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Australian Greens lose ground in Australian Federal Election

by BruceMcF Sat Sep 7th, 2013 at 11:01:31 PM EST

Right: victory of Climate Suicide Pact casts pall over Sydney Opera House

Going into the election this Saturday (7 Sep 2013), the Australian Greens were holding the balance of power in the Senate and defending their first House of Representatives seat in the inner-urban seat of Melbourne ~ and, yes, despite the strange naming of some constituencies, this was an inner Melbourne seat.

Balance of Power in the Senate was the most important thing, since going into the election the Liberal/National coalition had a strong lead in the polls and were considered a sure thing to win government on a platform that included a promise to end carbon pricing.


Before the election, the distribution of seats in the Australian Senate was:

  • 34 Liberal/National Coalition (right to center-right)
  • 31 Australian Labor Party (ALP) (center-right to center-left)
  • 9 Australian Greens (center-left to left)
  • 1 Nick Xenonphon, South Australian Independence (center-right, mebbe?)
  • 1 Democratic Labor Party (center-right)

So if the Greens voted with Labor, that was 40 of 76, and if the Greens voted with the Coalition that was 43 of 76, so the Greens held the balance of power.

After the election, the makeup is now:

  • 33 (-1) Liberal/National Coalition
  • 25 (-6) Australian Labor Party
  • 10 (+1) Australian Greens
  • 1 Democratic Labor Party
  • 1 Nick Xenophone (SA)
  • 1 (+1) Family First Party (SA)
  • And four new parties:
    • 2 Palmer United Party (right to center-right)
    • Liberal Democratic Party (NSW)
    • Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party (VIC)
    • Australian Sports Parties (WA)

So the Greens have lost the balance of power ... but its not as if it was really "their fault". If they had repeated their success of the previous election, they would have gained more seats, but they did gain a seat compare to the 2007 Senate result that they were defending.

By contrast, while the ALP lost six (after losing one in the previous election). It was the loss of the Labor seats that cost the Greens the Balance of Power, since now if the Greens vote together with the ALP, that is a total of 35, and 37 is required for a majority. By contrast, if the Coalition picks up four out of the eight minor party and independent votes, they can pass legislation through the Senate without Green votes at all, though perhaps at the cost of some baubles for key constituencies in a few states.

In the Australian proportional preferential system for election to the Senate, voter can vote "below the line" for a large number of individual candidates, or "above the line" for a single party. In NSW, for example, there were 110 Senate Candidates, so the ballot paper is quite large and even so polling places are equipped with magnifying glasses. One has to cast votes for at least 90% of the candidates with no more than two breaks in sequence for it to be a formal, vote, so there is an incentive to vote above the line.

When voting above the line, preferences flow as dictated by the party's preferences as lodged with the Australian electoral commission, and minor parties engage in substantial negotiation over how they will preference the votes cast for them. These preference deals can not only affect the outcome among the major and 3rd parties, but if a minor party is lucky, they can stay ahead of the cut, receiving preference flows from eliminated parties as they go, and make it into the ranks of the 3rd parties. This is exactly how the Australian Motor Enthusiast Party and the Australian Sports Party made it into the Senate.

I have, indeed, seen some suggestions that the growing use of tactical preference deals cost the Greens Senate seats in this election, but my analysis, below, is that it was rather the swing in the primary vote toward center-right and right candidates that did the damage.

The way that my analysis proceeds is by comparing the actual election result to the seats won with complete quotas and then for the balance to the parties receiving the largest partial quotas. When there is a departure from that, I look at the final distribution that elected the sixth senator from that state to see what preference flows had switched the order of parties in terms of primary vote.



Analyzing Senate Election Results compared to Primary Vote

Queensland: 3 Libs, 2 Labor, 1 Palmer United Party:

  • 2Lib & 2Lab on full quotas, then the Libs 0.8565, PUP 0.7236 ... so the final result was exactly in line with the primary vote

NSW: 3 Libs & Nats, 2 Labor, 1 Dems (Liberal Democratic Party):

  • 2 Lib&Nat full quotas, 2 Labor full quotas, partial quotas: Dems 0.6222, Greens 0.5446, Lib&Nats 0.4249, Palmer 0.2470, the Greens lost the last seat on preference distribution, which was primarily from the HEMP Marijuana Legalization Party and the Wikileaks Party both preferencing the Dems for tactical reasons rather than support for party's issue.

