Gillard vs Rudd – the re-match

The government is down a Foreign Minister this evening (the Canberra Times reports on the likely shape of the looming reshuffle, in case you were wondering), and by all accounts the Prime Minister will seek to clear the air tomorrow by calling a leadership spill for Monday. This makes the timing of the next Newspoll very interesting indeed: usually it reports on Monday evening, but it occasionally emerges a day earlier. The Prime Minister would presumably prefer that the matter be resolved before it comes out rather than after.

Beyond that, I do not venture to guess what will occur, beyond observing the consensus view that Kevin Rudd will be seeking to wound rather than kill, as he starts far behind on most caucus head-counts. Two such have been published: an error-ridden effort from The Weekend Australian which was corrected the following Monday, and this from the Sydney Morning Herald. The former was rather kinder to Rudd. There are 51 out of 103 whom The Oz and the SMH agree are firm for Gillard, and 30 whom they agree are firm for Rudd. There are four agreed Gillard leaners and four agreed Rudd leaners. The Oz has six down as undecided, but the SMH has everyone as either firm or leaning.

Gillard supporters: Albanese, O’Neill, Combet, Clare, Fitzgibbon, Owens, Arbib, Thistlethwaite, Garrett, Bird, Grierson, Plibersek, Burke (NSW); Shorten, O’Connor, King, Feeney, Macklin, Gillard, Dreyfus, Danby, Roxon, Marles (Vic); Ripoll, Emerson, Perrett, Ludwig, Hogg, Neumann, Swan, D’Ath (Qld); Evans, Gray, Sterle, Smith (WA); McEwen, Farrell, Ellis, Butler, Georganas (SA); Julie Collins, Sidebottom (Tas); Leigh, Brodtmann, Lundy (ACT); Snowdon (NT).

Oz says Gillard lean, SMH says firm for Gillard: Rowland (NSW), Livermore (Qld), Gallacher (SA).

Oz says undecided, SMH says firm for Gillard: Hayes (NSW), Jenkins, Jacinta Collins, Kelvin Thomson (Vic).

Oz says Rudd lean, SMH says firm for Gillard: Craig Thomson (NSW), McLucas (Qld), Rishworth (SA).

Gillard leaners: Craig Thomson, Bradbury (NSW); Bilyk, Polley (Tas).

Oz says undecided, SMH says Gillard lean: Symon (Vic), Singh (Tas).

Oz says Rudd lean, SMH says Gillard lean: Laurie Ferguson (NSW), Champion (SA).

Oz says firm Rudd, SMH says firm Gillard: Melham (NSW).

Rudd leaners: Murphy (NSW); Pratt (WA); Adams, Lyons (Tas).

Rudd supporters: Bowen, Cameron, Husic, Saffin, Hall, Faulkner, Elliott, Kelly, McClelland, Jones, Stephens (NSW); Griffin, Burke, Byrne, Cheeseman, Marshall, Carr, Smyth, Vamvakinou, Ferguson (Vic); Moore, Rudd, Furner (Qld); Bishop, Parke (WA); Zappia (SA); Urquhart, Brown, Sherry (Tas); Crossin (NT).

If you’re in the mood for diversion, as many have been lately, here is a review of some recent preselection action, in keeping with this site’s brief (together with an even more diverting diversion to New Zealand).

• The Liberals are mulling over whether to proceed with the endorsement of Garry Whitaker to run against Craig Thomson in Dobell, following allegations he has lived for years without council permission in an “ensuite shed” on his Wyong Creek property while awaiting approval to build a house there. Whitaker won a preselection vote in December, but there is talk the state executive might overturn the result and install the candidate he defeated, the Right-backed WorkCover public servant Karen McNamara. As for Labor, Imre Salusinszky of The Australian reports there is “no chance” Thomson will be preselected again, “with party strategists favouring the nomination fo a young woman to create maximum differentiation from the tainted MP”. One possibility is local councillor Emma McBride, whose father Grant McBride bowed out as state member for The Entrance at last year’s state election.

