WA Senate election finalised

The Western Australian Senate election result confirmed: three Liberals, one Labor, one Greens, one Palmer United.

The button has been pressed on the Western Australian Senate special election, confirming what has been clearly apparent since the first batch of postals were added to the count: the Liberals have won three seats, electing David Johnston, Michaelia Cash and newcomer Linda Reynolds; Labor has been reduce to one, electing newcomer Joe Bullock but with incumbent Louise Pratt defeated; Scott Ludlam has been re-elected for the Greens; and Zhenya “Dio” Wang will be a third Senator for the Palmer United Party. I await a scrutiny sheet of the preference distribution to fully probe the innards of the result, but here are a few things to chew on from the party vote totals.

• The table below divides the result into votes that were cast on polling day, namely ordinary and absent votes (also provisional votes, which are few in number and mostly from polling day), and those cast beforehand, namely pre-poll and postal votes. This is of unusual interest given the damage Labor was said to have suffered when Joe Bullock’s critical comments regarding his own party received widespread media coverage the day before the poll. Presumably this had something to do with the fact that the Greens picked up a 6.5% swing on polling day votes compared with a far more modest swing of 3.2% on votes cast earlier in the piece, and with Labor’s 5.2% swing on polling day comparing with 4.0% beforehand. However, the micro-party vote was also down on polling day and steady beforehand, which is consistent with them having done well in the September election out of voters reluctantly doing their bit to avoid the fine on election day, and sitting out the Senate election due to ignorance or apathy.

• That said, turnout was nothing like as bad as predicted, at 88.54% of enrolled voters compared with 92.77% in September. By contrast, the most recent House of Representatives by-election, in Kevin Rudd’s old seat of Griffith, had a turnout of 82.08% compared with 93.14% at the election. As Antony Green observes, this is likely to do with the considerable number of voters who don’t know what electorate they live in and are thus unaware of their obligation to vote, a situation that does not apply if the election is statewide.

• As has been widely noted, more Labor voters who went below the line gave their first preference to the number two candidate, Louise Pratt (5,390 votes), than to the number one candidate, Joe Bullock (3,982 votes). To my mind, a fairer electoral system would declare Pratt rather than Bullock the winner of the Labor seat. The only precedent for such a result that I’ve heard mentioned is the 2010 Senate election in Queensland, when Nationals loyalists saw that the number two candidate on the ticket of the newly merged Liberal National Party, Barnaby Joyce, polled 9136 votes against 8138 for his ticket-leading Liberal colleague, George Brandis.

UPDATE: The scrutiny sheet can be viewed here. The score at the final count was 188,169 to Linda Reynolds versus 176,042 for Louise Pratt, a margin of 12,127. Lest anyone was thinking below-the-line votes might have saved the day for Pratt, the projected margin on Antony Green’s calculator, which treats all votes as above-the-line, was in fact a slightly narrower 8109.

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.

30 comments on “WA Senate election finalised”

  1. Interesting that the two major parties, combined, could only just scrape a majority together. I won’t spill the guts of a chicken to determine voter intentions but this seems to reflect a fair amount of dissatisfaction in the electorate with both parties.

  2. I also said before the election that the turnout would not drop as much as in a normal by-election because it was for the whole state (very few people do not know what state they live in compared to many who do knot know their electorate) and the grater media coverage it got compared to a normal by-election.

  3. I compared the ALP and Greens votes on election day to pre-election votes in 2013 and noted that:

    The Greens scored considerably better on election day than prior and so the figures above for the 2014 bye -election show a similar pattern for them.
    In other words the pattern above for 2014 is ‘normal’ for them.

    The ALP was similar – they did better on ordinary on the day votes than pre-election votes in 2013.
    But this ‘normal’ [?] pattern was not repeated in 2014 with a greater discrepancy between pre-election and election day results suggesting there was a definite larger swing away from the ALP in the latter days of the campaign. In fact the overall ALP vote pre election was the same percentage [21.5%] for both periods.
    I take this as the ‘Bullock’ effect.

