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Malcolm Mackerras
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SA Election: Will Xenophon be king-maker?

Friday, March 09, 2018

Having made near-perfectly-correct predictions for Tasmania’s recent election “Island politics: Spotlight on Tasmania’s election”  I am emboldened now to chance my arm on South Australia whose general election will occur on Saint Patrick’s Day, Saturday March 17. I begin by noting that I have already predicted this election result – more than a year ago. In my article  “Leadership Shakeup for WA and SA?” (published on Thursday February 9, 2017) I correctly predicted the Labor win in Western Australia and went on to write: “By way of contrast, the opposite will happen in South Australia in March 2018. The Labor government there will be defeated and replaced by a government composed of one party only, the Liberal Party. Labor’s Jay Weatherill will lose the office of Premier to Steven Marshall”. 

That, of course, was written long before Nick Xenophon decided to resign from the Senate in order to contest the state seat of Hartley in the SA House of Assembly. So, do I stick to that prediction? Or do I change it, asking to be excused my change of mind by using Xenophon’s decision as my excuse? As explained in detail below I have decided to stick to the prediction that Marshall will be Premier in a majority Liberal government. 

In the outgoing lower house, Labor held 24 seats: Ashford, Cheltenham, Colton, Croydon, Elder, Enfield, Fisher, Florey, Giles, Kaurna, Lee, Light, Little Para, Mawson, Napier, Newland, Playford, Port Adelaide, Ramsay, Reynell, Taylor, Torrens, West Torrens and Wright. The Liberal Party held 21 seats: Adelaide, Bragg, Bright, Chaffey, Davenport, Dunstan, Finniss, Flinders, Goyder, Hammond, Hartley, Heysen, Kavel, MacKillop, Mitchell, Morialta, Morphett, Mount Gambier, Schubert, Stuart and Unley. 

That left two others, both seats which would normally be won by the Liberal Party. They were Frome, based on Port Pirie, and Waite, in Adelaide’s salubrious southern suburbs. Port Pirie is a Labor town but the surrounding countryside (which is almost entirely to its south) votes solidly Liberal. It would be a Liberal seat except that it has a popular Independent member who won the seat as an Independent but supported the Labor government. Waite is blue-ribbon Liberal but its member, Martin Hamilton-Smith, decided to be a minister in the Labor government. My predictions begin by asserting that both Frome and Waite will be won by the Liberal Party. 

The big problem lies with SA Best, Xenophon’s party. However, I chance my arm on saying there will be two such members in the House of Assembly. They will be Xenophon himself in Hartley, taken from the Liberal Party, and one other member in Giles, a gain from Labor. Giles takes in the steel-making city of Whyalla plus a third of South Australia’s area to Whyalla’s west. It is Labor’s only regional seat. 

At the general election held on Saturday March 15, 2014, the two-party preferred vote was distributed 53-47 in favour of the Liberal Party, which party lost the election! Due to the obvious unfairness of such a result there has been a redistribution of seats which creates a notional result (on the new boundaries) of 27 Liberals to 20 seats for Labor. 

Having studied all the seats and much opinion poll information I now predict these 24 seat will be won by the Liberal Party: Adelaide, Bragg, Chaffey, Colton, Davenport, Dunstan, Elder, Finniss, Flinders, Frome, Gibson, Hammond, Heysen, Kavel, MacKillop, Mawson, Morialta, Morphett, Mount Gambier, Narungga, Schubert, Stuart, Unley and Waite.

The 21 seats I predict will be won by Labor are Badcoe, Black, Cheltenham, Croydon, Elizabeth, Enfield, Florey, Hurtle Vale, Kaurna, King, Lee, Light, Newland, Playford, Port Adelaide, Ramsay, Reynell, Taylor, Torrens, West Torrens and Wright. 

If all the above is correct, then Xenophon will be very disappointed – but not devastated. I say that because there are plenty of pundits who think he will not win Hartley. For that seat to be won by the Liberal sitting member or the Labor former member would be devastating for Xenophon. So I do not think it will happen. On the other hand I am not predicting he will be king-maker. Since that is the aim of his quixotic decision to leave the Senate my predicted result, if proven as correct as my Western Australian, Queensland and Tasmanian predicted results, would leave Xenophon very disappointed indeed. 

Two by-elections will be held on the SA general election day, March 17. One is very easy to predict. The Liberal Party will retain blue-ribbon Liberal Cottesloe (WA), the seat resigned by the former premier, Colin Barnett, who has retired from politics. 

By contrast, Batman (Victoria) is interesting. Once again my prediction is on the record. In my article here (show “Who’s to blame for the citizenship scandal?” in blue) I wrote that “Labor will lose Batman to The Greens at the next election whenever that election is held”. Do I stick to that? I give an affirmative answer. The Greens candidate, Alex Bhathal, will be elected for Batman.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


Island politics: Spotlight on Tasmania's election

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Last Sunday, 28 January, Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman, announced that there would be a general election in his state on Saturday 3 March, a fortnight before the fixed date of the South Australian election, in respect of which I shall make predictions in due course. Meanwhile I feel I have a duty to readers to make my Tasmanian predictions today.

At the general election held on Saturday 15 March 2014 (which date chanced to be the same as in South Australia) the Liberal Party won 15 seats, Labor seven and The Greens three. The Liberal Party’s 15 was made up of four in Braddon, three each in Bass, Franklin and Lyons and two in Hobart-based Denison. Labor’s seven was made up of two in each of Denison and Lyons and one each in Bass, Braddon and Franklin. The Greens won a seat in each of Bass, Denison and Franklin. There are five members for each of five federal divisions which are used for state purposes. Election is by the Hare-Clark system of proportional representation.

I make absolutely firm predictions for Bass, Braddon and Denison. In Bass and Braddon, it will be three Liberal and two Labor while Denison will be exactly as last time, two for each of Labor and Liberal and one for The Greens. Thus far, therefore, Labor has nine seats, a gain from Liberal in Braddon and from The Greens in Bass. So The Greens are down to two members and that is the number I confidently predict they will have.

