ACT election minus one day

The following is an article on the ACT election which I wrote for today’s Crikey email. Unfortunately, the article as it appears in Crikey contains two errors, because the wrong number got changed when I pointed out my original error. Note also the new Patterson poll in today’s Canberra Times, which shows Jon Stanhope increasing his narrow preferred leader advantage over Zed Seselja since a fortnight ago. Figures on voting intention will follow in tomorrow’s edition. This site will provide live coverage of the count tomorrow evening; ABC Elections will as always be the best place to go to for results. Official results will be published by the ACT Electoral Commission. Further reading from Mumble, Peter Martin, The Tally Room and Decomposing Trees. For local colour and lots of it, look no further than the excellent coverage at The-RiotACT.

Tomorrow’s Australian Capital Territory election looks likely to maintain the remarkable continuity in Australian electoral politics that began in 1998. Prior to Kevin Rudd’s win last November, Labor won 22 successive state and territory elections, starting with the election of Peter Beattie’s government in Queensland. Two elections and numerous opinion polls since have indicated that John Howard’s demise has broken the circuit, notwithstanding that Labor made it to 23 in a row when it scraped home in the Northern Territory on August 9. This was achieved in the face of an 8.8 per cent fall in the Labor primary vote and the near-defeat of a government that went into the election with 19 seats out of 25. Labor’s winning run finally came to an end a month later when Alan Carpenter’s Western Australian government was dumped from office after shedding 6.0 per cent on the primary vote.

The other story to emerge from the two elections was the strong performance by the Greens, who demonstrated an ominous capacity to siphon votes from ageing Labor governments. The Greens vote in Western Australia was up from 7.6 per cent in 2005 to 11.9 per cent, and its average vote in the six seats it contested in the Northern Territory was over 16 per cent. The one public opinion poll to emerge during the ACT campaign makes it very clear that both trends are going to be replicated tomorrow. The Patterson survey published in the Canberra Times a fortnight ago suggested that a 12 per cent drop in the Labor vote has been harvested almost entirely by the Greens.

In other jurisdictions, Labor could console itself with the thought that most of those votes would return to them as preferences – but the ACT’s Hare-Clark system of proportional representation means the shift in votes will translate into seats lost to the Greens. As Chief Minister Jon Stanhope freely admitted on Monday, Labor has no chance of repeating its feat in 2004 when it became the first government to win an outright majority since self-government began in 1989. The Greens stand to increase their representation from one seat to three or even four: one each in the five-member regions of Brindabella and Ginninderra, and possibly two in the seven-member region of Molonglo. Labor would thus be reduced from nine seats to six or seven out of 17, with the Liberals down from seven to six.

This makes life very interesting for the Greens’ senior candidate for Molonglo, Shane Rattenbury, who has been designated his party’s presumptive leader following the retirement of its sole sitting member, Deb Foskey. Rattenbury looks set to enter parliament not only as kingmaker between Stanhope and Liberal leader Zed Seselja, but also as a potential Deputy Chief Minister if he pushes his party’s claim with sufficient force. The money, smart or otherwise, suggests a Labor minority government is a lay-down misere: Centrebet is offering $1.19 on a Labor win against $4.35 for the Liberals.

However, one precedent exists in Australia for a Greens-backed Liberal minority government, albeit a rather unhappy one. This happened after the 1996 election in Tasmania, when Labor refused to take the reins due to ongoing bitterness over its experience of relying on the Greens (then led by Bob Brown) between 1989 and 1992. The Labor and Liberal parties then contrived to put an end to the situation by agreeing to reduce the size of the lower house from 35 seats to 25. The idea was that the Greens would be reduced from five seats (one in each of the five seven-member regions) to one or two if they were lucky, but their ongoing electoral strength in Tasmania has been such that it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

UPDATE: Ben Raue in comments disputes the assertion that Rattenbury is the “presumptive leader” of the Greens.

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.

53 comments on “ACT election minus one day”

Comments Page 1 of 2
1 2
  1. Sigh, I feel like your editor. You must hate me.

    First paragraph – The “ACT Elections will be the best place to go” links to the ABC, should it say “ABC elections”?

  2. William, compared to past ACT elections (of which I’ve no idea, have only been resident in Oz since December 2004 and have lived at 3 addresses in that time) when will a reasonable person expect the results to show enough where the result can be “called”?

