How green was my paper

The first of the federal government’s two green papers on electoral reform was released on Wednesday, this one dealing with disclosure, funding and expenditure issues. The paper was originally promised in June, but has been delayed pending consultation with state and territory governments. It might be hoped that this results in the unhelpful anomalies from one jurisdiction to the next being ironed out, potentially allowing for the establishment of a single authority to administer the system. You have until February 23 to make submissions in response to this paper or in anticipation of the next, which will deal with “a broader range of issues, aimed at strengthening our national electoral laws”. This paper’s concerns in turn:

Disclosure. State and territory party branches, associated entities (which include fundraising entities, affiliated trade unions and businesses with corporate party membership) and third parties (individuals or organisations that incur “political expenditure”, such as Your Rights at Work and GetUp!) are currently required to lodge annual returns disclosing details of campaign-related receipts, expenditure and debts. The Political Donations Bill currently before the Senate proposes to change reporting from annual to six monthly, but even this seems a bit lax. Voters would presumably want some idea of funding arrangements before they vote rather than after, and the practice in other countries shows how this could be done. In Britain, reporting is required weekly during election campaigns and quarterly at other times; in the United States, expenditures are disclosed daily during campaigns and donations monthly. This is made possible by mandatory electronic record keeping which is not required at this stage in Australia. Queensland’s and New Zealand’s practice of requiring disclosure of large donations within 10 or 14 days also sounds promising. Another issue is that itemised disclosure only applies to donations, which amounts to only a quarter of private funding – the rest coming from fundraising, investments and debt. Australia also uniquely requires “double disclosure” by both donors and recipients, which might be thought more trouble than it’s worth.

Funding. Australia is unusual in that it has neither caps on donations or bans on donations from particular sources. Canada allows donations only from private individuals; the United States does not allow donations from corporations, banks, unions and federal government contractors. Public funding arrangements such as our own are common internationally, but New Zealand interestingly uses measures of public support other than votes, including party membership, number of MPs and poll results in the lead-up to elections. This allows broadcasting time to be allocated ostensibly on the basis of current support, so that the system is “less vulnerable to criticisms of favouring major parties in comparison with minor parties and independent candidates”.

Expenditure. Expenditure caps apply in Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, with compensations of free air time provided in the latter two cases. They also existed here until 1980, when they were abolished on the basis that they “constrained campaigns” and were too hard to enforce. The US allows parties and candidates to agree to limit expenditure in exchange for public funding, which it settled for when set caps were ruled unconstitutional. Given that election campaigning is increasingly unconstrained by the formal campaign period, expenditure caps work best where there are fixed terms.

In other news, we’re probably entering a Yuletide opinion poll drought, but there’s plenty else going down:

• Antony Green’s dissection of the Queensland state redistribution has been published by the Queensland Parliamentary Library.

• The campaign for South Australia’s Frome by-election (the state’s first since 1994) is slowly coming to the boil – read all about it here.

• More action than you can poke a stick at from the good people at Democratic Audit of Australia.

• I missed an opinion poll last Saturday: Westpoll in The West Australian has the state’s new Liberal government leading 55-45, from a sample of 400. This sounds maybe a bit generous to Labor from primary votes of Liberal 45 per cent, Labor 34 per cent, Nationals 5 per cent and Greens 9 per cent. Labor’s Eric Ripper, viewed by all as a post-defeat stop-gap leader, has plunged seven points as preferred premier to 12 per cent, and even trails Colin Barnett 30 per cent to 26 per cent among Labor voters.

• The unstoppable Ben Raue at the Tally Room plays the dangerous game of anticipating prospects for the looming federal New South Wales redistribution that will reduce the state from 49 seats to 48. So for that matter does Malcolm Mackerras in Crikey:

Early this year I was quoted in The Australian as saying that the name Throsby would disappear. The Illawarra media quickly picked up on this and I heard Jennie George say on ABC radio that I was engaging in “pure speculation”. She is quite right, of course. Although the loss of a NSW seat has always been assured, it is pure speculation to say which one it will be.

Nevertheless my proposition actually is that the south coast seats of Gilmore (Joanna Gash, Liberal) and Throsby (Jenny George, Labor) will be merged into a seat bearing the name of Gilmore. Such a seat would, in practice, be reasonably safe for Labor so really it would be Gash to lose her seat. As to why the name Gilmore would be preferred to the name Throsby the explanation is simple. Dame Mary Gilmore (1865-1962) was a woman whereas Charles Throsby (1777-1828) was a man.