I am also reasonably firm about Franklin where I predict Labor will gain a seat, making it two each for Labor and Liberal and one for The Greens. I am least confident about Lyons but my prediction is that it will stay at three Liberal and two Labor. All of that would mean a total House of Assembly of 13 for the Liberal Party, 10 for Labor and two for The Greens.

Tasmanian elections are quite unlike those of any Mainland state. First, there is the Hare-Clark electoral system which means they can, in some ways, be compared and contrasted with elections in the ACT which also has Hare-Clark. Yet Tasmania is not really comparable with the ACT because Tasmania has a governor and the ACT does not. Whether the present governor, Kate Warner, will play a role post-election is hotly debated among pundits. I do not think so because I think the Liberal Party will win the election.

It is predicted by some pundits that Labor’s new leader, Rebecca White, who will be 35 years old come polling day, is going to repeat the performance of New Zealand’s new Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, who is 37. The argument is that both parliaments are elected by systems of proportional representation. What such an argument overlooks is that the two PR systems are such very different types of PR. In short, Tasmania’s system is good and New Zealand’s is bad. It is not, however, quite as bad as that which gives the Australian people their 76 senators.

In New Zealand, there are 120 members of the House of Representatives of which 71 are elected from single member electoral districts and 49 are party machine appointees (called “party list” members) who “top up” the directly elected members to make it much “purer” PR (according to its supporters) than Hare-Clark. But in each of the Australian Hare-Clark jurisdictions all 25 members are directly chosen by the people which makes Hare-Clark vastly superior to the PR systems of New Zealand and the Australian Senate. For my review of the recent election across the Tasman readers are referred to my article “It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting” published on this website on Wednesday 8 November last year.

The second feature which makes Tasmanian elections so very different from any Mainland state is Tasmania’s position as a “mendicant” state. That is due to the fact of it being an island, not because it has been badly governed. Yet it leads to commentary of the kind given by Graham Richardson in “The Australian” recently. In his piece titled “Rest of country to pay for promises” for Monday 29 January he began: “It has often been said that Federation was a plot against New South Wales. It was the biggest fish in the pond and the other fish banded together to limit the power of the biggest state.”

Then he wrote this: ”The problem is that a new Tasmanian government will do what every Tasmanian government has done. It will pass a grab-bag of policies it knows it cannot pay for. The other states, with the exception of the other basket case, South Australia, will pay to keep Tasmanians in the manner to which they have become accustomed.”

There is, as they say, “something in” all of that. However, I do not think I have the space to mount a full debate with Graham Richardson about all his assertions – so I leave it at that. I agree with him about some of his assertions but disagree with others. I may return to that in a later article. 

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


Who's to blame for the citizenship scandal?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

There was a political crisis last year which ran from Friday 14 July to Saturday 16 December. The first date is that on which Scott Ludlam of The Greens resigned his Senate seat. The second date is when John Alexander stormed home to a magnificent by-election win in his seat of Bennelong. Readers will immediately recognise the political crisis to which I refer. It is known in much of the media as “the citizenship scandal”, a misnomer if ever there was one.

In order to understand the way forward, we need to understand who is to blame for starting the crisis and to whom the credit should be given for ending it. I gave my view in an article titled “High Court is to blame for political crisis” published November last year and “Why John Alexander will win Bennelong” published on December 12. Perhaps I should begin by explaining why I have it in for the High Court. I do that because many people think I am being unfair to the Court. They say the blame lies with the politicians whose seats have been confiscated by the Court. Others say the blame lies with Perth barrister John Cameron. It seems as though he had a grudge against Ludlam so he took it out on him by making very public Ludlam’s lack of attention to detail when he filled out his nomination forms. Barnaby Joyce and Alexander were caught up in the mess, but the rules allowed them to win their seats again. Not so Ludlam!

My objection to two recent High Court judgments (this being the second) is that the Court pays far too much attention to the precedents set by earlier High Court judgments and far too little attention to the intentions of the men who wrote the words being interpreted. Thus the immediate effect of the judgment Sue versus Hill (handed down on 23 June 1999) was most unfair to Heather Hill who was not allowed to serve the six-year term to which she had been elected. However it also reflected a view of history by the Court which was very contentious at the time and ever since. Thus the Court determined in 1999 that the United Kingdom (the country whose parliament actually enacted Australia’s Constitution) became a foreign power when the High Court proclaimed it to be a foreign power.


There were two by-elections late last year, New England and Bennelong. The two were held a fortnight apart but may be considered to have been a mini general election. The combined by-election votes were 110,837 (64.5 per cent) for the Coalition and 61,136 (35.5 per cent) for Labor. At the July 2016 general election the numbers were 118,177 for the Coalition (63.1 per cent) and 69,058 for Labor (36.9 per cent). So there was a swing towards the Coalition of 1.4 per cent, a disastrous result for Labor.

So why would Labor, well ahead in the opinion polls for more than a year, do so badly when actual votes were cast and counted? My view is that Labor identified itself with what was, actually, a very unpopular decision by the High Court, in addition to being a bad one! Labor told the world that it had a strategy to deprive Malcolm Turnbull of the victory he had earned at the July 2016 general election. It was to be done by causing a series of by-elections, all of which were totally and hopelessly un-necessary.

So what is the lesson? My strong advice to the federal Coalition is not to pursue by-elections in the Labor-held seats they presently contemplate asking the High Court to cause, Braddon (Tasmania), Fremantle (Western Australia) and Longman (Queensland). If by-elections were to occur it would do the Liberal Party no good whatsoever for the same reason that by-elections in New England and Bennelong did Labor no good whatsoever.

A far better course for the Coalition would be simply to allow Labor to wallow in its own drink over the Batman case. Labor will lose Batman to The Greens at the next election whenever that election is held. The sensible thing for the Coalition to do would be just to watch Labor suffer from its own folly when David Feeney is forced out of the seat prematurely. There is a 90 per cent chance of that happening and Coalition supporters will enjoy the spectacle – even though it will be The Greens who actually take the seat.