    Its hard to guess at the Lib + Nats + Lib Dem numbers but the key figure, IMO, for 2014 is that they clearly were the biggest losers over the campaign with a swing against them just a tad over 2% greater than the swing against the ALP.

  4. ” The only precedent for such a result that I’ve heard mentioned is the 2010 Senate election in Queensland, when Nationals loyalists saw that the number two candidate on the ticket of the newly merged Liberal National Party, Barnaby Joyce, polled 9136 votes against 8138 for his ticket-leading Liberal colleague, George Brandis.”

    Back in the early days of PR for the Senate, there was at least one case in which a candidate lower in the group outpolled those above him. In 1951 in Tasmania, Reg Wright was elected first, with a quota in his own right.

  5. 4

    The operative word in that example is Tasmania. Between the introduction of PR in the Senate in 1949 and the introduction of group voting tickets in 1984, Tasmanians exercised some choice in which of parties candidates they elected, no doubt due to their experience with Hare-Clark.

  6. Labor lost the seat therefore Labor really lost the election.

    The LNP performed shamefully.

    The biggest winner was the PUP who registered the highest increase to their vote.

    Man of the match undoubtedly went to Joe Bullock for the Greens – have a look at the pre poll/postal votes.

  7. Centre, if Fredex is right, Bullock scored an own goal for the ALP rather than a goal for the Greens. I suppose I’d better look at the comparison with 2013 to see who really benefitted, .. Or maybe Fredex knows quickly?

  8. A part of the reason for the bigger margin was that below-the-line votes moved PUP closer to crossing before the HEMP exclusion, which meant their predominantly Liberal-flowing surplus was worth more. However, had PUP actually crossed before the HEMP exclusion, the Lib-PUP votes would have flowed as part of a tiny surplus. This was the tipping point I went on about on my site: the closer you got to it without crossing it, the more the difference it made.

    But I think even taking that into account there is more to be explained and suspect that BTLs disadvantaged Labor too.

  9. “Guess’ rather than “know”.
    The 2014 ALP vote was 21.5% during the campaign AND on the day – from the numbers above.
    In 2013 the prepoll for the ALP was less, by 1.2% overall [roughly cos the bases of the various %s absent/pre-poll etc are different], than on the day.
    So ‘something’, whatever, and Bullock fits the bill cos of the timing, caused voters to NOT vote at the usually higher rate they gave the ALP in ordinary votes in 2013, very roughly [cos of the unknowables] about 1.2%.
    Where did those votes go?
    Who knows – maybe some to the Greens who increased their vote by a lot lot more than 1.2%, maybe PUP who may have got most of their votes from the Libs but also some from the ALP, maybe a micro party, maybe even the Libs.
    Who knows?
    Preferences may give us a clue – I’ll not speculate further.

  10. Quite so yes “guess”, Fedex. Thanks for that. Interesting, its hard to speculate whether the Bullock ‘revelations’ cost Loiuse Pratt a seat or not. If they did, it seems more likely to have advantaged the Liberals rather than The Greens.

  11. “As has been widely noted, more Labor voters who went below the line gave their first preference to the number two candidate, Louise Pratt (5,390 votes), than to the number one candidate, Joe Bullock (3,982 votes). To my mind, a fairer electoral system would declare Pratt rather than Bullock the winner of the Labor seat.”

    William, how can you write such tripe? Labor voters who were happy with Bullock (or, more likely, who had no opinion of any of the candidates) just ticked the Labor box. Only those who were unhappy with Bullock bothered voting below the line. In fact Pratt polled 5,390 votes out of the Labor total of 275,094, or less than 2%. As rebellions go, this is trivial. In 1980 Senator Jean Melzer polled 46,452 votes after she was dumped to No 3 on the ticket, or 5.3% of the total Labor vote. The “vote 1 Pratt” campaign failed dismally, because most voters who share Pratt’s politics voted for Ludlam. So what possible basis is there for arguing that she should get the seat?

