ACT election: October 18

Voters in the Australian Capital Territory go to the polls on October 18 for the seventh time since self-government was established in 1989, delivering a verdict on a majority government for the first time. Labor won nine of the 17 seats at the October 2004 election against seven for the Liberals and one for the Greens. Such was the unpopularity of self-government when it was first introduced that eight of the 17 members elected in 1989 represented minor groupings committed to its abolition. Their shifting sympathies produced two changes of government in the course of the first term: Labor’s Rosemary Follett held the reins from May to December 1989 and again from June 1991, with Trevor Kaine heading a Liberal administration in the interim. Three opponents of self-government held the balance of power after the 1992 election, sustaining Follett’s minority government throughout the ensuing term.

At the 1995 election the bar for minor party candidates was raised with the abolition of the shambolic “modified d’Hondt” system of Territory-wide proportional representation. It was replaced with the present Tasmanian-style Hare-Clark system based on three multi-member regions, two of five members (Brindabella and Ginninderra) and one of seven (Molonglo). As in Tasmania, the “Robson” system of rotating ballot paper order means candidates are forced to compete against their party colleagues. The first such election produced a Liberal minority government of seven members, headed by Kate Carnell, which was sustained with the support of two independents. Carnell achieved a status quo result at the 1998 election, before resigning in 2000 to head off a no-confidence motion resulting from an unfavourable auditor’s report into the revamp of Bruce Stadium. Her successor Gary Humphries led the government to defeat in 2001, moving a year later to the Senate where he has remained ever since.

The change of government after the 2001 election followed Labor’s gain of two seats at the expense of Liberal-leaning independents, with the Liberals retaining their existing seven seats. Re-elected Greens member Kerrie Tucker had ruled out supporting the Liberals, meaning Labor’s eight seats were enough to ensure a comfortable hold on government without having to rely on the one Democrats member. New Chief Minister Jon Stanhope introduced four-year terms effective from the 2004 election (held one week after the October 9 federal election), at which Labor gained the one extra seat required for majority government at the expense of the collapsing Democrats. The vote for both major parties increased, Labor from 41.7 per cent to 46.8 per cent and Liberal from 31.6 per cent to 34.8 per cent, but the Liberals remained on seven seats with the Greens on one.

There are several reasons to think Labor will struggle to match that feat on October 18, most notably an electoral cycle that has lately shown its force in Northern Territory, Western Australia and various state Newspoll surveys. Stanhope’s government has accumulated a heavy burden of baggage in the last four years, the low-point coming with a horror 2006/07 budget that sought to balance the Territory’s tottering finances by closing 39 schools (nearly a quarter of the total). The ACT edition of the Daily Telegraph reacted by describing the Chief Minister as an “economic vandal” who headed a “disgraced government”, beneath the front-page headline: “STANHOPE-LESS”. A large part of Stanhope’s political strategy consisted of needling the Howard government over terrorism laws and civil unions for same-sex couples, which lost much of its utility after Kevin Rudd came to power.

However, Labor’s woes have been matched by an eerily familiar story of leadership disarray among the Liberals. There have been two leadership changes in the current term: from Brendan Smyth to Bill Stefaniak in May 2006, and from Stefaniak to the 31-year-old incumbent Zed Seselja in December 2007. Both Stefaniak and Seselja were compromise leaders of a kind, Stefaniak taking the reins because Smyth and rival Richard Mulcahy each mustered three party room votes out of seven. Stefaniak’s departure followed a dramatic week that began with Mulcahy being stood down from his portfolios pending a federal tribunal inquiry into his past activities as executive director of the Australian Hotels Association. Mulcahy did not take this lying down, claiming to know of unspecified allegations against Stefaniak and Smyth and calling on them to join him on the back bench. The party room reacted by unanimously voting to expel Mulcahy, who will run in Molonglo at the head of his own grouping. Shortly afterwards Stefaniak and his deputy Jacqui Burke announced they would clear the air by standing aside, and Seselja and Smyth were elected in their place without opposition.

Posts on each of three electorates will follow over the coming weeks. Antony Green offers plenty to keep you going on with in the interim.

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.