We have the precedent of 2006 to know that the MP who is the actual victim of a redistribution is not necessarily the one whose seat disappears. In 2006 and 2007 Peter Andren was the true victim but the name of his seat, Calare, was retained. That he died shortly before the 2007 general election is not the point. His seat of Calare became so hopeless for him he announced that he would stand for the Senate. Consequently there is no reason why Joanna Gash may not be the real victim in 2009 even though the name of her seat is retained.

If this is the way the commissioners decide to do it then the flow-on effect would be interesting to watch. My belief is that Batemans Bay (presently in Gilmore) would be restored to Eden-Monaro, in which division it voted in 2001 and 2004. Then the Tumut and Tumbarumba shires (presently in Eden-Monaro) would be restored to Farrer, in which division they voted in 2001 and 2004. Consequently it would be possible to retain all the rural seats by moving them into more urban areas. Bearing in mind that in 2006 the NSW commissioners abolished a rural seat but made the remaining seats more rural it would seem to me logical that in 2009 they would retain all the rural seats but make some of them less rural.

ACT election live

11.15pm. A very strong performance by the Greens at the Lyneham booth in Molonglo (29.2 per cent) has been cancelled out by other late booths: the Greens (1.47) now trail the Liberals (2.49) in the hunt for the last quota.

11.07pm. I earlier said a third Labor seat in Ginninderra would go to Dave Peebles, but he now slightly trails Adina Cirson.

10.58pm. It’s also being said that Frank Pangallo can’t be written off in Molonglo, although it’s conceded that it’s unlikely.

10.56pm. Talk on the ABC is that independent Mark Parton is not out of the hunt in Ginninderra, depending on how independent preferences go. If successful the result there would be two Labor and one each for Liberal, Greens and independent. He has 6.6 per cent of the primary vote.

10.43pm. I’m back. Greens sounding slightly more hopeful of that second seat in Molonglo and Labor likewise of a third seat in Ginninderra, but both remain up in the air and if anything leaning slightly to the Liberals.

9.13pm. I’ll be taking a break shortly, so a recap. Brindabella: No doubt the result here is 2-2-1, little doubt Steve Doszpot has taken a Liberal seat from Steve Pratt, possible Joy Burch will take a Labor seat from Mick Gentleman. Ginninderra: Liberals seem to be recovering a little after the 3-1-1 scare, and looking better for 2-2-1, but a few big booths still to come. If it’s the former, Vicki Dunne will lose her seat to Labor’s Dave Peebles. Newcomer Alistair Coe has done very well to be a clear Liberal winner. Molonglo: Labor’s three incumbents looking good; two seat for the Liberals (Zed Seselja overwhelmingly dominating the vote, so unclear if the second will be second-placed Jeremy Hanson or third-placed Giulia Jones), one seat for the Greens (Shane Rattenbury), and the final seat a contest between a third Liberal and a second Greens (unclear if Caroline Le Couteur or Elena Kirschbaum). So Labor has lost its majority but might yet win eight seats out of 17, but more likely seven; Liberal between five and seven; Greens three or four.

9.10pm. What I might have missed in Molonglo is the 3 per cent vote for Richard Mulcahy which will presumably flow heavily to the Liberals (thanks to Oz in comments).

9.06pm. With the vote up from 42.3 to 57.6, the Liberals have recovered slightly in Ginninderra, up from 27.1 to 27.8 per cent. They would still seem more likely than not to win a second seat, but are by no means home and hosed. As far as I can see, the prospect of a second Greens seat in Molonglo looks higher than most are saying: they are on 1.45 quotas against 2.51 for the Liberals, and could surely close that 0.06 gap on preferences. There is a lot I could be missing though.

8.52pm. Situation in Molonglo is that Labor are sure for three, the Liberals for two and the Greens for one, with the final seat down to a third Liberal and a second Green.

8.50pm. Brindabella count up to 63.2 per cent, but the basic situation changed: Labor two (John Hargreaves returned, but Mick Gentleman not home against party newcomer Joy Burch), Liberal two (Brendan Smyth plus Steve Doszpot looking likely to defeat Steve Pratt), Greens one (Amanda Bresnan).

8.46pm. Talk on ABC of the Liberal vote continuing to fade in Ginninderra, putting their second seat at risk. That could mean a final outcome of Labor 8, Liberal 6, Greens 3. The Liberal casualty in Ginninderra would be incumbent Vicki Dunne, who is well behind newcomer Alistair Coe.

