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Malcolm Mackerras
Political Expert
+ About Malcolm Mackerras

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

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Over the past 60 years, I have become the most frequently quoted forecaster of Australian election results. My strategy has been to make a forecast long out from polling day and then stick to it - except in extreme circumstances where my reputation for good political judgment required a change of prediction.

Published on this website on Thursday 20 September was an article by me under the heading “How will Australia’s wealthiest electorate vote?”. In that article, I made a probability statement on Wentworth which was to give the Liberal candidate Dave Sharma a 55% chance, the Independent Kerryn Phelps a 35% chance and the Labor candidate Tim Murray a 10% chance. The rest of the article justified that thinking by arguing that the order of votes after preference distribution would place Sharma first, Murray second and Phelps third. Since one cannot win from third place, I predicted a Sharma win.

The essence of my reasoning was that Labor has a good candidate and, for a variety of reasons, could not “run dead”. As I now see it that was my first error. Labor’s campaign has proved that it can “run dead”. Every piece of evidence available to observers is that Labor is “running dead”. Their reasoning for such a strategy is that Labor cannot win the seat but Phelps can. Therefore, Labor can inflict the most damage on Scott Morrison by coming third and hoping for a highly disciplined transfer of preferences from Murray to Phelps.

There are 16 candidates but the real question is this: “how many significant candidates are there?” My original answer was three, Sharma, Murray and Phelps. The course of the campaign, however, tells me that the answer now is two, Sharma and Phelps.

Recently the Sydney Morning Herald arranged for a local debate between five candidates, the five being those deemed by the SMH to be significant. In ballot paper order, the five SMH significant candidates are Dominick Kanak of the Greens, Murray, Sharma, Licia Heath, another Independent, and Phelps.

My guess is that there will be about 300 “donkey votes”, they being those votes which go straight down the ballot paper. For the following “donkey vote”, I am not wasting space by giving the party of the candidates deemed by no one to be significant – so here goes.

My “donkey vote” is 1. Robert Callanan. 2. Kanak. 3. Shane Higson. 4. Steven Georgantis. 5. Murray. 6. Ben Forsyth. 7. Tony Robinson. 8. Samuel Gunning. 9. Sharma. 10. Angela Vithoulkas. 11. Deb Doyle. 12. Andrea Leong. 13. Heath. 14. Barry Keldoulis. 15. Phelps. and 16. Kay Dunne.

The effect of such a “donkey vote” is that Murray gets that vote but when Murray is excluded (as I now think that’s highly probable), it is then classified as “leaking” to Sharma, since he is placed ninth and Phelps fifteenth.

The big question, therefore, is this: “How much Labor leakage will there be?” The answer I feel now compelled to give is that, say, one fifth of Labor preferences will “leak” to Sharma. For that reason I have changed my probability statement. I now give Phelps a 55% chance of being the next member for Wentworth, with a 45 % chance for Sharma.

Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


How will Australia’s wealthiest electorate vote?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

When I had my first Super Saturday article published on Thursday May 31, I asked myself this question: “Who will win the Super Saturday by-elections?”. The answer I gave was a series of probability statements, which look pretty good in the light of the results on July 28. Consequently I have decided on the same approach for the forthcoming Wentworth by-election on October 20.

I give the Liberal candidate Dave Sharma a 55% chance, the Independent Kerryn Phelps a 35% chance and the Labor candidate Tim Murray a 10% chance. I’ll now explain the concepts behind those figures, beginning with the assertion that Sharma will enjoy a big lead on first preference votes. However, either Phelps or Murray can win after the distribution of preferences. The only certainty is that Sharma’s preferences will not be distributed. He will be a finalist, competing with either Phelps or Murray.

At this point, I must introduce readers to a new psephological concept. It is “Condorcet winner” called after the French mathematician, philosopher, historian and republican politician, Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet (1743-94). It is defined as “a candidate in an election who can defeat any other candidate in a pair-wise contest.” The classic recent case of a Condorcet winner is Scott Morrison. The classic recent case of a Condorcet loser is Julie Bishop.

