ACT general election

The Australian Capital Territory, which possibly has the worst acronym in the known universe, (the ‘ACT Electoral Act’ is an example that springs to mind) is having a general election on 20 October. There are 2 districts with magnitude 5 and one with magnitude 7. The electoral system is Hare-Clark STV.

The form of government is not Westminster. The legislative assembly elects and dismisses the chief minister directly.

I know I thought this about the Northern Territory and I was wrong, but this may end the 2 year run of unbroken Labor electoral losses.

And now that we know all about this minuscule election, the subject of capital districts is so chaotic that Wikipedia does not even manage a unified page on the topic.

26 thoughts on “ACT general election

  1. >”There are 2 districts with magnitude 5 and one with magnitude 7″

    A.k.a the “haiku” arrangement, arguably the best model for STV (better than the “3-5 in rural areas and 5-7 in urban areas” model supported by the UK Electoral Reform Society, which is open to criticism as a “Liberal Democrat gerrymander” – or more accurately,a Tullymander)

    WA had a similar model (with twice as many of each district magnitude) 1986-2006, then for some reason changed to six 6-seaters, for its Upper House.

    The ACT’s 7-seater (traditionally Molonglo in the centre of the Territory but I had some idea population shifts might hand the prize to Gininderra in the northern end) is now the only one of its kind left in Australia, after the cutbacks in WA (7,7, 5, 5, 5, 5 –> 6 x 6) and Tasmania (5 x 7 –> 5×5) got rid of this great continent’s other seven seven-seaters.

    (Did I mention that this dusty southern land is ruled by a viceroy named Quentyn?)

  2. I’ve never been at all clear why they don’t districts of equal magnitude. They do have districts of equal electoral magnitude.

  3. Following on what I commented here, on Antony Green’s blog, the vibe I picked up among Canberrans is that since they didn’t want self-government at all (an advisory plebiscite in 1978 was soundly defeated, but the Hawke Govt went ahead with it anyway in 1988-89:, they didn’t want any more local politicians than the absolute minimum necessary to staff a functioning assembly with an odd number of members.

    The idea that a larger number of legislators means “bigger government” – higher taxes, noticeably higher spending, more regulations – is highly debatable but also extremely durable and widespread, probably immune to any refutation by political scientists armed with such trifles as empirical analysis. You can argue all you like that a larger assembly is more likely to be independent of the executive and provides greater individual face-time with the average MP, but this carries little weight against the simply, emotive slogan of “No More Politicians!”

  4. How is ACT the worst acronym in the known universe? I would propose a contest for worst acronym, but I fear I might be lynched.

    However, the Australian ACT cannot be any worse than tied for worst, since New Zealand also has an ACT, originally an acronym for Association of Consumers and Taxpayers. Oddly, ACT New Zealand says its actual name is ACT, making it an unusual example of a free-standing acronym, likely the only party in the known universe to be so named, or is it? (Now there’s a contest.)

  5. The NZ ACT is not a body-politic and does not pass legislation. There is, for example, no NZ ACT acts register, but there is an OZ ACT acts register.

  6. One interesting philosophical mystery in Australia is where, exactly, “Canberra” is situated. It was originally the small rural town that was chosen as the site of the new federal capital district in 1927, but the older buildings (farms, churches, etc) are now almost completely overshadowed by the federal buildings (mostly erected in two waves, 1927 and 1972).

    To the rest of Australia, “Canberra” means either the Federal Parliament or the ACT (like “Washington DC”), but once actually inside the Territory, no one ever seems to say “Here in Canberra…” It’s always “the Territory” or “the ACT”. I took a straw poll of some ACT residents and the most consistent answer was that, if “Canberra” is anywhere, it’s in the central business district – normally called “Civic”. But no one from Belconnen (far south) or Ginninderra (deep north of the Territory) ever says “I’m going to Canberra to do some shopping.”

    On the other hand, residents of the ACT are almost never “Territorians” (that appellation is reserved for residents of the Northern Territory) but “Canberrans”.

    WVO Quine would have loved this definitional conundrum.

  7. Sydney doesn’t exist either.

    There are several municipalities with names like ‘South Sydney’ and ‘North Sydney’. The seats of the parliament, the supreme court and the governor are in the City of Sydney but I don’t think anyone would ever confuse the City of Sydney (pop 177 k) with Sydney (pop 4,605,992).

    The state constitution does specify that Sydney is the seat of government of the state but does not tell us which Sydney they are talking about.

    And the federal government postcodes website helpfully tells us:

    Sydney is a suburb of Sydney, New South Wales with a postal code.