• Joanna Gash, who has held the south coast NSW seat of Gilmore for the Liberals since 1996, announced last month that she would not seek another term. She plans to move her political career down a notch by running in the direct election for mayor of Shoalhaven in September, which will not require her to resign her seat in parliament (UPDATE: A reader points out that the O’Farrell government is planning to change this, and that there is a strong chance it will do so before September.) Imre Salusinszky of The Australian reports the front-runner to succeed her as Liberal candidate is local deputy mayor Andrew Guile, a former staffer to Gash who has since fallen out with her. Salusinszky reports Guile is an ally of state Kiama MP Gareth Ward, “a member of the party’s Left faction who is influential in local branches”. Clive Brooks, owner of South Nowra business Great Southern Motorcycles and reportedly an ally of Gash, has also been mentioned as a possible contender, as have “conservative pastor Peter Pilt and former 2007 state election candidate Ann Sudmalis” (by Mario Christodoulou of the Illawarra Mercury).

• A Liberal Party preselection vote on Saturday will see incumbent Louise Markus challenged by aged-care lobbyist Charles Wurf in Macquarie. According to Imre Salusinszky in The Australian, local observers consider the contest too close to call: “A defeat of Ms Markus would be a stick in the eye to federal leader Tony Abbott, who backs sitting MPs, and to the state party machine, which does not wish to devote precious campaign resources to marketing an unknown in the ultra-marginal seat.”

• In Eden-Monaro, former Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Hendy is reckoned likely to win Liberal endorsement.

• Andrew Southcott, the Liberal member for the Adelaide seat of Boothby, is being challenged for preselection by Chris Moriarty, former state party president and operator of an export manufacturing firm. Daniel Wills of The Advertiser reports Moriarty is a close ally of former state Opposition Leader Martin Hamilton-Smith. Also challenging is Mark Nankivell, whom Wills rates as “little known” but rumoured to be supported by another former state leader, Iain Evans. Southcott’s lax fund-raising efforts are said to have angered many in the party.

• Also under challenge is Patrick Secker in the rural South Australian seat of Barker. He faces rivals in the shape of Mount Gambier lawyer Tony Pasin and Millicent real estate agent and Wattle Range councillor Ben Treloar, but Daniel Wills reports he is expected to prevail.

• New Zealand is conducting a review into its mixed member proportional electoral system, which received a strong endorsement from voters at a referendum held in conjunction with the November election. The main concern to have emerged is that candidates can run both in constituencies and as part of the party lists which are used to top up parties’ representation so that their parliamentary numbers are proportional to the votes cast. The most frequently cited anomaly here relates to the Auckland electorate of Epsom, which has been held since 2005 by Rodney Hine of the free-market Act New Zealand party. The National Party has an interest in the seat remaining in the Act New Zealand fold, as the party is its natural coalition partner and success in a constituency seat entitles it to a share of seats proportional to its vote (a failure to do so would require them to clear a 5 per cent national vote threshold). To this end it has formed the habit of running a candidate in the seat who is also given an unloseable position on the party list, so supporters can be reassured that he will have a seat even if he loses in Epsom. One possibility is that the problem might be lessened by lowering the threshold to 4 per cent, which is what the original royal commission into the electoral system recommended before MMP was introduced in 1996.

New Zealand election: November 26

New Zealand will hold one of its triennial national elections tomorrow, and all the polls suggest the ruling conservative National Party stands on the cusp of an extraordinary achievement: a parliamentary majority achieved under a proportional representation voting system. The final poll from New Zealand Herald-Digipoll has the National Party on 50.9 per cent, while Roy Morgan (a phone poll of 959 respondents) has it at 49.5 per cent. The opposition Labour Party on the other hand is languishing on 28.0 per cent and 23.5 per cent respectively. The National Party is nonetheless a few points off its peaks from earlier in the campaign, and intricacies of the electoral system mean a simple majority of the vote might not be enough to translate into a majority of seats. But with two minor parties including the substantial Act New Zealand committed to support a National Party government, Prime Minister John Key’s hold on office looks secure in any case.

Under the mixed-member proportional system, voters are given a “party vote” as well as voting in first-past-the-post elections for 70 constituency seats. It is the party vote which is of interest to casual observers, as it ultimately determines the partisan composition of the parliament. In addition to the constituency members, 50 “top-up” seats are allocated in such a way as to give each party a share of seats more-or-less proportional to its share of the vote – provided they either clear a 5 per cent threshold of the national vote or win a constituency seat. The other peculiarity of the New Zealand electoral is the seven single-member Maori electoral districts: voters opt to be on either the Maori or the general roll, and exercise their constituency vote accordingly.