What killed Bishop’s chance to become Prime Minister was the existence of a “Stop Dutton at Any Cost” campaign. The line of argument was that if Morrison was second to Dutton on the first count, he would win because all of Bishop’s votes would transfer to Morrison. However, if Bishop was second to Dutton, then too many Morrison votes would transfer to Dutton. So Bishop was a guaranteed Condorcet loser. Her position was, more or less, the same as Murray’s in the by-election.

The problem for those who would say “Stop Sharma at Any Cost” is that a mass electorate of 110,000 voters in Wentworth cannot be relied upon to behave like an elite electorate of 85 federal politicians of the Liberal Party. Consequently, whereas Rebekha Sharkie was always likely to be a Condorcet winner in Mayo against Georgina Downer, Phelps is not likely to be a Condorcet winner against Sharma.

In a nutshell, the natural Labor vote in Wentworth is quite high. Consequently, Phelps is likely to come third with enough of her preferences “leaking” to Sharma – and giving him victory. Consequent upon the Labor vote being naturally quite high, Labor cannot be expected to “run dead”, as happened in Mayo.

The media tells us that “Wentworth is Australia’s Wealthiest Electorate”. In two senses that is true. Wentworth has more voters who are “seriously rich” than any other. It also has the highest incomes, well ahead of the second highest, which is North Sydney. However, it also has a substantial number of high-income earners who rent and live in modest dwellings. Labor does very well among renters who live in modest dwellings!

For that reason, Wentworth is not “blue ribbon Liberal” to my way of thinking. It used to be (in the fifties) when its boundaries were roughly the same as are those of the present state seat of Vaucluse. That state seat is a genuine “Blue ribbon Liberal” electoral district. The federal seat of Wentworth is not.

For that reason, my concept of wealth is different. My concept is “relative socio-economic advantage rank” and it goes in this order: Bradfield, Berowra, North Sydney, Mitchell, Warringah, Ryan, Curtin, Kooyong, Mackellar, Goldstein and Wentworth. The next down is Canberra in which I live. It is a safe Labor seat!

Suppose Turnbull had been the member for Bradfield, Berowra, Mackellar or North Sydney, then Labor would have “run dead”, as they did in Mayo. The essential reason why Sharma is more likely to win than not is that the Labor vote is too high. Labor cannot “run dead” in Wentworth because it has some chance of winning. It would have no chance in Bradfield, Berowra, Mackellar or North Sydney. Therefore, Phelps is likely to come third. The candidate who comes third is a guaranteed Condorcet loser.

Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


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

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

In my most recent article for this website posted on Wednesday 22 August titled “Who should lead the Liberal Party into the next election” I noted the zero success rate of my past giving of advice to the federal Liberal Party. Then I wrote: “So let me give another piece of advice to the Liberal Party. Keep Turnbull. With their record they will, I suppose, reject my advice again. It would do them no good.”

So, as I expected, they yet again rejected my advice and yet again I assert their rejection of my advice will do them no good. That, surely, must be clear to anyone with their head screwed on.

Quite apart from the crash of the Coalition in the opinion polls, we now have the phenomenon of federal members/senators from the Liberal Party being constantly asked this question: “Why did you do it?” The honest answer would be: “We did it so that Tony Abbott could get his revenge on Malcolm Turnbull” but that, of course, is not the answer they give.

In that article I also wrote: “If he (Peter Dutton) thinks he will win Dickson at the next election, he should think again. He would be better off losing Dickson as a mere cabinet minister than losing it as prime minister.”

After doing some calculations of the effect of boundary changes on Dickson, I wrote: “The truth is that all these minute calculations will make no difference. He will lose Dickson. The Liberal Party would save more pieces of furniture by retaining Turnbull as their leader.”

So, how do I rate the chances of the federal Coalition now? I think I would say that the Coalition has a 30% chance of winning government at the 2019 general election while Dutton has a 20% chance of winning Dickson again.

Posted on this website on Thursday 31 May was this article by me: “Who will win the Super Saturday by-elections?” In that article I gave the Liberal Party a 30% chance in Braddon and a 20% chance in Longman. I also wrote: “Readers may be surprised that I should rate Braddon a better chance for the Liberal candidate than Longman. My explanation is simple: on the most recent state election vote Braddon is solid for the Liberal Party, while Longman is solid for Labor.”

