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Malcolm Mackerras
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Will history view Morrison as a great PM?

Thursday, May 23, 2019

With the celebrations of Bob Hawke’s life in full swing, the time has come for me to have my penny’s worth. It takes the form of ranking Australia’s 30 Prime Ministers in order of greatness. The accompanying table is one on which I have been working for 50 years – with continual revisions as readers will see.

Take the top left-hand corner of the “great” PMs – ranked in my order of greatness. The weekend result has caused me to add the name of Scott Morrison – but with two question marks. Readers may be interested to know that following the 1993 Keating victory, I had him in the “greats” column but with two question marks. However, his full term as “elected” Prime Minister (1993-96) was such a disappointment to me, I lowered him out of the top category. The same may happen with Morrison. Time will tell.

My reasons for placing Menzies top are the number of elections he won (seven in all), the sheer length of time he spent in the office (18 years in two terms), Australia’s prosperity while he was in office and the fact that he retired on his own terms. I lack the space here to explain why Alfred Deakin is placed third on my list.

Given the tributes now being paid to Hawke, readers would be entitled to ask me why I place him “only” third among the Labor PMs and “only” fifth of the 30. This article does that by concentrating mainly on Labor Prime Ministers.

My logic with prime ministerial ranking comes from nation building, successful reforms, initiatives, election wins and longevity in office. However, I add marks for being a successful Prime Minister in either of the two world wars and for leaving on his own terms. Electoral defeat, debacles and divisiveness cause me to subtract marks. Also there is, in my opinion, a need to give handicap marks to earlier prime ministers, as they are out of memory to people living today.

The wartime Prime Ministers were Billy Hughes in the First World War and John Curtin in WW2. Historians are virtually unanimous in the view that, on almost every count, Curtin did his job better and more successfully than Hughes. So, while both men are among the “greats” Curtin comes in second and Hughes “only” sixth. By the way, Curtin died in office.

With Hawke is placed “only” fifth, I need now to explain why Fisher goes so high. First, he was so successful electorally that he established a majority Labor government in Australia in 1910. By contrast, New Zealand had to wait until 1935 and the United Kingdom until 1945 for such a success.

Fisher began construction of the Trans-Australia Railway and of Canberra, established the Royal Australian Navy, numerous social security payments and the Commonwealth Bank. He was the only Labor Prime Minister to leave office on his own terms, thus cementing his place as the party’s second greatest Prime Minister. While Hawke never took his party to an election defeat (the ultimate humiliation), he did suffer his party leadership being torn from him in December 1991 in circumstances well known to readers of my articles.

Labor supporters dislike me placing Lyons ahead of Chifley and dislike me placing both Hughes and Lyons among the “greats”. Both were “rats”, they say. So what? Anyway, I can see why objection may be taken to my high placement of Lyons. My argument is based on his electoral success, his popularity at the time, and that his sensible economic policies dragged Australia out of the depression. He never lost an election for the simple reason that he died in office.

I lack the space to explain my placements of Bruce, Keating, Fraser, Whitlam, Barton and Holt. I insist on placing Julia Gillard in the “High average” category for a variety of reasons, such as being the only woman in the job, her term being the longest of the post-Howard prime ministers (to date) and her excellent negotiating skills.

In my opinion, all of Rudd, Turnbull, Abbott and Gorton were duds. Rudd goes first since he was PM twice and Turnbull goes higher than Abbott because he was longer in the job. Abbott goes higher than Gorton because he did have one success – he stopped the boats, with the aid of dumped Liberal senator Jim Molan. For my comments on Molan see my article “What a disgrace!” posted on 13 December last year.

Those Prime Ministers who did not win an election are placed in a separate category (see bottom left-hand corner) and are ranked purely in terms of the time they spent in the office. Thus McMahon was there for one year, eight months and 25 days and Reid for 10 months and 18 days. At the bottom end, Page was there for 20 days and Forde for a mere eight days.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


Labor will win but by how much?

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The time has come for me to put numbers on my predictions for this Saturday. As I did with NSW, I begin by predicting the size of the swing to Labor. That means also a prediction of the overall two-party preferred vote. I am predicting the swing to be 1.7%. Such a swing would raise Labor’s share of the two-party preferred vote from 49.6% last time to 51.3% on Saturday. The Coalition’s figure would, therefore, fall from 50.4% to 48.7%.