    I’m working a polling booth tomorrow and I’m wondering if we will know the result before I get home 😉 … When I worked the NSW election in March 2007, I wasn’t home until almost midnight but we had a very busy polling booth that day and I don’t anticipate ours will be nearly that busy tomorrow.

    Cheers 🙂

  3. I think the Greens would do better in a coalition government better now because they now have a leader to be Deputy Chief Minister (or Deputy Premier in the case of a state) in a coalition and be in cabinet. A successful coalition in the ACT could sway the Tasmanian ALP to accept a coalition if there is a hung parliament plus the current Premier David Bartlett made a comment at about the time he got the top job about the hatred between the political parties that hinted that he is pro-cooperation.

  4. I think The Greens would probably ask for a ministry rather than the Deputy Chief Ministership. To be honest, I don’t think Rattenbury could handle it, lol. Then again, it is the ACT.

    What’s his name on Decomposing Trees says it right when he calls it a “glorified student election”.

  5. Shane Rattenbury is not the leader, either in theory or practice, of the Greens ACT. Sure, his seat is safer than Meredith Hunter’s, but I would argue that, if there is any de facto leadership, the two of them would be equal co-leaders. The two of them are historically the people who came closest to winning without winning (Meredith in 2004 and Shane in 2001, both in Ginninderra).

    The only state where the Greens have a leader is Tasmania, while Giz Watson is seen as the de facto WA leader. I would argue ACT is like NSW and Victoria, where the media has a tendency to anoint various people as the party’s leader (not particularly consistently) but they aren’t seen in that role.

    Also, it’s important to remember that there have been four times when Greens have supported a major party in a hung parliament, twice in Tasmania and twice in the ACT. In both places they have experience with both major parties. The ACT Greens supported Kate Carnell’s government in its first term of 1995-1998. In the aftermath the Greens lost their seat in Ginninderra. None of these situations was a coalition, which is generally seen as a situation where all parties hold ministries and follow a common policy agenda. The Greens have always gone with a “supply and confidence” agreement.

    Of course, that might change if the Greens manage to win four seats. Although I’d say it would be much more likely to be the style of agreement used in New Zealand and by Mike Moore when he supported Carnell’s second government, where the crossbench minister is not bound by cabinet solidarity except in their portfolio.

    Also, I’d point you to what I think is the most important question in today’s poll. Greens supporters split their “preferred chief minister” vote 52-20 in favour of Stanhope. Not surprising, but will clearly be important if the Greens (as is almost certain) hold the balance of power.

  6. I don’t know what they’d do. I think if they were offered two, it would be easy, but if it’s only one it could cause quite a bit of difficulty.

    I reckon if the Greens are in a position of wanting ministries (say 7 ALP 4 Greens), then a Cabinet of 4 Labor 2 Greens wouldn’t be unreasonable.

  7. Really? Where have they said that?

    At I see no sign. Barber has the Treasury portfolio but no-one is listed as having the “Premier and Cabinet” portfolio (unlike NSW where Lee Rhiannon has the Premier and Cabinet portfolio, although not acknowledged as leader. Neither is there any mention of the leadership on the “about” pages.

  8. PS. There is an assumption that the Green running in the strongest electorate is the leader. Bob Brown in Tasmania (and Denison before that), Shane Rattenbury, Giz Watson, Greg Barber. Sometimes it is true, partly because someone in a “safe” seat is much more likely to last in the long term, like Giz Watson, who has outlasted a number of colleages in more marginal seats, but there is no assumption that it translates into leadership of the whole state party.

  9. Oh, and to Julie, friends who’ve lived in the ACT longer tell me that it will take most of the next week to find out the results. We may know a couple of seats for those who win a full quota, but until preferences are distributed most seats won’t be certain. We might be able to extrapolate which major party is winning, though.

    No need to worry about a result being declared before you get home.

  10. According to an Ad I just saw on the ABC, Tomorrow Night’s ACT Coverage will be on the ABC HD Channel from 6.30pm. I’m assuming this will be nationally, so if you have either a HD TV or HD Set Top Box, this is the best way to get your fix on our own Anthony Green 🙂

  11. [According to an Ad I just saw on the ABC, Tomorrow Night’s ACT Coverage will be on the ABC HD Channel from 6.30pm. I’m assuming this will be nationally, so if you have either a HD TV or HD Set Top Box, this is the best way to get your fix on our own Anthony Green :-)]

    Had a look at the EPG (Electronic Program Guide) on my HD Capable STB and it’s listed as starting at 6.30pm WST, so I am assuming it will be delayed according to the state you are in.

