As I write, on Sunday afternoon, it is pretty clear that Malcolm Turnbull and his colleagues will be able to govern in their own right, at least as far as the House of Representatives is concerned. The current state of the likely Senate is unclear, but both the Government and the Opposition seem likely to lose seats, at the expense of Nick Xenophon, the Greens and One Nation. As I said in my last essay, the Prime Minister will need to develop some pleasant and effective negotiating skills, or find a few colleagues who already have them. All sorts of Senate cross-bench possibilities will be there to explore, and perhaps to exploit.
But because the count has been close, some seats will be decided by a few votes, and there remains the possibility of the result in one or more of them going to the Court of Disputed Returns, the press and the blogosphere have been full of ‘perplexity’ stories and articles. How could this have happened, they go on, and then offer this or that explanation. A favourite is the voting system. Some think that compulsory voting is the problem. If there hadn’t been compulsory voting, some argue, the less-than-interested would have found something else to do on Saturday, and our side (whatever it is), would have won in this seat, or in general.
I have argued before that compulsory voting is a kind of contract: we have the right to vote, and we have the responsibility to exercise it properly. If we don’t like any of the candidates, we can simply return a blank ballot paper, or, as a lady interviewed in 1967 in one of my surveys said, ‘If I don’t like the ones we have to vote for, I just draw a little man!’ There is much same kind of contract with respect to driving: we are issued with a licence, and are required to drive carefully and obey the road rules. We do not have any kind of ‘right’ to drive on public roads (though we do on our own property). I don’t think compulsory voting had anything to do with the outcomes, and see no evidence that it did. We have had it since the mid 1920s, and Queenslanders have had it for State elections since 1915.
Nor is preferential voting a cause of the outcome. We have that since 1919 in the Federal sphere, and its logic is straightforward. We arrange the candidates in an order we like, and are saying, as we write down the numbers in the boxes, ‘I want X to win, but if he can’t, then I want Y, and if he can’t get up either, than I’d rather have P than Q’. The misanthropic among us will start at the other hand. ‘There’s no way I’d ever want X, so he’s last, and then second-last is that idiot W, and then …’
It’s not a perfect electoral system at all. But there are no perfect systems. All electoral systems come with costs to accompany their benefits. First-past-the-post usually gives you a result, but can lead to a party’s winning a substantial share of the vote across a hundred or more constituencies without winning more than one or two seats, as has happened in the UK. With our Senate system you can see proportional representation (PR) at work. One Nation won no House of Representatives electorates, but its share of the vote may give it from three to six seats in the new Senate, because that is elected under proportional representation. PR is great at providing seats in proportion to votes gained, but it comes with the cost of multi-member seats, in which it is usually difficult for any MP to ‘serve his constituents diligently’ — there are just too many of them, and he shares the task with a number of other MPs. Devoted PR adherents don’t care about that, but I do, since I think the notion of an MP being a ‘representative’ is important, and PR requires parties, or groups with similar aims, for it to work.
Something must be wrong, I have it seen it argued, because One Nation is back! Pauline Hanson has an almost unmatched ability to get under the skin of the bien pensant, and I saw that exhibited perfectly in the Sunday Canberra Times, where her face took up much of the front page, with the headline ‘Hanson Hits The Jackpot’. This was not a reference to how well her party polled, but to the fact that she (‘Hanson reaps $1.2 million windfall’) will do well out of the election result, garnering well more than a million dollars from the publicly funded AEC pot which rewards successful parties and candidates, at $2.62 for every first-preference vote gained.
As it happens, One Nation is a political party, and the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 says, at Section 299A(1), that payments of election funding entitlements must be made either electronically into a bank account nominated by the party for the purpose; or by cheque payable to the registered political party, and that there have to be proper bank accounts. So the money does not go to likely Senator-elect Hanson, but to the party she leads. And it is not a windfall. Election funding entitlements are a well-known and established part of our electoral system, and have been there since 1984. All parties and candidates know about them, and factor them in to their budgets.
For those interested, the major party groups will each pocket more than $20 million, the Greens more than $5 million. Nick Xenophon will pick up $400,000 or so. What will the parties do with the money? Why, pay their bills and pay off some debt, if anything is left over. Why then did Pauline Hanson generate the front page and two misleading headlines — and indeed about half of the whole story? My guess is that she is thought to be widely disliked, and the newspaper reasoned it could lead with such a story in a city where the dislike of Ms Hanson is perhaps as great as anywhere.
But surely that is insufficient justification, and does not warrant the loaded interior headline ‘Hanson reaps $1.2 million windfall’. The real question to ask is Why did One Nation do so well? There is no answer at all in the Canberra Times story. Some straightforward arithmetic will tell you that if the newspaper got the total figure right, then One Nation will have won about 450,000 votes across the two voting domains. That is considerable voting support, and those who don’t like One Nation need to ask why it is that so many people thought otherwise, indeed, put One Nation first.
Climate Botherers are appalled that there is now a political party in the Senate that actually has a whole policy on ‘climate change’, under the general heading of ‘Affordable Energy’. It’s well worth reading, and I hope that some, both in the Coalition and in the Labor Party, reflect on the fact that there is a new player in town. Bowing to the Greens will cut no ice with Ms Hanson.
End-note, to save having to respond to trivial comments: No, I don’t agree with all of the Affordable Energy policy, but then I’m unlikely to agree with all of anyone’s policy on anything.