90 comments on “ACT election: October 18”

Comments Page 1 of 2
1 2
  1. William,

    [ There are several reasons to think Labor will struggle to match that feat on October 16, ]

    Don’t you mean the 18th? 😉 ….. I’m working a polling booth on Election Day and they asked me to show up on the 18th 😉

  2. Stanhope won’t retain his majority. There’s never been a majority government before and people seem generally unhappy with majority government, even those who support the ALP.

    However, very few people I speak to expect the Liberals to stand a chance of winning. The Greens should safely retain the seat in Molonglo, where Shane Rattenbury is running to succeed Deb Foskey. I reckon they have a good shot in Ginninderra and a real shot (albeit outside shot) in Brindabella.

    Ginninderra is particularly interesting as the three most high-profile MPs elected in 2004 have changed. Bill Stefaniak and Wayne Berry are retiring, and Jon Stanhope will be elected with much less of a surplus. This means this electorate will be much more wide-open.

    The only independent who seems to have a shot of winning is Richard Mulcahy. I haven’t seen much of Community Alliance or Pangallo (the former Queanbeyan mayor) and don’t seem to be in with a shot of winning.

    So if there is a hung parliament (which there almost certainly will be), then it will probably be the Greens in the balance of power, which certainly favours Stanhope in remaining Chief Minister.

    I’ll be scrutineering in Ginninderra on election night and will try and keep commenting on pollbludger on the night.

  3. The ‘vote Liberal to get Zed instead’ slogan is just too university student guild campaign to be taken seriously surely?

    I suspect the Liberals have a decent chance of getting up this time and have heard a small number of normally Labor voting people intimate it’s time for a change now that the Federal Government has changed.

    As a side comment I’ve seen a whole lot more on the ground campaigning from the ‘ACT Liberals’ than from Labor.

  4. Labor will probably lose its majority, but it’s almost impossible to see the Liberals getting up. The government’s biggest headaches, such as closing schools or the GDE, are the sorts of issues where Labor would leak votes to the Greens, not the Libs. I’d expect the Greens to get a big hike in their vote and seriously challenge for Labor’s final seat in all 3 electorates, and for the Liberals to make no net gains (they’ll probably win back their Molonglo seat from Mulcahy).

    As a sideline, I wonder whether the Rudd government’s strained relationship with the Public Service will cause a local backlash against Labor. Or, at least, whether someone like Shanahan tries to spin a poor Labor result that way.

  5. Ben @ 2, they must have different rules for scrutineers as opposed to polling staff. I am not even allowed to take in my mobile period, even if turned off and/or on silent (let alone access to a computer). Don’t know how you can keep up on blogging that night? But that having been said, I will report back on the night what I can glean from my post – Chisholm primary school in Chisholm, Brindebella – after I get home.

  6. I dunno, I’ve never had mobile internet before on an election night, but you should remember that a booth clerk is being paid to do a job, namely count votes. Scrutineers are not. Mobiles are essential, considering you can’t leave then come back in, you need to use mobile phones to communicate results.

    Scrutineers are there to just watch, and the only thing the ROs care about is the scrutineers don’t disrupt the count, beyond that we’re free to do what we want. I can’t see why anyone would have a problem with it, as long as it was out of the way.

  7. Many ‘Canberrans’ live outside of the ACT. It’s not the hugests place and sometimes it’s closer to live outside of the ACT than to live on the outskirts, depending on where you work.

  8. I realize that 😉 …. it was just logical to assume (until Adam noted his residence was technically outside the boundaries) that “Adam in Canberra” meant one and the same, i.e that he was eligible to vote in the ACT elections and so forth ;-). Logical mistake to make but I know different now 😉

  9. Agree there is a feeling that Labor will struggle to keep majority government. Stanhope seems to have upset many of the noisy minority with one thing or another (plenty of know-it-all aged whingers in the ACT) and is not the smoothest of public speakers, but is a hard worker and highly principled, at times to his own detriment. For the most part the Liberals are a poor bunch – the dregs of the petit bourgeoisie who would struggle to make it in business or the public service – who are prone to vicious infighting. The minor parties and so-called independents include some of the aforementioned whingers or their fronts, single issue zealots and big-noters. The big sleeper is the extent to which the silent majority values a unified team with a chief minister who is prepared to take hard decisions.

