Every year, Adelaide has what’s called “Mad March!” Due to a number of factors, some beyond the control of the local authorities, there seems to be a number of different events going on one after the other.
There is a couple of art festivals, the Fringe and the biennial Festival of Arts. Then there is a car race around the streets of Adelaide. (It used to be the Formula 1, but politics intervened in that and it was pinched by Melbourne.) WOMAD, is also making an appearance Then there is, every four years, our local take on the farce that is a State election.
Usually it is a two horse race and that duopoly stood us in great stead for over a century. These Parties are the Liberal Party, the conservative side, and the Labor Party, nominally centre-left, but more centre-right these days. Occasionally, there is a rebel group from one of the major parties or the other, but they have a short run, often achieving very little for all the noise made by them and then they disappear.
Most frequently, it is a moderate group from the conservatives that form this “third force” and only twice, I think, has it been from the Labor Party. This time it is a couple of rebels from the conservative side, but not like-minded conservatives, one moderate and one ultra-conservative. Both have gathered around them a number of other candidates, sensing splits in all political ranks, and are fielding large teams in this election.
One unfortunate issue is that the moderate has proven himself to be a huge political “stuntmeister”. Policy seems to be based on “what will get me and some of my candidates elected?” It seems little thought has gone into policy and populism is the rule. Perhaps he will get several members of his team elected, after all, who needs policy when you can dump all over policies the long established Parties are announcing. They don’t have to worry about actually proving their case, or balancing their spending promises, they make very few of those.
The ultra-conservatives have proven to be severely radical conservatives. They have, I suspect, displayed little understanding of the electorate and their constituency. Their major policy announcement was reintroducing a nuclear waste facility policy. While I would accept there is a lot of very good reasons to build such a facility, there are few people my age who support such a facility. For us, the bad guy was nuclear power, for the kids today, it’s coal. We grew up in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis and it was my generation, the Baby-Boomers, who permanently made anything nuclear not just suspect, but beyond reasoned discussion. It is my generation who the ultra-conservatives see as their “natural” constituency. I believe it a dumb move, but elections make seriously funny decisions. We shall see.
The two major Parties, naturally, are busy tearing each other apart. We have had a long serving Labor Government that should have lost the last two elections. They didn’t because the Liberal Opposition are, shall we be polite and say, lack the obvious talent to form a government.
To vote we use a set of boundaries to demark which elected member of Parliament represents which electoral district. Each enclosed region is called a “Seat” and each Seat has a member of Parliament elected by the adult citizens of that region. These boundaries are set by an independent Electoral Commission.
What can complicate things is that we have had major boundary reshuffles after the last few elections. A reshuffle is determined then performed by the Electoral Commission. This is to prevent a gerrymandered electoral system and to ensure “fair” elections. Ri-i-ght.
Here comes the really confusing bit, so stay with me. In this country, we have a Federal Government, with its national election and we have now seven State elections. My state, South Australia has two Houses of Parliament, using the basic Westminster system, a Lower House, (House of Assembly) controlling Treasury, and an Upper House, (Legislative Council) a House of Review. The Lower House Members are elected through preferential voting and the Upper House Members are elected via both a proportional and a preferential voting method.
Preferential voting is simple. It is compromise. When voting, you mark your preferred candidate first. Your second preferred candidate is marked 2, a third is 3 and so on until all candidates are marked. When votes are counted, the “two party preferred” rule is invoked.
All first preferences for candidates are counted and awarded in the first round. The two top vote getters then are awarded “preferences”. The voter has said, “if I can’t have this person as my elected representative, then I would prefer to see that person elected than any other candidate.” The votes given to the two low vote getters are divided between the two top vote getters where that ballot paper is marked with one candidate or the other given a higher preference. For example:
|Candidate||1st Preference||Second Preference||Total|
This is a simplified version, the real tally papers will describe which candidate’s preference votes went where.
In first past the post voting, D. Dunne has won the ballot. Not so with a preferential system. With the division of second preferences, more people prefer to have B. Jones as their elected Member of Parliament than D. Dunne, so B. Jones wins the ballot.
This is the compromise. Overall, more people preferred B. Jones so that person is elected. It really is very simple.
When you consider that Australian politics is based on the concept of compromise, the whole system becomes easy to understand.
As said above, the conservative Liberal Party managed to lose the last two election, mainly by perceived division within the Party and what I suggest is a lack of competence. They should have walked in the last election, but lost it. They should be way out in front this one, but look likely to lose it again because of their incompetence and the rebels splitting the conservative vote.
Elections are funny things though.