There is a reason why I say the crisis ended on the night of 16 December 2017. On that night it became clear that, as a consequence of the sound judgment of Bennelong electors, there is no way the Turnbull government will lose its majority in the House of Representatives prior to the 2019 general election.

But what about the Senate? Here my answer is simple. The Senate is unrepresentative swill in any event, it does not determine who holds government and government majorities are rare anyway. What can be said is that the High Court has taken a scythe through the ranks of senators and it really does not matter much that such has been the case.

So far there have been ten (repeat 10) Senate seat confiscations brought about by the High Court. In that list there is included the cases (for example Ludlam’s) where the senator resigned in expectation of the Court’s confiscation of the seat. In almost every case the quality of the replacement senator is lower than that of the departed senator. However, there are two exceptions and I give details of them.

The first exception is Retired Major General Jim Molan AO DSC AM who is now a Liberal senator for New South Wales. He is the highest ranked former military commander to enter the federal parliament in the last fifty years. He has been elected from the unwinnable 7th place on the Coalition ticket replacing Fiona Nash (from The Nationals) who polled 5,689 first preference votes from 3rd place, but also Hollie Hughes (Liberal, 6th) who polled 1,126 first preference votes. Molan polled 10,182!

The second has not yet resumed his rightful place as a senator but I am assured he will. He is Richard Colbeck who was the only Tasmanian minister in the Turnbull government until his defeat which was engineered by the conservative Tasmanian Liberal Party machine. Under any decent voting system he would have been re-elected in July 2016. Anyway, at the general election Colbeck polled 13,474 votes compared with 1,994 polled by Stephen Parry, the man he is expected to replace. When all the Senate changes are finally revealed I shall contribute an article with a fuller Senate-seat analysis than I can give here.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


Why Queensland's election played out as it did

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Back on Tuesday 12 December 2017, an article by me titled “Why John Alexander will win Bennelong” was posted here. In my second article for the New Year, I give my analysis of the New England (2 December) and Bennelong (16 December) by-elections. 

My previous article explained why I was so totally confident in my predictions, notwithstanding that the then current polls for Bennelong were 50:50 between Alexander and Labor’s Kristina Keneally and virtually every other commentator was asserting that Bennelong would go down to the wire.

I also concluded with a promise to do a proper analysis of the Queensland election, held on 25 November. I wrote: “I shall explain why I think this is a pretty good result for the Liberal National Party, contrary to the conventional wisdom of it being otherwise.” 

In this, my first article for the New Year, I do that but precede with some advice for the LNP. I say this to them: the merger of the Liberal and National parties in Queensland was a good idea and it has been a success. Do not go back to the old days by de-merging. I say that, notwithstanding the fact that the LNP has actually lost three of the four state elections since the merger took place.

Consider this piece of history. Peter Beattie in 1998 and Annastacia Palaszczuk in 2015 took Labor from Opposition into minority government, both relying on the independent Peter Wellington who represented a conservative seat on the Sunshine Coast hinterland. At his next election, Peter Beattie took Labor to a landslide win with (on my estimate) 60% of the two-party preferred vote (a pro-Labor swing of 9%) and winning 66 of the then 89 seats compared with 44 at his 1998 win.

By contrast, Palaszczuk has taken Labor from minority government to a narrow majority with no swing at all, largely due to the change in the electoral rules. This result is no triumph for her, just “a win is a win is a win.” Under the rules of Electoral Commission Queensland, there is no official two-party preferred vote, so the analyst must estimate it. 

My estimate for 2015 was 50.8 per cent for Labor and 49.2 per cent for the LNP. For 2017, my numbers are 50.4 and 49.6, respectively. So, any overall swing there might have been was against Labor, contrary to the impressions created by commentary on election night last November.

In 2001, there was no change in the voting rules. There was a redistribution of seats but, on the calculations I did at the time, it made no difference whatsoever to the scales between the two sides of politics. By contrast, this time there was a change in the voting system as well as a redistribution with four more seats in the populous south-east corner of Queensland. 

Late in April 2016, the Legislative Assembly approved a bill to increase its own size from 89 to 93 members and to abandon optional preferential voting while restoring the full preferential vote, the system which has applied for House of Representatives elections since December 1918. To do such a thing was not inherently controversial but it was opposed by the LNP purely because it would benefit Labor. 

At the time, there were people (of whom I was one) who realised that Malcolm Turnbull’s insane “Senate reform” and double dissolution would resurrect the political career of Pauline Hanson, but Turnbull was clearly not among those who understood the madness of what he was doing.

In May 2017, the new boundaries were published, at which point I had no difficulty saying that the notional number of Labor seats on the new boundaries was 48 compared with the actual 44 seats Labor had won on the old maps in 2015. From that point on, there was never any doubt in my mind that Labor would win at least 48 seats, bearing in mind the history of what happens in a case like this.

The sensible way to see this election is to say there are/were two Queenslands, the populous south-east with 61 seats (57 before) and the rest of Queensland with 32, the same number as at the 2009, 2012 and 2015 elections. The term “rest of Queensland” refers to the 94 per cent of its area beginning at Gympie to the north of Brisbane, Nanango to the north-west and the Lockyer valley to the west. 

Due to the change of rules and the map, there is no point in talking about individual seat gains or losses in the south-east. Suffice it to say that the average swing to Labor-Greens in those 61 seats was 0.3 per cent and 45 seats moved in that direction. There were 16 seats recording swings to the LNP or to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party where it came second to Labor rather than the LNP.

In terms of seats, the south-east result this time was 36 Labor, 23 LNP and one each for The Greens and the independent in the seat of Noosa. Last time it was 30 for Labor, 26 for the LNP and the independent Peter Wellington making it up to 57. I think readers will agree that such was a pretty excellent set of seat numbers for the left, given that there was only a miserable swing of 0.3 per cent in their direction.

