Australian Federal Election: The day after

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If I could vote in this election, I would vote for

Coalition
2
33%
Labor
1
17%
Greens
2
33%
Democrats
1
17%
Family First
0
No votes
 
Total votes: 6

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Túrin Turambar
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Australian Federal Election: The day after

Post by Túrin Turambar »

Prime Minister John Howard has announced that Australia will go to the polls on November 24 to decide if he will get a fifth term in office.

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.
I will make brief summaries of the parties, leaders and issues below.

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.
Last edited by Túrin Turambar on Sun Sep 08, 2013 2:50 am, edited 22 times in total.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Thanks, Lord M! I am interesting in following the process, and you have definitely made it much easier to do so.
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Post by Túrin Turambar »

I’ve got an audience :D

And one with another great avatar photo. I've got a thing for mountains.

ISSUES

Image

Industrial Relations will be a (probably the) key issue in this election.

In 1904, three years after Federation, the Federal Parliament passed the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, establishing a centralized, collective industrial relations system. This, along with the White Australia policy (designed to keep out cheap Asian labour) and trade protection, was meant to turn Australia into a ‘worker’s paradise’. White Australia and protectionism have long gone, but the centralized IR system remained. Then, in 2004, the Coalition gained control of the Senate. In 2005, the Government passed the WorkChoices Act, deregulating the IR system. This is the biggest change in IR policy in Australia in over a century, hamstringing Unions and moving workers onto individual agreements.

The Government says that the reforms are needed to bring about continued economic growth. The ALP and the union movement call them an attack on workers’ rights. The electorate seems inclined to agree with them, and the combined ACTU/Labor campaign has a lot of momentum.

Climate change is another important issue. Australia has not signed onto the Kyoto Protocol, and many Australians feel that their Government should do more over global warming. Howard was originally a skeptic, but has turned and has now resolved to make more effort to reduce Australia’s carbon emissions. To some people, this is too little, too late. This is becoming more significant, with many people linking the ongoing drought and accompanying water restrictions with global warming. It is also worth mentioning that there is an ongoing debate on the possibility on introducing nuclear power to Australia, as well as what to do about water.

The Howard Government largely won the 2004 election on the issue of interest rates. They were very high under the last Labor Government, and John Howard and his Treasurer, Peter Costello, have argued that Labor lacks the fiscal discipline to keep interest rates down. While interest rates are still low, they are rising, and the mortgage belts around the cities (where elections are largely decided) are uneasy. Similarly, some people are concerned about the cost of living – low unemployment has been met with steady inflation, especially in house, grocery and petrol prices.

Many people on the left identify the Howard Government’s support for the war in Iraq to be critical. I don’t buy it myself – most of the people who are angry over Iraq would have voted against the Coalition anyway. There are only 900 Australian troops there, and Australian elections are usually decided on domestic issues. Still, this may badly damage the Liberal Party in some of its inner-city seats dominated by wealthy and educated professional voters, who are likely to oppose the war. I would throw in legal issues like the Government’s slip-up in prosecuting Dr. Mohammed Haneef on terror charges and canceling his visa (he turned out to be innocent), as well as the usual progressive causes like the three ‘r’s – refugees, republic, reconciliation.

Finally, there’s the problem that all Governments face sooner or later – people feel like a change. Labor is playing hard on this, advertising itself as offering new, fresh leadership. John Howard is in very good health, but he is now 68 (and a lot of people seem to think he looks older). Kevin Rudd is 50, and he has boyish features that make him look younger.

See this ALP ad which goes over most of the above.

Generally speaking, there are two different battlegrounds here. One is among the educated, inner-city voters who provide the core support for the Liberal Party. Some are concerned about Iraq, climate change, Dr. Haneef, ect – they’re referred to as ‘Doctors’ wives’. The other is in the outer suburbs among the ‘Howard’s battlers’, or middle- to low-income earners who have supported the Government over its social policies (especially the tough line on illegal immigration). Their main concerns are workchoices, interest rates and the cost of living (with maybe some fear of nuclear power plants thrown in).

And on an unrelated note, it’s interesting to see the internet letting ordinary people join the campaign. For example, this (very enthusiastic) Led Zepplin fan and Greens supporter. Exactly what contribution he’s making to the Greens campaign in John Howard’s seat of Bennelong is unclear as yet, though :D

That aside, it’s looking to be an intense and furious campaign – the levity that Australian politics normally attracts might not show up as much.

And we have this week’s Newspoll showing two-party preferred figures of 56-44 in Labor’s favour.
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Post by Túrin Turambar »

One more post in my background explanation series, then this thread can probably go to sleep until election night if no-one has any other comments.

PARTIES

Currently in power Federally is the centre-right Coalition of the Liberal, National and Country Liberal Parties (for all intents and purposes, the CLP is part of the Liberal Party – it is simply an amalgamation of the two conservative parties in the Northern Territory). The Liberals tend to be a new right, neo-liberal party, while the Nationals are more socially conservative, more economically protectionist and focused on rural issues. The Howard Government is probably ideologically closest to other New Right Governments like those of Thatcher and Reagan.