8.22pm. Vote count really ticking over now: up to 45.9 per cent in Brindabella, and Joy Burch has hit the lead over Mick Gentleman for the second Labor seat. Steve Pratt now trails Steve Doszpot 8.3 per cent to 6.3 per cent, which is just about lethal for Pratt.

8.20pm. I intimated earlier that Brendan Smyth’s preferences might help Pratt narrow the gap over Doszpot, but the very helpful Ben Raue points out that Smyth is himself some way short of a quota so won’t have preferences to give.

8.10pm. Ginninderra vote up from 16.8 to 20.9 and the Liberals have gone down further, from 1.71 quotas to 1.68.

8.08pm. The brains trust, and apparently the man himself, doesn’t think Pangallo is a chance.

8.05pm. Brindabella count up from 19.5 per cent to 24.3 per cent, and the gap between Doszpot and Pratt continues to widen.

8.02pm. With an extra 1.8 per cent counted (20.1 per cent), the Greens vote up slightly in Molonglo, where there support is unevenly spread. It might be that Frank Pangallo is in the hunt here: his group is on 0.38 quotas against 1.39 for the Greens.

7.58pm. An extra 2.5 per cent counted in Brindabella bears out what Adam said earlier: Labor up from 34.2 per cent to 34.9 per cent, Liberal down from 36.8 per cent to 36.1 per cent, Greens down from 13.6 per cent. The 2-2-1 outcome here is not in doubt, but it’s interesting to note that Steve Pratt has fallen further behind newcomer Liberal Steve Doszpot: from 7.7-7.1 to 7.7-6.8. However, as a sitting member and ally of Brendan Smyth, Pratt can presumably expect to do better on the latter’s preferences.

7.55pm. Ben Raue on the ground notes: “Of course it takes ages. First of all you’ve gotta unfold them, then sort them into columns, then sort them into individuals within columns when all different ballots have the candidates in a different order, then tally them. It takes a lot longer than a federal primary count.”

7.54pm. Count remains slow, but Liberal spokesman on ABC Radio doesn’t sound concerned about a second seat in Ginninderra despite only being on 1.7 quotas at present.

7.25pm. Count now proceeding slowly after initial excitement. Adam Carr notes in comments that the polls are doing better for Labor than the pre-polls. Greens hopes for a second seat in Molonglo seem to be fading.

7.11pm. ABC Radio commentators pretty much writing off Richard Mulcahy.

7.05pm. Big picture: 11 per cent swing against Labor, slight drop in the Liberals, big pick-up for the Greens – definitely good for three seats, maybe yet four. ABC computer still saying seven each for Labor and Liberal, three for the Greens. Kate Lundy still thinks Labor might win three seats in Ginninderra, but they’ll have to do better than their current 2.3 quotas.

6.52pm. More on Molonglo: Sometime NSW Greens candidate Ben Raue vaguely hopeful in comments of a second Greens seat, but early days with booth votes only just starting to come in. Katy Gallagher easily leading the Labor field; Andrew Barr not doing well for a presumed future leader, but still very likely to win a seat. Simon Corbell the poorest performing of the three Labor incumbents. Zed Seselja home and hosed, but Jacqui Burke in trouble, trailing two Liberal newcomers in Jeremy Hanson and Guilia Jones.

6.40pm. Molonglo: Labor looking good for three seats, the Liberals not certain of more than two, Shane Rattenbury home and hosed for the Greens.

6.38pm. Ginninderra: The Liberals are short of two quotas at the moment, but probably not by enough to stop them winning two seats. Vicki Dunne is trailing newcomer Alistair Coe; both should win seats unless they are indeed in danger of only winning one. Jon Stanhope and Mary Porter both set to be returned. Meredith Hunter to win a seat for the Greens.

6.35pm. Brindabella: on counting of pre-polls, Labor and Liberal are both just above two quotas and the Greens just below one, leaving no doubt as to the result if the trend continues. Intriguingly, Steve Doszpot narrowly leads Steve Pratt in the race for the second Liberal seat; Brendan Smyth is clearly not in trouble. John Hargreaves certain to win the first Labor seat, but Joy Burch perhaps an outside change to beat Mick Gentleman, although she is behind. Strong performances by the micro-parties, but not strong enough.

6.32pm. ABC computer predicting seven seats each to Labor and Liberal and three to the Greens.