    Having said that, I quite agree that Bullock was a rotten candidate, and that the system of deals between union secretaries that got him selected has to end. Shorten clearly recognises this despite his own union-faction background. He needs to get on and do this.

  12. Well Labor has lost Louise Pratt but at least we have another seventy year old idiot in the Senate. Great! Bullock will do even more damage there over the next six years. He should feel proud if the Libs now do a deal with PUP to repeal all the Gillard legislation. Six years in office wasted over ego and factionalism, with the same forces destroying any legacy.

    William, can you confirm if the below the line result is unique in Labor history? That is, is Bullock’s personal vote the worst result ever for a Labor Senate number one candidate?

  13. What a stupid question. Why would anyone bother voting below-the-line for the No 1 candidate? As I said above, people who were happy with Bullock, or indifferent to him, simply ticked the Labor box. This whole line of argument is just absurd.

  14. Psephos is right about the small number that voted for Pratt personally. However, that just indicates how scared most people are to vote below the line when there are a large number of candidates. It is not easy and there is quite a high level of informals for BLV – my recollection usually at least 10% and likely a lot more.

    The easy option is to vote 1 ATL for someone else. The evidence is reasonable that probably 15,000 or more Labor voters voted 1 Greens. That made little difference to the outcome.

    What did make a difference was people upset by Labor looking like it was a mess run by factions – I would suggest that at least 15,000 Labor voters would have plonked for Liberals or a group directing preferences to Liberals. Easily enough to give the Libs the last seat.

  15. Last September the rate of Labor below the line voting was 2.4% from a total vote of 348,401. Bullock polled 5,271 BTL votes and Pratt 2,198. At the re-election Labor’s vote fell to 275,094, the rate of BTL voting rose to 3.7%, Bullock’s vote fell to 3,982 and Pratt’s rose to 5,390. I think that tells you something about what Labor Party members who didn’t switch to the Greens felt about the manner in which a few powerbrokers carved up positions.

    Ex-Labor MP Larry Graham, maybe with an axe to grind, had a few words about Bullock’s ability as a candidate in April 2013, referring to him losing the Helena by-election in 1994. http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/nothing-average-about-joes-senate-bid-20130422-2i9du.html

  16. Thanks Antony. I agree it is very significant that about 3200 Labor voters doing a BTL vote for Pratt – but that is only the tip of the iceberg for the distress felt by Labor voters.

    No doubt thousands also held their nose and voted 1 ATL thinking that the effort to vote BTL for Pratt would only be token and also a risk of informal.

    Is there a figure for BTL informals?

  17. Psephos is right that for the many voters who voted above the line we cant really draw a conclusion on their preferences for Pratt or Bullock.

  18. 12

    1980 is not an accurate comparison with 2014. In 1984 there was not ATL voting, therefore voting for Senator Melzer was less of a deviation from and not significantly harder than the default option of voting ALP and the ballot papers had fewer candidates on them (making filling in all the boxes easier). Categorising every ATL voter as happy with Bullock is not accurate, they were voting for the party not the candidate and many people who opposed Bullock would still have voted ATL in fear of getting their preferences wrong or because they could not be allocating all their preferences.

    There should be Robson Rotation in the Senate, still with ATL voting, so that the voters (who vote BLT) can decide which of the candidate(s) from the group they vote for gets elected. The ATL votes would be allocated to the candidates of the party in the order shown on the ballot paper and thus the ATL votes would be distributed approximately equally between the candidates of the group.

  19. Psephos, people who are indifferent shouldn’t be deciding the matter. My point is that the below-the-line option should be for people who want to choose which of the candidates gets elected. If that was the system, there would of course have been some making the effort to go BTL who didn’t do so under this system, and maybe Bullock would have got more votes than Pratt (I’d doubt it though).

