Will Australia have a balanced parliament?

The news today, one day before Australia’s general election, is full of speculation (and the predictable angst) over whether Australia could have a parliament in which no party has a majority. As the NZ Herald notes:

Most analysts expect the Greens to hold the balance of power in the Senate after Saturday’s election, with as many as 10 Senators when the new Upper House is convened next July.

But the razor’s edge that opinion polls have been travelling for much of the campaign have led to speculation that for the first time since 1940 the nation could have a hung parliament.

Of course, “hung” parliament would be better called a balanced parliament, or a no-majority situation. “Hung” refers to juries, which must render a guilty or not-guilty verdict. Unlike parliaments, juries can’t make coalitions with a third option, or allow one of the two main options to prevail, subject to bargaining. And a New Zealand newspaper should know better–NZ has had quite decisive coalition and minority governments for more than a decade.

If there is no majority in the first chamber of Australia’s parliament after this election, it will be the first time since 1940. So that’s more than three decades farther back than the last such occurrence in the UK, prior to the current year.

NZ Herald again:

On a national basis, punters and recent polls predict a narrow Labor victory, but detailed polling in marginal seats in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia suggests the Coalition could pick up the extra 17 seats it needs to win.

If neither has a majority, then four independents and potentially one Green MP could hold the balance of power. The story notes that the independents are all defectors from the Liberal-National Coalition who hold views closer to Labor on many issues. It also describes their rural electorates.

9 thoughts on “Will Australia have a balanced parliament?

  1. And a New Zealand newspaper should know better

    Overall NZ mainstream media is poor, and electoral coverage is especially bad. They regularly use outdated loaded terms as you note, and sometimes are just straight out wrong.

    You could quibble that AV is a form of STV, but in the NZ debate on electoral systems STV is used to mean multi-member electorates. There is no excuse of the ‘example’ form.

  2. There was a ritually interesting moment when the ABC’s comment panels suddenly expanded from 1 Labor 1 Coalition to include a Green senator as well.

  3. I think a better term is “uncontrolled Parliament”.

    Yes, voters elected a Parliament, but usually Parliament is controlled by the Whips of one party and this one isn’t. Then you can argue about whether its better to have a controlled or uncontrolled Parliament. Its a more neutral term.

  4. I did a quick analysis of the election results, simply comparing the pre-election Pendulum with the list of the seats that actually changed hands, both found on Wikipedia.

    Of the twelve most marginal notional Labor seats (two party preferred swing of 1.5% required to switch), the Liberals or Liberal-Nationals converted, eight. They held all five seats that had Liberal MPs but notional Labor majorities (the redistribution seems to have favored Labor), and gained three. Labor held on to at least two of these seats, Bass in Tasmania and Robertson on the central coast of New South Wales. The outcome is still uncertain in the other two.

    The Liberal-Nationals also gained another seven Labor seats in Queensland, where they needed between a 1.5% and 4.5% swing, with an eighth Queensland seat disputed. Labor may have retained retained only one of its marginal Queensland seats.

    Labor gained two marginal Liberal seats in Victoria. Another two Labor and one Liberal seat switched from the major parties to minor parties/ independents of various degrees.

    My quick impression is that the national swing was actually fairly small outside of Queensland, where the Liberal-Nationals did very well. And this was counterbalanced to some extent by the Labor performance in Victoria. There doesn’t seem to have been much other variation in the results.

  5. A selection of the more interesting of the myriad comments published on Saturday’s election:

    “Presumably after the horse trading, a workable government will be formed. We’re not facing catastrophe or anarchy. And if worst comes to worst in a year or so, we can always have another election.

    But what sometimes works quite well at state level, where independents prop up governments, is likely to be less satisfactory nationally – at least if we want bold decision-making. The whole damn thing is further complicated – especially if there was an Abbott government – by the Greens gaining, from mid-next year, the sole balance of power in the Senate. Abbott and Brown would be scratchy political bedfellows.

    For those who believe all this is a triumph of the people’s will, think about the numbers. Why should just a handful of men determine whether we have PM Gillard or PM Abbott? It’s the way the system works – but only when it is working inadequately. It’s one thing to have the senators who hold the balance of power often determining the fate of crucial legislation; it is a step further that a few MPs decide who should be PM.

    (On the other hand, a very few voters in a handful of seats can change government, and a government can win on an overall minority of votes. What’s ”democratic” is sometimes less than perfectly democratic.)