The Coalition is opposed by the centre-left Australian Labor Party (ALP). It traditionally represents the working class, although it has expanded its support base into middle-class progressives. It has left and right factions, with the right faction currently dominant. This makes it a moderate ‘Third Way’ party along the lines of Blair’s New Labour or Clinton’s Democrats.

The Coalition is traditionally middle-class, protestant, internationalist, pro-British Empire and capitalist while the ALP is traditionally working-class, catholic, isolationist and socialist. These distinctions do not hold as much these days, although there is a continuing division between the parties on economic policy (especially industrial relations) and a weaker one on social and moral policy (the ALP is more progressive).

Minor parties will also contest the election. Generally, minor parties play two roles - their preferences can decide seats in both houses, and they can often win seats in the Senate themselves.

The Greens are fairly self-explanatory. They are a left-wing party with a focus on the environment and social justice, and are also known for an anti-war stance. Their vote has been steadily improving, although they will need to make inroads into Labor’s support to become a stronger force in Australian politics. They are led by Senator Bob Brown.

The Democrats are a centrist, progressive party whose vote has been in sharp decline in recent years. They are likely to become extinct on a Federal level at this election, loosing their remaining Senators. They are led by Senator Lyn Allison.

Family First is a conservative Christian party (although they deny it). They only came onto the Federal scene in 2004, and are still something of an unknown quantity. They are led by their sole MP, Senator Steve Fielding.

References may also be made to the nationalist One Nation party. It became extinct Federally in 2004, losing its only Senator (Len Harris from Queensland). It may crop up again in Queensland this year, although it’s basically dead now. It’s founder Pauline Hanson has once again entered the fray, though, forming Pauline’s United Australia Party. It’s basically a vehicle to try and get her a Senate seat in Queensland, where she tried and failed to win as an independent in 2004 (running against her erstwhile party). She also held the House seat of Oxley from 1996 until 1998. Her policies are largely nationalist, protectionist and populist, and she is apparently specifically targeting Muslim immigrants in this campaign.

There’s two other even smaller parties worth mentioning as far as Senate races go. In Victoria, the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) still holds out. It split from the ALP in 1955 under the belief that the ALP was becoming too friendly with communism. These days, it’s basically a conservative labour-based socially democratic party. Its positions mirror those of the Catholic Church. In New South Wales, there’s the Christian Democratic Party, lead by the Reverend Fred Nile. Nile is Australia’s Pat Robertson/Jerry Falwell (although with far less influence) and the CDP is the overt political wing of the NSW Christian Right.

There is also a whole host of micro-parties which may field a few candidates. They’re basically preference-feeders, being too small to win anything in their own right. They include fringe groups (The Australia First Party), larger parties gone defunct (the Communist Party), single-issue parties (the Anti-Aircraft Noise Party), parties established specifically to attack other parties (Unity – Say no to Hanson), parties which seem to exist purely for entertainment value (the Party Party), parties which are simply guano-insane (The Citizens’ Electoral Council) or parties that are so bizarre you can’t imagine them forming Government (The Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party).

One interesting group is Senator On-Line, who promise that any Senators they get elected will vote strictly according to online polls.

And don’t forget Independents.

Here is a handy little quiz (still a work in progress) that might give you some idea who you would expect to support. See also The Australian’s less serious Vote-a-Matic (Dalai Lama on speed dial?).

CURRENT STATE OF PARTIES

House of Representatives

Coalition: 87 (Liberals: 74, Nationals: 12, Country Liberal: 1)
Labor: 60
Independents: 3

For the mathematically challenged, 76 seats are required for an outright majority. The Coalition currently has a 12-seat majority.

Senate

Coalition: 39 (Liberals: 35, Nationals: 3, Country Liberal: 1)
Labor: 28
Greens: 4
Democrats: 4
Family First: 1

39 seats give the elusive Senate majority. The Coalition currently has that one-seat majority.

In other news:

Last week Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews caused a stir by suggesting that rates of immigration from Sudan were too high, and Sudanese migrants were having trouble integrating. Pauline Hanson came out in his support, but a lot of other people have accused the Government of dog whistling. Fortunately we have The Chaser to educate us :D.

There’s also a couple of other bits and pieces that are more of interest to curiosity than anything else.

The ABC has an interactive map showing where the leaders are on any given day, while the Australian is running an online poll and showing us the results in map and pendulum form. I wouldn’t take it too seriously as it only has a few thousand respondents and has shown today everything from the Greens becoming the Opposition to Labor winning 131 seats, but it’s kind of fun.
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Post by Impenitent »

So what do you think of the Worm controversy, L_M? I'm rather enjoying the media spin underway - quite entertaining - but I hope it doesn't overwhelm the central matters of substance.
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Post by Túrin Turambar »

The entire debate isn’t that important. Had one of the leaders royally screwed up, it might have shifted votes, but it was fairly pedestrian. John Howard lost debates in 2001 and 2004 and went on to win elections.

Outside the legal issue of Channel 9 pirating the debate footage, I don’t really care either way about the worm. Based on how it behaved, Channel 9 must have picked a fairly strongly anti-Howard studio audience.