I now apply that to my pendulum – this is my really important prediction for the House of Representatives election. The result would be 79 seats for Labor and 72 for all the rest combined. That is an outright Labor majority of seven seats but it is really 81 for the left and 70 for the non-left. That is so because Melbourne and Clark are left-of-centre seats held by Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilkie respectively.

For the non-left, I divide it this way: 51 for the Liberal Party, 15 for the Nationals and 4 independents. The independents, therefore, would sit in the seats of Cowper (NSW), Kennedy (Qld), Mayo (SA) and Warringah (NSW). Note, here, that I predict Dave Sharma to defeat Kerryn Phelps. Were Phelps to retain Wentworth, then the number of Liberals would be 50 and the independents would be one clearly of the left (Clark), two sitting in seats naturally of the Nationals (Cowper and Kennedy) and three sitting in seats normally won by the Liberal Party, Mayo, Warringah and Wentworth. That total of six is what the betting markets suggest.

As to the seats distributed between the Coalition and Labor, I rely on the deviations from uniform swing as shown on my pendulum to cancel out. On a uniform swing Labor would hold all its seats and gain Capricornia (Qld), Forde (Qld), Gilmore (NSW), Flynn (Qld), Robertson (NSW), Banks (NSW) and Petrie (Qld).

My belief is that Labor will lose Herbert to the Liberal National Party and fail to gain Capricornia, Flynn and Banks. However, Dickson (Qld), Hasluck (WA), Chisholm (Victoria) and La Trobe (Victoria) would fall to Labor by way of compensation. In the unlikely event that Labor lost Lindsay (NSW), then it would be compensated for that failure by the gain of Bonner (Qld).

Turning to the unrepresentative swill of the Senate, I have, from the first of July, 28 Labor, eight Greens plus Jacquie Lambie from Tasmania (those being counted as of the left) adding up to 37. On the right I have 33 for the Coalition plus Corey Bernardi (SA), Pauline Hanson (Qld) and Clive Palmer (Qld). Holding the balance of power, therefore, would be Derryn Hinch (Victoria) plus two senators from the South Australian Centre Alliance, Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


Who’s the greatest NSW Premier?

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Readers of my articles here will know of my style when it comes to elections. It has always been to make clear predictions a week or so out from polling day but then conspicuously to make virtually no comment after the event until all the votes are counted. In respect of the recent event in New South Wales, my predictions were contained in the article published here on Thursday 14 March where I predicted that the overall two-party preferred vote would favour the Coalition over Labor by 51% to 49%.

I have now calculated the precise figures and they are 2,053,189 (52.02) for Liberal-National and 1,893,618 (47.98) for Labor. So I was 1% out. In seats, however, I was “spot on” – except I wasn’t. If readers care to refer to my article in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, they would notice that I predicted 33 Liberals and 15 Nationals in the Legislative Assembly, a total of 48. In fact, the result was 35 Liberals and 13 Nationals, also a total of 48.

The reason is that I made four cancelling errors. I was wrong to predict that the Nationals would win Ballina (won by the Greens) and Murray (won by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party). I was also wrong to predict that Labor would win East Hills and Goulburn. Both seats were retained by the Liberal Party. That success resulted in the Liberals getting one more cabinet post in a post-election ministry expanded by one.

Let me remind readers of the concluding paragraph of my predictions article. Referring to Gladys Berejiklian I wrote: “It is being widely written that she has adopted a strategy to crash or crash through. I believe historians will record that she succeeded in crashing through.” Let me now go further than that – as I explain below.

Historians like to rank leaders of governments in order of greatness. I have no doubt that when the historians of the NSW Division of the Liberal Party set themselves to this task, they will decide that Nick Greiner was their greatest Premier and Berejiklian the second greatest. They will also notice that both are of non-Anglo Celtic background. Coming in at third greatest would be Sir Robert Askin.

In comparing election results there is sometimes an important difference between the statistics of an election and its psychology. In March 2011 Barry O’Farrell secured a two-party preferred vote of 64.2%. In March 2015 Mike Baird won 54.3%. Poor old Gladys won “only” 52%. Yet the party will decide that the achievement of Gladys was “the sweetest victory of all”.

Back in 2011 the Liberal Party won Blue Mountains, Campbelltown, Charlestown, Coogee, Gosford, Granville, Londonderry, Maitland, Newcastle, Port Stephens, Rockdale, Smithfield, Strathfield, Swansea, The Entrance, Wagga Wagga and Wyong. None of those seats were won by Liberals in 2019. The Nationals then won Ballina, Barwon, Lismore, Murray-Darling, Murrumbidgee and Orange. In 2019 none were won by Nationals.