  8. How does Australian local government work compared to the U.S? Although each U.S state is different, California seems to have the most fragmented local government, or is the example of not what do do.

    Is each state in Australia different in the way local government functions?

    Is Australian local government depending on the state based on the principles of parliamentarianism, or consensus?

  9. Hi Suaprazzodi @8, Aust local govt tends as far as I know to follow a fairly uniform pattern. There’s only one level, for example, in every State. (The ACT, and “unorganised” regions of the larger-area States, have no local govt at all). NSW has “county councils” but these are meetings of delegates appointed by councils who federate for particular purposes, eg power supply. I no case I know do do Australians vote for, eg, village or borough or arrondissement councillors and then a higher level of county or regional or provincial councillors.

    Councils tend to be small, around a dozen, more the US than the larger UK model. The main difference is whether the mayor is elected by and from the councillors (usually either for a 1-or 2-year term, or else removable at pleasure) or is separately elected by the voters. It can even vary among different councils in the same State, depending how the council, the local voters, or the State Govt decide.

    All systems give the option of numbering candidates, sometimes with ticket-voting as well, but there are no party lists and no X-voting (or equivalents, eg ticking or blackening circles). Single-seat mayor and council contests are always AV. Multi-seat races may be STV (sometimes with candidates being allowed to group themselves into teams, and/or to lodge Senate-style voting tickets), occasionally Multiple Alternative Vote, and sometimes even just MNTV (albeit, eg, you number candidates 1-7 instead of X-ing seven of them). Western Aust used to use PR-STV for its local elections but the shire clerks found it terribly difficult to count and lobbied the State Govt to revert to MNTV (disguised with preferences, I believe). One hopes the clerks find it less excruciating to add up complicated numbers when calculating rates [= property tax] bills…

  10. What’s “Multiple Alternative Vote”? My guess is several AV elections in parallel on the same constituency, but I can imagine other options.

  11. “Although each U.S state is different, California seems to have the most fragmented local government, or is the example of not what do do.”

    Actually no. The state with the most fragmented local government is probably New Jersey.

    California, with its uniformly organized county boards of supervisors, is actually better organized than most, and in southern California the counties are even large enough to cover metropolitan areas (depending on how you define “metropolitan area” of course.

    Metropolitan area wide government is rare in the US, and you even have instances of metropolitan areas split between states, particularly in the Northeast.

    I would prefer changes to the California system of local government. To the financing, of course, but also the ratio of county supervisors to county populations should be fixed, there is a good case for use of PR in choosing the county supervisors, the Bay Area counties should be consolidated into one, two, or three counties (probably two), and there is scope for reorganization in the lower tier, for example break up LA but consolidate many of the localities in eastern LA counties.

    However, the situation in California is much, much better than in most states. One of the the things Americans don’t realize about their own political system is how bad local government in the U.S. is compared to other countries.

  12. Vasi @10, there are two sub-species of Multiple Alternative Vote. Say there are four seats to be filled, from one constituency, and from the same pool of candidates (ie, no “slot” system: a candidate for any seat is a candidate for all four seats).

    Version A (which I’ll call “Repeated Alternative Vote”, or RAV) conducts an AV count for the first seat, then resurrects all defeated candidates and re-allocates all ballot-papers to their highest available preference (ie transferring any that rank the elected candidate first), then conducts a second AV count for the second seat, and so forth. Rinse and repeat until all four seats have been filled. Used for the Australian Senate between 1918 and 1948.

    Version B (which I’ll call “Simultaneous Alternative Vote”, or SAV) counts your first four preferences at the same time as concurrent votes for those candidates. Unless and until four candidates are each over 50% of the ballots cast (or only five candidates remain), you eliminate the lowest candidates one by one. If, say, your third preference candidate is excluded, your ballot now counts for your 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th preferences. Used for some trade unions, eg the Cwlth Public Sector Union at one point to elect organisers (who are “executive” rather than “legislative” in nature, so there was less call for a PR system).

    It seems useful to reserve “Alternative Vote” for systems that try to fill each seat by absolute majority, and give each voter as many separate votes as there are seats to be filled, although of course if District Magnitude = 1 then AV and STV will coincide.

  13. Ed,

    I do remember that there was talk in New Jersey about merging municipalities to create economies of scale, and lower property taxes. There is resistance to this. I wonder what the reason to this would be; the current Governor of New Jersey is a Republican and wants these cities to merge. It seems strange that they can save money here, yet voters are resistant to this.

    I am confused what do you mean about the localities in eastern LA counties? Do you means cities?

