He has served as Australia’s Prime Minister for over eleven years and has won four elections. Even now, he is still widely respected by conservatives both in Australia and abroad. And not without reason – who else has taken a stronger position on illegal immigration? Who has presided over such a strong economy, cut taxes and yet delivered balanced budget after balanced budget? Who, still in office, has stood closer to President Bush in the war on terror and on Iraq? Who has been so successful at driving back the trade unions and bought conservatives such success in the culture wars? Who else has been confident enough in positions to proudly declare himself the most conservative leader his party has ever had?
But over the past year, the Liberal-National Coalition Government has taken a lot of damage over controversial industrial relations reforms and has been trailing all year in the polls, often quite badly. In addition, Howard now faces an increasingly confident Labor Opposition under a new leader, Kevin Rudd. The man of steel may be rusting, and John Howard is now facing the fight of his political life. Still, it won’t be easy. Labor last won Government from Opposition in 1983. Before that, it was 1972. Before that, 1929. Despite that, though, Howard’s opponents now feel hope that they have not had for over a decade. The Australian left, so long in disarray and constantly wrong-footed by Howard and his formidable team of advisors, is now united and growing in strength. The electorate may just be turning. Are we entering the last days of John Howard?
Yes, it’s that time again, when I get to have a thread about what’s going on in my own country. It has been a long and nail-biting wait (something can definitely be said for fixed terms, even though I don’t think they work that well for Parliaments), but with the Prime Minister finally seeking and being granted a dissolution of Parliament today from the Governor-General, it’s over.
Australia’s electoral system is very idiosyncratic, so here’s a rundown of the main features:
- Voting in Australia is compulsory, and not voting brings a fine (only a small one, though, about $20).
- Australia’s Federal Parliament is modeled on the U.S. Congress in structure, and on the British Parliament in function. It has two houses – the House of Representatives (People’s House) and the Senate (States’ House).
- The House of Representatives has 150 members from single-member electoral districts (seats). As the Prime Minister and Treasurer must be members of the House of Representatives, and as Government is formed by the party with the majority in the House of Representatives, it is the more significant of the two houses. Members are elected through a system called Preferential Voting (it’s also called the Alternate Vote or Instant Runoff Voting, but those term aren’t used in Australia). Basically, you number the candidates on your ballot paper from your most preferred to your least preferred.
- The Senate has 76 members – 12 from each of the 6 states, and 2 from each of the 2 territories. At any one election, 6 of the 12 places for each state are filled, as are both places for the territories. Therefore, there are 40 Senate seats up for grabs at this election (26 from states, 4 from territories). Voting in the Senate is by Proportional Representation – the proportion of the vote that a party gets determines the proportion of the 6 (or 2) seats that they win*. The Australian Senate is directly elected, unlike the UK House of Lords and Canadian Senate, and is much more powerful. It is also usual for the balance of power in the Senate to be held by minor parties, making it something of a house of review. However, the Government currently has a majority.
In the meantime, useful links:
Wikipedia on the Australian Election 2007 and on the Australian Electoral System.
Australia’s national daily newspaper, The Australian and it’s national broadcaster, the ABC (accused of a right- and left-wing bias respectively, thus combined giving balanced coverage ).
I can highly recommend the ABC’s election guide, written by psephological legend Antony Green. It includes a Seat calculator which shows how votes are likely to translate into seats. Note that, due to a redistribution, some seats which are currently held by a member of one party are notionally a gain by the other, even if there is no change in the vote from 2004. In 2004 he also had a great interactive map of Australia’s electoral divisions, and hopefully one might show up for 2007. Adam Carr also has a great election guide.
I will be following the election at Mumble, Ozpolitics, Possums Pollytics and the Poll Bludger.
I will also speak a little about polling. Polls in Australia show two different sets of figures. First, the Primary Vote each party is likely to receive in the House of Representatives. This is the percentage of people who vote ‘1’ for that party. And second, the Two-Party Preferred vote for the Coalition and ALP. This shows where the preferences are likely to end up. It indicates which party is likely to win a particular seat or the election in general. Psephology in Australia is highly developed, and a new opinion poll always brings a flurry of analysis, number-crunching, diagram-drawing and graph-plotting on the pseph blogs.
And of course, you can participate. Try to guess:
One (easy) – who wins
Two (moderate) – by how much, either in 2PP vote or seats (or both!)
Three (hard) – what the composition of the new Senate will be
More information to help you is forthcoming.
*This is an oversimplification. The system for the Senate is actually semi-proportional or quota preferential voting. I’ll spare you the complex details, but it works basically like normal proportional representation only with preferences determining the final place(s). Australia has a history of experimenting with electoral systems.