Why, therefore, do I not include Barry O’Farrell as one of the greatest? The answer is that I have just given “purely corroborative detail intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.” Berejiklian will be Premier for quite a long period. She will not have the record of economic reform to which Greiner can make claim – but she will have a claim to greatness of a different kind. I ask readers to fill in further details.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


Here’s how I voted in the upcoming Federal election

Thursday, May 02, 2019

On the morning of Monday 29 April I went to the Canberra polling place with intent to cast an early vote. When ushered to a table for those electors with surnames beginning with M, the clerk asked me whether I was entitled to vote early and whether I lived at the address shown on the roll. He also asked me to assure him that I had not already voted. Upon receiving those assurances, he gave me a ballot paper for the House of Representatives Division of Canberra and an ACT Senate ballot paper.

For the Senate vote he said: “Vote above the line from 1 to at least 6 or below the line from 1 to at least 12.” I then said to him: “I have been told that I can place a number 1 above the line for one party only and have that counted as a formal vote for such party. Is that true?” To the question he replied: “Yes, that is true”.

My first reason to cast so early a vote was to find out what clerks at the table have been instructed to say to voters to have the informal vote be as low as possible. Essentially it is this: talk to the voter as though this is a good system designed to help the voter and do not give information the politicians do not want to be given. However, if a voter asks that question quickly, give a truthful answer.

My second reason to cast so early a vote was so that I could send articles to newspapers (and this website) telling people how I had voted. There was no sense in telling everyone how I would vote on Saturday 18 May.

For my House of Representatives ballot paper I used the pencil provided and gave my first preference vote to the Labor candidate, 36-year-old economist Alicia Payne, and marked remaining squares to record a formal vote. I have an unusual view about this. I see that ballot paper as my chance to vote for the best candidate to be my local member. If I lived in Monash I would vote for Russell Broadbent, if in Berowra Julian Leeser, if Bradfield Paul Fletcher. However, I live in Canberra and I judge Payne to be the best candidate. She will be my local member from 18 May.

If that sounds boringly conventional, my Senate vote may shock you. For starters, I brought with me my best pen so that I could write in beautiful blue ink and with the neatest hand-writing of which I am capable. On the bottom left-hand corner I drew an arrow pointing upwards to the instructions. Below that I wrote: “These instructions are deceitful.” I then went to the very top of the ballot paper and above the party boxes I wrote: “These party boxes should be scrapped.” Just below the thick black line I wrote: “This contrivance should be scrapped.”

At the very bottom I wrote: “I refuse to be manipulated by the machines of the big political parties – Malcolm Mackerras.” In short, I cast a deliberately informal vote, my first of that kind – and the best vote I’ve ever cast. I shall continue to do that until I die or until the politicians legislate a decent system designed by me. In the meantime all I can say is that I have tasted this present system and I spew it out. Should readers want to know about my alternative they should visit my website at

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


Election Day: 18 May 2019

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Among my fan club is a certain Ted Davis from Tugun in Queensland. In a letter to me written on the day of the dissolution of the House of Representatives (Thursday 11 April 2019) he wrote this, among other things: “Some younger members of the public – i.e. those aged about 50 years or younger, probably don’t realise that on Saturday, 18 May, it will be exactly 45 years to the day that the 1974 double dissolution election was held. If you will be doing any television commentating on election day this year, you may like to mention this.”

Unfortunately, this point was quickly noticed by a number of journalists – so much so that it would be old hat news for anyone to mention it on polling day. I sent to him copies of articles illustrating the extent to which journalists were on to this point.

There is another similarity/difference I think should be noticed. The day of the dissolution of the House of Representatives this year was Thursday 11 April. By pure chance, that is the same day of the week and date as that of the double dissolution in 1974. The circumstances, however, could scarcely be more different.

Dissolutions of the House of Representatives are common place but double dissolutions are rare. Their dates have been 30 July 1914, 19 March 1951, 11 April 1974, 11 November 1975, 4 February 1983, 5 June 1987 and 9 May 2016.