    “However, the situation in California is much, much better than in most states. One of the the things Americans don’t realize about their own political system is how bad local government in the U.S. is compared to other countries.”

    How are other Western countries local government better than say the local government in the U.S? The only thing that I can think better is perhaps the use of Proportional Representation.

    L.A county has 88 cities, some are too small, others like L.A are too big. Very few cities are the right Goldilocks size. Do other Western Countries have anything like this?

  14. Tom, thanks for the explanation. Those are some pretty strange systems, especially “Repeated Alternative Vote”. I imagine each repetition would end up with roughly the same coalition in the majority, rather like the Block Vote.

  15. Yes, that’s exactly what used to happen in Australian Senate elections, especially in the 1940s as the population grew and parties became more disciplined. Whichever bloc had a majority of preferred votes in a State would take all three Senate seats. In one case the Senate had a 33-3 majority. Interesting analogy to the US Electoral College. In both cases, what began as State-wide winner-take-all voting for individual candidates ended up evolving into a system where most voters choose one party ticket.

    Australia’s profusion of electoral systems doesn’t end there. South Australia used to use the “bottom up” system, yet another variant of AV-STV where you simply eliminate the lowest candidate, re-allocate his/her votes to their next preferences, rinse and repeat until in (say) a four-seat election, only five candidates remain. Like STV without the distribution of surplus votes.

    And then (to bring this back to the ACT topic before steam pours out MSS’s and Alan’s ears…) there’s the Modified D’Hondt system…!

  16. I would mention the ACT and Brisbane as exceptions to Tom’s description of uniformity.

    The ACT has no local government. Municipal functions are performed by the territory.

    Brisbane has ‘close to’ a single unified municipality for the whole metropolitan area with a weak mayor system in place. The city has long expanded past the borders of the City of Brisbane but the state government has been reluctant to expand a municipality that is already larger in population than each of Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory and whose directly-elected lord mayor has repeatedly challenged the premier (successfully at the last state election).

  17. Suaprazzodi, this is getting off topic, but in answer to your first question, voters in the U.S. historically have been very resistant to consolidating municipalities, even though some U.S. “cities” are little more than gerrymandered tax and regulatory havens (maybe the resistance is to a large extent astroturf?). In answer to your second question, I’ve noticed outside the U.S. a pattern of usually two tiers (sometimes one) of local government, covering the whole country or region, with responsibilities allocated clearly between each tiers. The U.S. system resembles something from the Holy Roman Empire. It would be really hard to get something more complex and opaque if you tried.

    Incidentally, one of the by-products of the end of apartheid in South Africa was a local government reform that replaced a convoluted system with something more in line with international norms.

  18. Liberal 8, Labor 7, Green 2. The Labor-Green combination is expected to elect the next chief minister when the assembly meets. That is an 8-point swing against Labor.

    The Bullet Train for Canberra Party got 5%. They want a high speed rail line from Sydney to Canberra with a new combined airport somewhere along the midline of the railway.

  19. I guess no-one will be astonished that:

    1. the media describe the result as the ACT in limbo

    2. the Liberals claim their plurality entitles them to be treated as if they’d won a majority

    On the other hand, Labor claim they won the most votes because they won more primary votes than anyone else.

  20. > “The Bullet Train for Canberra Party got 5%”

    Expect the blog posts in UK and USA titled “IROV [sic] in Australia [sic] Encourages Bullet Voting.”

  21. The scrutiny is finished. 8/8/1. The Greens fell from 4 to 1 which is not a happy result for them. The Liberal candidate for chief minister, Zed Seselja, has little prospect of being elected to that office, which is rather a pity because ‘Chief Minister Zed’ has a nice ring to it)

  22. Yes, well, Alan, Hermens wrote 60 years ago that PR entrenches minor parties, so that can’t have happened.

    While it is contrary to House Round policy to make jokes about anyone’s surname, I did note Mr Selesja’s nominal situation at, and was awaiting the Range Voting crew in the US to start referring to him as “Zee”.

  23. Zed Seselja is standing down as ACT Liberal leader to challenge the incumbent senator for preselection. ‘Senator Zed’ has an even better ring.

    If he were only British and made a life peer, he’s be ‘Lord Zed!’ (perhaps showing my youth with that joke; Lord Zedd was a villain on the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers). Unfortunately it would be ‘Lord Seselja,’ but still funny.

  24. Chris, decades ago l saw a student newspaper describe a conference on safe injecting rooms as the “mighty morphine pow-wow arrangers.” It wasn’t on in Canberra but given the ACT’s lenient approach to drugs, it does offer a Lord Zed link…

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