

A marginal seats campaign was promised, in which vulnerable government MPs would be targeted with vast electoral resources to blast those who did not acquiesce to Big Gambling’s wishes out of office.

History shows this campaign was successful in spooking the Gillard government. It reneged on its promised reforms well before the 2013 election. This gave the gambling industry an easy victory without an election being fought on the issue.

We don’t know if the gambling industry’s promised electoral strategy would have been successful because it has never been tested. Its great success has been in the fear it generates among politicians well before any election is called.

However, there are good reasons to think the industry’s popular support is lacking. For one, poker machines are wildly unpopular in the electorate. In 2014, 86% of ACT residents stated a belief that pokies do more harm than good, and a majority would like to see the number of machines reduced.

Similarly, a national study conducted during the gambling reform debate in 2011 found 74% in favour of mandatory pre-commitment.

What happened in the ACT?

With such little popular support for Big Gambling among voters, the wisdom of fighting an election campaign over pokies is questionable.

The 2016 ACT election finally put this question to the test. The issue was the Labor government’s decision to allow the Canberra Casino to purchase 200 pokie licenses from ACT clubs, allowing the machines in the casino for the first time.

Lobby group ClubsACT promised to campaign hard on the casino issue, arguing it was a threat to the clubs sector’s viability in Canberra. But ACT Labor did not back down prior to the election, and decided to face a concerted electoral campaign by the gambling industry.

ClubsACT, which is reliant on pokies for the majority of its income, launched a campaign against Labor and the Greens. It reportedly spent $185,000 funding the creation of a new political party, Canberra Community Voters (CCV), headed by lobbyist Richard Farmer. Most of this money was reportedly spent on TV advertising.

A ‘Your Canberra Clubs’ ad.

CCV’s signature issue was the future of clubs in the ACT. While it always seemed unlikely that it would gain seats in the Legislative Assembly, the political strategy appears to be one of diverting primary votes away from Labor and the Greens, and directing preferences to the Liberals.

A second front of attack was launched directly through the clubs themselves. During the months leading up to the election, banners and beer coasters appeared in Canberra’s community clubs bearing the slogan:

Imagine Canberra without community clubs.

And, on election day, text messages were sent to club members, imploring them to “save your community club” by voting Liberal.

A text message sent to a voter on the morning of the ACT election. Francis Markham

In all, ClubsACT reportedly spent $240,000 on its electoral efforts.

But this much-feared campaign amounted to very little. CCV received just 1,703 first-preference votes, or 0.7% of validly cast votes, at a cost of $109 per vote. Clubs in the ACT collectively have more employees than CCV received votes.

If the clubs’ claim of 200,000 members across the ACT is taken at face value, then less than 1% of members voted according to their wishes. Ultimately, the sitting Labor government was returned for a fifth term. The Liberals, the supposed beneficiary of the clubs’ campaign, received a swing against them of 2.2%.

While it is impossible to know exactly what role the gambling industry’s campaign played in this election, the clubs’ monopoly over pokies clearly wasn’t a decisive issue. Few voters were swayed to change their vote by the clubs’ arguments or CCV’s advertising blitz. In the final analysis, the clubs’ willingness to spend almost a quarter-of-a-million dollars on campaigning came to little.

This should embolden governments around Australia that have a mind to deal with the social fallout caused by poker machines. Poker machine reform remains very popular in Australia. What we now know is that the gambling industry’s much-vaunted electoral power is more bark than bite.

The ConversationFrancis Markham, PhD Candidate, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University and Martin Young, Associate Professor, School of Business and Tourism, Southern Cross University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Final House results and a polling critique

The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

At the election held on 2 July, the Coalition won a bare majority of 76 of the 150 House seats, to 69 for Labor and five crossbenchers, representing a net loss of 14 seats for the Coalition and a net 14 seat gain for Labor from the 2013 election. The crossbenchers are Independents Cathy McGowan and Andrew Wilkie, the Greens’ Adam Bandt, Katter Party MP Bob Katter and Rebekha Sharkie of the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT).

The national Two Party Preferred (2PP) vote was 50.4-49.6 to the Coalition, a 3.1 point gain for Labor since the 2013 election. Primary votes were 42.0% for the Coalition (down 3.5), 34.7% for Labor (up 1.3), 10.2% for the Greens (up 1.6), 1.8% for the NXT and 11.1% for all Others. In SA, the NXT won 21.3% of the vote.

Conservatives have jibed that Labor’s primary vote was its second lowest since 1903, but the last election was only the second time since the beginning of the two party system in 1910 that the total major party vote was less than 80%, and this election has continued that downward trend. The Greens take substantial support on Labor’s left, and this is why Labor came close at this election despite a low primary vote.

Although they won only 76.7% of the overall vote between them, the major parties combined won 96.7% of House seats, showing how favourable the single member system used in the House is for the big parties.

If 2013 election preferences had been used, the Coalition would have won 50.5% of the 2PP, so actual preferences gave Labor a slight advantage over 2013 preferences. We will not know how minor party preferences flowed to Labor or the Coalition until the end of August.

The only close seat was Herbert, which Labor won by just 37 votes or a 0.02% margin. All other seats were won by at least 0.5%. Assuming the five current crossbenchers hold their seats and that all swings are uniform, Labor requires a 0.7 point swing to cost the Coalition its majority, a 1.1 point swing to win more seats than the Coalition, and a 1.5 point swing for a majority Labor government.

The swings required on the pendulum are now about right because sophomore surges are factored into the Coalition seats. That is, it is unlikely that the Coalition will be boosted by additional personal votes in seats they retained at this election after defeating Labor incumbents in 2013. The “sophomore surge” effect applies at the election after winning the seat, and after that it is factored into the seat’s margin.