Vic: 2Lib, 2Lab, 1Greens, 1 Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party:

  • On primary vote, 2 full quotas for Libs and Labor, then partial quotas Greens 0.7791, Libs/Nats 0.7464, Lab 0.3207, Palmer 0.2647, so it was the Libs/Nats (I'm guessing the Nats) done out on preferences ... that was on minor party preferences across the board (from Sex Party through Palmer United) putting AMEP ahead of the Libs/Nats.

Tassie: 2Lib, 2Lab, 1Greens, 1PalmerUnited:

  • On primary vote, Libs and Lab 2 full quotas, then Greens 0.8156, Libs 0.6059, Palmer 0.4850, so again it was the Libs done out on preference in favor of Palmer, with in the final distrbution, only Sex Party preferences flowing to the Libs over the Palmer United party.

South Australia: 2Libs, 1Lab, 1Greens, 1Xenephon, 1Family First:

  • Primary vote 1 each Libs, Labs, Xenephon. Partial quotas Libs 0.8680, Xenephon 0.8117, Labor 0.5945, Greens 0.4956, Family First 0.2639, Dems 0.2447, Palmer 0.1902. Here it was Labor and Xenephon done out by the Greens and Family First on preferences. (Note that this result sees Family First returning to the Senate, and AFAIR their previous seat was held as a result of advantageous preference flows)

WA: 3Libs, 1 each Labor, Australian Sports Party, Greens:

  • Primary vote: 2 full quotas Libs, 1 full quota Labor, then Labor 0.8890, Libs 0.7648, Greens 0.6598, Palmer 0.3667, Nationals 0.3012, Dems 0.2394, Australian Christians 0.1138,  Sex Party 0.1003. Here is was Labor done out by Ozzie Sports Party.



The Impact of Preference Deals

It looks rather like the net damage was to the Lib/National Coalition losing two seats to 3rd and Minor Party conservative candidates and Labor losing one seat to a Minor Party conservative.

The first impact is likely to be relatively minor. Many of the controversial policies that the Coalition may wish to pursue will be consistent to the positions of minor party conservative Senators, so the price to win their vote is unlikely to be high,

The second impact may have been quite a bit more substantial, since 26 ALP Senators and 10 Green Senators would be half of the Australian Senate, which is not enough to pass a measure, but is enough to deny a measure a majority.

As far as the Greens themselves and preference flows, what they lost on the swing they picked up on the roundabout. Since the ALP governed under a negotiated deal with the Greens, it is not surprising that they were unable to repeat their success of 2010, but now that they are again in the position of Independent Opposition, they may well be able to gain back the ground required to retain their 2010 seats in the next Senate election.

But for the most part, it looks to me that it was not preferences so much as a rightward swing of the primary vote that was responsible for the swing in the composition of the Australian Senate.

So, the Greens did not lost seats ... indeed, they picked up one Senate seat and held their Lower House seat. But the Balance of Power position is not a position that a party holds on its own: its held by virtue of the relative strength of the other parties vying for your support. As it turned out, the 31 ALP Senators were the "ground" on which the Green Balance of Power was standing ... and by virtue of the Labor Party's abysmal performance in this Senate Election, the Green Party lost that ground.

Display:


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Sep 8th, 2013 at 12:06:48 AM EST
Thanks for the description of the Senate election process. It makes sense of the last months row within the Wikileaks party.

Why I resigned from the WikiLeaks party | Daniel Mathews | Comment is free | theguardian.com

Nothing further was heard until Sunday, when I woke up to find that the Wikileaks party ticket in NSW had the Shooters & Fishers -- and the Nazi Australia First party! -- above the Greens. In WA, the Nationals were above the Greens.

I was dumbstruck.



A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!
by A swedish kind of death on Sun Sep 8th, 2013 at 03:34:01 AM EST
Yeah this is the illustration how a preferential voting system, which "on paper" looks awfully democratic, often is just ... awful.

Not that I actually searched much, but I never saw an explanation of what the Wikileaks people were thinking with their silly preferences -- unless it really was a mere clerical error (or several clerical errors). Net result of their participation : they seem to have contributed to depriving the Greens of a possible extra seat.

The flowering of "silly party" senators, off very low first-preference votes, is an illustration of the perversity of the system.