For the rest of Queensland, there is some point in talking about actual seats since there remains in place (more or less) the same boundaries as before. Labor lost two seats, Bundaberg to the LNP and Mirani to the ONP, reducing it from 14 to 12. The LNP remained at 16, gaining Bundaberg but losing Hinchinbrook to Katter’s Australian Party. In terms of seats KAP was the big winner. It held its two former seats but also gained Hinchinbrook from the LNP. Overall the swing against Labor in that part of Queensland was 2.9 per cent.

So why did Labor win? Essentially it was for the reasons advanced above but also because there was a tight exchange of preferences on the left between Labor and Greens which was not matched on the right between LNP, ONP and KAP. 

In short, the biggest winner from the re-creation of ONP was the ALP. In addition to that, Labor was able to hold seats in “the rest of Queensland” by dint of the local campaigns of its various sitting members. In particular, Labor was able to retain all three seats in Townsville as well as its North Queensland seats of Cairns and Barron River. Labor’s win in Maryborough was spectacularly good for its sitting member there, Bruce Saunders.

So why do I say this was “a pretty good result” for the LNP. Essentially it was because the LNP was able to “see off” the ONP. This latter party was able to get a heap of useless votes. 

For Queensland as a whole, the ONP vote was 371,193 or 13.7 per cent. That gave them just one seat, Mirani, taken from Labor. The LNP feared the loss of four seats to the ONP but held them all without trouble. Consequently, next time around Labor will not be able to raise any scare about a possible coalition between LNP and ONP. It will also not be able to attack Campbell Newman. He will be forgotten come 31 October 2020, the date fixed for the next election.

(Malcolm Mackerras is a visiting fellow at the Australian Catholic University’s Canberra Campus.


Why John Alexander will win Bennelong

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

My last article here was published on Thursday, November 23, and titled “Is our High Court interested in fairness or justice?” to which question I gave a resoundingly negative answer. I concluded by promising that my next article would be on Bennelong in which I might make a prediction. When I appeared on SWITZER on Monday, December 4, I gave my prediction to Peter – John Alexander will win Bennelong because his electors will come to the same view as those of New England. Both Barnaby Joyce and Alexander are clear-cut cases of unfair dismissal. Electors, therefore, will hire again those two men who were legitimately, convincingly and democratically elected in July last year.

As I have pointed out in several articles, these cases illustrate the beauty of our democratic system for electing the House of Representatives. To the unrepresentative swill of the Senate (with its truly appalling voting system) is left the power of the judges to confiscate seats from those who were legitimately and democratically elected to those seats. In this term so far there have been ten Senate seat confiscations. You read that correctly – TEN confiscations, and counting. If I wanted to be pedantic, however, I could have noted “or resignations in expectation of confiscation”.

The inherent nature of Bennelong is that it is a highly marginal seat. I knew that when I saw the present map which was published in 2006. I had no difficulty in repeatedly predicting that John Howard in 2007 would be defeated in that highly marginal seat. All the surrounding seats (originally Berowra, Bradfield, North Sydney, Lowe, Reid and Parramatta) have seen their boundaries changed by subsequent redistributions but Bennelong has remained unchanged.

When created in 1949 Bennelong was a blue ribbon Liberal seat. The original proposal was that it be called Lane Cove but the map-makers realised that the suburb of Lane Cove would be removed at a subsequent redistribution – so the permanent name of Bennelong was given. The seat was so blue ribbon in its character that there was a notional majority for the Liberal Party on the 1946 voting when Ben Chifley stormed home to a great Labor victory in Australia as a whole.

During its blue ribbon phase there was just one close result. The seat was saved for its incumbent, Sir John Cramer, in 1961 by the votes of the suburbs of Hunters Hill, Lane Cove, Longueville, Northwood and Woolwich. All those polling places now vote in blue ribbon North Sydney, leaving Bennelong as the ultimate example of a marginal seat.

The great winner of 2007 was Labor’s Maxine McKew who turned out to be an inadequate member. Alexander, therefore, took it in 2010 on a swing of 4.5 per cent. He added to his 2010 majority a swing of 4.6 per cent in 2013, followed by a further swing in his favour of 1.9 per cent in 2016. Those three swings add together to create the impression of Bennelong returning to its status as blue ribbon Liberal but I can assure readers that it remains very much a marginal seat. In any circumstances but these ones Labor could easily win Bennelong. I would not object to that in any circumstances but these. Nor would I object if Kristina Keneally were to be a future member of the House of Representatives. However, not in these circumstances, thank you very much. Personally she is a delightful woman to meet.

The Greens will take from Labor the Melbourne inner-city seat of Batman at the next election, whenever it is held. That being the case it is probably best for Labor to get the pain over and done with by a Court-ordered by-election which would create two very safe adjoining seats for The Greens, Batman and Melbourne. Labor and, especially, Bill Shorten have been so cynical in their behaviour over the High Court’s recent rulings there will be no sympathy for them. Instead there will be a feeling that, given the high overall vote for the party of the far left, there really should be more than one Green in a House of Representatives of 150.

If there is any other Court-ordered by-election the result will be the same as in New England and Bennelong. The voters will say to themselves “this by-election is so totally and hopelessly un-necessary as to constitute a disgrace”. In all cases the member legitimately and directly chosen by the people in July 2016 will enjoy an easy win.

In three previous articles on this website (posted on Friday, September 8, Wednesday, November 1 and Thursday, November 23) I predicted the result of the Queensland state election would be 50 for Labor, 36 for the Liberal National Party, four for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, two for Katter’s Australian Party (Hill and Traeger) and one Green member in the seat of South Brisbane. The result is 48 for Labor, 39 for the LNP, three for KAP (Hill and Traeger retained and Hinchinbrook gained from the LNP), one for PHON (Mirani, taken from Labor) and one Green, not in South Brisbane but in Maiwar.