  12. Yeah, sorry Ben. I meant that the position of the party is, if asked who the leader is, they will say its Greg inside parliament ONLY. More of a if we are forced to have a leader, (leadership debate etc) the decision is already made.

  13. Interesting. It’d never happen but it’d be fun to see the Greens get more seats than the Liberals… would the Liberals support a Green Government?

  14. Good question. I wouldn’t be suprised if any case, The Greens got more seats than Labor or Liberal, but not an overall majority, Labor and Liberal would go into “Grand coalition”. Historically it wouldn’t make sense since they’ve been the two opposing parties, but in policy terms they have more in common with each other then The Greens.

    Phil Coorey was pretty scathing in his article today. Called the parliament a trumped up local council playing at government.

  15. Today’s CT says there has been a late swing back to Labor and that the result will be ALP 8, Libs 5, Greens 4. Thus Labor only needs to stop the Greens getting two seats in Molonglo and they might indeed retain 9 seats and mjaority government – but a minority government backed by the Greens is the more likely outcome.

    Labor has a large ad in the CT warning that “if you vote for the Greens or any other minor party or independents before you vote Labor, you risk getting a Liberal government.”

  16. According to the CT’s poll, in the last two weeks Labor’s vote has risen from 34 to 41 in Ginninderra, 33 to 34 in Molonglo and 37 to 40 in Brindabella. In Ginninderra that has all come off the Libs (dropped 34 to 26), leaving them with only one quota.

  17. Ben,

    You don’t need to wait for preferences in the ACT. 30-40,000 electronic votes have been cast. These will be counted and released to the media shortly after 6pm tonight. After that, the ACTEC does a full distribution of preferences on the electronic vote and releases it as well. The electronic vote generally favours the Greens by a % or two over the major parties, but it is still usually a good guide to the preferences.

    The ACTEC data enters all ballot papers after election day to conduct the count. Each day they issue a new update of the distribution of preferences. So to know how the count is going, you don’t need to wait for the end of the count, you can follow it day by day. Except for an extremely close contest, the result will be pretty clear on the night.

  18. Adam, it’s fully optional. Only one preference required. The ballot papers instruct to to fill in preferences 1-5 or 1-7, but only 1 is required for formality.

  19. Thanks Antony. That explains the ALP’s ad. They are afraid that people will vote Green 1 and then exhaust rather than preferencing the ALP, which would indeed increase the chances of the Libs winning more seats. I don’t have enough local knowledge to make a prediction other than the one made by the CT this morning, which seems fair enough to me.

  20. Adam, the formality rule is one reason why the MM article in the Canberra times this week criticising the Greens for not running 5 candidates missed one important point. In Tasmania, where you must give 5 preferences, it is always in a party’s interest to run a full ticket of 5 candidates. In the ACT, if you will only elect 1 or 2 candidates, then running a full list just risks exhausting your preferences.

  21. Ok so here’s one thing I don’t get. Is the preference flow not dependant on what order the ballots are counted? Say Labor gets a full quota, and so the surplus is redistributed through preferences. Exactly what ballots are redistributed? The ones that come after the quota is reached? Or is everything recounted and then preferences split off into fractions? So do some votes get counted twice, even though the quota is achieved?

    That’s pretty convoluted, I hope someone can make sense of it and explain.

  22. Say a candidate gets 1.5 quotas. (and it is all candidate based not party based). So all those votes get counted out at preferences and get distributed at a reduced value. (0.5 surplus divided by 1.5 quotas, though the real calculation is done using votes, a transfer value of 0.3333. So the answer is all the ballots get distributed, but at a reduced value dependant on the size of the surplus.

    The technical difference with the Senate is that when a candidate is elected half way through the count when they reach a quota, then the only votes examined for preferences are the last bundle received. So it a candidate went from 0.9 quotas to 1.1 quoates, only the 0.2 quota of votes that put them over the quota are examined for preferences.

    Yes, some votes can elect more than one candidate. However, the value of the vote decreases with each election.

