The Lord taketh away

The verdict from the McEwen recount is in: Labor candidate Rob Mitchell’s six vote win has been overturned, and Liberal member Fran Bailey declared re-elected by just 12 votes. This gives the result level pegging with the Liberals’ 1974 win in Stirling as the closest federal electorate result of modern times. Labor is still considering a legal challenge, but it’s an open question as to whether a re-match would really be in their interests. It seems very likely that we can now settle on a final result of 83 seats for Labor and 65 for the Coalition plus two independents. Two other recount demands await adjudication:

• The Greens will reportedy call for a recount for the Victorian Senate, a contentious move given that nearly 3.3 million ballots would need to be rechecked. Antony Green’s projection shows both the Coalition and Labor winning third seats upon the exclusion of eighth placed Family First, the Liberals doing so with a surplus of 21709 votes (0.68 per cent) and Labor with 6088 (0.19 per cent). At this point Greens candidate Richard di Natale is left stranded on 13.4 per cent, 0.9 per cent or 27804 votes short of a quota. This of course assumes that all votes are cast above the line, when there are in fact 65101 (2.05 per cent) below-the-line votes for which we presently have only first preference results. These are unlikely to make much difference, as most are votes for parties whose preference tickets favoured the Greens ahead of Labor. Much of the leakage would come from Liberals going below the line to ensure the Greens did not get their vote. Against this can be weighed Labor voters who gave their first preference to a Labor candidate before switching to the Greens, but past experience suggests this is unlikely to account for more than 10 per cent out of 14123. If the assumption of all votes behaving as ticket votes were to hold, the Greens would need for Labor to finish around 2000 votes below the quota after Family First’s exclusion, which is roughly 8000 less than they presently appear to have. The distribution of the Liberal surplus would then be enough to give di Natale the narrowest of victories. In support of their recount appeal, Greens spokesman Jim Buckell provided The Age with an interesting list of claimed irregularities: “309 Greens Senate votes from one booth were not recorded at all; in Isaacs 150 votes were missed; in Dunkley 173 Greens votes were recorded as 17; and in Gellibrand, some Greens votes were attributed to another minor party”. However, it seems most unlikely that the required average of around 215 votes per electorate would be found to have wrongly favoured Labor over the Greens.

• Labor candidate Jason Young’s request for a recount in Bowman following his 64-vote defeat has been knocked back by the divisional returning officer. Young is continuing to pursue his recount request further up the Australian Electoral Commission hierarchy, but one suspects he is unlikely to find any joy.

On a completely unrelated note, here is a chart I knocked together showing each state’s deviation from the national Labor two-party preferred vote going back to 1949.

The first thing to note is the hyperactivity of Tasmania, which can in large part be put down to its small population of five seats. Nonetheless, the results tell a story of a natural Labor state which turned around temporarily following the Whitlam government’s tariff cuts and Labor’s opposition to the Franklin dam at the 1983 election. The largest state by contrast has stayed within a narrow 5 per cent band on the Labor side of the ledger, dipping below the line only in 1987 and 1998. Victoria’s long-lost standing as the jewel in the Liberal crown looks very much like a symptom of the 1954 Labor split and the party’s subsequent paralysis at state level, and its Labor vote has only once fallen below the national result since 1980. The exception was the 1990 election which also proved aberrant for reliably conservative Queensland, state government factors providing the explanation in each case. It can also be seen that the Coalition’s relative strength in Western Australia at the 2007 election was matched only by 1961, there is nothing new about its conservative leaning.

On another completely unrelated note, I have just had to pay a fee to renew the domain. This wasn’t hugely expensive ($50 to be precise), but it nonetheless offers a good excuse to pass the hat around among those of you who enjoy giving me money.

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.

489 comments on “The Lord taketh away”

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  1. Nice graph.

    We might suppose South Australia has finally forgiven Labor for the state bank crash.

    The end of the NSW line seems wrong to me. The state swung slighly more than average at this election to produce a +1 figure for 2007 (53.7 vs 52.7).

  2. The Greens are NOT seeking a recount; The Age got a bit carried away with Jim’s briefing. If the result was closer we’d consider it, but at this stage asking for a recount is folly.

  3. If the Senate count has been finished in South Australia (that’s the impression I get from the AEC website, though I’m not sure), then I think that Mark Hill of the LDP and Paul Siebert of the CEC have tied for a new record – only one vote each in the SA Senate.

  4. Surely this election can’t be called a “landslide” (or a “Ruddslide”) when the Libs need less than a 2% swing to win next time, and with Labor holding such a precarious majority.

  5. It was a landslide in the sense that Labor won 23 seats (net), one of the highest gains in history. But Labor started a long way behind, so its majority isn’t huge, but at 16 is still bigger than Howard had after 1998 and 2001.

    The magnitude of Labor’s achievement should not be underestimated. This is the first time since 1914 that Labor has won government having lost seats in the previous election. After 2004, most people were talking about a “two term strategy”, and even that was thought to be wishful thinking.

