What now then

The Poll Bludger’s Western Australian Legislative Council guide has now been padded out with post-match reports for all six regions. For those of you who don’t care much, the important thing is that Labor and the Greens fell one seat short of what was needed to pass one-vote one-value legislation. But since the results do not take effect until May 21, the government has two months in which to persuade departing member Alan Cadby to allow it through as a parting gesture to the Liberal Party which dumped him for preselection. For those of you who do care much, the entries read as follows:

Agricultural: Barring the exception of 2001, Agricultural has returned four Coalition and one Labor members at each election under the current system. But this was the first time the region returned three Liberal and one Nationals member rather than two of each. The key to this outcome was a 9.4 per cent rebound in the Liberal vote to a historically typical 39.4 per cent, whereas the Nationals’ 19.3 per cent was only 0.3 per cent higher than last time. Labor’s vote was up from 20.2 per cent to 26.7 per cent, but their only serious source of preferences was the Greens (4.4 per cent) and they fell short of the 33.3 per cent required for a second seat. Lachlan Dunjey of the Christian Democratic Party narrowly missed out on the fifth seat from just 1.9 per cent of the vote, having been boosted by preferences from Liberals for Forests, One Nation, New Country and Family First. This left him a fraction behind the Liberals’ third candidate (who had received preferences over the CDP from the Nationals and the Democrats) at the second last count. Another coat of paint and it would have been a case of Rowe’s elimination delivering decisive preferences to Dunjey, and not the other way round.

East Metropolitan: Labor cracked the 50 per cent mark, up from 44.2 per cent to 50.6 per cent, which meant three easy quotas on the primary vote. The Greens’ only chance was to win a seat at the expense of the Liberals, but their stable 6.5 per cent vote was too low for this to be a serious prospect. The Liberal primary vote of 32.1 per cent was close enough to two quotas that preferences from the Christian Democratic Party and Family First put them well over the line.

Mining and Pastoral: Mining and Pastoral returned to normal in returning three Labor and two Liberal members, which has been the outcome at each election under the current system except 2001. More than half of the 25.2 per cent vote for independents and One Nation in 2001 returned to the majors, with Labor up from 39.5 per cent to 44.0 per cent and the Liberals up from 26.7 per cent 35.7 per cent. This gave them both two clear quotas on the primary vote, but only Labor had enough of a surplus to remain in the hunt for the final place. They ended up winning it because their minor party opposition was split between the Fischer/Campbell ticket, which scored 6.0 per cent of the primary vote and received preferences from the CDP and the Liberals, and the Greens, who scored 7.6 per cent and received preferences from the Public Hospital Support Group, Liberals for Forests and the Democrats. The mutual hostility of these two groups meant the elimination of one was always going to send a decisive quantity of preferences to Labor at the other’s expense. However, Labor’s primary vote was still markedly below the pre-2001 norm whereas the Liberals equalled their 1996 result.

North Metropolitan: A straightforward outcome with Labor (42.4 per cent) and Liberal (40.3 per cent) each scoring three quotas on the primary vote without enough of a surplus to freeze the Greens out of the final place. This was despite a slight easing in the Greens’ vote from 9.7 per cent to 8.8 per cent, or 0.7 of a quota.

South Metropolitan: The talk of the early count was the prospect that the final seat would go to Murray McKay of the Fremantle Hospital Support Group, who polled just 1.3 per cent. But in one of those strange twists characteristic of systems combining preferential voting with proportional representation, a resurgence by the Liberals later in the count ensured that the seat stayed with Labor. This was because the Liberals had the Christian Democratic Party ahead of FHSG on preferences, which ultimately allowed the CDP to get their nose ahead of FHSG at a crucial point in the count. Had this not happened, the distribution of preferences after the CDP’s elimination would have put the FHSG ahead of the Greens, whose preferences would then have got them ahead of Labor. Instead, the elimination of the FHSG unlocked the preferences of left-leaning parties who had favoured the Greens over the CDP, whose subsequent elimination unlocked the preferences of right-leaning parties who had favoured Labor over the Greens. Lynn MacLaren’s failure to retain the seat for the Greens was the most disappointing of their three upper house defeats, the result of a fall in the primary vote from 9.0 per cent to 7.8 per cent. This was still more than the Greens polled when Jim Scott was successful in 1993 and 1996, but since then the Democrats’ share of the minor party vote has shifted largely to parties hostile to the left.

South West: Well might Wilson Tuckey be cranky with the National Party, whose decision to preference the Greens ahead of Family First decided the contest between the two for the final seat. Had Labor or the Greens won one seat elsewhere, the National Party would effectively have signed its own death warrant by facilitating an upper house amenable to one-vote one-value legislation. The Nationals might argue that their candidate could have got past the Greens if the Coalition vote had been just slightly higher, in which case the Greens preference deal would have delivered them the seat at the expense of Family First – to which the obvious response is that the deal itself, with a party held in very low regard by the Nationals’ rural constituency, cost them the very votes that might have allowed this to happen. Instead the Greens were able to retain their seat despite fading from 8.5 per cent to 7.6 per cent on the primary vote. One Nation collapsed from 14.2 per cent to 2.2 per cent, from which a mere 0.7 per cent wound up with Paddy Embry. This made room for substantial improvements by both Liberal (from 35.4 per cent to 39.0 per cent) and Labor (from 30.7 per cent to 37.7 per cent), whereas the Nationals sank further from 6.2 per cent to 5.4 per cent.

With the Western Australian election now put to bed, the Poll Bludger can kick back a little and enjoy a looming quiet stretch on the electoral calendar. For election junkies desperate for their next hit, the forecast for the next 12 months is as follows:

Tasmania: Thanks to the apple isle’s nifty system of annual rotating elections for the 15 Legislative Council seats, one fifth of Tasmanian voters will go to the polls on May 7 in the first electoral test for Premier Paul Lennon. The three electorates up for grabs are Murchison in the north-west, which is being vacated by conservative independent Tony Fletcher; the Launceston-based Paterson, held by Council President and independent Liberal veteran Don Wing; and most interestingly of all, the Hobart outskirts seat of Rumney which Lin Thorp narrowly won for Labor in 2000. With nothing else on the horizon, these elections will get the full treatment. Lennon may call an election for the House of Assembly at any time, but when Opposition Leader Rene Hidding suggested he would do so at some stage this year Lennon was quick to rule it out. By the Poll Bludger’s count the latest he can go is November 25 next year, but a date nearer the anniversary of the election of July 20, 2002 is more likely.

Northern Territory: The Territory’s first ever Labor government is up for re-election at some time year. Chief Minister Clare Martin must call an election for the 25-seat Legislative Assembly for no later than October 15. The four-year anniversary of the 2001 election falls on August 18.

South Australia: The next election is scheduled for March 18, 2006, although the government can go early in the event of a deadlock between the houses. If there has been any talk of Premier Mike Rann plotting for an early poll, the Poll Bludger has not heard of it.

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.