6.26pm. That quick counting has indeed been down to electronic voting – all those results are pre-polls. I expect things will quieten down a little for a while now.

6.21pm. Presumably to rub salt into the wounds of the technical problems I have been having, the ACT Electoral Commission are conducting the count at breakneck speed – perhaps this has something to do with electronic voting. 12.9 per cent counted and those opinion polls are looking good – Labor down 10.7 per cent, Liberals down 2.9 per cent, Greens up 7.2 per cent.

6.20pm. Apologies for the delay in getting started. Oz in comments writes: “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.”

Call of the board

At the close of last night’s count Labor were ahead in 64 seats, the Nationals in 14, Liberal in six, One Nation in one and independents in four. It is universally anticipated that postal votes and the remaining undeclared booth will see off Labor’s eight vote lead in Charters Towers. The National Party have also won Burdekin (4.7 per cent) and Burnett (2.9 per cent) from Labor and Lockyer (12.3 per cent) from One Nation. However, Keppel has been lost to the Labor Party (4.2 per cent).

The Liberal Party has won two seats on the Gold Coast, Currumbin (3.4 per cent) from Labor and Surfers Paradise (15.0 per cent) from an independent. Doubt still remains over Labor’s hold on the Brisbane seats of Clayfield and Indooroopilly, although their 549-vote (1.6 per cent) lead in the latter will presumably be enough. In Clayfield however just 233 votes (0.6 per cent) separate incumbent member and former Play School presenter Liddy Clark from Liberal challenger Sally Hannah. The Liberals may yet lose their Sunshine Coast seat of Caloundra, where they lead by 370 votes (0.9 per cent).

Labor then will emerge with between 62 and 64 seats, a respectable distance from the Poll Bludger’s final projection of 65. The Nationals have done one better than I expected in winning 15 seats while the Liberals have won between four and six (I tipped five). Independents Elisa Roberts (Gympie), Peter Wellington (Nicklin), Liz Cunningham (Gladstone) and Chris Foley (Maryborough) were re-elected but Lex Bell lost Surfers Paradise, while One Nation held Tablelands but lost Lockyer – all of which was as I had anticipated.

In terms of Labor’s majority I would appear not to have done quite as well as Peter Brent at Mumble or Charles Richardson at Crikey (not available online), who tipped Labor to win 63 and 64 seats respectively. The content of our judgement is another matter, as indicated by the fact that I got one seat closer to the mark by wrongly (so it would seem) deciding on Friday that Labor would not hold Clayfield after all. This was one of six seats I got wrong, the others being Burdekin, Burnett, Charters Towers, Currumbin and Toowoomba North. The latter was my worst call, with Labor 7.6 per cent ahead at the close of polls. My Burdekin judgement marked a grave under-estimation of the sugar industry effect (in this electorate at least), with the Nationals leading by 4.7 per cent. Of the remainder, Currumbin surprised everybody, while Clayfield and Charters Towers were close enough that I can forgive myself. Burnett could have been better judged, but the Nationals’ 2.9 per cent lead is almost within an acceptable margin for error for state election predictions (not federal though).

Peter Brent may be given latitude as he made his prediction early in the campaign and wasn’t taking it as seriously, offering no comment on the fate of One Nation or independents. He wrongly picked Noosa, Burleigh and Kawana as Coalition gains, missing Burdekin, Burnett and Currumbin, but correctly picked Charters Towers as a Nationals gain (unlike the Poll Bludger) and Labor’s win in Keppel.

Charles Richardson was cleverer than me in that he reached his conclusion by picking six seats as possible Labor losses and calculating they would lose half of them – Burdekin, Burnett, Charters Towers, Burleigh and Thuringowa to the Nationals, and Mount Coot-tha to the Greens. As far as it goes this was perfectly correct, but the seats Labor retained here were held by margins of 5.1, 8.3 and 11.2 per cent. He also tipped the Liberals to win the same three seats as last time, thereby missing Currumbin and their easy win in Surfers Paradise, and wrongly predicted a One Nation wipeout, which proved 16.9 per cent off the mark in Tablelands. This makes for three full errors and three half-errors, so while I might claim to be ahead on percentage, I have to concede it to Richardson on points.

To the Poll Bludger’s knowledge, Malcolm Mackerras made no effort to retract his prediction of January 14 that Labor would win by 15 seats, though he would surely have known many of his calls were untenable before yesterday.