  10. Re 20,

    [ For the most part the Liberals are a poor bunch – the dregs of the petit bourgeoisie who would struggle to make it in business or the public service – who are prone to vicious infighting. ]

    The Labor party are running a TV advertisment at present here in Canberra about a 30sec to 60sec spot along these lines. They note various Libs who have left the party and/or leadership in recent years and summarize the ad by saying “if they can’t trust each other, why should you trust them?”

  11. Looking at the ACT system there are a number of factors that distort the outcome and as such do not reflect the voters intentions.

    The ACT uses the flawed AEC counting rules in that the calculation of the surplus transfer value is based on the number of ballot papers not the value of each vote. It also uses the irrational system of distribution of excluded candidates preferences. (The 2007 Queensland Senate is a good example of how the distribution of excluded candidates votes produces a different outcome- In QLD The Gr4eens were effectively disenfranchised by the system which did not accurately reflect the voters intention)

    The other issue that should be changes is the hybrid representation model. Ideally each electorate should be equal not only in the number of constituents but also in the number of candidates to be elected and as such the percentage of quota. The fact that one electorate returns seven members and the others five produces a significant imbalance in the proportionality of the election.

    I am not a great fan of Robson Rotation as I think it serves and provides minimal benefit to the voters. Above-the-line voting has altered the need for Robson Rotation.

  12. One of the innovations that the ACT EC did introduce was open source code for the software used to count the vote. Something that all other Commissions should adopt. There has been a lot of money wasted (Over a million dollars in unnessasarily duplicating software to count the vote. Victoria has spent over one million dollars, most of it exhorted from the City of Melbourne) in reinventing the wheel. Questions still remain unanswered as to where this money was spent and why the City of Melbourne had to pay for redevelopment of the software that was then used for the State election and will be used in November for other Municipalities in November. Exactly who owns the software is unknown. (Someone is making a hansome profit) A question that hopefully the State parliament EMC will seek answers to.

  13. Oh come on d@w . . .

    No voting system is perfect and your particular take on STV has been admirably rebutted many times in this forum by Antony Green and a number of others. It quite simply stands as oneof the fairest ways of deriving as close to complete acknowledgement of any given voter’s preferred outcomes.

    I reckon you’d be hard pressed to find many Greens supporters who have a particular problem with the system. Maybe some would prefer the Sainte-Lague system as used in NZ (which gives a pretty good approximation of seats to votes) but the STV system used in the Senate and the Hare-Clark variant used in Tas and the ACT are pretty good.

    Your second paragraph raises a good point, and I’ve read somewhere that the ACT Greenswant to equalise representation across the three electorates. They weren’t talking about bringing Molonglo back to 5 reps (equal with Ginninderra and Brindabella). So I guess that means they are talking about a 3×7 model (god forbid they go for 3×6!)

    Robson rotation goes some way to breaking the nexus between voting for a party machine outcome vs voting for individual representatives. A small step, but good for democracy nevertheless. You’re right that it is reduced in effect by Above the Line voting. But that’s the problem of ATL. It takes power away from the elector by having them conform to a non-transparent package of behind the scenes deals. Steve Fielding is no doubt delighted! Anyway, in the ACT there is no ATL voting, and there is Robson rotation.

  14. I don’t know how you figure people will be voting for ‘individual representatives’ just because of the Robson Rotation… what makes you think people don’t vote for parties rather than individuals?

  15. dyspnoeia

    I do not think you have understood the issue I am raising.

    Antony Green to my knowledge has not addressed this issue in full (He did support in part that issues I have raised in respect to the calculation of the Surplus Transfer value -The WA government has also addressed this issue and now use a value base formula in calculating the Surplus Transfer Value).

    Anthony Green did make a number of false and ill-considered statements in his submission to the EMC. He has not yet undertaken the analysis and review of the distortion in the outcome of the vote in the 2007 Queensland Senate election. All that is required is to recount the vote with only the seven remaining candidates (ALP top 3, Liberal top 3 and the greens top 1) and the distortion in the way in which we distribute the preferences becomes apparent.

    I assure you the Greens and other Parties are very much looking into this situation. the principle is clear all votes should be counted in exactly the same manner and any vote attributed to an a excluded candidate should be redistributed as though that candidate did not stand.

