Tuesday, 12 July 2016

My analysis of the recent Australian general election

I initially planned to post this analysis last week, but due to the long time it takes to fully count votes in Australian elections and to transport postal votes, I had to delay it even though polling day was on 2nd July.

There was a lot of potential in this election for a truly multi-party breakthrough in Australian politics in the House of Representatives, but due to the use of Alternative Vote (as opposed to Single Transferable Vote) and collusion between Labor and the Liberals to keep other parties out (by telling their voters to put the Greens, Xenophon Team et al. last in order of preferences) this did not happen. Our Green colleagues achieved that crucial second place in more divisions than in 2013, and in fact topped the 1st preferences poll in the Batman division in Melbourne's suburbs, but despite achieving strong swings from Labor those gains did not materialise in the end. However, the Greens nevertheless remain more popular than ever in Australia and are set to make many more gains at state and federal level in the next few years (especially in the state of Victoria).

The centrist Nick Xenophon Team, which can be seen by some as a successor to the now defunct Australian Democrats (counterparts to the UK's Liberal Democrats), managed to win one division, Mayo, which not coincidentally was nearly won by the aforementioned Australian Democrats in 1998; the winner in question, Rebekah Sharkie, also happened to be a chief adviser to the defeated Liberal MP, Jamie Briggs. NXT hopes in the divisions of Barker and Grey (which like Mayo are in the state of South Australia), however, did not materialise even though both candidates managed to finish a good second.

The unspoken story in this election amongst parties other than Labor or Liberal is the near-complete collapse of the Palmer United Party, which was founded by billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer in 2013 and ran candidates in all 150 divisions for the Australian House of Representatives, winning the division of Fairfax. However, Clive's incompetence and bullying manner have since driven many important activists away, with many candidates already declaring they would not stand for PUP again just months ago. Only one candidate, Martin Brewster (a nephew of Clive) stood for PUP, in the marginal division of Herbert, and he achieved a derisory 302 votes (especially notable when voting is compulsory in Australian elections). The PUP stood Senate candidates in every state, but their vote share collapsed to less than 1% in almost every state and they lost all 3 Senate seats as a result. Their collapse also precipitated a new surge in the vote for the racist and hardline nationalist One Nation Party, which finished a reasonably strong third in several Queensland divisions where PUP once had its strongest support base; this is nothing new since One Nation won 11 seats in the Queensland state of elections of 1998 from nowhere.

In all, Labor, led by Bill Shorten, managed to win 14 seats from the Liberal/National Coalition, led by Malcolm Turnbull, but this was not quite enough to overturn the Coalition majority, which was reduced to 2. The divisions Labor won from the Liberals were (notionally due to boundary changes especially in New South Wales and Western Australia) Bass, Braddon, Burt (newly created but notionally Liberal), Cowan, Eden-Monaro, Lindsay, Longman, Lyons, Macarthur, Macquarie, and Solomon. However, the Liberals in turn gained Chisholm from Labor when its MP, Anna Burke, retired, in a manner reminiscent of the Conservatives' gain of Southampton Itchen from Labour last year in the UK. Despite the Liberals' knife-edge majority in the House of Representatives and the fact they have no realistic chance of forming a stable coalition in the Senate (which uses STV not AV), they can continue to govern in practice with the help of Bob Katter from Katter's Australian Party and Indi's conservative-leaning Independent Cathy McGowan.

Australia really needs to ditch the unproportional and unfair AV system for its parliamentary elections and in its state elections (in fact Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory have already switched to using STV multi-member divisions) and embrace multi-party politics when so many voters are tired of the old Labor-Liberal pendulum, especially with few real differences between those two parties.


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