Joe Hendren

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Australian minnow socialist parties give the left the mandate to govern!

The Australian election over the weekend has dealt a hung parliament with neither Labor or Liberals (ie Tories) with a overall majority.

Straight away the Tories started screaming that because they won the most number of seats and the highest number of primary votes they should be the government. This is constitutionally a lot of bullshit and is based on some self serving mathematics.

Under a Westminster style parliament government formation is based on gaining a majority in the House of Representatives. If Tony Abbott cannot gain the support of 76 MPs in a house with 150 seats he cannot be Prime Minister. Projected results expected to give Tony Abbott one or two more seats than Labor. Yet if the centre-left can combine the support of the Greens and a few independents they will be able to form a legitimate government.

The inescapable fact is that no party won the election. While there was a 4.87% swing against Labour, the party led by Tony Abbott only gained 0.63%. Hardly a strong mandate to be Prime Minister. The Greens gained by far the largest positive swing of all the parties, gaining 3.63%. While the election of the first Green MP in the lower house is to be celebrated, the inescapable fact is that the Greens were robbed by an electoral system that is fundamentally broken. With 11.42% of the primary vote the Greens would have won 17 seats under proportional representation. It is a small consulation that the Greens hold the balance of power in the upper house (the Senate).

Back to Abbott's dodgy maths. Abbott is attempting to claim a mandate because the Liberals and the parties that normally support the Liberals gained more votes than Labor on its own. Of course its is fundamentally ridiculous in this situation to compare a coalition of parties on the right and not also add the Green vote to the centre left.

If we add the Labor total of 38.51% to the Greens 11.42% we get a figure stupidly short of a majority - 49.93%. Rather amusingly, it is the stupidly small Socialist parties that push the centre left over 50% and give the left the mandate on a first preference basis. These are the Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Equity Party, on 0.07% and 0.09% respectively!

Hence my tongue in cheek title :)

The Labor party won the popular vote, on a two party preferred basis, with 50.67% of the vote, compared to the Liberal share of 49.33%.

Over on Red Alert, Chris Hipkins wonders about the public reaction in the situation where the government ends up being led by the smaller of the two major parties. This could happen in Australia as a result of this election, and is even more likely to occur in New Zealand given we have a proportional electoral system.

The public reaction will only be a problem if the born to rule screaming from the Tories is given the oxygen it does not deserve. What it represents is a demand for single party rule on the basis they failed to gain the support of a majority of the population, just as the Tories used to demand their right to rule under First Past the Post when over 60% of the population did not vote for them.

Despite it being constitutionally improper and fundamentally undemocratic Tory friendly commentators in Australia on Saturday night started the screaming - 'our party won the most seats'. They were just following the lead of the UK Conservatives who attempted the same swindle in the aftermath of a hung parliament in the UK earlier this year.

In the case where the smaller of the two main parties gains a majority in the house by forming a support arrangement/coalition with a minor party, in my view the left needs to welcome this as a result representative of the wishes of a larger number of voters.

I look forward to the day the National party in New Zealand is stranded on 55 seats, and Labour forms a government with say 49 MPs and support from the Greens and other parties providing 12 or so seats. Let the Tories scream away - it will be a day to celebrate as our proportional electoral culture matures once again, and the FFP mindset of the dinosaurs finally gives up for dust.

PS: Of course there is an argument that the policies of the Australian Labor party are essentially those of a centre-right party, and it is true that many Labor MPs would have more in common with the Liberals than they do with the Greens or the real social democratic left. A grand coalition of the major parties is not going to happen - the aim of my post was to highlight Abbott's dodgy maths and willful constitutional ignorance.

PPS: The percentages may change over the next few days!

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At 4:39 pm, Blogger Chris Trotter said...

Very interesting post, Joe.

One of the reasons you don't see me on the Q+A programme on TVNZ is that I very publicly complained about TVNZ's Guyon Espiner running exactly the same insidious (and constitutionally wrong-headed) argument just before the 2008 election in NZ.

Espiner commissioned Colmar-Brunton to ask a sample of NZ voters whether or not they thought the party with the "most votes" should be entitled to form a government.

Not surprisingly, over 70 percent of respondents said "Yes".

Guyon then used this figure to suggest there might be a "voter backlash" if a party tried to form a government made up of parties which had each received a lesser share of the vote than the party which had secured a simple plurality of the votes cast.

This "backlash" threat was directed squarely at Labour which was clearly hoping that a combination of itself, the Greens, NZ First and (naively) the Maori Party would be able to command a majority of seats on the floor of the House.

I screamed blue-bloody murder about this overt intervention on behalf of the National Party by TVNZ's political editor - but to no avail. No correction - setting out the clear constitutional conventions - was ever broadcast.

We are, perhaps, fortunate that Labour, the Greens and NZ First didn't each receive 1-2 percentage points more than they did. Had they done so - and made a tripartite coalition possible - NZ could have been faced with its largest and most influential TV network (as well as most of the press) arguing that a government with a secure working majority in the House of Representatives was "illegitimate"; that Labour had somehow "cheated".

Things could have very quickly got very ugly.

What would the Governor-General have done? Faced with a deafening chorus of right-wing politicians, businessmen and editors all protesting that Helen Clark had "stolen" the election from John Key - would he have had the courage to stare them down and swear-in a Labour-Green-NZ First Cabinet?

Recalling how the US Supreme Court responded to the debacle in Florida, I suspect he would not.

At 9:53 am, Blogger Joe Hendren said...

Thanks Chris :)

I suspect its related to the media preferring to report politics in a simple binary story of a 'winner' and a 'looser', and assuming these can only be the two major parties. Of course this is stupid and misleading in the context of a proportional electoral system where coalitions are likely. A coalition involving the smaller of the major parties would upset this storyline.

What if this had happened in 2008? I suspect there might not have been as much 'backlash' as expected. One could argue this was the expected result of 1996, if not for the treachery of Winston First.

Secondly, The Nats cried wolf and screamed about a 'stolen' election in 2005, yet Labour/NZ First/UF lasted an entire parliamentary term. Luckily for the left Don Brash didn't say 'its our turn' - that would have been far more potent than 'we was robbed' on my reading of the NZ electorate.

You could also read the US siutation in 2000 as a example of a populace (and the spineless Democrat party) accepting an outrightly appointed government over an elected one. A much more outragous situation than an 'unexpected' coalition.

It would be nice to think the Broadcasting Standards Authority would rule against this outrightly misleading binary political journalism but I don't hold my breath for better standards. Particularly when a major news network like TVNZ can erronously tell the nation at 6pm that Australia uses STV.

NZ voted in MMP to stop the major parties dominating the landscape and implementing policies they had no mandate for. If the media and the major parties continue to attempt to exert this effective dominance once again, it becomes tempting to suggest adopting STV to break up the politicial duopoly once and for all. For the past 30 years the duopoly has unfairly served the right, not the left IMHO. Thats the real 'steal'.


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