    We’ve come to this predicament because Labor performed poorly, but not poorly enough to be dispatched directly out the back door, while Abbott did well, but not well enough to get there in his own right….”

    – Michelle Grattan, “Workings of democracy are not always democratic”, Sydney Morning Herald (23 August 2010).

    Tony Smith, “All MPs have Independents envy”, 20(16) Eureka Street (26 August 2010), answers Ms Grattan, confirming what I noted here (“… I’m sure many ALP MPs in ACT or SA would have liked a Ministerial appointment too, but the Labor chief minister had to appoint Michael Moore and Karlene Maywald to keep a majority…”) some time back.

    I am normally opposed to bad puns being made about people’s surnames, but even I, Eddie Perfect and Norman Wisdom would agree that this one was impossible for any headline subbie to resist:

    ‘THE MAN seeking to use the hung parliament to funnel billions of taxpayer dollars back into his home state has told the people of Victoria and NSW not to fear his plans, even though they could mean less money for those states.

    The message of the independent National Party MP, Tony Crook, to the people of Melbourne, Sydney and the eastern states came as he ditched plans to travel to Canberra for power-sharing talks this week, and instead made plans to attend an agricultural show in rural Western Australia this morning.

    Mr Crook, who has vowed not to join Tony Abbott’s Coalition unless it met his demands for a dramatic increase in funding for rural WA, will travel to the small town of Dowerin, about two hours north-east of Perth. […]’

    – Peter Ker, “Crook shuns kingmaker summit to attend farm expo”
    Sydney Morning Herald (25 August 2010)

    Brian Costar gets it wrong – oops. (He was far from alone on this…)

    ‘So what is likely to be the result of Saturday’s election? Perhaps because of boredom with the campaign, the spectre of a hung parliament has been raised. Predicting an outcome in which neither major party has a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives is like predicting a draw in the AFL Grand Final – it’s possible but highly unlikely. The last federal election that delivered us a hung parliament occurred in 1940.

    All the party operatives and most journalists tell us that the result will be “very close” and will “go down to the wire” – as they always do. Australian elections are always close on the votes and rarely so on the seats. The last really close election was in 1961, when the Coalition secured a bare majority of two seats…’

    – Brian Costar, “Who’ll win, and by how much: Brian Costar does the maths – and it’s not a repeat of 1931,” Inside Story (19 August 2010)

    However, Frere Costar makes an interesting observation here:

    ‘… Since 1990 an unprecedented sixty-six independents have served in the lower houses of Australian parliaments; twenty-two of them are still there. This is more than six times the number of independents sitting during the 1970s. New South Wales has been the most productive jurisdiction during that time, with seventeen independent members, and Tasmania the least, with only one. Size of state is not, however, of great significance. Nine independents have served in South Australia since 1990 – three times as many as have come from Victoria.”

    – Brian Costar and Jennifer Curtin, “Rebels with a cause: The prospect of a minority federal government throws a spotlight on the quiet rise of a generation of independent MPs in state and federal parliaments. In this updated extract from their book on the independents, Brian Costar and Jennifer Curtin look at their motivations, role and significance,” Inside Story (23 August 2010)

    Gee, funny that. NSW uses single-seat electoral districts with an average 47,000 voters enrolled in each, ie the quota averages 23,500 votes. Tasmania uses five-seat PR districts with an average quota of 11,910 votes – ie, you need less than half as many votes as in NSW in absolute terms, and one-third as many as a percentage of your district’s voters. Yet, fewer Independents? And still no breakaway National Party in Tasmania? Phone call for Mr Duverger…

    Finally – for more on just what a weird/ mould-breaking election this was, see Rodney Tiffen, “Setting new records: Old political records keep being broken by the participants in this extraordinary election,” Inside Story (23 August 2010).

    We now return you to your normal programming.

  6. [[[[AARGH MSs could you pelase insert a backslash before each even numbered “blockquote” and then delee this message – thanks, sorry.]]]]

