The New Legislative Council – some preliminary thoughts

So, the new Victorian Legislative Council is looking reasonably established.  It’s… quite something.  Though I’m not sure what, precisely.  A shambles?  A nightmare? A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside a multicoloured cloth of sheerest what-were-they-thinking?  A gift to comedians?

Here it is, in all its awe-inspiring, terrible glory

Liberal Party – 14 seats
Labor Party – 13 seats
Greens – 4 seats
The Nationals – 2 seats
Shooters and Fishers Party – 2 seats
Sex Party – 2 seats
Country Alliance – 1 seat
Democratic Labour Party – 1 seat
Vote 1 Local Jobs – 1 seat

Let us take a moment of silence to contemplate this truly diverse and weird array.  And to bow our heads in compassion for the Andrews government, who are going to have to try to get legislation through it.

I mean, seriously, what do you even do with that?

A few disjointed thoughts, because this has been a very long few weeks for me.

  • Hey, all those commentaries of mine weren’t a waste of time after all!  Five micro-parties!  Woohoo!  Except – oh dear, did we really, truly need five of them?  And did quite so many of them have to be on the right?  (Though I am counting my blessings that we didn’t get People Power, at least.  Or Rise Up Australia.  Or the LDP.  Actually, there really were a number of worse options in the mix.)
  • Good grief, people, why must you vote above the line?  Why?
  • And as for you, ALP and the Coalition, what the hell were you thinking with your preference deals?  Is dealing with one or two more Greens in the Upper House really worse than this mess?  Truly?
  • Wow, the rural electorates are really pissed off with the Nationals, aren’t they?  Only two seats for the Nats, with one picked up by the Country Alliance and two by the Shooters and Fishers.  Assuming that this is what the electorate actually meant to do – and in Northern Victoria, at least, I think it was – that’s a pretty loud message that the electorate does not trust city folk, and also doesn’t trust the Nationals to protect their interests.  (The whole Hazelwood debacle and Napthine’s response to it quite clearly didn’t help in Eastern Victoria – Morwell went from being super-safe Nationals to marginal, with an 11% swing towards Labor).  The Nationals might want to have a think about that.
  • Despite a swing of 2.5% statewide towards Labor in the Lower House, they actually lost seats in the Upper House, going from 16 to 13 out of 40 – but they didn’t lose them to the Liberals, who went from 18 to 14, or the Nationals, who went from three to two.  The seats were lost to the Greens, who picked up one, the DLP, and the four new senate parties.
  • Seriously, Labor, you need to start to work with the Greens.  You’re winning seats off Green preferences, you’re losing the left of the political spectrum, and, quite frankly, half the electorate already thinks you are in an alliance with the Greens anyway.  If you’re going to suffer for this association (and you are clearly doing so in some areas), you might as well get some benefit out of it, too.

I think if the Victorian Electorate sent any message this election, it was a resounding “No” to both major parties.  True, we wanted the Liberal Party out, but it seems we couldn’t quite stomach voting the Labor Party in.  Add to this some ill-advised preference deals, and the rural electorate being well and truly (and justifiably) pissed off with the government and you get this mess.  Does it actually represent Victorians?  Well, maybe.  It’s very difficult to tell.

My mother texted me a couple of weeks before the election to tell me that she thought she had made up her mind, but then she had heard Daniel Andrews speaking, and she wasn’t sure if she could bring herself to do it…  (I suggested she make absolutely sure she didn’t hear any Greens speaking, or else she might find herself stuck voting for the Sex Party.  She didn’t thank me.)

There’s an Isaac Asimov story about a future election in which they poll one person, carefully selected for his embodiment of the zeitgeist of the electorate.  He doesn’t vote, he just answers a number of questions, and the computer discerns what the political outcome should be.

I suspect that this time around, Asimov’s futuristic government might have chosen my mother.  Because while I can’t imagine her consciously selecting either four Greens or two Shooters and Fishers, there really was absolutely nobody who she truly liked the look of.

And, sadly, I think she speaks for the whole electorate in this.

(Coming soon, if I have the energy – a fun little tour through the ALP’s proposed policies, and what’s likely to happen to them with this Legislative Council in the mix… because just in case you weren’t paying attention, nobody has a majority here.  Not even close…)

[Edited to add – while about 93% of the vote is counted, there is, of course, still room for change.  Nonetheless, these parties do all look to be highly likely to gain seats, and I think we can be quietly confident that the Council is still going to be a complete debacle.  Certainly, the chances of either Labor or the Coalition achieving a majority in their own right are vanishingly small.]

23 thoughts on “The New Legislative Council – some preliminary thoughts

  1. I think (hope) this election will finally make everyone realise that the current vote transfer system is just ridiculous and we need to get rid of above the line voting. If people can’t be bothered ticking 5 boxes, then let them spoil their vote.

    • I certainly hope so. I’d also be in favour of preferential above the line voting, frankly. I think this might well be the fairest way to represent what people want from the Upper House.