To my surprise, many pundits - influenced excessively by the opinion polls - thought the Liberal Party would perform quite well on Super Saturday. This warns me against opinion polls between now and the 2019 general election. They will tighten and Scott Morrison will soon lead Bill Shorten on the question of who would make the better prime minister. Readers, however, should be warned against getting too optimistic on behalf of the Coalition. The Liberal Party is in a mess.

I think Morrison will lead the Liberal Party for a long period of time – some six months as prime minister and then a lengthy period as Leader of the Opposition. It would not entirely surprise me if he is prime minister twice. To keep his leadership of his party, all he needs to do is turn in a reasonable showing at the 2019 general election. By this time next year Dutton will be out of the House of Representatives and Tony Abbott will be so discredited he would not be a threat.

For those reasons I expect the election after next will be for the House of Representatives and half the Senate and held in November 2021. Prime Minister Bill Shorten will lead Labor into that election while Opposition Leader Scott Morrison will lead the Liberals.

The 46th Parliament will be the first since John Howard’s last term (2004 to 2007) in which there is no change in the office of prime minister during the term.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


Who should lead the Liberal Party into the next election?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

During the three years that Malcolm Turnbull has been PM, I have had no conversation personally with him. I have, however, given him indirect advice through this website, through articles in The Canberra Times and by having private conversations with federal and state politicians and directors of the Liberal Party. My success rate has been zero.

In the first six months I advised them not to replace the second-worst-ever Senate voting system (the one which worked well during the years 1984 to 2014, inclusive) by the worst-ever Senate voting system, the present one. I advised them not to double dissolve the 44th Parliament but to have a conventional House of Representatives plus half-Senate election in November 2016. I told them of the lunacy of a two-month winter campaign.

The result is history, a Turnbull win so poor it strengthened the disruptive forces in the Coalition, Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz, Craig Kelly, Kevin Andrews and George Christensen. Added to that we have a Senate whose reputation as unrepresentative swill has been strengthened with Fraser Anning there on his 19 votes. I predicted Pauline Hanson’s election but I did not predict that of Anning. I did, however, assert that a result like that was entirely likely under such an outlandish system.

Since the 2016 election I advised the Liberal Party not to pester Labor Senator Katy Gallagher into testing her dual citizenship status before the Pharisees who disrupt the country from the ugly and grandiose High Court building by Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra. They rejected my advice, believing Gallagher’s loss in any case would spark off a Super Saturday of by-elections. They won that case before the High Court and proceeded to another two-month winter campaign in which they stupidly talked up their chances. I told them they would be done like a dinner – though I admitted all along that they might get an apparently decent result in Braddon - certainly not in Longman or Mayo.

Gallagher took all reasonable steps to renounce her British citizenship and will return to the Senate triumphant at the next election, whether it be in October, February or May. Meanwhile she is enjoying her schadenfreude knowing she will be a cabinet minister in any Shorten Labor government – along with Andrew Leigh, another Canberran.

For the Liberals to talk up their chances on Super Saturday was the most incredible folly I have ever seen in my 60 years of watching Australian elections. It meant that a wholly predictable set of results, including a decent result in Braddon, is viewed as a massive failure, emboldening the Abbotts and Shortens of this world.

So let me give another piece of advice to the Liberal Party. Keep Turnbull. With their record they will, I suppose, reject my advice again. It would do them no good.

I have only ever once had a conversation with Peter Dutton. I developed a personal liking for him for one reason only. It became clear that he is a fan of mine! However, if he thinks he will win Dickson at the next election he should think again. He would be better off losing Dickson as a mere Cabinet Minister than losing it as Prime Minister.

There has been a minor boundary change to Dickson in the redistribution. A slice of Liberal-voting territory in Bridgeman Downs and McDowall has been added to the current seat. The numbers are 100,974 for the existing Dickson plus 3,873 for the added territory, making a total of 104,847 electors in the new Division of Dickson. Labor now needs a swing of an even two per cent, not the 1.6 the media are quoting.

The truth is that all these minute calculations will make no difference. He will lose Dickson. The Liberal Party would save more pieces of furniture by retaining Turnbull as their leader.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


Why the Saturday by-elections were entirely predictable

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Super Saturday of five federal by-elections produced results which were wholly predictable.

During the eleven-week campaign I would often be asked for my predictions and I would always loudly reply that “all four sitting members will be re-elected.”

