Matthew Franklin of The Australian reports a Newspoll survey commissioned by conservative think tank the Institute of Public Administration finds Australians’ views on electoral reform are the opposite of my own: 70 per cent back compulsory voting, while more than half would prefer first-past-the-post voting to the preferential system.
Now for some other matters I’ve been keeping on the back-burner due to post-election ennui:
Tim Colebatch of The Age offered a litany of evidence last month on the extent of public disaffection expressed at the August 21 election, which seemed especially concentrated in areas traditionally strong for Labor. The turnout of 93.2 per cent, meaning votes cast as a percentage of enrolled voters, was the lowest since the introduction of compulsory voting in 1925. Furthermore, the informal vote rose from 4.0 per cent in 2007 to 5.6 per cent in 2010. Anecdotal evidence of large numbers of blank ballot papers have led to talk of a Mark Latham effect, although Peter Brent at Mumble observes it was actually 2007 that was the aberration. However, one of the reasons proffered for the lower informal vote on that occasion was a lower number of candidates (no doubt a consequence of an increased deposit, one of the few agreeable features of the Howard government’s 2006 electoral law changes). That the number was lower still this time brings the disaffection hypothesis back into play. Speaking of Latham, his column in the Australian Financial Review on September 23 argued the election amounted to a rejection of two-party politics with reference to a combined major party vote of 71.8 per cent, when measured as a percentage of enrolled voters rather than votes cast. The Australian’s Cut and Paste section then proceeded to completely miss the point in response. Brian Costar and Peter Browne at Inside Story calculate that the non-voting rate as a proportion of the adult population was 21 per cent, the main culprit being an enrolment regime that uses the power of data-matching to strike those with incorrect enrolments from the roll rather than update their details. The solution to this problem, automatic enrolment, has now been adopted at state level in New South Wales and Victoria, but is opposed at federal level by the Coalition for completely spurious reasons which are examined in another article by Peter Browne and Brian Costar.
A fortnight ago, the Australian Electoral Commission released a report into the pre-polling irregularities that led to the exclusion from the count of 2977 votes in Bootbhy and 1306 in Flynn. The difficulties in each case related to the reform that allowed pre-poll votes to be treated as ordinary rather than declaration votes, and thus to be admitted to the count on election night. This required protocols concerning the security of ballot boxes which had not applied when each vote was contained in a declaration envelope and later subjected to individual scrutiny in particular, a requirement that boxes not be opened during the three week pre-polling period. At the Oaklands Park pre-polling booth in Boothby, the polling official emptied the ballot boxes at the end of each day and transferred their contents to larger boxes, so as to keep an ongoing detailed record of the number of ordinary ballot papers and the various categories of declaration votes issued. On polling day the boxes were taken to the Boothby scrutiny centre for counting, at which point the Labor scrutineer noted the ballots inside were stacked and flat rather than disordered and jumbled in the usual fashion. There were two separate incidents in Flynn. In Blackwater, an official opened the boxes and counted the votes upon the final closure of pre-poll voting the day before the election, based on a set of instructions from the district returning officer intended to detail procedures for ordinary booths on polling day. At Emerald, the officer had opened the box on a number of occasions to rearrange the papers and create more space, and then applied new security seals (the officer had been provided with extra seals on request to the divisional office, which should have rung alarm bells at the time). This came to light due to procedures used to identify and record the seals. The net effect of the votes’ exclusion in Boothby was to cut Liberal member Andrew Southcott’s winning margin by 339 votes; I am not aware of the impact in Flynn, but the eventual Liberal National Party margin was 5720 votes.
Ruminating on Labor’s malaise is very much in vogue this season, as demonstrated by the post-election review process being undertaken by party elders Steve Bracks, Bob Carr and John Faulkner, and the publication this week of Power Crisis: The Self-Destruction of a State Labor Party, by former NSW state MP Rodney Cavalier. Writing in The Australian, Cavalier calls for a secret ballots in preselection votes and a prohibition on candidates who in the past five years have been members of the political class (those on the staff of ministers, ALP office and union officials who do not come from the industries the unions represent). Lenore Taylor of the Sydney Morning Herald reports NSW Labor is planning to choose candidates in selected electorates by conducting open primaries, either through a straight vote or a hybrid of an open-to-all-comers vote and the usual branch member system. This follows the lead of the Nationals in the independent-held seat of Tamworth and Victorian Labor in Liberal-held Kilsyth. Disappointingly for Cavalier, the latter process turned up Vicki Setches, electorate officer to upper house MP Shaun Leane.