The date of expiry of the terms of senators was set at 30 June in 1906. The intention was to make May the normal month for our elections. Scott Morrison, therefore, is to be strongly commended for his choice of date. Almost every other prime minister, however, has called an early election on that way of measuring the word “early”. The great majority of half-Senate elections have been simultaneous with those of the House of Representatives and held in September, October, November or December of the previous year – meaning a long wait for senators to begin their fixed terms of six years.

For these reasons, I think this election is most comparable with that of May 1917, it being the most recent case of a normal joint election held in May. The similarities include that the previous election was caused by a double dissolution. What is unique about these two elections is the simple fact of their being the only cases of our federal elections in which Easter lay between the day of dissolution and polling day. In every other respect, the 1917 and 2019 elections are as different as chalk and cheese.

The above is interesting political trivia. My main purpose today, however, is to notify readers of the fact that I have set up a website. It can be visited at Its theme is “Unrepresentative Swill”. Readers who wish to understand what I am on about are invited to turn to the commentary page of “The Australian” for Monday 22 April, Easter Monday. In the middle of the page there is an article by me titled “Shenanigans keep voters in the dark like mushrooms” to which the editor added this description: “Blame politicians for the disgrace that is our Senate”. On the same page 10 there are articles by Nick Cater, Paul Fletcher and Maurice Newman. It is a page that is interesting to read!

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


Who is my favourite federal pollie?

Thursday, April 11, 2019

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only but his judgment, and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” Those famous words were spoken in 1774 by the Conservative British statesman Edmund Burke (1729-1797) in a speech to the electors of Bristol after he was elected as its member in the House of Commons. That in shorthand means a member of parliament should be a representative, not a delegate.

So, what is the relevance of that to modern Australian federal politics? The answer I give is to refer readers to an earlier article of mine on this website. It was titled “Why I admire Bob the Builder” and was posted on Monday 11 April 2016. I explained this at the beginning of the article: “Towards the tail end of each federal parliamentary term I work out my favourite politician of that term”.

Therefore, today I announce that my favourite politician of the 45th Parliament is Russell Broadbent, the Liberal member for McMillan in Victoria. He will be the member for Monash in the 46th Parliament as a consequence of the Electoral Commission changing names of some electoral divisions as they change the boundaries. Therefore, I would say he has been the member for West Gippsland continuously since 2004.

My reasoning for this nomination is that, of all the 150 members of the House of Representatives, Broadbent is the one coming closest to fulfilling Burke’s principled view of the role of a member of parliament.

Before becoming a politician, Broadbent (born in 1950) was a retailer at Koo-wee-rup and Pakenham selling men’s wear and ladies wear clothing. That background made him very sympathetic to small business throughout his career. He joined the Liberal Party in 1980 and unsuccessfully contested the then federal seat of Streeton in 1984 and 1987.

In 1989, the Victorian federal redistribution of seats created a new seat in outer south-east Melbourne (but also including Koo-wee-rup) called “Corinella” (an Aboriginal word meaning “falling water”, also a local town name) and Broadbent became its first member, elected in 1990 but defeated in 1993. Then in 1996 he was elected for McMillan but defeated in 1998. Elected again for McMillan in 2004, 2007, 2010, 2013 and 2016 his personal following plus good boundary changes made it a safe seat for him. In 2019, Monash (the new name) is one of only four Victorian seats generally thought to be safe for the Liberal Party, the others being Goldstein, Kooyong and Wannon.

Being a champion of small business, Broadbent was exceptionally strong in his promotion of Work Choices at the 2007 election. It led to a widespread view that he would be defeated at that election, which saw the demise of the Howard government. Instead of the predicted defeat, he increased his majority!

Although commonly thought to be on the left of the Liberal Party, Broadbent told me recently that he is now far more anti-Labor than he was in 2016. The reason for that is his view that Bill Shorten’s Labor has adopted industrial relations policies, which reverse the Hawke-Keating government’s economic achievements. Labor’s proposed legislation to reverse the Fair Work Commission’s decision on Sunday penalty rates excites his exceptional hostility.

He belongs to the sensible centre of his party and refuses to engage in culture wars. An example of his position is that, in every leadership ballot in his party he has voted for the incumbent leader. Consequently, in 2015 he voted to keep Tony Abbott as Prime Minister but also voted to keep Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister in 2018.