Of course, technically Susan Lamb was not the sitting member for Longman. Nor were the others in Braddon, Mayo and Fremantle. During a general election they would be called “sitting members” and keep their offices (both local and at Parliament House) until defeated.

These members were, by contrast, kicked out of their offices which excited my sympathy for them, just as I was sympathetic to Phil Cleary in 1993, Jackie Kelly in 1996 and Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander late last year. As a matter of democratic principle I would have voted for all eight members of the House of Representatives and am glad they were all easily re-elected, once in Cleary’s case and four times in Kelly’s case.

Equivalent senators were not so lucky. I have compiled a list of eleven senators who were kicked out of their offices with dim chances of getting back into them. A further two (Heather Hill, One Nation, Queensland, in 1999, and Hollie Hughes (Liberal, New South Wales, in 2017) were never allowed even to serve a single day of the term to which they had been elected.

A benefit conferred upon us by these eight registrations of the will of the people is that the apologists for the High Court may tone down the decibels of their propaganda. In any event I am entitled to assert that the people have spoken. They have agreed with me that the entire blame for the citizenship fiasco should be placed at the door of the grandiose and ugly High Court building by Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra.

In my article posted on Thursday May 31, titled “Who will win the Super Saturday by-elections?” I wrote this: “My prediction is that Patrick Gorman (Labor) will win Perth and the other four will follow the pattern of New England and Bennelong in that the sitting member will be re-elected.” I then gave the Liberal Party a 30% chance in Braddon and a 20% chance in Longman. That was followed by this paragraph:

“Readers may be surprised that I should rate Braddon a better chance for the Liberal candidate than Longman. My explanation is simple: on the most recent state election vote Braddon is solid for the Liberal Party while Longman is solid for Labor.”

On Saturday night Lamb displayed a broader smile than Justine Keay – and well she might. Her party has given her a much better seat than was given to Keay. However, I think Keay deserves more hearty congratulations than Lamb who merely repeated the state vote federally. By contrast Keay raised the state vote substantially in a genuine rural seat. She is now one of the very few Labor members to hold a rural seat!

Super Saturday forcefully demonstrated Labor’s superior political skills. They are brilliant at expectation management. Anyone who knows anything about these seats knows that the seat now named “Fisher” is the seat Mal Brough once held as “Longman”. That is why Brough won Longman in 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2004 but, after his defeat in 2007 in Longman (by then a much weakened Liberal seat, due to successive boundary changes), returned as the member for Fisher in 2013. He won the same seat five times but with a different name. The seat now known as “Longman” is a natural Labor seat created, in effect, at the redistribution of Queensland federal electoral divisions in 2006.

Nevertheless, Labor spokespeopple were able to persuade ignorant commentators that they were terrified of losing Longman but were quietly hopeful of winning Braddon. They knew all along that Braddon was the more likely loss.

Looking back over my articles I notice that one was posted on Thursday January 25 titled “Who’s to blame for the citizenship scandal?” It contained this paragraph: “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.”

So what do I think about the overall situation? I explained it in my article posted on Thursday April 19 titled “The race for Australia’s PM is becoming clearer.” It concluded with this paragraph: “The election of Donald Trump to the US presidency in November 2016 left egg on the face of virtually every pundit. It has made me more cautious about Australia also. Consequently, I shall predict our election date and make a probability statement about the result. My prediction is that the date will be Saturday 18 May 2019. Consequently, we shall know the name of the prime minister by July next year. My assessment is that there are three chances bill Shorten will be that prime minister for every one chance it will be Malcolm Turnbull.”

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


The problematic reign of our Senate

Friday, July 06, 2018

Whenever I go to social gatherings, some long-lost acquaintance is very likely to ask me this: “Why are you out of the news these days? What are you doing with yourself?” I reply to the effect that I am writing a book intended to be called “Unrepresentative Swill”. To that the next question would be: “Is it about the Senate? Or is it about the entire federal parliament?” That surely indicates the extent of the discredit our federal politicians have brought upon themselves by their behaviour. Ordinary Australians think of both the Senate and the House of Representatives as being unrepresentative swill.