For the latter reason, the only constituency seats of interest to non-local observers are those which might be won by minor party candidates whose parties poll less than 5 per cent nationally. Success will entitle them to between zero and five extra seats, depending on the size of their party vote. Barring surprises, the only two seats which appear to fit the bill are Epsom, held by Rodney Hide of free-market liberal Act New Zealand, and Ohariu, held by Peter Dunne of the religious-cum-centrist United Future New Zealand. Act New Zealand currently has five seats in parliament on the back of its 3.6 per cent party vote in 2008, which would have been zero if Hide had lost his seat – although he in fact won very easily. Dunne on the other hand retained Ohariu narrowly, and United Future did not score enough party votes to win further seats. The 2008 election also saw the parliamentary demise of the once-prosperous New Zealand First party after its leader Winston Peters lost his seat of Tauranga, and it fell below the threshold in the party vote. However, the polls suggest it has undergone a surprising (to me at least) revival: their support is at 5.2 per cent from Digipoll and 6.5 per cent from Roy Morgan. Peters is top of the party’s list, and is not contesting a constituency seat.

The other operative minor parties are the Green Party, the Maori Party and, to a lesser extent, the Mana Party, a breakaway from the Maori Party formed when Hone Harawira resigned from it (New Zealand electoral law then obliged him to face a by-election in the seat – his success presumably stands him in good stead to retain the seat tomorrow). The Green Party won the seat of Coromandel in 1999 but has otherwise relied on clearing the threshold to win representation. It had a struggle achieving this until its vote lifted to 6.7 per cent in 2008, and is expected to do substantially better this time, with polls consistently indicating a vote in double figures and a representation of at least 14 seats (although Australian experience suggests they might not meet such lofty expectations). The Maori parties make the outcome in the seven Maori seats relevant to the final party totals, giving the Maori Party in particular the opportunity win substantial representation without clearing the threshold. The party won five seats in 2008, one of which it lost with Harawira’s departure earlier this year, but this time it will be encumbered by vote-splitting with the Mana Party. The other two Maori seats are held by Labour.

As noted at the beginning, the peculiarities of the system can distort the proportional conversion of votes to seats. Firstly, the capacity of the Maori Party in particular to win more constituency seats than its party vote would entitle it to can result in an “overhang”, meaning a greater number of seats in parliament than the normal 120. Its five-seat haul caused this to happen for the first time after the 2008 election, boosting the total number of seats to 122. This affects the National Party’s chances of winning a majority as its share of the vote will only be converted into a share of the base 120 seats. Another theoretical possibility for an overhang is that the National Party will so completely dominate the constituency contests that it will emerge with more seats than its party vote share allows. To do so it would need to win as many of 60 out of the 70 seats. Without having investigated the situation too closely, this doesn’t seem to me to be entirely implausible in circumstances where one major party is so completely dominant in a single-member electoral contest (witness the New South Wales state election). Another point in the National Party’s favour is that they will benefit from the 5 per cent threshold, as votes for parties which fail to reach it will be excluded from the seat calculation – hence lowering the bar to obtain a majority of seats.

The other feature of tomorrow’s poll will be a non-binding referendum on the electoral system, with all indicators pointing towards the retention of mixed-member proportional. Voters will first be asked if they wish to keep MMP or change to another system, and then given four options to choose from if MMP is abolished. Two of these – first-past-the-post and Australian-style preferential voting – involve a complete reversion to a single-member constituency system and the abolition of proportional representation. A thirde, the Australian Senate-style single transferable vote, would do the opposite – constituencies would be abolished and all seats determined at national level (CORRECTION: Martin B in comments points out that the plan is to have 24 to 30 districts proportionally electing between three and seven members, giving minor parties much higher hurdles to clear – what is known in the trade as “low magnitude” PR). Finally there is the “supplementary member” system, which would be similar to MMP except that the party seats would simply be allocated according to the parties’ shares of the total vote, rather than being used to achieve an proportional result overall by “topping up” the constituency result. This would reduce the number of minor party MPs without eliminating them entirely, making majority government easier to achieve.

The supplementary member system is favoured by the National Party, but all other major players favour the status quo. The latter seem likely to get their way: the Digipoll referred to above finds 54.4 per cent planning to vote to keep MMP. On the second question, 29.9 per cent favour first-past-the-post, 17.2 per cent favour the single transferable vote, 13 per cent favour the supplementary member system, and only 11.4 per cent favour preferential voting. Much further reading from Antony Green, and also Charles Richardson at Crikey. I suppose it’s also possible that some actual New Zealanders have had something to say about the election, but here I reach the limits of my knowledge.