Australia 2019

The Australian 2019 general election is 18 May. In fact, as I enter this text, it is only about an hour and half before polls open in the eastern part of the country (thus about 14.5 hours before they close in the west), even though it’s midday Friday where I am. So, for now I will leave the task of discussing election day and the early results to my several capable Australian commentators, as well as anyone else who wants to chime in.

I recommend this background piece in Inside Story on the history of Australian election results. Also this piece by Antony Green on calculating swings.

30 thoughts on “Australia 2019

  1. The AEC expects a slow count because of the level of early voting. Just over 4 million people have already voted and their votes will take longer to count than traditional election day votes. I am uncomfortable with early voting because early voters cannot respond to things that happen late in the campaign, and because I like the idea of the whole community casting their votes at the same time, with certain exceptions for religious reasons.

    I am also uncomfortable with postal voting. Both my parents were passionate about politics. My staunchly conservative father never knew that my mother used the privacy of the polling booth to vote for the other side throughout their 60 year marriage. Filling out postal votes together would have led to domestic political disputes on a grand scale.

    • Individual early voting booths in NZ are often set up to service multiple Electorates (and always for at least two, General and Maori). You can also vote for any other electorate, but the staff don’t have those Rolls to hand, and these are treated as Special Votes, counted after election night. But the ‘ordinary’ advance votes are counted during Election Day, and are available soon after polls close.
      So why does a high number of early votes mean a delayed result? Obviously AU preferencing means it isn’t as simple, but the vast majority of early votes are available at the start of Election Day, right?

    • I share those discomforts, Alan. And for the same reasons you state (well, I never thought of the spousal dispute reason, but very much share the others you mention).

      I also appreciate the mention of a religious exemption, given the Australian election day being Saturday.

    • Voting is a community effort, not a communal one. Everyone votes as one, but individually cast their ballots in privacy. I see no reason why they need to be cast in one specific place and time instead of at the voter’s leisure and comfort. I also see no real utility in forcing people to wait. My own vote is usually locked down years in advance, before the candidates are even known. I find last minute “developments” to normally be political stunts designed to grab the attention of last minute undecided voters.

      Voting should be done in whatever way makes it easier for the largest number of voters to cast a vote. I can’t see how that doesn’t include letting people vote early and voting elsewhere.

  2. I see that early voting is much increased. This has also happened in NZ, where the poorly-enforced required reasons to allow individuals to vote early have been dropped. Has there been a similar easing in Australia?

    • Formally, you still need an excuse to vote early (at least federally, there’s no need for one in Victoria) , but as I understand it that rule is still not enforced.

    • 1993 in reverse.
      The lesson is clear: you win by running the Keating 1993/ Howard 1996/ Rudd 2007/ Abbott 2013 playbook (promise ponies, turn around after being reelected and do what you really planned, hope voters forget by the next poll) not by the John Hewson/ Bill Shorten playbook (releasing policies specific enough to enable identifiable voters to calculate that they’ll be $73.20 per week worse off if you get in).
      Anecdotally, a lot of normal Labor supporters where I live (who are mostly recent migrants of conservative religious backgrounds) seem to be still annoyed at State Labor for pushing through a maximalist abortion law last year, but whether this actually affected their votes in a federal election is hard to tell and it doesn’t seem show up on opinion polls.

      • Tom

        I am not quite that cynical. I say the lesson is only that it is desperately unwise to run from opposition on a tax policy that can be represented as attacking Social Group X.

        This was a close election where we don’t even know yet if the government will have a majority. Had Labor run with a more popular leader (and one who was not up to his armpits in the 2010/2013 leadership shenanigans) or a less controversial tax policy, I’d think Albanese or Plibersek would be measuring the Lodge for drapes.

      • Good point. Shorten seems to offend people simultaneously for being (a) a union apparatchik and (b) a Xavier College old boy. Mind you, here in Queensland voters seem to take it as a personal slight when a federal party leader hails from Sydney or Melbourne. – Or Perth. – Or Hobart. – Or Adelaide. Or anywhere that isn’t GO TEH MIGHTY MAROONS! Just from reading the Courier-Mail, this State makes Texas look like ground zero for Kantianism by contrast.
        Shorten’s Greg-Kinnear-on-amphetamines personal persona probably didn’t help either. No one would call ScoMo charismatic (other than theologically) but his very awkwardness may have helped him, ironically.

