by Malcolm Mackerras

As I have indicated in past articles for this website, when it comes to commenting on election results I prefer to know those results before commenting.
 
The general election which took place on Saturday 7 September 2013 was completed on Tuesday 29 April 2014 when the counts were finalised for the re-election of six senators for Western Australia on Saturday 5 April.
 
So now let me revise my history. My article on this website dated 9 October 2013 was headed “Senate election – drubbing for Labor and Greens; no good for Abbott”. I now say it was a drubbing for Labor and no good for Abbott but it was not a drubbing for the Greens who succeeded in getting all their incumbents re-elected as well as gaining a Senate seat from Labor in Victoria.
 
So, why did I write “drubbing for the Greens”? Answer: at the time I believed (as did almost everyone else) that Scott Ludlam had been defeated in Western Australia. In addition I noticed that the Greens Senate vote had been 1,667,315 (13.1 per cent) in August 2010 but fell to 1,159,588 (8.6 per cent) in September 2013.
 
When the new Senate meets in July the Greens will have a record number of senators as well as having a seat in the House of Representatives. The ten senators will comprise six elected in 2010 and four elected in 2013/14. New South Wales and Queensland will each have one senator from the Greens (both elected in 2010) while the other four states will each have two.
 
So I can now say that the 2013 federal election was the second-best result ever for the Greens.
 
In my opinion commentary on the re-election has been unsatisfactory so let me describe why I say that by taking an example of what I mean.
 
In an otherwise sensible analysis Gerard Henderson wrote (in “The Weekend Australian” for April 26-27 under the heading “Parliament will be interesting enough without the myths”) about five propositions he considered to be myths. He wrote:
 
“Myth three: Senator-elect Joe Bullock was responsible for Labor’s disastrous showing in WA.
 
“Certainly Bullock made some unwise comments when addressing a Christian group in Perth last November.
 
“However, Labor had done poorly in WA in the September election – it just did worse earlier this month.”
 
My take on that is to say something I cannot prove but believe to be the case: if Senator Louise Pratt had been the lead candidate at the re-election with Bullock in second place then Labor would have secured the election of both of them.
 
However, that is not my main point. Labor and the Greens should be considered together, not separately. Looked at in that way I have constructed what amount to two-party preferred votes, the details of which calculation I could explain if I had the space.
 
In September last year the Labor-Greens two-party preferred vote in Western Australia was 481,989 (36.8 per cent) while the preferred vote for parties of the right was 827,755 (63.2 per cent).
 
In April this year the Labor-Greens two-party preferred vote was 541,130 (42.4 per cent) while the preferred vote for the parties of the right was 735,801 (57.6 per cent).
 
So at the re-election there was a swing of 5.6 per cent to Labor-Greens which was a reasonably respectable result – except that it was not quite enough to give Labor-Greens three of the six seats.
 
It is sensible to consider the performance of Pratt in the final count for the sixth seat on both occasions.
 
In September last year (with a quota of 187,183 votes) the final vote for Ludlam was 200,866 while that for Pratt was 166,551.
 
In April this year (with a quota of 182,544 votes) the sixth seat went to the third Liberal candidate, Linda Reynolds, who finished with 188,169 votes while Pratt finished with 176,042
 
In September last year Pratt competed with Ludlam for the sixth seat, but came nowhere even remotely close to beating Reynolds. By contrast in April this year she competed with Reynolds and nearly won the seat while coming nowhere even remotely close to beating Ludlam who, with 198,845 primary votes, was easily elected on the first count with a quota in his own right.
 
So Pratt has been very unlucky but, if Labor supporters are feeling unduly depressed, let me offer this observation.
 
In my last article on this website titled “Unusual writ returns” dated 17 March I made the observation that Western Australia was not the only Senate debacle for Labor in September last year. South Australia was even worse.
 
And yet six months after that SA Senate debacle Jay Weatherill was able to win a state election in SA and is now the only Labor premier in the country.
 
(Malcolm Mackerras is a visiting fellow at the Public Policy Institute in the Australian Catholic University’s Canberra campus. malcolm.mackerras@acu.edu.au)