    The Queensland result under the AEC system favoured on this occasion the ALP (Something I am pleased about) However this is not always the case.the system can work for and against all parties. What is of concern is that the system should reflect the voters’ intentions without distortion.

    The system that is in place now was not designed for accuracy but designed to facilitate a manual count. It was a trade off of ease of accounting and accuracy. With the advent and use of computers we no longer need to sacrifice accuracy to determine the result of the election. Near enough is not good enough. There are two options. Introduce Meek’s counting system or implement a reiterative count where then count is restarted and rest on every exclusion. with each ballot paper treated equally and in the same manner.

    An interesting reading on an advocate against STV can be found here and also

  16. democracy@work. The ACT DOES NOT use the AEC method. It uses the Gregory transfer calculation method, not the Senate’s Inclusive Gregory method. It is the same Hare-Clark last bundle method as used in Tasmania. The only difference from Tasmania is that exhausted preferences are excluded before calculating transfer value.

    And I have read your submission to the Joint Standing Committee. As far as I can gather, the committee can’t make head nor tail of it. You really do need to come up with a better explanation of how it works and why it is so preferable.

    My submission to the committee explained the problem of distortions caused by the ballot paper method of distributing surplus to quota votes. It explained the problem so well that I note your supplementary submission then adopted my explanation to advocate your proposed changes. But beyond the weighting, you adopt a very different approach in using an iterative count.

    As an advocate of that counting system, it is your responsibility to explain how it works and why it is so preferable. I don’t think getting stuck into me here or in submissions to the Committee assists the advocacy of your cause. It just tends to make you look a touch rabid.

  17. Antony Green

    Well your explanation is far from accurate, and it its highly debatable as to if your example on the weighted transfer system is clear.if anything it is rather convoluted.the committee is very much aware of the issues I have addressed. Maybe it its you that failed to understand. (I note your still have not reflected the distortion in the Queensland count)

    The principle is “all votes must be treated equal and in the same manner. Preferences from an excluded candidates should be redistributed as though that candidate has stood.”

    The reiterative count as porposed resets and restarts the count every time a candidate is excluded. Votes are redistributed according to the next available preference. IE if a voter markes a preference for the democrats and the democrats candidate is excluded from the count then the vote would be allocated to the next available continuing candidate. This could be ALP Liberal or Greens. Under the current system a vote from a minor party with preferences a major party candidate is not allocated to the major party candidate according to the voters preference. This has the effect of distorting the value and distribution of the vote. The vote should be allocated to the continuing candidates count and would form part of a winning candidates surplus in the same way as if it was a first preference for that candidate. is the vote is allocated as the excluded candidate had not stood.

    The current system does not treat each vote equally and in the same manner.

    In Queensland if you count the 2007 vote as though there is only seven candidates left in the count(The Laptop 3, the Liberals top4and the greens Number 1) and distributed the votes according to the voters niminstated preferences then the Greens candidate is elected ahead of the ALP number 3. All votes are treated in exactly the same manner. A second preference for the ALP number one or the Liberal number one from excluded candidate forms part of their surplus and is distributed along with all other votes at a reduced value.

    Again the system that is currently place was designed to faciliate a manual count.It has no logic or merit in the way and order in which it is distributed. It does not refect the voters intention to the contrary it distorts the outcome as highlighted by the Queensland Senate count.

    I am surprised you do not understand the process of how the system works which explains why you made misleading statements in your submission when you falsly claimed that the changes proposed would require a major rrewrtite of the current sowftware. BS that is not the case the alteration required is mimimal (about 10 lines of code and the removal ofopver 100 lines of code that is not nessassary as the process of dsitributing excluded candidates preferences is simplified.)

    If you read the Open source software code and published information by the ACT you should notice that it uses the number of ballot papers and not the value of the vote to calcutate the Surplus Transfer Value. The same formula used by the AEC.

    “number of surplus votes divided by
    total number of ballot papers with further preferences shown”

    This most certainly is not as you claim in yiour comment above a weighted value transfer…

  18. Further if you apply the AEC/ACT formula to a optional preferential ballot the proportionality of the vote is further distorted in that continuing preference`votes increase in value (which should never happen in a proper count) taking with them the vale of the exhausted vote. I am surprised by your lack of understanding as to how the system is counted. I suggest you go back and recount the 2007 Queensland senate vote on the bass of only seven candidates left standing.