Anyway, the answer is that the book is about the Senate. I do not think of the House of Representatives as being unrepresentative swill for the simple reason that every lower house member has always been directly chosen by the people as required by section 24 of the Australian Constitution. The situation is very different in the Senate. As a result of changes to the voting system made by the Hawke Government in 1984 (and reinforced by the Turnbull Government in 2016) senators are not directly chosen by the people. They are appointed by party machines. Consequently, the Australian Electoral Commission “educates” the people to understand that the role of voters is merely to distribute numbers of party-machine appointments between parties according to a proportional representation formula between parties. That is why the Senate has been unrepresentative swill since 1984.

In recent times I have had some success in persuading commentators to describe the Senate in this way. The process began with Paul Kelly in The Australian. In an article on Wednesday 6 June titled “Anarchic Senate is Undermining Our Democracy” there was a sub-heading which reads: “It looks like disruptive minor players are here to stay in so-called house of review”. The gist of his view was given in the middle of the article and reads: “The record of these minor parties shows they are just as cynical, deceptive and self-interested as the major parties”

As recorded in my most recent article on this website, I sought an appointment with Kelly and we spent two hours together on the morning of Monday 18 June. I believe I have converted him to my view which is that the above-the-line voting system in place since 1984 needs to be replaced by the genuinely democratic voting system I propose. My reform would do away with all the contrivances of the present system which are there purely to serve the convenience of party machines and seem designed to confuse and deceive voters. My reform would take a fortnight to implement by normal legislation. No change would be needed to the Constitution.

Kelly followed up our conversation with an article on Wednesday 20 June titled “Senate needs to Rise above this Squalid Dysfunction” which quoted me as follows: “Voting systems make or break democracies. Psephologist Malcolm Mackerras calculates that had the last New Zealand election been held under Australia’s superior preferential voting system then Bill English would have been re-elected PM and the darling of the progressive media, Jacinda Ardern, would be in opposition.”

Kelly’s article was followed with a piece by Professor George Williams who is one of my unfavourite psephologists. Published in The Australian on Monday 25 June it was titled “Chaotic, Unrepresentative – our Senate is the Swill Keating described”. To that the editor added this description: “The rules have to change to stop this chaotic game of political musical chairs”. He thinks the problem lies with senators changing their party as several have done during this present term. Consequently his conclusion is: “Parliament should change its standing orders to remove the benefits and voting rights of senators who abandon their party without resigning from parliament. It also should reform the law. Where a person leaves the party that has enabled their election to the Senate, their seat should be vacated. The seat then would be filled by a member of their former party. These changes are needed to restore the proper functioning of the Senate and to rebuild public confidence in the parliament.”

In my book I take Williams to task in several places, most particularly in Chapter 14 titled “The Senate as Unrepresentative Swill”. I lack the space here to explain why I dismiss that article out of hand. Anyway, the Williams article was followed by another from Professor James Allan titled “Plenty wrong with the Senate: here are some Fixes” to which the editor added this description: “But trying to rid it of the party-hoppers is fraught with complexity and danger”. He points to overseas experience whereby attempts to prevent party-hopping have made the situation much worse.

The Allan article ends this way: “I’d be in favour of holding a referendum to propose reining in the powers of our Senate, say, to give it only a delaying power as regards money bills (the situation in Canada and Britain, neither of which has yet lapsed into totalitarian anarchy). We also might pick up a former prime minister’s suggestion to propose a referendum to make it easier to use the joint sitting provision, which in most situations allows the House of Representatives to outvote the Senate” 

In Australia we all get a vote to decide on our senators. It is the wrong kind of vote but we do get to vote. That is not the case in Britain or Canada. Consequently, these Allan proposals have a zero chance of being implemented. My effort is directed towards a democratic solution which can be implemented quickly by normal legislation. Therefore, I conclude by noting the remark attributed to the failed 1928 US presidential candidate, Al Smith, that all the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy. Whether that is true of American democracy has long been contested. It is certainly true of Australian democracy so far as its Senate is concerned.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.





The Senate as unrepresentative swill

Friday, June 08, 2018


On Wednesday June 6 the distinguished journalist Paul Kelly had an opinion piece published in The Australian of which he is Editor-at-Large. It was titled “Anarchic Senate is undermining our Democracy” to which the sub-editor added this description: “It looks like disruptive minor players are here to stay in the so-called house of review”.