  6. Anything can happen by 2010 of course, but it’s not looking remotely precarious at the moment, considering the state the Liberal Party is in.

  7. Anyone else think Bailey’s response

    ‘No matter what it would have been, I was prepared to accept the umpire’s decision’

    is a little rich?

  8. Id take her there on principle- just cos she’s been such a born-to-rule cow.

    As noted earlier, with a vote that close, hardball scrutineering will swing it either way.

    A recount with every experienced ALP scrutineer on deck will hand in back to Mitchell on another count – no doubt about it.

    Mitchell should therefore imperiously declare he will ‘respect’ every odd-numbered count, just as Bailey ‘respects’ every even.

  9. The earlier words of play-by-the-umpire’s-rules Bailey:,21985,22902451-662,00.html

    “Ms Bailey had raised allegations of vote-rigging after the seat was won by Labor’s Rob Mitchell, claiming an above-average number of absentee votes in the count suggested something was amiss.

    “You’ve just got to look at the numbers. When the state average is well under 5000, why would McEwen have well in excess of 8000?” she said.

    “I think the electoral rolls should be scanned to see if there was multiple voting.”

  10. From The Age on the 15th of December:

    ‘…She [Bailey] said the recount would be final, ruling out a further challenge or a call for a byelection. “Once the umpire makes his decision in this count, that will be it. We will abide by that decision, whichever way it goes.”…’

  11. I admit I could be wrong, as I didn’t follow all of her statements, but my recollection was just of statement after statement of the different irregularities that she was claiming. In any case, it just seems the behaviour of a spoiled brat to behave one way when losing and try to get people to swallow a gracious turn when things change.

  12. That was three days ago, after her scrutineers were claiming they had found more votes. I don’t remember anything like it at the time she was ‘demanding’ a recount.

  13. How could she say that prior to the recount? Once the recount was announced, she rightly said she would accept the umpire’s decision (to paraphrase).

  14. On the Voctorian Senate William… where do you get this?

    “the exclusion of eighth placed Family First”

    FFP clearly came fourth in Vic count with 2.52%.

  15. A disappointing result in McEwen – especially since the AEC were so certain in their ABC news statement last week that a recount would change nothing.

  16. If Mitchell instead of Bailey had had the donkey vote and if former provisional vote rules had applied, Mitchell would have won by more than a thousand votes.

    With the same factors in play, Labor also would have won Bowman, Swan, Herbert and maybe La Trobe.

  17. Ray,

    When assessing the exclusions each candidate is considered separately.

    So the ALP and LIB candidates 1 to 3 fill the first 6 places, Green in 7 and FF in 8.

  18. I wonder if Fran Bailey will regret this.

    She’s going to be an opposition backbencher, no?

    Much less fun than a minister. Or is the first reshuffle already upon us?

  19. Thought it might be worthwhile repeating my two comments from late last night on the previous thread:

    Darn Says:
    December 18th, 2007 at 1:01 am
    For what it’s worth, I think it would be relatively easy for the ALP to find sufficient errors to force a re-run in McEwen. They only need twelve. And I think they would win the by-election comfortably. The ALP machine usually plays the game pretty hard, so it will surprise me if they just let it go through to the keeper.

    Darn Says:
    December 18th, 2007 at 1:15 am
    Just to pick up on a point made by another commenter, there are bound to have been quite a few McEwen voters who were given a ballot paper for another Division. It happens every time and all of those people’s votes would have been invalidated by that mistake. Only their senate vote would have been counted. And that’s only one kind of error. There are plenty more.

  20. Michael (7) You and I obviously have very different definitions of the word “precarious”. A 16 seat majority looks very solid to me – especially when the opposition has been so decimated and demoralised.

  21. Darn @ 32

    The problem Labor has with a recount is that they can’t win. If they do win the seat not much changes and Labor looks bad for making people go to a re-election. If they don’t win the seat then Rudds leadership gets a knock and Labor looks bad for making people go to a re-election. It is a loose-loose for Labor. The only possible exception would be if Labor gets another big swing to them. I think this is unlikely given the already big swing but anything is possible.

  22. I actually think its a bit rich of Bailey to release a photo of her with champers before the AEC has called it – especially under the circumstances. Smacks of preemptive PR to ward off a challenge from Mitchell.

    I think Bailey’s been petulant and over-entitled in her whole approach. Compare with Mitchell’s low key commentary throughout.

    Again, on principle: get up her, and challenge. Couldnt happen to a nicer candidate.

  23. 7 Michael – the mistake you make is that you believe a landslide refers to the end result only. I believe a landslide takes into account a party’s starting AND finishing point. 23 seats won in one election is an exception not a rule.

  24. 7 & 37

    The only dictionary I have to hand is the Macquarie Concise, but it defines landslide in the electoral sense as:

    “3. an election in which a particular candidate or party receives an overwhelmiong mass or majority of votes”

    Not the case with Election 2007.

