Just the ticket

In the wake of last year’s Senate election result, you might have thought that Monday’s deadline for the lodgement of Legislative Council preference tickets would have generated more excitement, at least in psephological pcircles (psorry, I must pstop doing that). The Legislative Council election psystem is very much the psame as that for the Psenate (okay, I really will stop now), right down to the various parties deciding the exact order in which preferences will be allocated for the overwhelming majority of voters who prefer the above-the-line voting option to laboriously numbering as many as 50 separate boxes. The picture is doubly fascinating on this occasion owing to the remarkable quirkiness of the 2001 result, when the Coalition dropped from its customary 17 or 18 seats to an unheard-of 13. Both One Nation and the Greens won seats in each of the three non-metropolitan regions; anyone who is expecting a similar result this time needs to be careful that they don’t wind up in Baxter detention centre. The tickets are now available for all to behold courtesy of the Western Australian Electoral Commission, and if the Poll Bludger is reading them properly, the situation in the six regions is as follows.

Agricultural: The most likely outcome is one seat for Labor and three assured seats for the Coalition with a lottery for fifth place in which either a third Liberal or second Nationals candidate will compete with various minor parties. Interestingly, the Nationals have put the Greens ahead of all the main players except for the Liberals. If the Nationals fall short of a second seat their surplus will be a handy dividend for the Greens, as they will also get the preferences of Liberals for Forests and any surplus left over after Labor wins its usual one seat. Family First will get preferences from One Nation and New Country, the party that Frank Hough (as well as colleague Paddy Embry in South West) joined after leaving One Nation, unless the Christian Democrats do particularly well in which case they are an outside chance of snowballing into contention. Hough?s hopes of re-election have been destroyed by One Nation’s decision to put New Country last, while One Nation themselves would have needed major party preferences to be a chance and they are predictably not getting them. Given the high quota required in five-seat regions, the smart money is on a Coalition candidate winning the final seat.

East Metropolitan: This region emerges as a straightforward contest between Labor member Louise Pratt and Greens ticket leader Lee Bell (also their candidate in 2001) for the final place. The Greens will get preferences over Labor from the Democrats, Liberals for Forests, the Public Hospital Support Group and independents John Tucak and Annolies Truman; Labor will get them from One Nation, Family First, the Christian Democrats, the Citizens Electoral Council and the New Country Party, perhaps ironically given Pratt?s leftist proclivities and gay rights advocacy. Last time around, Bell very nearly closed a substantial deficit against Pratt with help from preferences from the Democrats who scored a relatively strong 4.1 per cent (One Nation preferences were not decisive since their candidate made it through to the final round). Recent evidence suggests that we can expect a further decline in the Democrats? vote that will not directly benefit the Greens, and that Bell accordingly has his work cut out for him. He will be depending on a strong improvement in the Liberals’ performance, so that their candidate wins fourth rather than fifth place with a reasonable surplus to spare which will then flow to the Greens as preferences.

Mining & Pastoral: One Nation and the Greens both won seats here in 2001 but stand little or no chance of doing so again this time. One Nation’s John Fischer, now running as an independent, was elected with preferences from popular ex-Labor independent Mark Nevill, who polled 9.3 per cent. The Greens’ Robin Chapple first overtook Labor’s third candidate with preferences from the Democrats (1.6 per cent) and another ex-Labor independent, Tom Helm (1.3 per cent), and then the Liberal candidate after receiving the One Nation and Labor surpluses. This time there is no Tom Helm equivalent giving them preferences and they have not been put ahead of the major parties by One Nation, so Robin Chapple will have a hard time holding off Labor’s Vince Catania. The Liberals? hopes of recovering a second seat have been boosted by One Nation’s decision to put them near the top of the pile, while the slow-learning Democrats have again chosen to alienate their leftist support base by putting the Liberals ahead of Labor. A potential wild card is John Fischer, the One Nation victor from 2001, who is running as an independent and could potentially deprive the Liberals of a second seat with help from Labor’s surplus. Former federal member for Kalgoorlie Graeme Campbell – yet another ex-Labor independent – has given him a publicity boost by agreeing to be listed second on his ticket. However, a punitive decision by One Nation to put all three of their former members last has most likely sealed his fate. While the most likely outcome is a return to a traditional result of three Labor and two Liberal, there is a long-shot possibility that either might drop a seat to the Greens or Fischer.

North Metropolitan: One of two regions that have seven rather than five members, and thus a quota for election of 12.5 per cent rather than 16.7 per cent. Greens member Giz Watson should be able to manage this, as she polled 9.7 per cent in 2001 and will get preferences from the Democrats, Liberals for Forests and the Public Hospital Support Group, plus any Labor surplus. Beyond that it seems very likely that Labor and the Liberals will share the remaining six seats equally, unless Labor performs exceptionally badly in this Liberal-leaning region in which case the Liberals might emerge with four seats to Labor’s two.

South Metropolitan: This region has returned two Labor, two Liberal and one Greens member at the last three elections. The alternative scenario is for Labor to win a third seat at the expense of the Greens, which last happened in 1989. Labor will get preferences ahead of the Greens from Family First, the Christian Democrats and One Nation; the Greens will get them from the Democrats, Liberals for Forests, the Fremantle Hospital Support Group and Public Hospital Support Group (whose preference tickets are as similar as their names) and all four grouped independent candidates, as well as what is likely to be a considerable surplus over the Liberals? second quota. In 2001 Greens member Jim Scott, who will take his personal vote with him to his tilt for the lower house seat of Fremantle, trailed Labor’s third candidate before the distribution of Democrats and One Nation preferences; this time the former are likely to be fewer, while the latter are going the other way. What might save Greens candidate Lynn MacLaren is an improvement in the Liberal vote, as she will ultimately receive the surplus over their second quota.

South West: History suggests that this seven-member region will deliver three certain seats for the Coalition and two for Labor, with the other two up for grabs. By the Poll Bludger’s reckoning, these seats represent the best chance Family First has to win a third parliamentary seat to add to those it holds in the Senate and the South Australian Legislative Council. The 2001 election was the first under the current system at which the Nationals did not win a seat in addition to the three invariably won by the Liberals, while the Greens first won a seat at Labor’s expense in 1996 and held it in 2001. Most likely the last two seats will go one left (Labor or the Greens) and one right (the Coalition – most likely the Nationals, but possibly the Liberals – or Family First), although the two contests cannot be neatly separated. The Nationals have placed the Greens ahead of Family First, so if Family First edges them out and their preferences are distributed, this will give the Greens a decisive boost in their contest against Labor. Paddy Embry, former One Nation member who is attempting to hold his seat with the New Country party, appears to have been doomed by the preference tickets. The Democrats, Christian Democrats, Liberals for Forests and Public Hospital Support Group all have Family First ahead of him, and One Nation are putting all former party colleagues last. Family First will thus gather the collective vote for all of the aforementioned parties, and will be well in the hunt if this adds up to more than what the Coalition can manage over and above the 35.0 per cent they need to win three seats.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.