    Again the formula used by the ACT in calculating the surplus transfer value is ““number of surplus votes divided by total number of ballot papers with further preferences shown”

    Could this be one of the reason why you were unable to produce proper statistics on the WA upper-house count.

  19. The “last bundle” system is also another outdated system designed to facilitate a manual count. Why is it that a candidates surplus should be determined and carried only by the last bundle of votes received when all votes attributed to a candidate make up the candidates overall vote. The “last bundle” is definitely not proportional or reflective of the voters intention. A system that needs to be relegated to the history books along with outdated surgical equipment

  20. democracy@work. Crap. Go and look at the ACT system again as you don’t seem to understand it if you say it is the same as the Senate. It is a last bundle method. All votes are received at the same transfer value and only votes at that value are examined in determining the surplus. Whether you use ballot papers or votes, you get the same calculation under the ACT system.

    I am quite thoroughly sick of responding to your ill-informed assertions, and in particular sick of being accused of not knowing what I am talking about when you make so many errors of fact in your own indecipherable posts. I have better things to do than respond to the half-baked nonsense you’ve written above, and I’m sure other readers will be pleased I don’t respond further

  21. And further to the ACT, NO vote in the ACT system can EVER increase in value. It can retain it’s current value or decrease in value if it is part of a surplus, but cannot increase in value.


    The formula is the same as the AEC system it is based on the number of ballot papers. The fact that the ACT uses a last bundle system is a different question. B7t the formula the same.

    If you have a surplus that is derived by number of ballot papers and then you allocate that surplus on the basis of x-y (Less then the original number of votes then yes the votes does increase in value as the votes that express a continuing preference carries the value of all votes including ties that existed. (therefior it increasein value)

    You really are showing an amazing luck of understanding of how the count proceeds. Just as flawed as your assessment that that the proposed changes would require significant changes to the software. (BS- Crap as you say). I suppose it is the reason as to why you were unable to provide statistical information on the western Australia upper house count. Or is it that you are just an apologist for the Electoral Commission’s?

    Arte yiu making an informed comment? Did you do a count of the 2007 Queensland Senate election based on the last seven candidates standing? What was the result of your count? It helps if do the sums and understand how then system really works. I recall you disputing the influence of the weighted vote before then you did a check and realized that it does have a significant impact… If you loo closely you should realise that way in which the system deals with the distribution of exclude candidates votes can and does have an even greater impact.

    I will leave the issues with the distortion with the last bundle to another time. Maybe we can also debate the pros and cons of Sainte-Lague list system versus the STV proportional count…

  23. If you read the ACT legislation properly no vote can increase in value above the value of one. But is fractional value can and most certainly does increase in value disproportional to the original voted.This is made worst by ten fact that only the last bundle is used to transfer any surplus.

  24. Re 35,

    You are barking up the wrong tree, mate.

    Re 32,

    [ I have better things to do than respond to the half-baked nonsense you’ve written above, and I’m sure other readers will be pleased I don’t respond further ]

    Amen to that 😉

  25. There is no logic to the segmentation rules as currently applied to the STV count. Segmation was designed tofaciliate a manualcoiunt. It was a trade off of accuracy for ease of counting last bundle is another form of segmentation. In a pure PR system all transactions should be completed as a single transaction – one per candidate. It is the segments that distorts the proportionality of the count. the result of the election should not change as a result of teh way in which an excluded candidates preferences are allocated. It should produce the same result as though that candidate did not stand.

    Perhaps you have been counting the system the same way for too long that you have lost objectivity as to why segmentation was introduced in the first place. It was designed to correct a wrong. And as we all know two wrongs do not make a right.

  26. These issues need to be debated. The errors and flaws in the system need to be addressed if people are to make an informed decision as to how and who they vote for. Else we might as well adopt a party list system as recommended by William Bowe.

  27. The methods of how a vote increases under the ACT system

    If you have 100 votes and a surplus of say 50 votes each of those votes carries a surplus value of 0.5 if say 10 percent of the votes exist then under the ACT system the value of those votes increases to 0.55 as the votes that express a continuing preference are inflated by the value of the exhausted votes.