On balance, I think a straightforward proportional vote by state would give a more reasonable result, in terms of democracy.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Sun Sep 8th, 2013 at 07:11:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
eurogreen:
Not that I actually searched much, but I never saw an explanation of what the Wikileaks people were thinking with their silly preferences -- unless it really was a mere clerical error (or several clerical errors). Net result of their participation : they seem to have contributed to depriving the Greens of a possible extra seat.

From the article I linked the image that emerges is that Assange's deal maximising faction on the board turned out to be a minority, moved to give Assange full freedom to deal, and when denied went ahead and couped the boards preferences by handing in something the board had not decided.

Why I resigned from the WikiLeaks party | Daniel Mathews | Comment is free | theguardian.com

At length, it was decided for NSW to put the Greens above the Shooters & Fishers and the Christian Right -- with whom deals had been considered and rejected.

WA was the easy case, because we had a pre-existing arrangement with the Greens senator, Scott Ludlam. They would clearly be ahead of the major parties, and Family First and the Christian Right. This was presented as uncontroversial and little argument was made.

Victoria was the most difficult. There was a vote on a resolution, which was complicated and contingent upon another deal, but roughly the question was whether or not to do a deal with Family First and put them in the top 10 preferenced parties, if we didn't get a better offer.

The vote went three yes, three abstain, five no. Shipton and Assange (via John as proxy) voted yes.

That the coup also contained clerical errors is not surprising, coups are often sloppy.

A vote for PES is a vote for EPP! A vote for EPP is a vote for PES! Support the coalition, vote EPP-PES in 2009!

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Sep 8th, 2013 at 02:32:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, its whether you are engaged in purely pragmatic deal making, treating the votes you might attract as bait to swap for the votes some other micro-party might attract, or distribute your preferences by political affinity.

It didn't matter in South Australia in the end, as the Green was the 5th Senator brought over the line on Labor preferences, but in a strong performance by labor in which Labor was the 5th Senator, it would have cost the Greens a seat.

The Greens in SA received preference flows from the Sex Party (Civil Libertarian) and the HEMP party, which makes sense on political affinity when the remaining parties are the ALP, Nick Xenophon's paternalistic wowsers, and the Coalition and Family First on the right. Preference flows by political affinity for Wikileaks would have seen similar preferencing, possibly with Nick Xenophon ahead of the ALP depending on which took a less bad position on internet neutrality.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Sep 8th, 2013 at 02:50:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Sex Party was founded by a recovering Haredi woman. In one interview she cited Yair Lapid as a model. Is this yet another neo-lib party in disguise?
by gk (g k quattro due due sette "at" gmail.com) on Mon Sep 9th, 2013 at 05:20:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Sex Party preferenced the Greens ahead of Labor and Labour ahead of Katter's Australia Party, Palmer United Party, the Coalition, Family First and Christian Democrats last, so on their major & 3rd party preferences, if they are neoliberal its no more than "common knowledge" neoliberal.

Under the 10% of a quota cut, they would have been relegated (0.0702), and of their five minor party and micro-party preference swaps, the Democrats (1), Wikileaks (3), One Nation (4), Shooters and Fishers (5) would have been eliminated, so their primary vote would have flowed to the Liberal Democrats.

So it comes down to whether they were a more progressive sounding stalking horse for the Liberal Democrats, or whether that was a preference deal reached without realizing the LDP would pull as a high fractional quota. You should only do a tactical high order preference deal with a substantially bigger party if they are big enough to possibly have a full quota and see their overflow coming your way.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Sep 9th, 2013 at 07:56:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I should note that the "five" noted, this was the newspaper published preference lists, which omits a number of parties considered no-chancers.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Sep 9th, 2013 at 08:01:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Bear in mind that this is a system that did indeed work as intended following the last reform, the expansion from five to six seats filled per state per election, until the micro-parties worked out how to game the system.

And there are more modest reforms that would restore the system to functioning as it did before the gaming began.

(1) Preferential voting above the line.

At present it is the complexity of individual preference voting that drive people to voting above the line, but if people could vote their preferences above the line, the party preference sheets would lose much of their clout.

(2) Put a primary vote threshold in place.

A primary vote threshold of one tenth of a quota would redistribute most micro-party votes to major and third parties in one round. It would eliminate the effect where one micro-party gets pushed up from a small fraction of a quota to a large fraction of a quota just by staying ahead of the cut and receiving the votes of eliminate parties it did preference deals with.