After reading Kelly’s article, I sent him an e-mail in which I wrote this: “What you are REALLY saying is that the Senate is unrepresentative swill”. I told him about my Senate reform proposal and he responded by inviting me to dinner to discuss it when next I am in Sydney.

The description “unrepresentative swill” must be the most widely used expression ever uttered by Paul Keating who served as Prime Minister from 20 December 1991 to 11 March 1996, a period of four years, two months and 24 days.

His Treasurer was John Dawkins and during question time in the House of Representatives on Wednesday 4 November 1992, questions were being asked about whether Dawkins should appear before the Senate Estimates Committee. Addressing the then Leader of the Opposition, John Hewson, and the then Liberal member for Mayo, Alexander Downer, this is what Keating had to say:

You want a Minister from the House of Representatives chamber to wander over to the unrepresentative chamber to account for himself. You have got to be joking. Whether the Treasurer wished to go there or not, I would forbid him going to the Senate to account to this unrepresentative swill over there.

After some interjections Keating continued:

You are into a political stunt. There will be no House of Representatives Minister appearing before a Senate committee of any kind while ever I am Prime Minister, I can assure you.

All the details are there on page 2549 of Hansard for that day. Journalists immediately went to work on Keating’s language. They discovered that the then Macquarie Dictionary defined “swill” as “liquid or partly liquid food for animals, especially kitchen refuse given to pigs.”

Keating was never asked for more detail to explain himself. However, I have no doubt about what he had in mind, which is not what I have in mind. He was referring to the constitutional arrangements, whereas I am talking about the voting system. His reform would require a referendum to change the Constitution. My reform would need only changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act. Once a government had the political will, the changes I seek could be implemented in a fortnight.

My conversation with Kelly will take place on Monday 18 June at his Sydney office. In my next article I shall brief readers of this website about our progress. In the meantime, it is my policy to encourage journalists (and commentators generally) to describe the Senate as “unrepresentative swill” whenever they are talking or writing about that body.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.



Who will win the Super Saturday by-elections?

Thursday, May 31, 2018


Pardon me that I should say this myself, but I have made a pretty good collection of Australian election predictions since I became the Politics Expert for Switzer. Consequently I am emboldened to make another collection for the Super Saturday of by-elections on July 28. However, before I do that I wish to make a pair of two-way classifications of these by-elections. 

The more important classification is between the normal by-election in Perth (WA) and the highly unusual collection of by-elections for Longman (Queensland), Braddon (Tasmania), Mayo (SA) and Fremantle (WA). Those four have the unusual distinction that the sitting member is seeking re-election. The less important classification is between those contested by the Liberal Party (Longman, Braddon and Mayo) and those where the contest is effectively between Labor and The Greens. 

My prediction is that Patrick Gorman (Labor) will win Perth and the other four will follow the pattern of New England and Bennelong in that the sitting member will be re-elected. However, before I stick my neck out too much, I make a probability statement by way of clarification. 

I give the Liberal Party a 40% chance in Mayo, a 30% chance in Braddon and a 20% chance in Longman. I give The Greens a 10% chance in Fremantle and a 5% chance in Perth. 

Readers may be surprised that I should rate Braddon a better chance for the Liberal candidate than Longman. My explanation is simple: on the most recent state election vote Braddon is solid for the Liberal Party while Longman is solid for Labor. 

How one reads these results depends on what one thinks these contests are about. To me, the voting public will answer this question – and voters will see themselves as answering that question: did the judges of the High Court judge fairly the sitting members who have been forced to contest totally and hopelessly un-necessary by-elections? 

To me the answer to that question lies firmly in the negative, and I have history on my side. In all of the cases of Wills in March 1993, Lindsay in October 1996 and New England and Bennelong in December last year the sitting member has stormed back to another easy victory. 

If I am right then we shall have eight cases of the same phenomenon. Ordinary people do not react favourably to the highly-paid Pharisees meanly laying down the law from the grandiose and ugly High Court building in Canberra. Opinion polls may say otherwise, but when it comes to the point, that is what happens when voters give any serious thought to this question. It happened spectacularly in Bennelong. Even on polling day itself opinion-poll-induced pundits proclaimed it “too close to call”. I knew otherwise: John Alexander was always going to win easily. 