    It was a good solid victory, remarkable given the positive economic environment and a credit to the ALP and the Australian electorate . . . but no landslide.

    But expect one in 2010 if the Coalition can’t get ’emselves back together again.

  25. Presumably the issue here is whether votes were formal (rather than errors of counting or votes being put in the wrong pile). The basic procedural question is whether candidates can appeal for recounts at which the formality of each vote is re-examined from scratch. It seems to me that decisions made at first instance should stand unless they are obviously wrong. This is the standard administrative law distinction between a review on the merits and a review on procedure. What makes decisions as to whether a mark was a ‘1’ or a ‘7’ any more accurate if they are taken 2 weeks later or on election night?

  26. If the non-psephologial meaning of the word carried through (which it should) then landslide should mean a major movement in votes but is often used for a big win which is simmilar in size to the win at the previous election by the same party or coalition.

  27. Darn at 33

    The Coalition had a 13 seat majority so, I would assume anything.

    However, that said Labor is a three term government unless they implode.

  28. It seems we are still arguing over the real meaning of the word landslide. A few weeks ago I posed the following hypothetical question on this site, but it was mostly overlooked in the heat of the election campaign:

    In a 150 seat parliament, Party A holds 125 of the seats and Party B only 25, a majority of 100

    At the next election, Party B wins 51 seats from Part A for a 2 seat majority.

    Does the movement of more than one third of the seats in the parliament from Party A to Party B constitute a landslide?

    If not, consider this alternative proposition. Party A holds 76 seats to 74 for Party B. At the next election Party B wins 30 seats from Party A – a fifth of the seats in the parliament – for a majority of 58. Is that a landslide?

    In other words, does it depend on the final margin between the parties or the actual size of the shift? Over to you.

  29. I’d call it a landslide if Labor had won 54%+ of the 2PP, and 95+ seats. This isn’t the case here. Hopefully, we’ll really annihilate the Libs in 2010, or at a double-dissolution.

  30. Sean@22 “How could she say that prior to the recount? Once the recount was announced, she rightly said she would accept the umpire’s decision (to paraphrase).”

    Wrong. When she thought she would win, then she accepted the umpire’s decision. Until then she either railed against it in a petulant way, or was silent.

    @23 “You can’t accept the umpire’s decision if the rematch hasn’t even begun.”

    No, but you could accept it, like everyone else, after the main event. Her challenge was loose and flailing, and tried all sorts of tactics. And she then ‘accepted’ the umpire’s decision several days into the recount, after there had been leaks from her scrutineers that her position was stronger.

  31. Darn, final margin between the parties. To use your 1st example, if party A only won 49 seats, they’d fall short of a majority, and not even be in government. A landslide should mean a big majority.

  32. Obviously it is the size of the shift that matters most when determining whether an election result was a landslide. How could it be anything else? To say it is the final margin of seats is ridiculous, as Dyno just pointed out.

    My view is that a 23 seat gain in a house of 150 is in landslide territory. That is a significant shift. But until people agree on some kind of formal definition of how many seats are required to change hands before a result is declared a landslide, then this matter will remain a subjective judgement.

    As a general stab at it, I would suggest that anything above a 20 seat gain is a landslide.

  33. Darn,

    If the result was substantially greater than you expected then to you it’s a landslide.
    If the margin was less than you expected than a wins a win.
    If the concensus is that the winner did better than expected but not overly so than it’s a win.
    If the concensus is that the result is the best thing for the country then it’s just $%^@&! great mate.

  34. I don’t get why ppl on this site are implying that Bailey was somehow unreasonable or unfair in asking for a recount.

    If the final count in McEwen is indeed correct, then it suggests that Bailey was perfectly justified. Why do people have such a problem with this? Even if Labor had been confirmed the winners, it’s not that unreasonable to ask for a recount when there’s only six votes in it.

    And whether Bailey or Mitchell “accepts the umpires decision” is a bit of a moot point. Candidates can whinge and moan as much as they like, but if the AEC says you’ve lost, you’ve lost. Personally, I think it’s in the losing candidate’s best interest to keep as quiet as possible- otherwise, if they do challenge the result in court, it will look too much like dummy spitting.

  35. Pancho @ 44:

    “When she thought she would win, then she accepted the umpire’s decision. Until then she either railed against it in a petulant way, or was silent.”

    Actually, she first made that remark when she was still behind in the recount.

    “Her challenge was loose and flailing, and tried all sorts of tactics. And she then ‘accepted’ the umpire’s decision several days into the recount, after there had been leaks from her scrutineers that her position was stronger.”

    So, she didn’t accept the umpire’s decision when she had won, is now what you’re saying, she accepted it when she was still behind, in a precarious position. You may say her challenge was “loose and flailing”, but what evidence have you for that beyong your opinion. In fact, her challenge – it appears – was jusifiable and right. The AEC will show she won this seat. Her challenge was legitimate and it is the AEC – who earlier claimed that a recount would not change anything – who now appear “loose and flailing”.

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