I take it all back

Just kidding. Two hours out from the closure of polls I thought it worth noting that the Sunshine Coast Daily today carries "pre-poll booth exit polls" of 100 respondents each for five electorates on its turf, suggesting Labor-held Kawana and Liberal-held Caloundra will change hands assuming preferences do the job in the former (Labor’s Chris Cummins led Liberal Harry Burnett 43 per cent to 42). In Caloundra Labor supposedly leads 49-35. Other figures had Labor ahead in Noosa and an impressive 61 per cent supporting National Party MP Fiona Simpson in Maroochydore.

Poll that matters

Newspoll hath spoken. Lest we forget, this organisation showed what it was worth at the last Queensland election with a final survey that nailed Labor’s score to within 0.1 per cent and was only 1 per cent out for each of the Coalition parties. With this record any sensible observer would do well to regard the following as holy writ: Labor on 50 per cent, up 1 per cent on last election, versus the Coalition on 33 per cent, up 5 per cent. Labor are down from 58 per cent to 55 per cent in Brisbane but up from 42 to 46 per cent in the rest of Queensland.

The Australian’s Greg Roberts notes that the latter figure "contradicts private party polling, which indicated issues such as sugar industry reform were hurting Labor in the regions". To this I would point out that "Brisbane" presumably does not include the Gold and Sunshine coasts and that the "regional" figure has been weighted upward by what is likely to be a very strong Labor performance in these areas. If this is so the Nationals will have reason to be nervous about Maroochydore and Beaudesert, and the Liberals will be looking dicey in Caloundra.

Against that, the regional figure could be hiding pockets of weaker Labor performance in seats including Burnett, Charters Towers, Toowoomba North, Thuringowa and Burdekin. To the latter list can be added Barron River if for no other reason than that Greg Roberts in the Courier Mail and Charles Richardson (see below) would have it there – again, they must know something I don’t. Against that is the finding, again consistent with trends in other polls, that Labor faces a 3 per cent dip in Brisbane. This makes things very interesting for Clayfield and Indooroopilly (maybe even Aspley), and has inspired the Poll Bludger to reverse his judgement that Labor will hold the former.

Only one more day o’ pollin’, one more day-o …

Crikey today provided an assessment from Melbourne-based election watcher Charles Richardson, whose reading of the Queensland situation is broadly in line with the Poll Bludger’s except that he takes an ever dimmer view of the Liberal Party’s prospects. Only Clayfield and Barron River are nominated as potential Liberal gains, so no Noosa, Kawana or Indooroopilly. Richardson may know something the Poll Bludger doesn’t with regard to Barron River, but the Liberal candidate ran a distant third in 2001 and most observers would be surprised if this fell before the others. More importantly, Richardson does not share what may be a lazy assumption of the Poll Bludger’s that the Liberals can’t possibly lose any of their existing three seats, and rightly notes that anything could happen in light of Joan Sheldon’s departure from Caloundra.

He does not however consider Surfers Paradise worth a mention, which brings me to the excellent series of electorate-level polls conducted throughout the campaign by the Gold Coast Bulletin. Earlier posts related results for Gaven (click here) and Broadwater (click here) and the Poll Bludger has today been able to hunt down the other three. The Surfers Paradise results are even worse for incumbent independent Lex Bell than I had realised, having him a distant third (on 17 per cent) behind Liberal John-Paul Langbroek (38 per cent) and Labor’s David Parrish (35 per cent). In Burleigh, Labor’s Christine Smith, elected on a margin of 1.8 per cent, was sitting pretty on 41 per cent against 25 per cent for the Nationals’ Max Duncan, with Greens and One Nation on 7 and 3 per cent respectively. And in long-forgotten Currumbin, Merri Rose led her Liberal challenger 41 to 30 per cent. By the way, these high primary vote figures were not achieved by distributing the undecided vote – this was recorded in the results at an impressively low 6, 21 and 16 per cent respectively, in stark contrast to the efforts of other regional newspapers during the campaign.

How-to-vote cards will count for less than ever at this election, but the small number of exceptions the major parties have made to their just-one-vote strategy are potentially of interest. The Coalition are recommending a second preference to independents Liz Cunningham (incumbent) in Gladstone and David Moyle (challenger) in Thuringowa, both of which make sound tactical sense in terms of thwarting Labor. Labor are recommending second preferences only to Nicklin MP Peter Wellington and, curiously, independent candidate Ruth Spencer in Warrego.