Over the holiday break I shall do a proper analysis and that will be my first article in the New Year. In it I shall explain why I think this is a pretty good result for the LNP, contrary to the current conventional wisdom of it being otherwise. In the meantime I wish all readers and viewers of SWITZER a happy Christmas and a bright and prosperous New Year.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


Is our High Court interested in fairness or justice?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

By Malcolm Mackerras

Back on Wednesday 1 November I had an article posted on this website titled “Citizenship debacle dragged on too long.” It began this way, dealing with Queensland:
“Back on Friday September 8. . . I made a forecast which was that Labor would win an election I expected to be held on Saturday October 28. My prediction of the date was slightly out but my forecast of the result stands. It is 50 seats for Labor, 36 for the Liberal National Party, four for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, two for Katter’s Australian Party (Hill and Traeger) and one for The Greens (South Brisbane). I shall contribute a detailed article on Queensland later this month.”
The first purpose of this article is to keep that promise. I begin by giving a list of the 50 seats I predict Labor will win on Saturday. They are: Algester, Bancroft, Barron River, Bulimba, Bundamba, Cairns, Capalaba, Chatsworth, Cook, Cooper, Everton, Ferny Grove, Gaven, Gladstone, Greenslopes, Inala, Ipswich, Ipswich West, Jordan, Keppel, Kurwongbah, Logan, Lytton, Macalister, McConnel, Mackay, Mansfield, Maryborough, Miller, Mirani, Morayfield, Mount Ommaney, Mulgrave, Mundingburra, Murrumba, Nudgee, Pine Rivers, Pumicestone, Redcliffe, Rockhampton, Sandgate, Springwood, Stafford, Stretton, Toohey, Toowoomba North, Townsville, Waterford, Whitsunday and Woodridge.
I now give the 36 seats I predict the LNP to win and the four I predict for One Nation. For the LNP: Aspley, Bonney, Broadwater, Buderim, Bundaberg, Burdekin, Burleigh, Burnett, Caloundra, Clayfield, Condamine, Coomera, Currumbin, Glass House, Gympie, Hervey Bay, Hinchinbrook, Kawana, Maiwar, Maroochydore, Mermaid Beach, Moggill, Mudgeeraba, Nanango, Nicklin, Ninderry, Noosa, Oodgeroo, Redlands, Scenic Rim, Southern Downs, Southport, Surfers Paradise, Theodore, Toowoomba South and Warrego. For the ONP I predict wins in Callide, Gregory, Lockyer and Thuringowa.
I am, of course, aware that this is a general election, not a series of 93 by-elections. Nevertheless, my opinion is that this has been a good campaign by Labor, The big issue is the Carmichael coal mine proposed by Adani Mining. I think the Labor campaign has handled this question skilfully. On the one hand Labor’s insistence that the mine will be built has helped to “sandbag” potential losses in regional Queensland. On the other hand, the possibility that the mine just might not be built if Labor wins has helped it in the south east. However, I think it is the personal popularity of Annastacia Palaszczuk which will do the trick for her party.
The second purpose of this article is to comment on something which has received very little notice, the decision by the High Court to confiscate the NSW Senate seat won fair and square by Hollie Hughes of the Liberal Party. It means that the seat will go to Retired Major General Jim Molan AO DSC. The only possible democratic justification for such favouritism would be the fact that, at the 2016 Senate general election, Molan received 10,182 first preference votes below the line compared with 1,126 for Hughes. However, when the Court deigns to gives us its reasoning I would be extremely surprised if such a justification is even mentioned.
My sympathies in this matter have been recorded several times on this website. The articles in question are: “My sympathy for Culleton, Day, Ludlam and Waters” (posted Thursday 20 July), “Why Section 44 of the Constitution needs fixing” (Thursday 27 July), “Barnaby Joyce should have resigned seat in August” (Friday 8 September), “Citizenship debacle dragged on too long” (Wednesday 1 November) and “High Court is to blame for political crisis” (Wednesday 15 November). Readers will know that I think the High Court has made a series of outlandish decisions. However, with the case of Hollie Hughes the Court has, in my opinion, graduated from the outlandish to the outrageous. This decision is outrageously unfair to Hughes. Our High Court has no interest in fairness or justice. It is interested only in its own power which it exercises with the certainty of a zealot.
Of course, I am aware that High Court idolatry is very strong in this country. There is a gaggle of so-called “respected” commentators who constitute a cheer squad for the Court. Their current line is to argue that the Court is “a black letter law” institution. Nothing could be further from the truth which is that the Court becomes a black letter law court when it wants to be but should not be described generally in that way. As I have argued, the Australian High Court has actually engaged in judicial law making but has been able to generate a popular opinion to the effect that certain politicians have trespassed against the Constitution. Actually, what has happened is that some blameless, worthy and patriotic politicians have not been aware of their situation and have trespassed against laws legislated by the High Court from the bench. It is not surprising that the Court (and its media cheer squad) want the general public to believe that such politicians have behaved badly.
One of my themes has been to repeat my belief that the voting system for our House of Representatives is vastly superior to that for the unrepresentative swill of the Senate. The High Court is involved in that fact. It can confiscate seats from senators who have trespassed against judge-made legislation – and get ordinary people to believe that the senators have disobeyed some commandment in the Constitution. The prime example of this lower house democratic superiority comes in the form of by-elections in New England on 2 December and Bennelong on 16 December.
In the case of New England, I have total confidence in the judgment of the people. They will cock a snoot at the Court by giving it a big, big, two finger salute. In modern language they will say “up you” to the gods and goddesses in question. I cannot, however, say that I am at all confident of the judgment of Bennelong electors.
Readers may be interested to know that I shall be out of circulation from Friday 24 November to Monday 4 December, inclusive. During that period I shall give serious consideration to my next article which will be on Bennelong. A question in my mind is whether I should make a prediction. That will require very serious thought!
(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


