By Malcolm Mackerras

Apart from the Townsville-based North Queensland seat of Herbert, we know the result of the July 2 general election for the House of Representatives. Herbert is in total doubt. In the current two-candidate preferred figures the count is 44,184 for the sitting Liberal member, Ewen Jones, and 44,183 for the Labor candidate, Cathy O’Toole. The last comparable case of such as close contest is the Victorian federal seat of McEwen in 2007. On the first count, the Liberal sitting member won by 12 votes but on the re-count she won by 31 votes. The first figures were 48,265 for Fran Bailey (Liberal) and 48,253 for Rob Mitchell (Labor). The final result was 48,339 for Bailey and 48,308 for Mitchell. 

Anyway, supposing Labor wins Herbert, the result is 76 for the Coalition and 74 for the combination of everyone else. Although that sounds very close, it is actually a better win for Malcolm Turnbull than it appears. On election-night he claimed confidently that his government would enjoy a reliable majority in the lower house. He was much criticised for his speech, but he has been proved right and he intends to govern as though he has a large majority. I think he will succeed in that strategy and, therefore, I think the Parliament will run a full term of three years.

The count for the aggregate two-party preferred vote is just 90% complete. Why not 100%? Since it is done for information purposes only, I think it is right and proper that it should be the lowest priority for the Australian Electoral Commission. I estimate it will finish up at 50.6% for the Coalition and 49.4% for Labor, a swing to Labor of only 2.9%. The Coalition performed exceptionally well in Chisholm, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs (where the gain of a seat from Labor made possible Turnbull’s claim to form majority government), and in Petrie, Capricornia and Banks where negligible swings allowed the Coalition to retain seats which I (and most observers) thought likely to go to Labor. While on one way of looking at it, Chisholm was the best result for the Liberal Party, on another way of judging, Banks in Sydney’s southern suburbs was the greatest Liberal win. It had been a Labor seat since its creation in 1949 until David Coleman won it for the Liberals in 2013. In terms of swing, the best areas for the Liberal Party were those in inner-metropolitan Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Against those good results for the Coalition, Labor wins in Macarthur and Macquarie in New South Wales, Longman in Queensland, Burt and Cowan in Western Australia, Bass, Braddon and Lyons in Tasmania were exceptionally good for Bill Shorten and his party. In terms of swing, the best areas for Labor were those in outer-metropolitan Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. For winning a two-party preferred majority of votes in every seat Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory were the best jurisdictions for Labor.

To this point, the proposition I have not explained properly is my assertion above that this election “is actually a better win for Malcolm Turnbull than it appears”. Apart from his getting a clear majority of the votes (both first preference and two-party preferred) I have in mind that there are three independents in normally safe Coalition seats, Cathy McGowan in Indi (Victoria), Bob Katter in Kennedy (Queensland) and Rebekha Sharkie in Mayo (South Australia). These independents have no incentive to rock Turnbull’s boat. Nor do they have any incentive to bring about an early election of any kind. So, whereas I began by saying “the result is 76 for the Coalition and 74 for the combination of everyone else”, a better way to describe it is to say there are 79 seats with a Coalition two-party preferred majority of votes and 71 for Labor. If the Liberal National Party were to win Herbert, the distribution would be 80 and 70, a very comfortable position for the Coalition to be in.

It is my policy not to comment on election results until I KNOW those results. Consequently, I wait to know every detail of the Senate election before I comment further. I have already written enough about the Senate electoral system. It is an abomination as I explained in my last article titled “Senate reform must be scrapped”, posted on Wednesday, July 6. I plan to elaborate on that theme in my next article.

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