Essential Research: 58-42

Labor’s two-party vote from Essential Research has a five in front of it for the first time since January, dropping two points to 58-42. The report also finds Kevin Rudd’s position on asylum seekers is favoured over Malcolm Turnbull’s by 45 per cent to 33 per cent; the Labor Party is thought better to handle immigration and border security by 46 per cent against 34 per cent; the government’s handling of climate change has 45 per cent approval and 30 per cent disapproval; “total concern” about employment prospects has risen 5 per cent since February; and approval of the government’s handling of the global financial crisis has steadily decreased from 63 per cent to 56 per cent since October. Most interestingly, 41 per cent believe the government would be justified in calling an early election if its “financial measures and other legislation” were “opposed” by the opposition, up from 38 per cent in February.

Other stuff:

• Submissions on the federal redistribution of Queensland have been published. Featured are minutely detailed proposals from the major parties. Interestingly, both Labor and the LNP want new electorates straddling the Warrego Highway between Ipswich and Toowoomba. However, the LNP’s proposed seat of Killen (in honour of Gorton-to-Fraser minister Jim) extends northwards from here, while Labor’s proposed Theodore (in honour of Depression-era Treasurer and party legend “Red Ted”) ambitiously sweeps around Boonah and Beaudesert to the Gold Coast hinterland. The LNP submission interestingly calls for Leichhardt to be drawn into Cairns and its Cape York balance to be transferred to Bob Katter’s electorate of Kennedy. Veteran observer Adam Carr says: “I don’t know why the parties bother with these submissions. They commissioners never take the least bit of notice, in fact they seem to go out of their way not to do what either of the parties want them to do.”

• If you feel like making a suggestion for the New South Wales federal redistribution, submissions are being received until May 1.

• The Liberals are complaining about the high number of people who are incorrectly enrolled, as revealed in the Australian Electoral Commission’s answer to a parliamentary question. The average error rate was 3.5 per cent, mostly involving failures to update enrolment following changes of address. Liberal Senator Michael Ronaldson creatively notes this is “greater than the margin by which 33 seats were decided at the last federal election”. His line of logic has failed to impress Bernard Keane at Crikey.

• Dig Possum’s booth result maps.

• I recently had occasion to discuss Malcolm Mackerras’s concerns with New Zealand mixed-member proportional system, in which I noted its similarities and subtle differences with Germany’s election system. In doing so I erroneously stated that mid-term vacancies in German electorates are filled not through by-elections as in New Zealand, but by “unelected candidates from the party’s national lists”. In fact, the lists are not national, as Mackerras writes to explain:

My recent article in Crikey on the forthcoming by-election for Mount Albert in New Zealand seems to have created a minor confusion. Trying to limit my number of words I allowed you to write this précis in your Poll Bludger blog: “New Zealand’s Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system is modelled on Germany’s, but departs from it in that vacated constituency seats are filled by unelected candidates from the party’s national lists – which New Zealand was obviously loath to do as it would randomly match members to electorates with which they have had no connection.” That is not quite right so I had best elaborate. Germany is a federation whereas New Zealand is a unitary state. In Germany there are no national party lists – there are Land party lists. A German Land is what we Anglos would call a state or province. Consequently if, for example, a constituency member for a Munich seat were to depart he/she would be replaced by the next unelected candidate of his/her party on the Bavarian list. Since New Zealand is more like a German Land than Germany as a whole I contend that any logical New Zealand MMP system would allow Labour’s Damien Peter O’Connor automatically to become the member for Mount Albert, rather than put the Labour Party to the cost of a by-election it might lose. O’Connor was, for several years, the member for West Coast-Tasman until he was defeated by the National Party’s candidate at the November 2008 general election. Since constituency members switching from the North Island to the South Island (and vice versa) is so common in New Zealand I can see no reason why O’Connor should not automatically become the next member for Mount Albert.

So, how did the present situation arise? It all goes back to the Royal Commission Report in December 1986. Because of my interest in these matters I took sabbatical leave in New Zealand for that semester so I could be there when the Report was published. I was shocked by it. The feature which most shocked me was the number of howlers I found in the Royal Commission’s Report. Among them was this recommendation on page 44: “Vacancies caused by the resignation or death of a sitting constituency member would be filled by a by-election as under the present system. List members would be replaced by the next available person on the relevant party list.” No further elaboration. No discussion as to why New Zealand should copy Germany in so many other ways but not in this way.