High Court is to blame for political crisis

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

By Malcolm Mackerras

In the period since Friday 27 October (the day the High Court handed down its outlandish decision confiscating the seats of certain senators) I have searched high and low and here and there and everywhere to find a sensible comment on that decision. My search was a case of finding a needle in the haystack but eventually I found such a needle. It was a letter to the editor published in The Australian on Monday 13 November and it was by John George of Terrigal, NSW. It reads as follows:
“The absurdity of the dual citizenship saga has long been apparent but it was capped off at the weekend by John Alexander’s forced resignation. Few in the parliament can hold a candle to Alexander’s authenticity as an Australian. He has represented this country as a sportsman, and as both a businessman and family man he has been a beacon of decency; a man dedicated to Australia and its values. To see this man having to resign because his father failed to renounce his British citizenship is just crazy stuff.
“When you think the very people who wrote our Constitution were themselves British, you have to wonder what the hell we are doing here. Our whole legal system is British, our head of state is British, and our system of government is British. Yet we have a bunch of overpaid lawyers sitting on the High Court bench who seem to think being a dual British citizen makes you a foreigner who endangers the security of the parliament.”
Were John George and I ever to meet and have a conversation I imagine that he would agree with me that nine-tenths of the blame for this political crisis lies with the seven judges of the High Court. The other tenth of the blame lies with Malcolm Turnbull. I say that because he loudly predicted that the High Court would make a sensible decision based on the dissenting judgment of Sir William Deane back in 1992. He should have known that such arrogance would provoke the judges into making the reverse decision. What a fool!
Looking back on my own contribution to this debate I am struck by my own moderation. In my commentary (“Citizenship debacle dragged on too long” posted Wednesday 1 November) I wrote of various High Court decisions with the words “I do not condemn them” but noted that “I am not a fan of the High Court”. How could I have been so moderate? Of course I condemn the decisions I have discussed! Furthermore, I have been a non-fan of the High Court for a very long time, as I now explain.
Back in 1995 I joined the Samuel Griffith Society, of which I have been a financial member ever since. I did that because the scales had fallen off my eyes in relation to the High Court and I knew that the Society’s members were the most severe critics of the Court in Australia. I realised then that various decisions of the High Court which had been praised by me at the time of their making were nothing more nor less than judicial legislation for which certain words in the Constitution were the cover. I also understood what the future would hold. Judges would use their power to enforce the laws they had made. That is exactly what they have done since 1995.
In 1995 I also realised the truth of then Prime Minister Paul Keating’s description of the Senate as “unrepresentative swill”. It was that because of the Senate voting system. Today it is even more clearly unrepresentative swill because the then system, bad though it was, found itself replaced by an even worse system legislated by the politicians and unanimously approved by the High Court in the autumn of 2016. The men and women who gave us this present constitutional abomination were Malcolm Turnbull, Barnaby Joyce, Richard Di Natale, Nick Xenophon, Chief Justice Robert French and Associate Justices Susan Kiefel, Virginia Bell, Stephen Gageler, Patrick Keane, Geoffrey Nettle and Michelle Gordon. Six of those seven gods and goddesses are still on the Court participating in this recent citizenship decision.
Section 24 of the Constitution commands that “The House of Representatives shall be composed of members directly chosen by the people of the Commonwealth. . .” and that has been the case since Federation. Every member has been and is directly chosen by the people and, in my opinion, every member was properly elected by the people in July 2016 in a direct election. However, two members now require re-election at by-elections forced by the High Court. I sincerely hope that the people of New England and Bennelong decide to cock a snoot at the Court. In modern language I hope the people of the two electoral divisions say “Up You” to the gods and goddesses sensibly described by John George of Terrigal as “a bunch of overpaid lawyers.”
Meanwhile on Monday 13 November various new senators were sworn in and the most interesting of them was a certain Fraser Anning who immediately chose to be an independent senator. He has that right because, under the system supported by a majority of the federal politicians and all the High Court judges, he is deemed to have been directly chosen by the people of Queensland as though the system were candidate-based. So, let me tell readers of his record. Polling just 19 votes in July 2016 the re-count ordered by the High Court saw his vote build up to 207,193 which saw him duly (and properly!) elected.
Finally, here are the cases of senators elected with ridiculously low first preference votes since the set of above-the-line contrivances was introduced. In 1984 Amanda Vanstone (Liberal, South Australia) was elected with 253 first preference votes. In 1987 Noel Crichton-Browne (Liberal, Western Australia) was elected with 155. In 1993 Chris Ellison (Liberal, WA) was elected with 262 primary votes and Dominic Foreman (Labor, SA) was elected with 256. In 2010 Glenn Sterle (Labor, WA) was elected with 156.
However, that system had to be replaced because it proved a tad inconvenient for the machines of big political parties. Under the much-vaunted “reform” (so loved of politicians and judges) in 2016 the two Xenophon deputy senators, Stirling Griff and Skye Kakoschke-Moore, enjoyed the support of 103 and 129 votes, respectively. With those votes Griff has a six-year term and Kakoschke-Moore has three-years. The big daddy of them all, however, was the senator “directly chosen by the people of Queensland” in 2016, Malcolm Roberts, who thought he was elected to a three-year term. However, his record was surpassed by Anning who is now a senator with 19 first preference votes, an all-time record low. His term expires on 30 June 2019. And yet there are people who dispute the description of the Senate as “unrepresentative swill.”
The solution is actually quite simple. The politicians and the judges should get together and devise a decent system under which senators truly are directly elected, like every member of the House of Representatives is. All the politicians and judges need to do is apply to me and I can tell them how to do it.
(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