Turnout at this election was 91.0%, down 2.2 points on 2013 and the lowest turnout at a Federal election since the introduction of compulsory voting in 1924. However, Peter Brent says this is because the electoral roll expanded to 95.1% of eligible voters, up from 92.4% in 2013. Turnout as a percentage of total eligible voters was 86.4%, up 0.2 points.

The informal rate at this election was 5.1% for the House, down 0.8 points. Brent says that the formal rate as a percentage of total eligible voters increased 0.9 points to 82.0% at this election.

State results

In the following table, I am using the post-redistribution pendulum to determine gains and losses. In 2013, the Coalition won 30 of NSW’s 48 seats to Labor’s 18, but this became 27 Coalition to 20 Labor, out of 47, post-redistribution. In WA, the Coalition won 12 out of 15, to Labor’s 3 in 2013, and this became 13 Coalition to 3 Labor, out of 16, post-redistribution.

Since all states swung against the Coalition, all swings recorded are negative. The Coalition gained a seat in Victoria, and this is recorded as a negative loss. Clive Palmer’s retirement meant his seat of Fairfax was assumed to return to the Coalition, and this is not generally regarded as a Coalition gain. All seats lost by the Coalition were to Labor, except Mayo in SA, where they lost to the NXT.

House final results

The table shows that Labor made respectable gains in every state except Queensland and Victoria. A key reason for Labor’s underperformance in these states is that both now have Labor state governments. State Labor and Coalition governments tend to hinder their respective party’s Federal performance. Very unpopular state governments can drag the Federal party further down.

In Queensland in particular, had Campbell Newmann still been Premier, it is very likely that Federal Labor would have performed better, probably winning enough seats to at least cost Turnbull his majority.

Election result not a reaction to super reforms

There has been much noise from the hard right about how the superannuation reforms announced in the May budget cost the Liberals donations and votes. I cannot speak for donations, but the results show that super was not a factor in the unexpectedly close election.

Regions where Labor made its biggest gains were western Sydney and Tasmania, with Labor making six of its 13 total seat gains in these regions, which have relatively low incomes. On the other hand, wealthy inner city seats such as Kooyong in Melbourne and Curtin in Perth recorded small swings towards the Liberals.

The Poll Bludger has conducted a multiple regression analysis of the election results, and he has concluded that higher levels of education and income were associated with better swing results for the Coalition. If super had been a factor, we would expect better swing results for Labor in high-income seats.

There was a sophomore effect favouring the Coalition, but it was swamped by massive swings to Labor in western Sydney and Tasmania. However, in Queensland the Coalition held Capricornia and Petrie, which had been gained from Labor in 2013, while losing Longman and Herbert. The Coalition also held its post-redistribution regional NSW seats other than Eden-Monaro, and comfortably retained the three Victorian seats gained in 2013.

Polling critique

All of the final polls came within a point of the actual 2PP. Here is the final poll table, sorted by first date of fieldwork, with actual election results below the poll estimates. Bold in the table denotes a poll estimate that was within one point of the actual result.

Fed polls vs election

Newspoll was clearly the best poll, getting all primary votes and the 2PP accurate to within 0.3 points, ReachTEL slightly overestimated the Coalition, but was good otherwise. Galaxy overestimated both major parties, and Ipsos overestimated the Greens by 3 points, and underestimated both major parties by about 2 points.

The poll results were too close to each other, and this implies herding, where all polls artificially move towards the same conclusion. In this case, herding gave the correct result, but at the 2015 UK general election all final polls were within 1% of showing a Labour-Conservative tie. The Conservatives won that election by 6.5%. In general, we should be wary of polls that are too close together.

The biggest example of herding at this election was Essential, which moved from 51-49 to Labor in the week before the election to its final estimate of 50.5-49.5 to the Coalition. This was accurate, but other polls taken at that time did not show a 1.5 point gain for the Coalition.

Ipsos overestimated the Greens, both relative to the election and other pollsters. This was not just a problem with Ipsos’ final poll; its polls have always had the Greens higher than other polls. This clear bias towards the Greens in Ipsos’ polls is a problem for Ipsos.

There were fewer polls during the campaignn than I would have expected. Other than Ipsos, only Essential, ReachTEL and Newspoll polled regularly. Newspoll was best at tracking the vote during the campaign, though its early campaign polls had Labor a little too high. Essential had Labor ahead until the final poll, and ReachTEL had some results that were too friendly to the Coalition.

Ipsos is currently the only live phone pollster, and this used to be the gold standard of opinion polling. However, at this election, ReachTEL (robopolling) and Newspoll (online panel and robopolling) were clearly superior to Ipsos. Methods other than live phone polling are improving.

Seat polls were very hit and miss, with some big misses. The Poll Bludger has graphs showing that seat polls had a large range of results vs actual outcomes, and were slightly biased towards the Coalition. An example of poor seat polls is Macarthur, which Labor won 58-42, but two seat polls had Labor only ahead 51-49 and a third was tied.

The ConversationAdrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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The Long Haul, Lessons from Public Life, by John Brumby

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

The Long HaulPeople often tell me that I should have gone into politics, and sometimes I think I might have made a good politician, but reading John Brumby’s book The Long Haul reminds me why I never made that choice.  Teaching, especially in disadvantaged schools where you can really make a difference, is enormously satisfying work: it is a privilege to be in a position where the work you do can change a child’s life, and if you are a good teacher, you can feel a sense of achievement many times over in a day.  But politics – as the title of Brumby’s book warns us – is a long haul.  It’s an enormously complex business, inextricably dependent on dealing with people with whom you must find common ground.  For good people who want to make a difference, it looks like a very frustrating job, even when in government instead of Opposition…

The Long…

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