  3. ScoMo, whom I have a rather unkind habit of calling SloMo, turned out to be a very, very effective campaigner.

  4. In other news, it appears that the reforms to the Senate electoral system passed in 2016 are likely to substantially reduce the size of the crossbench. Only two Senators outside of the major political parties (Jacquie Lambie in Tasmania and Malcolm Roberts of One Nation in Queensland) are likely to be elected. One Nation have almost certainly lost their NSW and WA seats (their NSW Senator had defected to Clive Palmer’s party), and the Liberal Democratic Party, Xenophon Team (now the Centre Alliance) and Family First (now the Australian Conservatives) lost all their seats.

    • Unless preferences deliver some crazy results there should still be 14 cross benchers: 9 Greens (3 continuing and 6 elected this weekend), 2 Centre Alliance (both continuing), plus Cory Bernardi (continuing), Pauline Hanson (continuing), and Jacque Lambie (elected this weekend).

      While that’s down from the 20 members immediately following the 2016 election, it’s still 18% of the chamber.

  5. Interesting piece from the Guardian:

    If you do a similar calculation for the 16 polls conducted during the election, based on the number of people interviewed, the odds of those 16 polls coming in with the same, small spread of answers is greater than 100,000 to 1. In other words, the polls have been manipulated, probably unintentionally, to give the same answers as each other. The mathematics does not lie.

    I say unintentionally because humans are biased towards liking to get the same answer as everyone else. We often make subtle choices, even in quantitative analyses, to get the answer we expect. Commonly called confirmation bias in science, many of the large experiments in physics and astronomy hide the answers of an analysis from researchers until they are completely done to avoid this effect.

    And that leads to the rather worrying question of what proportion of the electorate, if any, are influenced by inaccurate polls.

    • There were suggestions that Labor’s victory in Victoria last election were influenced by polls showing the Liberals/ Nationals weren’t likely to get a majority. The theory was that, if the main choice was a majority Labor government or a minority one dependent on Greens support, a number of centre-Right voters switched from Liberal (probably not from National) to Labor to make the second option less likely. I wasn’t there on the ground so have no direct intel, but did see this theory quoted a few times.
      (NB: This is “strategic”, not “tactical” voting, for the record.)

  6. 100,000 to 1 are long odds indeed, but I wonder if we’re seeing also a bit of selection bias here:
    would the Guardian have considered this newsworthy if the polls had been spot on?
    has similar clumping been seen in polling for other elections in Australia?

    • I suspect the Guardian would not have published a mathematical analysis of the inaccuracy of polls if the polls had been as accurate as on previous occasions.

      • Henry, Alan, anyone else: Have there been [m]any other examples when the same party has won three successive elections under three different leaders? (Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison)
        Other than Harding/ Coolidge/ Hoover, but then Harding died and Silent Cal was a highly unusual case inasmuch as he went voluntarily after a single (well, a 1.5) term.

      • Tom,

        I have gone through the list of prime ministers. I did find the immortal Billie Hughes who ran as deputy leader of the the Australian Labor Party in 1914 (Labor won the election and Hughes), prime minister and leader of the National Labor Party in 1917, and prime minister and leader of the Nationalist Party of Australia in 1919 and 1922, but that’s not quite the same thing.

        Hughes gave us the word ‘duchessed’. Hughes arrived in London in 1919 still a relatively progressive politician. After several months of starring as an extra at dinners and parties at Downton Abbey he was duchessed into a conservative.

        Hughes also starred in the only incident where soldiers have been marched into an Australian parliament. During the campaign on the two WWI conscription referendums (both were defeated) Premier of Queensland TJ Ryan gave a long speech arguing that conscription would not produce a bigger army. Hughes, as federal attorney-general, censored the speech by deleting individual digits from numbers in Ryan’s speech that made Ryan look like he could not add up. Ryan repeated his speech in the Queensland legislative assembly. Hughes ordered the Queensland hansard censored. The assembly declared that a parliamentary contempt and ordered the speech printed and distributed widely. Hughes tried to arrest the Queensland government printer, who fled to parliament house with the printing plates for the speech. Hughes then marched into the assembly with a squad of troops and demanded the plates. Soldiers and Queensland constables had an embarrassing standoff on the floor of the assembly before Hughes eventually backed down.