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

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

By Malcolm Mackerras
Published on this website on Monday 16 March 2015 was an article by me titled: “The political future for NSW and NZ”. In that article I made this dogmatic statement: “If Winston Peters wins in New Zealand and if Mike Baird fails to get a decent win in Australia’s most populous state, we can read this as the verdict of the people: the cause of further economic reform is dead on both sides of the Tasman.” I can now record that Baird did get a decent win and Peters won the then Northland by-election. However, there has been a recent general election across the Tasman at which Peters was the real winner. I now pronounce again: the cause of further economic reform is dead on both sides of the Tasman.
There was a National Party government in New Zealand which ruled from November 2008 to October 2017 and which won general elections in November 2008, November 2011 and September 2014. It established an excellent record of economic management and reform, first under John Key (2008-2016) and then under Bill English (2016-17). English was the Finance Minister (what we would call Treasurer) for the whole period Key was Prime Minister.
The National Party was defeated at the general election held on Saturday 23 September 2017 – though it took a month for the defeat to become the settled news of the election. Labour’s Jacinda Ardern was sworn in as Prime Minister on Friday 20 October in a Coalition government of Labour, Greens and the New Zealand First Party led by Winston Peters. This result illustrates a proposition I often advance: the “will of the people” is always expressed through an electoral system. If New Zealand’s House of Representatives had been elected under the system we use to elect our House of Representatives, the National Party would clearly have retained power. Tom Stoppard had an actress saying in his 1972 play “Jumpers” this famous line: “It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting”. The purpose of this article is to illustrate why that is so.
Electoral systems for lower houses of parliament around the world are conventionally divided into two classes, single member constituency systems (United Kingdom, India, Japan, Canada and Australia) and proportional representation systems which have now become the most common. For my part, there is a further division of PR systems – good and bad. In my book both the Australian Senate and the New Zealand House of Representatives systems are bad, but the Australian Senate system would be technically easy to reform into a good system along the lines I have proposed. I regret to say, however, that the New Zealanders are stuck with their system permanently.
The idea of the New Zealand system is to distribute seats strictly proportionately between parties according to a “party vote”. Consequently, in the old House of Representatives the National Party had 59 seats, Labour 32, Greens 14, New Zealand First 12, the Maori Party two and one each for two right wing “micro parties”. That made for a total of 121 members. Since the two members from right wing “micro parties” and the two from the Maori Party were willing to grant supply to the National Party government in the outgoing parliament, the effective majority was five seats, 63 to 58.
The result of this recent election is 56 for National (a net loss of only three seats, let it be noted), 46 for Labour (a gain of 14), 9 for New Zealand First (a loss of three), 8 for the Greens (a loss of six) and one for the right wing party known as “Act” which is a pro market party always supporting National. So now there is a majority of six for the left, 63 to 57, where previously there was a majority of five for the right.
It is worth noting that Labour made good gains but the other parties in the new government both lost ground. Having lost ground, however, their influence has increased because they are critical to Labour being now in power. From all the above it would not be clear to readers why I say that National would have won under the Australian system so I must now explain my detailed reasoning.
They call this a “two vote system” but I call it a “two ticks, one vote system” because only the party vote really counts. It is technically called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) because there are two classes of member. There are 71 electoral districts (constituencies) the boundaries of which are exactly the same in 2017 as they were in 2014. These are “topped up” by party list seats to produce overall proportionality – according to the party vote. These men and women are nothing but party machine appointees. There were 50 such seats in 2014 and 49 in 2017, thus reducing the overall size of the House from 121 to 120. MMP is a truly awful system – though only a smidgin worse than our Senate system!
In the old House the 71 members directly elected by the people comprised 40 for National, 27 for Labour, one each for NZ First (Northland), Act (Epsom), the Maori Party (Waiariki) and United Future (Ohariu). The situation now is 41 for National, 29 for Labour and one seat for Act, Epsom. The Maori Party and United Future have been wiped out and NZF has been wiped off the map, except for its nine party machine appointees, technically known as “party list seats”.
The situation of Peters is interesting – but tells us all we need to know about the system. He was, in the New Zealand way of saying, “voted out on Saturday, back in on Monday”. He was a directly elected member leading a party of 12. He is now a party machine appointee leading a party of a miserable nine members – but he is Deputy Prime Minister, the equivalent of our Barnaby Joyce who will soon resume his status as a directly elected member of our House of Representatives.
My statement above about the directly elected members tells us surely that National would have easily won an election under the Australian system. I am aware that there is a difference between our preferential vote and their first past the post. Nevertheless, I have analysed all the results and make the assertion I do. I am not aware of any analysts who disagrees with my analysis. All I am able to say is that, regrettably, most analysts think New Zealand’s system is a better reflection of the “will of the people” that the Australian. I beg to differ from the majority.
(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