In all of this business I have one regret. Georgina Downer is an impressive young woman. She would make a fine addition to the federal parliamentary Liberal Party. I hope that one day she will become a senator or a member of the House of Representatives. However, the odds are against her election on July 28. I would not vote for her in this circumstance. For exactly the same reasoning as I would have voted for Barnaby Joyce and John Alexander, I would feel compelled to vote for Rebekha Sharkie – and all of the sitting members in the eight cases so far discussed. 

In fact I do believe that something sublime will come out of this ridiculous situation. It will discourage vexatious litigation.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.




Judges in our High Court are Pharisees

Thursday, May 10, 2018


On the morning of Wednesday 9 May I walked down to the High Court expecting to hear yet another bad decision from the judges of that esteemed body. So it turned out to be. Labor Senator Katy Gallagher (ACT) became the 11th senator in this parliamentary term to have her seat confiscated by the Court. This is the Court’s latest bad decision and has driven me finally to write something I have been saying for quite some time during the terms of Robert French (2008-17) and Susan Kiefel (since 2017) as Chief Justice. The judges of Australia’s High Court are a bunch of modern-day Pharisees.

Let me explain. The Pharisees were the religious establishment in Palestine some two thousand years ago. High Court judges are the legal establishment in Australia today. Readers will know of the critique given by Jesus Christ of those elite figures of his day. In the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Chapter 23, Verse 24, he refers to the Pharisees as “blind guides” who “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel”. So taken am I with that phrase I decided to look up “The Pillar New Testament Commentary” and here is the opinion. 

“Again these guides are castigated as blind; for all their zeal they cannot perceive the right ways of God. With a humorous illustration Jesus pictures them as straining out the gnat, the point being that this little organism was ‘unclean’ and therefore should not be consumed. But these same people gulped down the camel, the largest of the beasts normally found in Palestine and, in addition, also ceremoniously unclean. They were pernickety in complying with the regulations about the smallest matters but were capable of neglecting much more important matters, things like Jesus had just mentioned. In their eagerness to avoid a tiny defilement the Pharisees are polluted by a huge one.”

When modern Australian commentators say things like “the Constitution commands this” or “the Constitution forbids that” they always neglect to tell us that really we have two constitutions, the people’s Constitution and the High Court’s Constitution. The judges are fanatical in their enforcement of the High Court’s version of that document but they often swallow a camel when they, in effect, repeal words actually to be found in the people’s Constitution. In legal language that practice is known as “reading down” the words in question. 

The eleven confiscations of the seats of popularly-elected senators illustrate the fanatical nature of the High Court’s enforcement of its own Constitution. I challenge anyone to find in the people’s Constitution any statement to the effect that the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Barbados or Jamaica can be classified as foreign powers.

Indeed the United Kingdom is the country whose legislature gave us our Constitution. The above-named countries have in common with Australia the fact of their having the same Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. The absurd idea that these are foreign powers is a concoction of the High Court in an infamous decision in June 1999 when Heather Hill, elected for Queensland in October 1998 with a quota in her own right, was not allowed to sit for even one day of her six-year term because she was born in London. She did not realise the judges would deem her to owe allegiance to a foreign power. That she was an Australian citizen did her no good in the eyes of the Court.

Even as the High Court engaged in the fanaticism of its straining out of gnats like Gallagher (who topped the poll in the ACT in July 2016) it swallowed a camel in May 2016 when it upheld the constitutional validity of this outlandish Senate voting system the politicians foisted upon us. It is patently a violation of the commandment of section 7 which asserts that “The Senate shall be composed of Senators for each State, directly chosen by the people of the State, voting as one electorate.”

That commands the system be candidate-based but in reality it is party-based. Senators are not directly chosen by the people, they are appointed by party machines. As a result of the negligence of the High Court in its duty to uphold the people’s Constitution the words “directly chosen by the people” are not operative. They can be made to operate if the politicians so decided - but there is little chance of that. The machines of the big parties run the show. They would be very reluctant to transfer power from party machines to those who actually vote for the party.

Consequently, the negligence of the High Court in this matter means the people are “educated” to understand that the purpose of their Senate vote is not the direct election of senators. Its purpose is to distribute numbers of party machine appointments between parties according to a formula of proportional representation between parties.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.