  2. Has the makeup of the Upper House been decided already? I thought a big input of data is happening now at Etihad Stadium and the final results won’t be known till the 17th. So the results may change (ala Prahran). Still, can see at least four micro parties for the final seat in each region.

    Anyway, what are your thoughts on Napthine’s disclosure of wanting to reform the Upper House voting before the election? Either numbering every box above the line (which I believe was an option recently mooted for the Senate) or needing a minimum 5% of first preference votes in order to be “in the running.”

    • I may be premature! I thought we were looking somewhat final at this point.

      I haven’t read about Napthine yet – to be honest, I kind of finished my election posts and then dove straight into a huge number of singing commitments, so I haven’t been up to date on this. I am enthusiastically in favour of numbering above the line, and somewhat inclined to the minimum 5% rule, though I doubt one would need both, and I’d rather the former than the latter.

      Will keep an eye on whether the Upper House changes…

      • Final declarations for the Upper House will be made at 4:30pm today. Looking like an interesting (but not impossible) four years for Andrews to get his legislative agenda through. Also will be interesting for the Nationals if it decides to sever the coalition ties and actually refocus and look at legislation on its own merits during these next four years.

  3. I honestly don’t think we’d need any sort of “reform” of the upper house if parties would give their preferences in the order they want to work with people in! Not a difficult concept!

    • There is that. But the whole lack of transparency is still an issue for me – yes, you can find out what the group voting tickets are, but you do have to make quite an effort to do so – and I don’t think anyone can reasonably hold them in their heads while voting.

  4. Re: ‘reform’ of the upper house, which I fear may be code for the major parties banding together to get rid of the upstart challengers – including the Greens, if they thought they could get away with it.

    We’re all getting hung up on how few people voted for this micro-party or that micro-party – and ignoring that, in total, 19% of the electorate voted for micro-parties in the upper house. That’s nearly one in five. That is a significant proportion of the electorate, and they deserve some representation in the parliament. Their parties ensured this by swapping preferences with each other ahead of the larger parties, to maximise the chance that some of their number got elected. That is a reasonable democratic result – no less legitimate than, say, Labor and the Greens swapping preferences to toss the Liberals out of Prahran, or the Liberals and the Nationals swapping preferences to toss Labor out of Ripon (both seats that would have stayed with the incumbents under a first past the post system).

    By all means, abolish above-the-line voting – it may still be that many micro-party voters, if forced to vote below the line, would still number their preferences to put all the major players last, and produce a similar result. By all means, allow optional preferential voting. Both of those reforms would eliminate dummy candidates and front parties, and leave us only with those who are truly serious. What I would not agree with are some of the proposals to introduce a minimum vote threshold, since this would have the effect of locking an increasingly significant proportion of the electorate out of being represented.

    (Or it might mean that some of the fragmented minor parties might merge with each other to create larger, more powerful parties capable of getting over that threshold – perhaps Family First, Australian Christians, Rise Up and the DLP could form one big ultra-conservative party; or Shooters & Fishers could merge with Country Alliance and the LDP. Which prospect is scarier – a handful of single-MP parties each doing their own thing, or a big unified right-wing force capable of electing several MPs and voting as a bloc?)

    • You make an excellent point. I knew there was a reason to dislike the 5% thing, but couldn’t put my finger on why, and you articulate it nicely. Thank you.

      And yes, I agree that if so many people are voting ‘none of the above’ on the bigger parties, this is a clear sign that electing someone else is democratically appropriate.

      (Though still a mess on a practical level)

  5. Did Morwell have redrawn boundaries this election as well? Because I know Narracan did, and that changed the profile of the electorate quite significantly, which may have affected the result (or not, given their local MP is apparently quite good.)

    I will be interested to see how this government goes working with everyone though… that is certainly a quite eclectic group to have to deal with.

    And I’m not surprised the Nationals are losing out. They’re seen as Liberals, which is effectively what they have been for a while now.

    • Morwell gained Newborough from Narracan, which dropped the Nationals’ margin by about 3%. It’s an interesting seat anyway; Labor won it as recently as 2002 and before that it was a Labor stronghold. Probably local issues played a significant part in that 11% swing, and a better example of the Nationals’ wider malaise was the loss of Shepparton to Suzanna Sheed.

      • In the original draft of the redistribution, Morwell would also have gained Moe – which would have made Narracan even more supersafe (Moe was the only strong Labor area left in Narracan), but which would have been enough to swing Morwell into the Labor column. The Nationals objected to the original draft by arguing that Morwell has no community of interest with Moe, but instead has more community of interest with places like Gormandale and Rosedale – utter rubbish, but the VEC bought the argument, and that’s pretty much what saved that seat for the Nationals.

  6. While the Nationals really did do appallingly, they only lost one Legislative Council seat (Western Victoria). The losses in Northern and Eastern Victoria were both Liberal MLCs (Amanda Millar and Andrew Ronalds).

