Political historians of the future will, no doubt, record that in the month of March 2018, Australia’s two least populous states gave the Liberal Party two apparently narrow but clear-cut victories. No doubt they will also record that in March 2006, March 2010 and March 2014, these two states had gone to the polls on the same day. But in 2018 Tasmanians voted a fortnight earlier than South Australians, as a consequence of the fact that Tasmania’s four-year term is not fixed. South Australia’s four-year term, by contrast, has seen fixed election dates since 2006.

I hope, but do not expect, these historians will notice that Australia’s longest-standing elections analyst (yours truly) predicted the number of Liberal Party members of the House of Assembly with striking accuracy in both cases. For that reason, both election results should be described (historically speaking) as “entirely predictable”.

These two least-populous states combine together to account for 9.4 per cent of Australia's total population. The Liberal Party's victories, however, are more notable for their differences than their similarities. In Tasmania on March 3 the Liberals won a majority of seats with a majority of votes. In South Australia on March 17, by contrast, they won a majority of seats with a miserable 38 per cent of the first preference vote.

Liberal Party historians will note that both Will Hodgman (Tasmania) and Steven Marshall (SA) promised to govern alone or not at all. Both men judged correctly, notwithstanding that some "nervous nellies" in their parties disputed their judgment.

My practice has always been to wait until all details are known before further comment. For that reason, today’s article is about Tasmania, which has a uniquely excellent system of proportional representation by which its House of Assembly is elected. The result in the 25 seats (every one of which I predicted correctly) is 13 Liberal, 10 Labor and two for The Greens. For my detailed predictions see my article “Island politics: Spotlight on Tasmania’s election” posted on Wednesday February 7. 

The Liberal Party’s Tasmanian victory would have been seen as a landslide had the voting system been the same as in South Australia. For that reason I say Marshall had a poor victory whereas Hodgman’s victory was magnificent.

The Tasmanian Liberal Party won 52% of the seats for 50.3% of the votes, Labor won 40% of the seats for 32.6% votes while The Greens won eight % of seats for 10.3% of votes. The remaining 6.8 % of votes were effective only in their preferences.

Hare-Clark has its critics who describe it as “semi-proportional”, as though that were a defect! They would say it is wrong that Labor be over-represented by 7.4% whereas the Liberal Party is over-represented by only 1.7%. My answer is to say that the normal pattern of Hare-Clark is that the biggest single party is significantly over-represented. However, Labor was exceptionally lucky this time.

A more typical case of the operation of Hare-Clark can be seen from Hodgman’s 2014 victory. Then the Liberal Party won 51.2% of the votes but 60 % of the seats, 15 out of 25. Labor and The Greens in 2014 were “correctly” represented while 7.7% votes for “Other” were effective only in their preferences.

In reality, the parties of the left came nowhere near depriving the Liberal Party of its majority. They were lucky in Franklin where the result was two each Liberal and Labor and one for The Greens. That is a left majority in seats for a very slender majority in votes. Labor was lucky also in Braddon where the four-one Liberal win in 2014 became three-two this time. However, the solid reality of three Liberal, two Labor in all of Bass, Braddon and Lyons means Hodgman is actually very safe.

Yet Bass, Braddon and Lyons are all Labor seats federally. How can Labor and The Greens have performed quite so badly in all three? Therein lies the reason I describe Hodgman’s victory as “magnificent”.

When all the votes are counted (likely to take a month) I shall write a considered analysis of the SA election. The main thing to be said today is that Marshall did not perform significantly better than Turnbull but Hodgman did, as I show above.

Finally, I should make another comment on Hare-Clark. When the Tasmanian results were finalised last Friday the main thing journalists noticed was that a majority of members of the new House of Assembly are women. That fact was treated as though it made Tasmania unique. The reality is that BOTH lower houses which are majority-female were elected under Hare-Clark. The difference is that in the ACT Legislative Assembly the Labor and Liberal parties are BOTH majority-female while The Greens pair are one man and one woman. In Tasmania, by contrast, the Liberal Party is majority-male. Labor’s ten members comprise seven women and three men. For The Greens both Cassy O’Connor (Denison) and Rosalie Woodruff (Franklin) are women.

(Malcolm Mackerras is Honorary Fellow of Australian Catholic University. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)