(3) Allow partial preferential voting

If a ballot with 18 votes below the line was accepted as a formal ballot, then people would be free to vote their own preferences without the chore of completing 90% or more of a table-cloth sized ballot with no more than two continuity errors.

The opening to abuse of the proportional preferential system could be closed. Indeed, now that the main losers to the system have been the Coalition and the ALP, it seems like it might be closable. But it will require a bit of a laughing stock campaign to get it fixed, because the minor parties hold the balance of power on issues where the Coalition and ALP is divided, and not fixing the system is one price they can demand for support on other votes.

It may come down to how the balance of power shakes out in practice. Both Senators of the new Palmer United Party had a primary vote over four tenths of a quota in both QLD and Tassie, Nick Xenophan and his independent group in South Australia got more than a full quota, and the Liberal Democrats got more than half a quota in NSW. So if that group ends up holding the balance of power, it could negotiate changes that are open to 3rd parties but reduce the opportunities for micro-parties to game the system.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Sep 8th, 2013 at 02:42:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I quite enjoy the chaos of minor party Senate preferencing, and I think it's an overall good for democracy.  Voters can check the party preference lists (which are submitted to the election commission), or vote below the line and avoid the lists entirely.  And as far as I can tell, many of the proposed improvements to Senate voting seem to me likely to further entrench the major  parties and decrease political diversity.  

As for the Wikileaks party, it seems to me that (a) Assange isn't really suited to lead a party with a democratic governing structure and (b) wikileaks was infected with the absolutely incendiary hatred some Australians have for the Greens.  (Greg Barns is no friend to the Greens.  Eg: "The court action by Gunns is not about silencing protesters, writes Greg Barns"  http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/12/20/1103391697956.html )  

The Pirate Party offered a really marked contrast of transparent and democratic political processes.   (See:  http://pirateparty.org.au/2013/08/18/preferencing-statement-for-federal-election-2013/ )
They've even got their pairwise comparison table up.  (And their window into the soap opera of the Australian Democrats)

(disclosure - I am a member of no political party)

by External Student on Sun Sep 8th, 2013 at 10:34:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Among the reforms, the one that would least affect political diversity would be preferential voting above the line. Since people would be most inclined to engage in preferential voting above the line if they got wind of shonky preference deals by their first preference party, it would substantially reduce the appeal of preference deals across wide ideological gulfs.

As far as a 1/10th of a quota threshold, that is about 1.5% of the vote, which is a lower threshold than any proportional representation system I am aware of in Europe (though I am far from an expert on the subject) 4% and up seem to be more normal thresholds, and are compatible with quite diverse Parliamentary party coalitions.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Sep 8th, 2013 at 11:05:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Assange isn't really suited to lead a party with a democratic governing structure

Mild understatement... Assange is best suited to leading a sect.

My introduction to preferential voting was as a guest of NSW Young Labor in the early 1980s (at that time, I was president of NZ Labour Youth). Concerning elections within the ALP, it was not a pretty sight, and left me with a profound and lasting distaste for the system.

The people I hung out with were predominantly of Marxist-Leninist cast. One exception was Anthony Albanese, Rudd's ephemeral deputy prime minister. He had just been elected Immigration officer on the university executive, and was a target of ridicule in our ethnically-diverse group because he didn't even speak Italian. Within our circle he was known as "the bourgeois moralist".

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Mon Sep 9th, 2013 at 05:54:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I imagine that exposure to NSW Labor's take on any system would sour you on that system. From my sometime observation of them over the ten years I was in NSW, they are a milk-curdling bunch.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Sep 9th, 2013 at 07:28:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In NSW, advocating a Bullet Train from Newcastle to Melbourne promptly, rather than a Bullet Train from Sydney to Canberra eventually, as proposed by the ALP government.

Bullet Train For Australia    Votes: 6,672 (0.21%), 1.46% of a quota.

In the 12th count, they received a distribution of 1,798 votes from the Building Australia Party

In the 20th count they received a distribution of 1,818 from the Senator Online Voting party that had originally flowed to the Stable Population Party.

In the 28th count, they were excluded, with their primary vote flowing to the Australian Democrats, their Building Austalia preferences flowing to No Climate Change Skeptics, and their preferences from Senate Online Voting flowing to the Animal Justice Party.