I asked him to give me a signed copy of the best speech he ever made. It was on Wednesday 9 August 2006 on the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006. That was the first of two occasions (the second being in December 2017) when he implemented Edmund Burke’s principles conspicuously. Taking a position very much contrary to that of the majority of his McMillan electors he famously said: “If I am to die politically because of my stance on this bill, it is better to die on my feet than to live on my knees”. That is what generated the expectation of his defeat in 2007. It shows that taking a principled position on a controversial subject is often actually good politics. 

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


Who will win the NSW election on March 23?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Consequent upon the article “My call on the Victorian November election” published on Thursday the first of November last year, I promised a similar article for New South Wales. In this article I keep that promise. My problem has been that of promising both the Melbourne and Sydney newspapers concerned that they would get first call on my predictions.

Anyway, my predictions article was published last Saturday in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. It was published on pages 32 and 33 of Saturday Extra and included my pendulum. In this article I do not intend to repeat the seat-by-seat details set out there, except to say the following: the Berejiklian government will be re-elected and will be a majority government. On the two-party preferred vote percentages overall, it will be 51 to 49 the Coalition’s way. Last time it was 54.3 to 45.7.

I am aware that the latest opinion poll has the vote the other way round to my prediction. In the Sun-Herald on Sunday 10 March (the day after my Telegraph article was published), the poll shows 51 for Labor and 49 for the Coalition. My comment on that is to point this out: in Victoria there was a 5% swing to the Andrews government in the last fortnight of the campaign. Admittedly, that was a Labor government. However, if there could be a 5% swing to Andrews I can see no reason why there would not be a 2% swing to Berejiklian.

So let me quote to you the second paragraph of my Telegraph article. It reads: “At the time of writing the bookmakers had Labor in front – but I pay even less attention to them than I do to opinion polls! The actual numbers are $1.77 for Labor and $2 for Liberal-National.”

By the way, let me quote the third paragraph of the Sun-Herald article: “Exclusive polling for the Sun-Herald gives Labor a two-point lead, though many voters are still not convinced the ALP has spent enough time in Opposition. More than 48 per cent say Labor is not ready to govern, while just over 43 per cent say it is.”

In the outgoing Legislative Assembly, the Coalition had 52 seats, Labor 34 and the Greens three. That meant the Coalition had a majority of 15 seats over the combined parties of the left. However, in addition to those 37 sitting on the Opposition benches, there were three independents plus a member of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party in Orange. So the absolute majority for the Coalition was 11 seats.

My prediction for the election on Saturday 23 March is 48 for the Coalition and 45 for all the rest combined. Of that 45, the Labor number would (on my prediction) be 39. So the overall Coalition majority would be three seats.

Unlike that article (which was a detailed description of seats) this piece will give the broad reasons why I am confident of Berejiklian’s success.

My reasons begin with the strength of the economy whereby New South Wales has the strongest economy in the country. Coming second in my reasoning is the simple fact of many people referring to Labor under Michael Daley as being “same old Labor.” When the next election rolls around in March 2023, Labor will have lost the damage to its reputation done by the last NSW Labor government. Not this time, however.

Gladys Berejiklian became Premier in 2017. Unfortunately for her, however, she developed a reputation for being a weak leader who did not know what she was doing. Yet the stadiums policy (for which she has been much criticised) has brought out the best in her. She now comes across as decisive. While Daley can say she is arrogant, there is another side to that coin: decisiveness. She has gone ahead with the demolition and there is nothing he can do to stop her. She is not going to allow the election to be a referendum on stadiums. To do so would be to contest the election on his terms.

It is being widely written that she has adopted a strategy to crash or crash through. I believe historians will record that she succeeded in crashing through.

Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


Brexit and The Donald: both big mistakes, Take 2

Friday, February 01, 2019

The time has come for me to update two articles published on this website some time ago. The first was “Brexit and The Donald: both big mistakes?” posted on Thursday 17 November 2016 and the second was “Soft-as-soap Brexit on the cards?” posted on Wednesday 14 June 2017. My first comment on them is to say that the then editor of the website placed the question marks after the titles. I would not have done so. I did think (and still think) that both Brexit and Donald Trump’s election were big mistakes by the British people and the American system. I still insist that a soft-as-soap Brexit is very much on the cards.

Sandwiched in between those two articles was this one: “Theresa May: The first great British PM of the 21st century?” posted on Wednesday 26 April 2017. Unlike the other two, in that case I would have placed the question mark there myself. I now very much doubt she will be regarded in that way and my reasoning in that article turned out to be quite wrong. I do, however, think she will come to be seen as an admirable woman, who was a very interesting British Prime Minister.