        Hughes made a speech from the back of his train in the town of Warwick on his way back to Sydney. He was pelted with rotten fruit. He ordered a Queensland constable to arrest the pelters. The Queensland police minister, who was part of the protest but not personally a pelter, directed the constables to ignore the order. Hughes arrived in Sydney the next day with a draft bill that established the federal police. Later in his career

        Hughes was instrumental in defeating the Bruce Nationalist government in 1929 and the Scullin Labor government in 1933 on votes of confidence. In the course of his career he belonged to the Labor party and, at various times, to every anti-Labor party (except the Country party) from the Nationalists to the Liberals. He was expelled from Labor for supporting conscription in 1916, the Nationalists for opposing Bruce in 1924, and the United Australia Party for remaining in the advisory war council in 1944.

        Originally elected as the Member for West Sydney, he moved to the Victorian seat of Bendigo in 1917 and then back to NSW where he sat for North Sydney.

      • I think we can agree that Billy Hughes was sui generis. Someone once asked him “You’ve been in every Australian political party except the Country [now National] Party” to which WMH retorted “You’ve got to draw the line somewhere”.
        WMH was one of Australia’s two Welsh-born PMs, along with Julia Gillard. The UK has never had one: Lloyd-George was actually born in England.

      • Tom,

        WMH would have been completely unexceptional in the French III and IV Republics. How fortunate we are that single member districts stop the emergence of such figures in Australia!

      • Am trying to think of a US counterpart to Hughes… the nearest I can think of is Sam Houston, who is not a very near thing.
        DLG grew up with Cymric as his first language (the only UK PM so far to have learned English as a second language… interestingly, a point of commonality with NSW Premier Berejiklian, whose mother tongue was Armenian) but was born in Manchester.
        I do wonder how much SMDs vary greatly in their impact due to population size, just as FPTP is affected by accuracy or otherwise of opinion polling. If you only have a few hundred voters in the district, the informal sorting and “invisible primary” is probably pretty effective (much the way a party leadership ballot among a few dozen MPs is probably not going to vary much whether it’s FPTP, AV or runoffs). Then population size grows past a cetrian threshold and you need some kind of opinion polling to guess who the two or three main viable contenders are.
        In theory, STV and and AV should work fine without opinion polling, although I do confess to (since the 2016 reforms) skipping a lot of the never-heard-of minor parties whom I probably would preference under the old system. Yes, yes, I know I should number them all, even if just randomly or alphabetically, so as to put One Nation last. Maybe what we need is modified STV with “Cross/ strike out the candidates you hate, number the ones you like, leave the others blank”, and then when a ballot runs out of positive preferences, its remaining transfer value is deducted from the total of each candidate you crossed off, before it exhausts. STV ballots are much quicker and easier to check and count if voters fill in fewer squares.
        (PS Gaudiatrix = me when using my phone to post. No, no idea why)

  7. Is Australia going Japanese with changing Prime Ministers albeit the Coalition isn’t a dominant party like the Liberal Democrats? Australia has rotation between Coalition and Labor, but then Coalition has won more often than Labor. Both countries do have something in common in that there are the rare parliament democracies where the Upper House is quite powerful.

  8. Scott Morrison was fairly universally known as Scomo before he became prime minister.

    In late December he skived off to Hawaii for a week’s holiday in the middle of the worst bushfire crisis in our history. To add insult to injury he tried to conceal the fact that the deputy prime minister was acting as prime minister. He came back 2 days early, apologised at the airport and has been apologising ever since.

    A smoko is a work break, obviously to have a cigarette. The word has connotations of shirking or even malingering.

    Smoko Morrison probably regrets ever hearing of Hawaii by now.

  9. Cleanup to Canberra, there’s been a spill. Someone’s got deputy prime minister all over the floor. Please, won’t someone come and clean up this mess?

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