  7. “Presumably after the horse trading, a workable government will be formed. We’re not facing catastrophe or anarchy. And if worst comes to worst in a year or so, we can always have another election.
    But what sometimes works quite well at state level, where independents prop up governments, is likely to be less satisfactory nationally – at least if we want bold decision-making. The whole damn thing is further complicated – especially if there was an Abbott government – by the Greens gaining, from mid-next year, the sole balance of power in the Senate. Abbott and Brown would be scratchy political bedfellows.
    For those who believe all this is a triumph of the people’s will, think about the numbers. Why should just a handful of men determine whether we have PM Gillard or PM Abbott? It’s the way the system works – but only when it is working inadequately. It’s one thing to have the senators who hold the balance of power often determining the fate of crucial legislation; it is a step further that a few MPs decide who should be PM.
    (On the other hand, a very few voters in a handful of seats can change government, and a government can win on an overall minority of votes. What’s ”democratic” is sometimes less than perfectly democratic.)
    We’ve come to this predicament because Labor performed poorly, but not poorly enough to be dispatched directly out the back door, while Abbott did well, but not well enough to get there in his own right….”

    – Michelle Grattan, “Workings of democracy are not always democratic”, Sydney Morning Herald (23 August 2010).
    Tony Smith, “All MPs have Independents envy”, 20(16) Eureka Street (26 August 2010), answers Ms Grattan, confirming what I noted here (”… I’m sure many ALP MPs in ACT or SA would have liked a Ministerial appointment too, but the Labor chief minister had to appoint Michael Moore and Karlene Maywald to keep a majority…”) some time back.
    I am normally opposed to bad puns being made about people’s surnames, but even I, Eddie Perfect and Norman Wisdom would agree that this one was impossible for any headline subbie to resist:

    ‘THE MAN seeking to use the hung parliament to funnel billions of taxpayer dollars back into his home state has told the people of Victoria and NSW not to fear his plans, even though they could mean less money for those states.
    The message of the independent National Party MP, Tony Crook, to the people of Melbourne, Sydney and the eastern states came as he ditched plans to travel to Canberra for power-sharing talks this week, and instead made plans to attend an agricultural show in rural Western Australia this morning.
    Mr Crook, who has vowed not to join Tony Abbott’s Coalition unless it met his demands for a dramatic increase in funding for rural WA, will travel to the small town of Dowerin, about two hours north-east of Perth. […]‘

    – Peter Ker, “Crook shuns kingmaker summit to attend farm expo”
    Sydney Morning Herald (25 August 2010)
    Brian Costar gets it wrong – oops. (He was far from alone on this…)

    ‘So what is likely to be the result of Saturday’s election? Perhaps because of boredom with the campaign, the spectre of a hung parliament has been raised. Predicting an outcome in which neither major party has a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives is like predicting a draw in the AFL Grand Final – it’s possible but highly unlikely. The last federal election that delivered us a hung parliament occurred in 1940.
    All the party operatives and most journalists tell us that the result will be “very close” and will “go down to the wire” – as they always do. Australian elections are always close on the votes and rarely so on the seats. The last really close election was in 1961, when the Coalition secured a bare majority of two seats…’

    – Brian Costar, “Who’ll win, and by how much: Brian Costar does the maths – and it’s not a repeat of 1931,” Inside Story (19 August 2010)
    However, Frere Costar makes an interesting observation here:

    ‘… Since 1990 an unprecedented sixty-six independents have served in the lower houses of Australian parliaments; twenty-two of them are still there. This is more than six times the number of independents sitting during the 1970s. New South Wales has been the most productive jurisdiction during that time, with seventeen independent members, and Tasmania the least, with only one. Size of state is not, however, of great significance. Nine independents have served in South Australia since 1990 – three times as many as have come from Victoria.”

    – Brian Costar and Jennifer Curtin, “Rebels with a cause: The prospect of a minority federal government throws a spotlight on the quiet rise of a generation of independent MPs in state and federal parliaments. In this updated extract from their book on the independents, Brian Costar and Jennifer Curtin look at their motivations, role and significance,” Inside Story (23 August 2010)
    Gee, funny that. NSW uses single-seat electoral districts with an average 47,000 voters enrolled in each, ie the quota averages 23,500 votes. Tasmania uses five-seat PR districts with an average quota of 11,910 votes – ie, you need less than half as many votes as in NSW in absolute terms, and one-third as many as a percentage of your district’s voters. Yet, fewer Independents? And still no breakaway National Party in Tasmania? Phone call for Mr Duverger…
    Finally – for more on just what a weird/ mould-breaking election this was, see Rodney Tiffen, “Setting new records: Old political records keep being broken by the participants in this extraordinary election,” Inside Story (23 August 2010).
    We now return you to your normal programming.

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