So I set about to find out how the Royal Commission could have written that howler, along with the others. The explanation I came up with (which I am convinced is correct) is that when Royal Commission members visited Germany they never thought to ask the German experts as to how Germany actually fills its vacancies. Meanwhile the German hosts did not think to inform their New Zealand visitors about this feature of German law. Both sides assumed their position to be self-evident. The difference is that the Germans actually understood their system. The New Zealanders never did – so the Royal Commission recommended to the people of New Zealand that they should vote for a system which the Royal Commission did not understand. That 54 per cent of New Zealanders actually voted for this ratbag scheme is easily explained. The issue of electoral reform was overshadowed by unpopular economic reform. The Business Roundtable was far too influential in economic policy making under both Labour and National governments. When the Business Roundtable asked the people of New Zealand not to vote for MMP the popular reaction was to say: “If they say vote against it that is the best argument to vote for it.”

Meanwhile John Key, now Prime Minister, promised during the election campaign that there would be another referendum on MMP. No details were given. So I took the liberty of seeking an interview with him to press my proposal which is that there should be two referendums. The first would accompany the next general election and be indicative only – the kind of legally non-binding vote which we in Australia would call a plebiscite. At that referendum, to be held in conjunction with the November 2011 general election, the people would be offered the choice of two alternative systems. The winner of that would then run off against MMP at a referendum to be held in conjunction with the November 2014 general election and that, of course, would be legally binding.

The two alternative systems would be the Single Transferable Vote (STV), what we in Australia call Hare-Clark. That is the one for which I would vote if I were a New Zealander – or a British Columbian for that matter. The other choice would be the Mixed Member Majoritarian (MMM) system, known in New Zealand for many years as Supplementary Member. That is quite simple to explain. The basic structure of MMP would stay. Every elector would get two votes, one for a constituency candidate, one for a party. The party list seats would be distributed proportionally between the parties. Under such a system by-elections would be quite logical because that would be a mixed system, not one of proportional representation. I have no idea which of STV or MMM would win in 2011. I am in no doubt, however, that the winning system of 2011 would easily defeat MMP in 2014.

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.

927 comments on “Essential Research: 58-42”

  1. One cannot say one supports ‘adequate action on climate change’ and also say one Back on Climate Chnage I restate my earlier post. “Supporting strong action on climate change” and “I support the ALP’s 5% emmissions cut’ are two contradictory statements. I know the ALP like to take the wishy-washy middle ground on lots of things and thats fine and dandy but GW is unlike any other issue, a comprimise is as much of a fail as doing nothing. It is perfectly reasonble to have an all or nothing approach to GW because it is pretty much an all or nothing issue. Either we stop GW before it reaches the irreversable 2%ish rise threash hold at which point run-away climate change kicks in or we don’t. Its that simple. Whats the point of enacting a target that will fail to stop that?

    I just don’t know why we waste our time with targets which will fail. We should stop GW or give up trying and focus on adapting to low rainful, high water, etc.! Its just too bloody serious to take the second option and lousily low targets are even worse. How can people defend a CPRS that won’t stop GW (if similar plans are made everywhere) and won’t get us prepared for failure either? Its just so bloomin obvious that the current global system is failing badly. For the times’ they are a changin’ and you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. For gosh sake, its not as though the current system in the West is even working in the short-run. Happiness and other determinants of a good life, ranging from air polution to time spent getting to work when taken on average peaked in the early 1970’s in this country (GOUGH!) and have been going down hill since. Clive Hamilton, Affluenze, Yada Yada Yada

    Here endith the lesson

  2. J-D 797

    You are right in assuming that I did not count the British “politicians”. They were remarkable men with many strings to their bow. De L”Lsle was a VC winner while Dunrossil won the Military Cross and was a QC. But the reason for their exclusion is that they were not at any stage part of the Australian political scene. They were never members of any Australian political party as far as I know, nor did they conduct themselves in a fashion that would align them with any political party.

    Far be it for me to contradict such a notable scholar as you but is not 5 out of 17, 29.4%. That will do me as close enough to 30%. Again, like Bolt you did not hesitate to try and put your “spin” on what I wrote. As you are so pron to broadcast that you are so knowledgeable surly you could have worked out the simple calculation of how the 30% figure was reached. But you could not resist the temptation to misrepresent what I wrote.

    It is nice to reinvent history. It was you who quibbled over my citing of Hasluck and Casey as Australian politicians who had become GG and it was you who deliberately ignored my qualification of that statement.

    You are right about McKell being a boilermaker but you failed to recognise his contribution to the environment. His commitment to water and soil conservation is recognised to this day in NSW through awards in his name in respect of this area of endeavour.

    Your phrase “to have a Constitution which says what it means and means what it says” is just a bit of mumbo jumbo. What does that mean and how does it relate to how a Head of State is selected. What we need is a constitution that works and not full of silly debating point statements like that.

    However, you have failed to address the issue of why an indirect election of out Head of State is so inferior to what you would like to see. The use of an electoral college system is not unknown and appears to work well. As well the requirement for a two-thirds majority will tend to reduce the opportunity of ridiculous and inappropriate appointments, a good example of which was the appointment of Hollingworth.