At the moment, both sides are playing cautiously to their strength. It's a long campaign, and there's still five weeks to go.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Impenitent wrote:So what do you think of the Worm controversy, L_M?
Please explain, Imp or Lord M (or anyone else).
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Post by Impenitent »

The Worm is a graphical audience monitor - there is a studio audience, supposedly of non-committed voters, who evaluate the two debaters live. The result is a "worm" line, which dips up and down from the neutral line, depending on how the audience rates the debater as he speaks on a given question. Basically, a live opinion monitor evaluating the performance of the two debaters.

Lord_M, yes, the debates appear to have had little correspondence to the the poll results on election day; Howard has always done badly in the debates. I have also wondered why that is, as he is renowned as an eloquent and accomplished speaker in the House.

I don't think that the station deliberately selected a biased audience, as they do make an attempt at recruiting non-committed voters. Some trojan horses may have slipped in, from the evidence.

I do think that the response was visceral, though, and had nothing whatever to do with what either man actually said! I found it extraordinary.

But, yes, I agree - the worm has no real impact on how people vote, IMO. It is very entertaining though - especially all the spin afterwards. :D
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Thanks, Impy. :hug:
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Post by Túrin Turambar »

Impenitent wrote: Lord_M, yes, the debates appear to have had little correspondence to the the poll results on election day; Howard has always done badly in the debates. I have also wondered why that is, as he is renowned as an eloquent and accomplished speaker in the House.
It is one of those odds things. John Howard is a very strong Parliamentary performer (essential for a leader in the Westminster system), yet stumbles when forced to face his opponents in a formal debate or in the street. It could just be that he does best in a familiar environment, where he knows his audience.

Seeing as this thread is getting a little more interest, I might add a few other things:

In this election, we have a man who has legally changed his name to 'of the above none' and is running for a House Seat. His name will appear as 'NONE of the above' on the ballot paper. A reaction to compulsory voting, perhaps.

Of course, candidates with odd names are nothing new.

Results for the Tasmanian State Election, 1989.

Spot the odd candidate out.

(And yes, he did adopt the title himself :D)
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

His Grace didn't do so well, did he?
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Post by Túrin Turambar »

Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:His Grace didn't do so well, did he?
He got elected, admittedly as the sixth candidate. Tasmanian State elections use a system called Hare-Clark, which I haven't gone into here. It basically uses preferential voting to fill multiple vacancies.

Also, a poll has been added. See the Ozpolitics test for guidance if necessary.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

I voted Labor on the theory that I would want my vote to count, although I was tempted to vote Green. However, in thinking about it after the fact, I realize that I am really being influenced by my experience in the U.S. system, where third parties have no real influence.
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Post by solicitr »

I can't vote for the Wonderful Wizard?


Actually, I expect said Wizard has remained a US citizen since he retired as the Cardinals' shortstop. He did however win election to Cooperstown......
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Re: Australian Federal Election - Nov. 24

Post by Frelga »

Lord_Morningstar wrote:Voting in Australia is compulsory, and not voting brings a fine (only a small one, though, about $20).
I learned something today. :shock:

I am not up with Australian politics :oops: but a trip to Exploratorium(a hands-on science museum) gave me a rather disturbing food for thought. One of the exhibits involved picking one of two contenders for some past elections, with no information about them except their photographs. The screen then displays actual winners. The disturbing fact is, based on nothing but the photos, the visitors accurately predict the outcome of most election. Even more disturbing was watching a third-grader pick something like 90% of winners accurately.

So... attempting to keep on topic, if I could see the pictures of the candidates...

Wishing Australians all the best.
His philosophy was a mixture of three famous schools -- the Cynics, the Stoics and the Epicureans -- and summed up all three of them in his famous phrase, 'You can't trust any bugger further than you can throw him, and there's nothing you can do about it, so let's have a drink."

Terry Pratchett, Small Gods
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Post by Túrin Turambar »

John Howard
Kevin Rudd

Yes, a lot of politics in this country is short, bespecled men debating tax policy.

And not to forget the minors:

Bob Brown (Greens)
Lyn Allison (Democrats)
Steve Fielding (Family First)

Minor parties are more likely to win Senate seats, due to proportional representation.
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Post by Impenitent »

Actually, John Howard is not that short; he's 176 cm (or 5 ft 9 inches), which is around average height - and yet he is always characterised as short. Perhaps this dates back to Bob Hawke's derisive "Little Johnny Howard" comment? or that he has a fairly round face?

Standing next to him, one realises that he does have stature but it doesn't come through in photos or on the TV screen.

Kevin Rudd is just under 1.8 metres - taller than Howard, but still within the bell curve of average height.
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Post by Túrin Turambar »

It's true that John Howard isn't as short as everyone makes out. However, politicians are usually taller than average.

ETA: This week's Newspoll says 58-42 2PP to the ALP, which is another devestating result for the Coalition.
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Post by Impenitent »

It all depends on the swing seats; the ALP won the popular vote last time too, yet the Coalition got those marginals.

We shall see what we shall see; I tend to agree with Rudd that it will go down the line...for the marginals.
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Post by axordil »

Would I not love to be able to vote for a Green candidate here...
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