  23. Fractionation of votes for the distribution of Senate preferences is one of the great arcane mysteries of Australian psephology. You don’t see it because totals are rounded to the nearest full vote. But you can detect it when you look at the totals and see “lost by fractionation.” This refers to fractions of votes which are lost through the rounding process. Thus by end of the 2008 Senate count in NSW, 160 votes had been “lost by fractionation.” As a result the running quota for election is very slightly reduced as the count progresses.

  24. Labor’s been pretty unwise to quite so obviously antagonise the Greens during this campaign. It could at best save them one seat, but insulting the party that you know you’re going to rely on to pass any legislation for the next four years, as well as to retain government, strikes me as unwise.

    Having been out polling most of the day, I’d say the Libs can’t be looking good. Their only presence at my booth was a candidate’s feral-looking idiot son who barely moved from his chair the entire day, as opposed to several people for Labor and a couple for us Greens.

    I also found it interesting that (at least in Ginninderra), Labor practically had two seperate booth campaigns going on factional lines, with the left candidate (Adina Cirson) and the right candidate (Dave Peebles) having entirely different volunteers, campaign material and organisation – with the left seeming to have it much more together. Poor old unaligned candidate Chris Bourke had no one, which surely can’t help what was left of his chances after his appalling “put Bourke to work” ads.

  25. Rebecca, I guess Labor thinks that there’s no chance in hell the Greens are going to support the Libs and they’re guaranteed supply from The Greens anyway.

  26. Oz: Perhaps not this election, but that’s an attitude that’s going to come back to bite them in the arse. The ACT Greens are not that far left that they’re incapable of working with the Libs, and with an actual caucus for once I suspect they’re going to make their voices heard.

    I fully wait for the cries of the same Labor hacks about feeling betrayed when the Greens won’t play ball down the line…3….2….1….

    Adam: I think that’s a fantastic feature of Hare-Clark. In the absence of a primary system, it means that the candidates, as well as the parties, actually have to popular support to be elected.

  27. Yeah, The Greens don’t really owe either of the major parties anything after this election. If they get a decent result they should make a lot of demands and not act as Labor stooges.

  28. I voted at our local primary school and as usual got quite a thrill at the calm efficient civilised fashion in which democracy is practiced in Aus. The P&C sausage sizzle outside is a nice touch also.
    I noted the ALP factions had separate how to vote stands, and the Greens had quite a number of helpers also. I didnt notice anybody from the Libs or independents but they could have been there. Their posters certainly were.
    One jarring note for me though was the exclusion zone of 100 meters for the how to voters and their posters. It made the whole area look very sterile. At our polling place, the carpark was within the exclusion zone and so those who unlike me had to drive to vote had no interaction with the campaign workers. I believe this needs to be looked at for future elections. Maybe the OIC of each polling place could be given authority to delineate by rope barriers or somesuch the appropriate exclusion zone for each particular place, taking into account the peculiarities of geography etc at each place. For those people wanting to avail themselves of polling literature and who drove, a 70 or 80 meter walk each way was required. I watched as one very elderly woman did just that.

  29. Oz, yes most of them do, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Rudd’s sterling performance recently has boosted the ALP’s stocks generally, and that some of this has rubbed off on the ACT ALP.

    I agree that 100m is too big an exclusion zone. I have handed out at a lot of booths over the years and at every one, voters were able to get HTVs as they walked from wherever they parked to the booth.

  30. Yes, that’s also one area where I actually agree with Adam. The much smaller exclusion zone at the federal election worked a lot better; this just makes polling a nuisance, and makes it harder for parties to get information to voters.

  31. The Greens are lucky that their failure to actually campaign for a fourth candidate wasn’t highlighted more by the media before the election, as opposed to in say, the article Oz lists.

    They’re in the ridiculous situation now of potentially having a new MLA who either is totally unknown, or a failed Senate candidate who’s my age and has announced plans to leave the territory by the end of the year. (They should be particularly thankful that bit didn’t get out.)

  32. 5% counted.

    9.8% swing to The Greens in Brindabella

    12.1% counted, 7.4% swing to The Greens in Ginninderra.

    11% counted in Molonglo, 7% swing to The Greens

    Labor and Lib losing out, Independants also getting swings.

Comments are closed.

Comments Page 1 of 2
1 2