    As mentioned previously the best example of the electoral collage system is the process to elect the President of the USA.

  3. [Inheritance taxes actually are abject thievery ]
    I thought, according to you, that all taxes are abject thievery.
    [He nearly lost in 1998 as it was: WC would have driven the “Howard battlers” straight back to Labor, just as it did in 2007.]
    Isn’t the Howard Battlers thing a bit of a myth? Most blue collar voters DID go back to Labor in 1998, which actually explains why they didn’t win the ’98 election. Labor received bigger swings in safe seats compared to smaller swings in marginal seats, thus allowing the Government to hang on.
    [Keating thought parliament was a waste of time full stop.]
    Do you have a quote where he says this? It was actually his idea for Australia to become a Republic, yet retain its quasi-westminster parliamentary system. In that regard, he was a Republican minimalist, whereas I think we should have an executive system where the P.M. is directly elected, and can choose ministers from in or out of the parliament.

  4. [LOL! Turnbull going weak on Defence on Lateline!

    I guess that is where he is going to make his budget savings.]

    Missed it… so what did he say exactly?

  5. [Missed it… so what did he say exactly?]
    He is attacking the Government’s white paper on the grounds that there is no credible long term threat to Australia’s security.

    I seriously don’t think it is a good strategy for oppositions to say that a Government is possibly doing TOO MUCH to secure the country’s safety.

  6. [I seriously don’t think it is a good strategy for oppositions to say that a Government is possibly doing TOO MUCH to secure the country’s safety.]

    I don’t think unchecked defence spending is a good thing.

    The funny thing about the defence white paper is that proposes all this new planes, ships and personal carriers but where are we gonna get the people to fly or drive them! The forces are already understaffed and continually miss their recruitment targets.

  7. No 908

    I haven’t watched the interview, but if that is what he said, he is turning away more Coalition heartland. What on earth is he thinking!?

  8. [He is attacking the Government’s white paper on the grounds that there is no credible long term threat to Australia’s security. ]

    Aren’t plenty of regional powers spending up big at the moment?

  9. To be honest I have simply stopped listening to Turnbull, i honestly dont care what he has to say. Ill vote Liberal but im not happy with Turnbull.

  10. No 917

    Ditto.

    This is the nail in the coffin. For goodness sake, the coalition actually had some credibility on defence. Now we look stupid! Gross imbecility on Turnbull’s part. Complete and utter lunacy.

  11. [The funny thing about the defence white paper is that proposes all this new planes, ships and personal carriers but where are we gonna get the people to fly or drive them!]
    Surely a multi-billion expansion of defence expenditure would include increasing pay to attract more people into the defence force.

  12. I gather the White Paper won’t say China is a direct risk to Australia but that the result of the growing economic and military influence of China will create uncertainties and thus an increased risk profile in our region. Not exactly sure how that works though. It also stands to reason that Australia wont come out and say that because of economic melt downs and climate change countries like Indonesia could be subject to increased internal pressures…and thus we need to arm ourselves for that.

    [He is attacking the Government’s white paper on the grounds that there is no credible long term threat to Australia’s security. ]

    Don’t know what he said exactly but that is just so mixed up. One week we get scare stories about being too close to China, dog whistling on China, dog whistling form some quarters on boat people refugees lining up and now…something from another angle.

    Maybe he is right that …’there is no credible long term threat to Australia’s security’ but how are we to know that? All the evidence re climate change would seem to create a fair degree of uncertainty as well as the increasing dominance of China.

    Be he right or wrong in his logic the politics is all wrong for them.

  13. Here’s a really interesting piece on the future of coal.

    [About three-quarters of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must be left unused if society is to avoid dangerous climate change, scientists warn.]

    [It suggests that the G8 target of halving global emissions by 2050 (from 1990 levels) would leave a significant risk of breaching the 2C figure.

    “Only a fast switch away from fossil fuels will give us a reasonable chance to avoid considerable warming,” said Dr Mainshausen.

    “If we continue burning fossil fuels as we do, we will have exhausted the carbon budget in merely 20 years, and global warming will go well beyond 2C.”

    If policymakers decided they were happy to accept a 25% chance of exceeding 2C by 2050, he said, they must also accept that this meant cutting emissions by more than 50%.

    That would mean only burning about a quarter of the carbon in the world’s known, economically-recoverable fossil fuel reserves. This is likely to consist mainly of oil and natural gas, leaving coal as a redundant fuel unless its emissions could be captured and stored. ]

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8023072.stm

  14. I love to see infighting in conservative ranks! Long may you quible over which ‘Dear Leader’ should head the party. Lets also see the Nats on one side of the chamber and the Libs on the other during the vote on an important bill. Thats always fun.

  15. No 925

    What a crying shame. Our last bastion of credibility: national security. What does Turnbull do? Say there are no credible threats. The guy is an idiot.

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