  20. [Why would anyone bother voting below-the-line for the No 1 candidate?]

    It seems to have escaped your notice that we can only identify two occasions where the number one candidate failed to get the most BTL votes out of their ticket. In other words, the overwhelming majority of BTL voters do the very thing you say no one would bother doing. Most people who vote BTL do so to choose their own order of parties, not their favoured order of candidates. On this occasion though, very unusually, a large number of voters went to that effort purely in order to repudiate Bullock.

  21. 5,390 voters out of 1,277,804 is not a large number. I expected it to be ten times that. The large number is the 75,000 people who voted Labor in September but who voted Green in April. I’m not disputing that there was a rebellion among Labor voters against Bullock. I’m disputing that Pratt was its beneficiary. She wasn’t – Ludlam was.

    (Although if we could all stop navel-gazing for a minute we might note that Labor and the Greens only polled 37% between them, compared to 45% in 2007. That’s the real story in WA.)

  22. [5,390 voters out of 1,277,804 is not a large number. I expected it to be ten times that. ]

    No doubt it would have been, if the broken Senate electoral system didn’t present those wishing to do so with the hurdle of numbering 77 boxes, a process that took me personally over 10 minutes and left me with a vague lingering uncertainty that I may have made an error somewhere along the way. I suggest the number of Labor defectors to the Greens would have been lower, had not an ATL vote for the Greens been by far the simplest method of lodging an anti-Bullock vote for the left.

  23. A thoroughly-deserved shocker of a result for the ALP. I would have been tempted to BTL it in Pratt’s favour, but in the end I probably would have just put my 1 next to the Greens and left it at that (as it looks like a lot of otherwise loyal Labor voters have done).

    Anyway. I’m sure Joe’s just over the moon with the result. One less fag he has to worry about being seen with!

  24. William, Antony

    Thanks for your responses.

    I never suggested the BTL votes caused this result. As William said, the complexity of BTL voting makes it so rare that it makes little difference. But I think it is reasonable to conclude that the BTL voting pattern is indicative of the groundswell of sentiment that did cause this result.

    Achieving a swing back towards a relatively unpopular government at a rerun election is surely a unique achievement in election campaigning. Uniquely bad.

    The desire of some within the Labor hierarchy to defend this fiasco is understandable. Admitting they erred might be the first step towards a process of honest self examination. Far too painfull. Better to blame it on the system, voters, or the media.

  25. Socrates – there would be a swing against the Govt if a 2PP outcome was guessed at – hidden of course by ATL voting. In 2013 there was easily 3 Liberals elected. This time they just scaped in.

  26. William, I have to take issue with two points raised in #20 and #24…

    1) Indifferent people shouldn’t be deciding? What proportion of the population do we expect is indifferent and why are we happy for them all to collectively select six senators via compulsory voting? I share the view that Pratt’s BTL vote of about 2% of the ALP total is simply not a compelling story.

    2) ATL vote for the Greens = anti-Bullock vote for the left? We can not pretend to know the motivation of the voter when counting the votes. We know how they voted but not why they voted. The postal vs booth vote discrepancy MAY be an indicator of something afoot but can you find factors to explain why the same thing happens every other election?

  27. William, Hazel Hawke was 12th on the ARM NSW ticket in the 1998 Constitutional Convention. She received more BTL votes than all but Malcolm Turnbull and was elected ahead of others higher on the ticket. http://www.aec.gov.au/elections/constitutional_convention/files/report.pdf page 85 and http://www.prsa.org.au/qn/1998a.html

    OPV above the line, with parties fixing the order of candidates, continues to disadvantage groups polling more than a quota. LibLab would continue to unnecessarily give seats to the MinMics.

    Robson rotation of names in each group, and deeming an indifferent above the line preference to rank the candidates as listed on each ballot would treat group members equally and let below the line OPV voters determine which individuals succeed.

    I think the ACT method with no above the line and OPV would work fine for the Senate and save LibLab from their mistakes.

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