On Trump, let me give some statistics of recent US elections. In November 2016, Hillary Clinton won 65,853,510 popular votes to 62,984,824 secured by Trump. (The percentages of the two-party vote were 51.11 for Clinton and 48.89 for Trump). Then there were mid-term congressional elections two years later, at which Democratic candidates received 60,727,598 votes (54.36 per cent) to 50,983,895 (45.64 per cent) won by Republican candidates. To me, therefore, it is quite clear that Trump has no mandate but the Democrats in the House of Representatives (235 of them) do have a mandate. The 200 remaining Republicans in the House must support Trump.

Therefore, it was always obvious that if Trump tried to shut the government down, he would lose face badly. It is now even more obvious that any further attempt will result in yet more humiliation for him. The House of Representatives is under no duty to vote money for a discredited President like Trump. He should now resign himself to reality and obey the instruction of Section 3 of Article 2 of the US Constitution which remains: “He shall take care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

On Tuesday, there were votes in the British House of Commons that created the impression of Theresa May on a high. However, with the EU emphatically rejecting any variation to the May-EU Brexit deal, there is no way for the British to come out of this looking good. Whichever way it goes, they will look foolish. So, what should they do and what will they do?

They should have another referendum. It would give remainers the win they should have enjoyed back in June 2016. However, I do not think that is now likely. The British have this incredible idea that a Brexit vote of 51.89% (with remain being 48.11%) can be called “52-48” and be pronounced a “solid win”. My Australian knowledge tells me that no amendment to the Australian Constitution has been carried on such a miserable affirmative vote. So it is all nonsense but British pride will, I think, prevail over my idea of common sense.

In my article “Soft-as-soap Brexit on the cards?” I did not define precisely what I meant. Let me now do so. The May-EU Brexit deal would qualify for such a description. Its chances are, I think, much better than pundits will now allow. I predict it will come to pass some day about the middle of March. Those who rejected it a month ago will have a massive amount of egg on their faces.

In that article I coined my own quip which was: “British politicians can always be relied upon to do the right thing – but only after they have exhausted every alternative.” I followed that with this: “I predict within two years I shall be saying that.” A hard no-deal Brexit would not reflect the will of the British people. That is so obvious it will not happen. The only alternative left is the May-EU deal. British politicians will hold their noses while they vote for it but they will vote for it none-the-less. Perhaps, for reasons I did not then have in mind I say this: Theresa May will be regarded as the first great British Prime Minister of the 21st Century.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


3 disgraces in our political system

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Should readers of my articles wonder what I have been doing over the holiday period I give this answer: I continue to research and write my book “Unrepresentative Swill” in which I advocate reforms to the three Australian upper house voting systems, each of which can be described as “a disgrace”. They are for the Senate and for the Legislative Council of each of Western Australia and Victoria. Referring to Victoria, however, I begin by reporting on the full analysis of Victoria’s November elections I promised in my last article published here in 2018.

It cannot be disputed that Daniel Andrews has won a landslide victory. However, it needs to be noted that the second win for Andrews has been distinctly inferior to the second win Steve Bracks achieved for Labor in November 2002. On that occasion, Labor won 62 seats, being a majority of 36 over the combined conservative number of 26 - 17 Liberals, seven Nationals and two independents, both being in seats that had been National, Mildura and Gippsland East.

On this occasion we see the effect of the rise of the Greens. Thus, what was Labor’s share of the two party preferred vote (up to, and including, the November 2010 election) has become Labor-Greens on the one hand and Liberal-National on the other. In any event, the left numbers now are 55 for Labor and three for Greens (a total of 58), while the right numbers now are 21 Liberals, six Nationals and three independents, all of whom sit in seats that had been National, Mildura, Shepparton and Morwell.

Much has been made of Labor winning Hawthorn. It is true that the last time Labor won Hawthorn was as long ago as 1953. While it is remarkable that Labor should win Hawthorn in 2018, it needs to be noted that on this occasion the Liberals were able to retain the Melbourne suburban seats of Ferntree Gully, Forest Hill and Gembrook, all of which were easy Labor wins in 2002. Meanwhile, the Liberals have performed quite well in the country, winning Narracan (very easily) and Ripon, seats easily won by Labor in 2002.

The overall two-party preferred vote is 2,023,809 (57.6%) for Labor-Greens and 1,490,665 (42.4%) for Liberal-National, a swing against Liberal-National of 5.6%. Last time it was 52-48.