Citizenship debacle dragged on too long

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

By Malcolm Mackerras
Back on Friday September 8 there was posted on this website my article “Barnaby Joyce should have resigned seat in August.” It referred to the citizenship cases - a subject to which today’s contribution returns. However, expecting a Queensland state election to be called during my absence overseas I made a forecast which was that Labor would win an election I expected to be held on Saturday October 28. My prediction of the date was slightly out but my forecast of the result stands. It is 50 seats for Labor, 36 for the Liberal National Party, four for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, two for Katter’s Australian Party (Hill and Traeger) and one for The Greens (South Brisbane). I shall contribute a detailed article on Queensland later this month.
I ask readers to pardon my bragging but can now say: “I told you so.” It would have been far better for Joyce, Malcolm Turnbull and the government generally if he had taken my advice which was to resign his seat of New England on Monday 14 August, the day New Zealand’s then prime minister, Bill English, told the world that Joyce was a New Zealand citizen. I repeat another comment I made in that article, namely: “He can thank his lucky stars (and his own good judgment) that he is a member of the House of Representatives. He would remember that he began his political career as a senator. Indeed, he took his Senate seat (representing Queensland) on the same day as Fiona Nash took her seat as a New South Wales senator. The date was 1 July 2005, both Nationals having been elected in October 2004.”
I have contributed several articles to this website on the question of members of federal parliament seeing their seats confiscated from them by the power of the High Court. They have been “What will happen with Bob Day’s vacant Senate seat”  (Monday November 7 2016), “Will Family First retain its Senate seat?" (Friday April 7 2017), “My sympathy for Culleton, Day, Ludlam and Waters” (Thursday July 20) “Why Section 44 of the Constitution needs fixing” (Thursday July 27) and the most recent article, noted above. I now add this thought: the sympathy I expressed for former senators Culleton, Day, Ludlam and Waters is hereby joined by my sympathy for Nash.
It is to be noted that neither Joyce nor The Nationals generally get any sympathy from me. Joyce will win New England handsomely and be back in the job of deputy prime minister early in December. The Nationals suffer a short-term loss of a Senate seat to the Liberal Party’s Hollie Hughes – but they will recover that seat in July 2023. In the meantime I do not believe the Liberal Party should (or will) try to use this situation to take a ministerial position from The Nationals. As a party they deserve no sympathy. Their lack of due diligence has created a quite un-necessary degree of trouble for the Liberal Party.
I notice that these decisions of the Court have, generally speaking, been praised by the commentariat. I decline to join the praise. I am not a fan of this Court. I admit that, in one sense, these are “black letter law” decisions. To that extent I do not condemn them. Most pundits expected exactly what has happened. Turnbull was very foolish to predict otherwise. The only defence for his behaviour – and the folly of Joyce – could be the possibility that the Court might otherwise have made a finding against Matt Canavan. I don’t think so. His position was so strong I think he would have survived whatever Turnbull and Joyce did.
It is true that on this occasion the Court did not engage in judicial law-making. It worshipped instead at the shrine of precedent. However, it should be remembered that just two decades ago the Court did engage in judicial law-making when it confiscated the Senate seat won by Heather Hill of One Nation. In 1998 she was elected for Queensland to a six-year term with a quota in her own right. She never served as a senator because the seat was confiscated before she could even begin her term. The whole idea that birth in New Zealand or Canada makes you an agent of a foreign power is absurd. The same argument which created my sympathy for Ludlam and Waters applies to Nash – hence my sympathy for her. I felt very sorry for Hill in 1998.
When Joyce wins New England in December it will create a perfect historical law – very rare in the social sciences. The law is that whenever the Court confiscates a seat from a member of the House of Representatives the people reverse the Court’s decision. It shows the fair mindedness of ordinary people. It happened with Phil Cleary in 1993 and with Jackie Kelly in 1996. Unlike those poor former senators, the lower house member can get rid of the impediment discovered by the Court – as Joyce has now done.
(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


Barnaby Joyce should have resigned seat in August

Friday, September 08, 2017

By Malcolm Mackerras
Today I make reference to three subjects. First, in mid-October we shall know the decisions of the High Court in relation to the citizenship (and therefore eligibility) of various members of the federal parliament. I do not pretend to have any idea what those decisions will be but I do wish to make some observations about Barnaby Joyce. The first is that if he had asked me for advice I would have advised him to resign his seat of New England on Monday 14 August. That was the day when New Zealand prime minister Bill English announced that Joyce was/is a citizen of New Zealand. In matters of this kind it is usually better to take the initiative. Joyce would surely have won the by-election which could have been held quite quickly. That would have prevented the nonsense which is going on in federal parliament at present.
However, having not done that, he must now wait for the High Court judges to exercise their power over him and the others. He can thank his lucky stars (and his own good judgment) that he is a member of the House of Representatives. He would remember that he began his political career as a senator. Indeed he took his Senate seat (representing Queensland) on the same day as Fiona Nash took her seat as a New South Wales senator. The date was 1 July 2005, both Nationals having been elected in October 2004.
Today the positions of Joyce and Nash stand in great contrast. If Nash is ruled not eligible to stand for federal parliament her seat is confiscated from her and given to a Liberal Party candidate, Holly Hughes, whose term would last until 30 June 2022. That is because Nash was one of the top six elected for NSW in July 2016 and, therefore, is a long-term senator. The point is that with senators the voters are given no right to reverse the decision of the Court. Their seats are confiscated by the Court and that is that.
A contrasting situation arises with members of the House of Representatives. If Joyce has his seat confiscated he can appeal to the voters of New England who, surely, would re-elect him. In that regard the situation of Joyce has the precedents of Phil Cleary in 1993 and Jackie Kelly in 1996. Their electorates of Wills and Lindsay, respectively, did indeed reverse the judgment of the Court because both Cleary and Kelly could get rid of the impediment which the judgment of the Court discovered. Meanwhile Joyce, having made his choice, must stick by it and hope the sittings of parliament help to discredit Labor. There are signs of that happening.
Second, I predict that a Queensland state election will be held on Saturday 28 October. It will be on new electoral boundaries, there being 93 seats in the next Legislative Assembly compared with 89 at present. The result of the last election (held on 31 January 2015) was 44 for Labor, 42 for the Liberal National Party, two for Katter’s Australian Party and one Independent. My prediction for this election is 50 for Labor, 36 for the LNP, four for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, two for KAP (Hill and Traeger) and one for The Greens (South Brisbane).
The third subject I raise today covers my personal obsession – Senate reform. There has been a development in this area since I last wrote about it and, on balance, the development is welcome. There has been a reform of the voting system for the Legislative Council of South Australia. The important point is that the SA parliament rejected the view of the Liberal Party that the SA Legislative Council system should copy the (new) Senate system. That is a good thing – especially given that the view rejected by the SA Parliament was heavily promoted by Nick Xenophon. There was another plus in this development. It cost Xenophon his only supporter in the state parliament, a certain John Darley, who continues in the Legislative Council as an independent until 2022. In my opinion any development which weakens Xenophon’s influence is a good thing. While there is still a long way to go before we get a decent Senate voting system I record this SA development as a very small step in the right direction.
This will probably be my last contribution to Switzer for two months. The reason for my absence is that my wife and I have a son Patrick who is to marry his English lady friend later this month in the Cotswolds and we are not merely going to the wedding. We are taking a British Isles holiday while we are at it. Readers may, therefore, expect my next contribution to be on about 7 November.
(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.



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