    There’s still a fair bit of doubt floating around – especially about the SE Metro seat, which your figures are giving to the Sex Party but could very easily go to the Greens (meanwhile the Sex Party could get back up to two by defeating the third Liberal in South Metro). Geeklections is a good site to look at to see the current situation and possible outcomes. Also, while lots of people did vote above the line, more people than ever before voted below (about 8%), so that could significantly change the outcome in a few other places (probably to the detriment of the micro-parties).

    A good summary at the Poll Bludger gives solid figures of 13 Labor, 13 Liberal, 2 Nationals, 4 Greens, 1 Sex Party and 1 Shooters & Fishers. The doubtful seats: Northern Vic (2 Coalition, 1 Labor, the remaining two going to two of Country Alliance, Shooters and Fishers, Labor, Greens, Sex Party, with at least one to one of those first two), South Metro (Lib vs Sex Party), West Metro (most likely DLP but small chance of LDP or Voice for the West), Western Vic (Vote 1 Local Jobs ahead but could go to Shooters & Fishers or Palmer United), and SE Metro (Greens vs Sex Party vs Animal Justice).

    Whatever happens, this upper house will be VERY interesting (and, as various people have said elsewhere, if any major party in Australia allows another upper house election to occur with group voting tickets, they deserve to spend twenty years in opposition).

    • Ooh, thank you for the link to Geeklections. Definitely a useful resource. Though, wow, that looks even more potentially shambolic. I’ve been going with the ABC figures.

      And yes, the group voting is getting silly. But I don’t much like most of the proposed reforms, to be honest. Keeping tiny parties out entirely is also not really representative…

      • I don’t like thresholds much, but I don’t think it can be denied that the current system is ridiculously unrepresentative, electing as it does parties that the large majority of voters have never even heard of. Eliminating group voting tickets and allowing above the line preferencing (without requiring people to fill out every preference) seems to me the best option. This has worked well in NSW, which has also tightened rules surrounding party registration. Robson Rotation (where the order of ballot papers differs between polling places) would also be a wise move, eleiminating the effect to the donkey vote.

        I greatly enjoy observing Hare-Clark elections (suggested below), because they require you to know something about individual candidates as well as parties. It’s also a great way for voters to get rid of unpopular politicians without voting against their preferred party. It is a little over-complicated though and can lead to the occasional perverse result of its own, where if one party’s support is sufficiently diluted it can miss out on a seat despite being much closer to a quota. This is what cost the Greens seats in the ACT Assembly at the last election, and it’s also what enabled the Liberals to win four out of the five seats in Braddon at the last Tasmanian election (despite having nothing like 80% of the vote).

  7. Simon makes some great points. Reform generally is code for the two major parties to gang up on smaller parties. Think of the “reform” in the mid-90s in Tasmania supported by Labor and Liberals where the number of seats in the lower house was reduced – (I believe it was portrayed as “efficiency”) – thereby requiring a higher percentage of votes to be elected. This had the result of decimating the Greens at the next election where all but one of its members were wiped out.

    I see also a problem with preferencing above the line. Unless it is simple and quick, we might get further problems. Basically if we had to number everything above the like for the Upper House, we will get a lot of donkey votes. Remember how long that white sheet of paper was at this election, or worse, last year’s Senate paper? You’re just going to get people voting left to right because they can’t be bothered searching for the parties on that butcher’s paper. Maybe numbering a minimum of five above the line could be an option but it still requires people to find box 22 to put number one then find box 3 to put number two. We may get a lot more unintentional informal votes.

    • Yes, I rather assumed that the aim of reform would be to get rid of small parties, which is why I’m suspicious. But the group voting system is clearly a mess, too.

      I take your point about numbering above the line. Perhaps we should remove the line entirely and just have a long column with parties, and candidate surnames in brackets in a fairly small font? Treat it a bit like a lower house ballot, in other words. The majority of people care more about the party than the individual in any case. This would mean one couldn’t mean one couldn’t put one member of a party higher or lower than the others – but then again, we can’t do that on the Lower House ballot paper, either – we just have to vote for the candidate our party provides us. So this might be a fair trade for having the power to actually control where our votes go without taking half an hour over it…

      • I think the effect of any reform that involved the abolition of group voting tickets would significantly lower the number of candidates standing, since it removes any incentive to have front parties (like all those little single issue parties in the Senate election last year who all just happened to preference the Lib Dems – Smokers Rights, Outdoor Recreation etc). Especially if it’s accompanied by optional preferential voting.

        I like Tasmania’s system best (Hare-Clark with Robson rotation) – it eliminates the donkey vote, eliminates safe seats at the top of the ticket for the major parties, allows for proportionality while keeping the power to choose the successful candidates entirely with the voters (unlike most other PR systems which give that power to the party machines), it doesn’t completely shut out the smallest parties, but it requires them to earn their preferences from every individual voter (not by striking deals with each other).

  8. Just noting that the results have been finalised, and they are: 14 Labor, 14 Liberal, 2 National, 5 Greens, 2 Shooters, 1 Sex Party, 1 DLP, and 1 Vote 1 Local Jobs.

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