The winners and losers of the South Australian election

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

At 11am, Adelaide time, on Monday 23 April, the button was pressed to complete the South Australian Legislative Council election for which polling day had been Saturday 17 March. I can now finish my analysis of the entire election which, for this website, means a statement of winners and losers. 

The only winner is the Liberal Party – but it is a poor win. There was something very peculiar about its win. It is extremely rare for an Opposition party to take government at an election when the swing in votes is against it. Consequently the Liberal Party’s win should be attributed to something in its history, rather than in its present popularity.

Back in the nineteen forties, fifties and sixties there was a huge rural bias in the SA electoral boundaries. That bias kept the Liberal Party’s Sir Thomas Playford as premier for a record 26 years, from November 1938 to March 1965. Labor’s Don Dunstan, however, won government in 1965 and, aided by a brief Liberal government under Steele Hall (1968 to 1970) went on a crusade for “one vote, one value” electoral redistributions. 

That electoral reform was completed by Dunstan who was premier from 1965 to 1968 and again from 1970 to 1979. Two changes of government after Dunstan left office, however, produced a situation whereby, in 1989, the Liberal Party won the popular two-party preferred vote 52-48 without coming close to winning office. 

From 1985 to 1993 the SA Liberal Party had an unusually smart state director, Nick Minchin, later a senator and senior minister in the Howard government. He realised that, although the Liberal Party had lost the 1989 election, its bargaining position was by no means hopeless. During the year 1990, therefore, Minchin worked on a plan which finally bore fruit in 2018! The immediate effect of the plan was that in February 1991 the SA people voted at a referendum for a scheme of fair electoral boundaries. 

However, for reasons which are not worth going into, it did not quite work out that way in the medium term. At the 2002, 2010 and 2014 elections the Liberal Party won a majority of the two-party preferred vote but Labor won the election. In any event the December 2016 redistribution finally did the trick for the Liberal Party. It meant that the Liberal Party’s majority of the two-party preferred vote in 2018 gave the Liberals 25 of the 47 seats in the House of Assembly. The Labor share of the two-party preferred vote rose from 47 per cent to 48.1 per cent but Labor went out of office. 

In primary votes the performance of the two big parties was especially dismal. The Liberal Party’s share of the Assembly first preference vote fell from 44.8 per cent in 2014 to 38 per cent this time, a drop of 6.8 per cent. Labor’s fell from 35.8 to 32.8, a drop of only three percentage points. The essential reason for these falls was that Nick Xenophon’s SA Best party was able to garner 14 per cent of the vote. 

There are three losers at this election. Labor is the first, as explained above. However, this was a very respectable loss. It was brought about almost entirely by the 2016 redistribution but also because the Liberal Party had (at last) learnt that in a system of single member electoral districts successful targeting of marginal seats is nearly as important for a party as winning a good share of the overall vote.

On election night the obvious loser was Xenophon. His party was able to get 14 per cent of the vote but that is of no use unless it translates into seats. In the proportional representation system for the Legislative Council it gave SA Best the predictable two seats out of eleven at an election for half the Council. Xenophon himself could have been elected to the Assembly but he blew it. He contested the wrong seat, leaving an inconspicuous candidate to contest the only seat Xenophon could have won, Heysen in the Adelaide Hills. 

The other big loser was not advertised greatly on election night, Cory Bernardi and his Australian Conservatives. When he defected from the Liberals he brought with him two Family First members of the Legislative Council, Dennis Hood (elected in 2014) and Robert Brokenshire, elected for Family First in 2010 and standing again as a Conservative in 2018. Brokenshire was defeated this time around and Hood joined the Liberal Party soon after polling day. 

The disaster for Xenophon was widely noted but actually it was not nearly as great as that for Bernardi. Xenophon’s vote was good enough that he could well be elected again to the Senate in 2019. Bernardi is finished. He sits in a Senate seat given to him by the Liberal Party. When he next contests that seat as a Conservative (in 2022) he is sure to be defeated. 

Finally, The Greens did not perform well but at least they did not perform badly. They were able to secure the re-election of Tammy Franks to the Legislative Council. Consequently in the coming term there will be nine Liberals in the upper house, eight Labor, two Greens, two SA Best and one independent who was elected in 2014 as a Xenophon supporter but broke with Xenophon during the last term.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University.



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