On this occasion by far, the more interesting election was that for the Legislative Council. The Senate has long been known to be unrepresentative swill but there had been a view (which I shared) that the Victorian Legislative Council system has, since the reform of 2006, been a “proper” proportional representation system. This election put paid to that illusion. It came about due to the magnitude of the success of the well-known “preference whisperer”, Glenn Druery.

There are now 10 crossbench members of whom three can claim to be democratically legitimate, Samantha Ratnam (Greens, Northern Metropolitan), Fiona Patten (Reason Party, Northern Metropolitan) and Jeff Bourman (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, Eastern Victoria).

Listing the other seven begins with the Derryn Hinch Justice Party’s three new members, one of whom has already broken with Hinch. They are Catherine Rebecca Cumming in Western Metropolitan, now an independent, Tania Maxwell in Northern Victoria and Stuart Grimley in Western Victoria. Only Grimley can make a serious claim to democratic legitimacy.

Then we have two members from the Liberal Democrats, the ultimate cases of micro-party candidates getting elected by gaming the system. They are David Limbrick in South-Eastern Metropolitan and Tim Quilty in Northern Victoria.

Finally, there are the odd three, Rodney Barton of Transport Matters in Eastern Metropolitan, Clifford Hayes of Sustainable Australia in Southern Metropolitan and Andy Meddick of the Animal Justice Party in Western Victoria.

Fixing all these defects in the unrepresentative swill of these upper house systems is really quite easy and the way to do it will be explained in my book – if I can find a publisher. In any event I shall make a submission to the Electoral Matters Committee of the Victorian Parliament when it is formed. My submissions to Victoria’s EMC have been well received in the past and I am confident mine will be well received again this year.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


What a disgrace!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

My two most recent articles published on the Switzer website need factual updating, so I begin with that. The most recent article was “Will Donald ride again?” published on Wednesday November 14. The second most recent was “My call on the Victorian November election” published on Thursday the first of November.

On the US mid-term elections, the final result for the House of Representatives is 234 Democrats and 201 Republicans, a Democratic gain of 40 seats, well above the long term average gain for the party not occupying the White House. Consequently I repeat my prediction that Donald Trump will not be re-elected President in November 2020. For the Senate, the final result is 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats – so that is conventionally described as 53-47, a net gain of two seats by the Republicans. Therefore, I repeat my judgment “that Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, is the winner in the Senate election, not Trump.” For reasons the details of which I shall explain in 2020, the Republicans have a good chance to keep their Senate majority at the election when Trump goes down to defeat.

Regarding Victoria, the result for the Legislative Assembly is now final but not that for the Legislative Council. In January, I shall do a full analysis of these elections and submit an article to this website. It will be possible to do that when I have had the time to sift all the data for the details that give me the chance to do a truly proper analysis. In the meantime, the state of parties in the Assembly will be 55 for Labor (a gain of eight seats on the 2014 election), Liberals 21 (a loss of nine), Nationals six (two losses), Greens three (one gain) and independents three (two gains).

In my most recent article, I boasted of “having made a remarkably correct set of predictions for Australian elections since I became the Politics Expert of this website” but Victoria has told me to be a bit more modest in the future. I predicted that the Andrews Labor government would win another term but noticeably under-estimated the size of the win. Readers, therefore, must expect more restraint from me when I predict the result of the New South Wales state election fixed for March 23 next year.

Looking over the year 2018, I cannot fail to notice the huge number of cases of bad political judgment displayed by the Liberal Party. Until quite recently, however, I could not label any of these misjudgements as a “disgrace”. The past month has corrected that. The disgrace in question goes back to this dreadful Senate voting system the politicians foisted on the public about which there has been remarkably little complaint.

The point about the system is its blatant violation of the commandment of section 7 of the Constitution that senators shall be “directly chosen by the people”. That requires the system to be candidate-based. Yet the system is not candidate-based. It is a party machine appointment system, in which voters are told that their duty when voting is to distribute numbers of party machine appointments between parties according to a formula of proportional representation between parties.

The system does that so parties can defeat senators of their own party the machine bosses think deserve defeat. Consequently, next year, the Liberal Party’s machine will defeat its own Senators Molan (NSW), Gichuhi (SA) and Macdonald (Qld), the Nationals will defeat Barry O’Sullivan (Queensland) and Labor will defeat Lisa Singh (Tasmania). In four of the five cases of this phenomenon, there is an argument for doing so. In one case, however, it must be condemned as a disgrace.