  28. It never ceases to amuse that the tea leave readers will go to great lengths and detail to extrapolate social electoral theory as to why a party lost half percentage points in the polls a but when confronted with the facts that the system can provide a distortion greater then that recorded in the polls they prefer to remain ignorant and oblivious to the reality, whilst happy to discuss the finer points of conjecture and color of a persons attire or gavotar. A bit like an economist arguing why his stock broker failed to pick a down fall in the market when the country is facing a financial system collapse

  29. We have two choices as I see it. We either fix the problems and flaws in the current system or we adopt a Saint-Lague Party list system as proposed by William Bowe in his submission to the Australian Parliament. Putting our fingers in our ears, shutting our eyes and avoiding the facts, as Antony Green and others do, is not the solution.

  30. Well, I’ll ignore the abuse and admit that in certain circumstances where there is a high rate of exhausted preferences, the value of a vote can increase. No doubt this will only generate more abuse and generate more posts accusing me of not knowing what I am talking about. But I am prepared to admit where I have made an incorrect statement. But in this case there is a valid reason why they increase in value.

    All the votes in a bundle at a certain transfer value were originally cast for the same candidate. If those votes, whatever the transfer value, put a further candidate over the line, then when they are examined for preferences, the ACT system excludes the votes with exhausted preferences. Effectively they are left with the candidate who has just been elected.

    I don’t have a problem with this. Say it was thousand ballot papers at transfer value 0.2 and the surplus was 100, but 950 of the 1,000 ballot papers had no further preferences. So the only votes distributed would be the 50 with preferences, effectively increasing the transfer value from 0.2 to 1.0.

    Yes, terrible if you start from the assumption that no vote should ever be allowed to increase in value. But all of these thousand ballots first elected Candidate A, and then elected candidate B. They are from the same source. The ACT formula says that in determining further preferences, the system is weighted to use votes with further preferences. Well, under Hare-Clark voting with optional preferential voting, I don’t have a problem with this. That happens in single member electorates with optional preferential voting, so why shouldn’t it happen in multi-member electorates.

    I still stick to my point in it being different to the Senate. In the ACT system, all the votes come from the same source, where the problem with the Senate is that votes are re-weighted depending on which party or candidate they were originally cast for.

  31. “Putting our fingers in our ears, shutting our eyes and avoiding the facts, as Antony Green and others do, is not the solution”

    Taking stupid schoolboy cheap-shots at Antony Green and others here is probably not the best solution either…….

  32. Itep, the decrease in value comes about because when a candidate is elected under quota preferential systems, the votes which are surplus to the candidate’s quota get distributed as preferences. So if the quota is 1,000 and a candidate has 1,200 votes, they have 200 votes to distribute as preferences.

    The ‘which votes’ is the complexity of the system, but the standard method is to look at the preferences of all 1,200 votes and apply a transfer value, which is the surplus divided by the total votes, 200/1200 or 0.1667. So 200 ‘votes’ get distributed, but this corresponds to 1,200 ‘ballot papers’ at a reduced value of 0.1667.

    There are various different methods of doing these calculations, as democracy@work is fond of pointing out, but the above example explains the general principle.

  33. Ah yes… that makes sense now. I always wondered how they determined which surplus votes were distributed (you’d imagine it couldn’t just be an arbitrary selection). The next question is how these calculations are determined. Are they set out in legislation or regulation?

    I suppose this is all really off topic!

  34. Breaking news, I completely withdraw my mea culpa at @45 and revert to my original statement that a vote cannot increase in transfer value at ACT elections.

    Electoral Act, Scedule 4, Clause 1C(4). “However, if the transfer value of a ballot paper worked out in accordance with subclause (2) would be greater than the transfer value of the ballot paper when counted for the successful candidate, the transfer value of that ballot paper is the transfer value of the ballot paper when counted for the successful candidate.”

    In other words, if a vote comes in at a certain transfer value, it cannot increase. It will either decrease, or if exhausted preferences would cause it to increase, it in fact stays the same.

Comments are closed.

Comments Page 1 of 2
1 2