the Emerald City and the sticks

Sydney has been known as the Emerald City since David Williamson’s play was first performed in 1987. Politics in Sydney are quite different from what happens ‘out in the sticks’ in the rest of the state.

New South Wales is the largest state by population and by GDP, the second by per capita income, and the third largest by area. (Both territories have higher per capita incomes) The only sister state relationship in the US is with California. Americans could think of the place as New Yorkifornia with Sydney playing many of the roles that New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco play in the US.

Apart from 1961, no-one has ever won a federal election without winning a majority of seats in NSW. The state elects 47 of the 150 MHRs and 12 of the 76 senators. Population shifts over the last few decades have tended to transfer 1 seat to either Queensland or Western Australia at each re-apportionment. The state has provided 6 of the last 10 prime ministers. ABC Vote Compass has thoughtfully posted a list of the most left-leaning and right-wing electorates in the country. NSW has 3 of the most left-leaning and none of the most right-leaning seats.

In the 1920s NSW briefly adopted STVPR. This led to a hung parliament where the Industrial Socialist Labor Party (an organisation close to the International Workers of the World) elected a single MLA who held the balance of power. STVPR was abolished in 1926, in reaction to the horror of a Wobbly balance of power.

Australia 2016

Australia will elect all members of the house of representatives and the senate on 2 July. This is an extended campaign by Australian standards. The timing was dictated by a series of interlocking provisions in the constitution relating to double dissolutions.

Australia has a general election on 2 July for all seats in the house of representatives and the senate. The constitutional reasons for this double dissolution are canvassed in the advice tendered to and accepted by the governor-general which has been published. Sidebar: you often read British and Canadian authors who argue that conversations and advice between head of government and head of state must be private but Australian governors have been publishing ministerial advice and their response on major issues since 1975. I am not usually an enthusiast for Sir John Kerr, but in this at least he established a good precedent.

The headline view is that Labor appears to be gaining, but it is by no means clear that they will gain enough seats for a majority government. It is equally unclear who would be best placed to form a minority government in the event of a deliberative, balanced or ‘hung’ parliament. The prime minister’s personal standings have been tanking for some time but that appears to have levelled off. The opposition leader’s standings have been rising significantly. Newspoll, widely regarded as definitive, has a snapshot of how they see the situation here. Historically pollsters have relied on second preferences from the previous election to estimate preference flows because that tends to give a more accurate result than asking poll respondents.

Here is the Gazetted enrolment (30 April 2016) published by the AEC.

NSW 107 323

VIC 105 929

QLD 101 302

WA 97 228

SA 106 398

TAS 74 009

ACT 139 025

NT 65 444

The dramatic gap between the ACT and NT is a rounding error, the NT is just over 1.5 of the uniform quota and the ACT is just under 2.5. The low figure for Tasmania is a consequence of their minimum representation of 5 in the house. In my view a variation from 139 025 to 65 444 is not really acceptable in the 21st century.

The election will probably be decided in New South Wales and Queensland. Labor did quite well in Victoria in 2013, against the national trend, and has probably peaked at 19 out of 37 seats. The nest result for Labor in the snaller states and the territories would be gains of 1 seat each in South Australia, Tasmania and perhaps the Northern Territory. Western Australia is showing a marked swing to Labor and as many as 4 seats could change hands, Labor would be looking at a net gain of 6 outside NSW and Queensland. The Newspoll page has a convenient calculator that lets you estimate seat gains for particular swings.

That takes us to the battleground states with 47 seats in New South Wales and 30 in Queensland.

The magic number to form a majority government is 76. From the Australian Financial Review:

If Labor wins the July 2 election it will become the first opposition in 85 years to regain government after just one term. To do so, it needs to win a net minimum of 19 seats.

The Coalition, to avoid becoming the first government to lose power after one term since the Scullin Labor government lost in 1931, needs to lose fewer than 15 seats.

The situation is complicated by minor party and independents who may (again) be called on to decide who forms the government. I plan to do separate posts for the situations in New South Wales, Queensland and the minor parties and independents. My guess is that there will be a minority government but it is too early to say who will form government.

Labor is making loud noises about never again making a confidence and supply agreement with the Greens. Both major parties seem to think the solution to a deliberative parliament is to call a second election.

They made similar noises in Tasmania in 2010 and were rebuffed by the governor. It is hard to imagine the governor-general granting a second election for the exact some reasons that the governor of Tasmania refused to grant one in 2010.







the Bougainville model

There is a second exception to political instability in the South Pacific, which I thought should be mentioned.

The Autonomous Region of Bougainville, population approximately a quarter of a million, is a federacy of PNG. An independence referendum is due before 2020. Bougainville has its own executive, legislature and courts. The region went through an extended and bitter conflict with the national government over mining and land ownership issues between 1990 and 2005. Autonomy emerged from a peace agreement brokered by New Zealand and the Pacific Islands Forum. The history is tragic:

Bougainville has remained peaceful for a dozen years. Peace was negotiated following a decade-long war that is estimated to have caused approximately 2,000 deaths and possibly ten times as many more due to lack of services (Braithwaite et al. 2010).
The then province of Papua New Guinea fell from its top rank to the bottom in terms of per capita income and other social indicators of development among the 19 provinces.


The autonomous region has much broader powers than PNG provinces. The national government retains a defined list of powers and Bougainville anything not on that list is a function of the autonomous region. The regional constitution emerged from an inclusive process assisted by international mediators and experts. It is very different from the PNG constitution and other Pacific constitutions.

The president is popularly elected and automatically has a seat in the house of representatives.

The members of the executive council must be members of the Bougainville house of representatives. Some members of the executive council are regional representatives. Each is appointed in consultation with the members of the house of representatives for a subregion within the autonomous region. There is a similar provision a woman appointed in consultation with the women members of the house. Any member of the council can be dismissed by the president.

The president and all members of the  house of representatives can be recalled. The vice-president is appointed and dismissed by the president.

While the constitution does state that the executive council is responsible to the house of representatives and through the house to the people, (Section 85(2)(a)) there is no provision for a vote of no confidence.

The removal provision reads:


(1) Subject to Subsection (2), the President ceases to hold office on the assumption of office by a new President following an election of President under Section 89 (election of President) or Section 90 (special election of President).

(2) The office of President becomes vacant if the President –

(a)        dies;  or

(b)        resigns by written notice to the Speaker;  or

(c)        ceases in accordance with Section 91(2) (qualifications for and disqualifications from election as President) to be qualified to stand for election as President;  or

(d)        is dismissed from office as President under the provisions of Part 13 (Leadership Code); or

(e)        is recalled in accordance with Section 58 (recall of members of the House of Representatives); or

(f)         is or becomes of unsound mind within the meaning of any law relating to the person and property of persons of unsound mind;  or

(g)        has been declared bankrupt by a court of competent jurisdiction and remains bankrupt.

Part 13 provides for misconduct in office to be prosecuted before the Bougainville high court by the Bougainville ombudsman or the independent public prosecutor. No president has been removed or recalled.

Since the peace agreement Bougainville has regained about 40% of the per capita income it had when the war broke out. The region has considerable mineral resources, including the largest copper deposit on the planet.

Should the independence referendum pass, Bougainville will be the first nation with an incontestably presidential system in Oceania, although Madison’s eyebrows could possibly reach orbit were he confronted with an executive president and cabinet who also sit in the legislature.