Before his election Senator Jim Molan (Liberal, NSW) was Retired Major-General Jim Molan AO DSC and he has the distinction of being the highest-ranked former military commander to enter any Australian parliament for sixty years. A decent party would want to keep such a senator. Molan, after all, was the man who stopped the boats, surely Tony Abbott’s greatest achievement as Prime Minister. Not this Liberal Party, however. The party bosses wanted to keep a trouble-maker like Craig Kelly in his seat (Hughes) but the NSW machine decided to single out Molan for defeat. After that defeat the party bosses will pretend that Molan was defeated by the vote of the people!

The long-term solution to this disgrace should be that the federal politicians decide to give the Australian people a decent Senate voting system along the lines I have explained in several of my articles on this website. The short-term solution should be to reverse this decision. One of the two non-incumbents (preferably the male senator-to-be, not the woman) should have his pre-selection withdrawn.

This is my final article for the year. I wish readers a happy Christmas and a bright and prosperous New Year.

Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.



Will Donald ride again?

My call on the Victorian November election

“Keep Turnbull,” I told them.

Who’ll win Malcolm Turnbull’s seat this Saturday?

How will Australia’s wealthiest electorate vote?

Scott Morrison v Bill Shorten: who will win the next election?

Who should lead the Liberal Party into the next election?

Why the Saturday by-elections were entirely predictable

The problematic reign of our Senate

The Senate as unrepresentative swill

Who will win the Super Saturday by-elections?

Judges in our High Court are Pharisees

The winners and losers of the South Australian election

The race for Australia's PM is becoming clearer

How Australia’s smallest states gave the Libs two clear-cut victories

SA Election: Will Xenophon be king-maker?

Island politics: Spotlight on Tasmania's election

Who's to blame for the citizenship scandal?

Why Queensland's election played out as it did

Why John Alexander will win Bennelong

Is our High Court interested in fairness or justice?

High Court is to blame for political crisis

It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting

Citizenship debacle dragged on too long

Barnaby Joyce should have resigned seat in August

My latest thoughts on the same-sex marriage plebiscite

Why Section 44 of the Constitution needs fixing

My sympathy for Culleton, Day, Ludlam and Waters

Will we see a reformed Senate voting system?

Soft-as-soap Brexit on the cards?

Theresa May: The first great British PM of the 21st century?

Will Family First retain its Senate seat?

Lessons for SA from WA election

Will Turnbull be a long-term leader?

My take on the new Senate voting system

Leadership shakeup for WA and SA?

Why Hillary Clinton was very, very unlucky

Turnbull’s 2016 report card

Brexit and The Donald: both big mistakes?

What will happen with Bob Day's vacant Senate seat?

Same-sex marriage referendum on February 11

99% chance Clinton will be President

Malcolm Turnbull’s report card: The verdict

Was Pauline Hanson elected to a six-year term? Please explain

Winners and losers in the new Senate

Should Malcolm Turnbull be quietly crowing?

Senate reform must be scrapped

Xenophon tipped as biggest Election Day winner

Turnbull's Senate reforms may come back to haunt him

Are the odds in Malcolm's favour?

Why I admire Bob the Builder

Can we trust the Greens?

A national approach

Senate reform still crucial

My key predictions for 2016

Death and by-elections

Former PMs share one thing in common

Turnbull to win next two elections

Same-sex plebiscite a waste of money

There will be no early election

A proper reform of the electoral system

A new Green - Di Natale will not be more co-operative than Milne

Why ABC’s Antony Green is wrong about the ‘feral’ senate

What do the Americans and the Liberal Party have in common?

Remembering Fraser and a rewrite of history

The political future for NSW and NZ

A tale of unusual times

The Queensland election and some advice for the Abbott Government

Musings on Gough

Why commentary on the re-election has been unsatisfactory

Senate election the best exercise in democracy

Unusual writ returns

So, who really won Griffith?

Predictions for forthcoming federal elections

The good, the bad and the defensible Abbott Government decisions

Clive Palmer launches attacks on the AEC

Senate election - drubbing for Labor and Greens; no good for Abbott

My reaction to the election - a landslide?

My final predictions: an Abbott or Rudd government?

A clever political trickster is our Tony Abbott

Why I admire Julia Gillard

Rudd a gutless wonder