In the 36th count, when the Dems were excluded, their primary vote flowed to the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party.

In the 39th count, when AMEP was excluded, their primary vote flowed to the Sex Party

In the 43rd count, when the Sex Party was excluded, their primary vote flowed to the Shooters and Fishers.

Finally, on the 45th and final count in NSW, their primary vote flowed to the Green Parties, which lost to the Liberal candidate in the final count by 500,394 to 409,919.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Sep 8th, 2013 at 09:36:56 PM EST
Technically, I believe the eliminations above are projections (based, I assume, on the ABC News Australia Votes page.) That same page reports that less than 70% of the Senate vote in NSW has actually been counted to date.  As noted, minor changes in vote counts can change the elimination order of small parties, with sometimes large flow-on effects.  That said, this does not appear to be the case in the specific example above.
by External Student on Sun Sep 8th, 2013 at 10:46:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, those are projections based on the preferences lodged by the parties themselves and the official primary votes.

Voting below the line which would lead to some primary votes taking their own path could modify those results, but given the quite low incidence of formal below the line voting in NSW (that is where there were 110 candidates on the ballot paper, so you would have to get 99 entered with no more than two continuity errors), its not likely to be different to those results.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Sep 8th, 2013 at 10:58:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah perfect illustration of the friggin' absurdity of the system as it actually works, as opposed to how it ought to work theoretically. You and I (and possibly Bruce and, globally, perhaps 0.5% of the voting population) would take great pleasure in filling in our preferences in detail, based on our true ideological preferences and/or whatever tactical considerations we might personally countenance. But the above-the-line system gives you this Chinese Whispers sort of outcome, which possibly comes out alright (insofar as one imagines that those in favour of a bullet train would favour the Greens over the Liberals) but only by some sort of fluke.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Mon Sep 9th, 2013 at 04:46:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe if I was in Tassie, but if I was in NSW ~ which is where I lived when I was in Oz ~ no way I could fill in 100 of 110 names with only two continuity errors. I might have a go, but in the end I would have to also put a number above the line to avoid the risk of it being an informal ballot.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Sep 9th, 2013 at 07:26:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Bruce, what do the results look like if you run the primary vote through a straightforward D'hondt proportional system?

At first glance you get :

Qld : no change.
NSW : +1 Green, -1 Lib
Vic : +1 Lib, -1 Petrolheads
Tas : +1 Lib, -1 Palmer
SA :  +1 Lab, +1 Xen, +-1 Green, -1 FF
WA : +1 Lab, -1 Jocks.

Leaving aside the amusement derived from seeing the Silly Parties holding the balance of power, that looks more like a democratic result to me.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Mon Sep 9th, 2013 at 04:57:43 AM EST
However, I don't know that that is what the outcome would be if the voters preferences were applied, and the preferential voting is part of what Australians feel is democratic about it. In particular, I have a strong hunch that given preferential voting above the line, preferences would still have run strongly against the Labor party.

There actually are only two single-issue micro-parties in the Senate, so the "Silly Parties" don't actually hold the balance of power on their own. Nick Xenophon is a traditional independent, Palmer United Party is one among several aspirants to take the place of the National (originally Country) party now that coalition has muddied the distinction between the Nats and the Libs, the Liberal Democratic Party is a libertarian oriented minor party, Family First is among the fringe conservative parties emerging from the compromises the Libs make from time to time to hold power (and indeed is returning to the Senate for its second time) ...

... I think many Australians would reckon it a fair go to let them have their chance.

Reforms that fix the problem of micro-parties gaming the preference system without eliminating the chance for a micro party to win a seat if it really is the leading preference of enough voters would likely seem more legitimate in Australia, which is the first cut any reform has to pass.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Sep 9th, 2013 at 07:22:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My problem with the system is its manifest non-transparency. Nobody can be sure of the effect of their vote, especially if voting above the line. And backroom preference deals between parties are the antithesis of transparency.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Mon Sep 9th, 2013 at 08:35:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Its not as if the preference tickets secret, though ~ The Poll Bludger at Crikey covered the main outline. Its more obscurity through complexity.

That's the part of the system that is widely complained about in Australia. Its just that tossing aside preferential voting to fix it would be seen by many as throwing the baby away with the bathwater.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Sep 9th, 2013 at 10:15:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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