Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Poll Roundup: Recovery, Or Just Turbulence?

2PP Aggregate: 52.4 to ALP (-1.1 since last week)
Closest reading of 2017 so far
Labor would win election "held now" with a moderate seat margin

Five weeks since the previous edition, it's time for another roundup of the state of federal polling.  After some really bad readings from Newspoll in February and Essential in March, things seem to have settled down a little for the Turnbull government.  This week the government gained a 2PP point on both Newspoll (47 to 48) and Essential (46 to 47).  I aggregated the Newspoll at 47.8% and the Essential at 47.1%.  With a bit of help from the March Ipsos and (temporarily) last week's Essential falling out of the sample, these polls have improved the government's position on my aggregate by 1.1 points in a week, to 47.6% 2PP.

I normally show just the smoothed tracking graph of rolling averages, but here's the "spiky" graph of one-week end-of-week figures, because it has a story to tell.

The one-week aggregate readings in 2017 so far have been much more turbulent than in the second half of 2016. Perhaps this week's shift is just another case of this turbulence.  (Incidentally, BludgerTrack has been running somewhat lower for Labor than my aggregate lately after disregarding Ipsos, and is bound to hence show a smaller correction based on this week's polls.)  Here's the smoothed tracking graph:

Labor started the year in very strong shape, but haven't built on it since.  However, we shouldn't take that much notice of moves back towards the Coalition until we start to see sustained close or even polling (if that happens.)


The commentariat had decided that this week was all about Prime Minister Turnbull's announcement of changes to citizenship tests and working visa laws, and with articles probably half-written before Newspoll even came out, they weren't going to let such minor changes as a single Newspoll point on 2PP and four points on the Prime Minister's net satisfaction rating put them off.  These changes could have easily been about voters not wanting Tony Abbott back, or the military posturings of North Korea, or a lack of obviously bad news cycle items, or good old statistical random noise.

Anyway, Malcolm Turnbull is up four points on net satisfaction to -25 (32-57), but that change is actually below the average net poll-to-poll change in PM netsats in Newspoll history, which stands at 5.5 points.  So nothing special is needed to explain the shift, since such shifts in PM ratings happen mundanely all the time.  Indeed the PM's netsat changes have now reversed direction six times in a row (up-down-up-down-up-down-up) but he still needs another two reversals to tie the all time record for such things (set by John Howard in early 2000).

The bad news for the PM is that this his his eleventh Newspoll in a row with a netsat of -20 or worse (Howard, Hawke and even Tony Abbott maxed out at a streak of only seven such, though Paul Keating had 17 in a row and Julia Gillard at one stage 29).  Not coincidentally, it's also the eleventh Newspoll in a row in which the Coalition has lost the 2PP.  As Malcolm Turnbull used the loss of thirty consecutive Newspolls as an argument for rolling Tony Abbott, this ticking timebomb is watched with interest by political tragics.  If the clock strikes thirty, the expectation is that Turnbull will be ridiculed out of office, so one can well imagine that for all his denials the PM hopes desperately for a rogue 50:50 to reset the clock.

Or maybe people just generally focus too much on Newspoll!  George Megalogenis has a long-standing theory that the shift to fortnightly Newspolls kickstarted our revolving door of leaders, and apparently this theory popped up again recently.  But I don't think it's actually true.  If we take the ten years either side of the start of fortnightly Newspolls in 1992, the ten years prior had seen the PM change twice (Fraser-Hawke-Keating) and the Opposition Leader change five times (Hayden-Hawke-Peacock-Howard-Peacock-Hewson).  The next ten years saw the PM change once (Keating-Howard) and the Opposition Leader four times (Hewson-Downer-Howard-Beazley-Crean).  Even if we stretch the comparison to the longest possible, 25 years, we get six PM changes and 11 Opposition Leader changes apiece before and after - excluding caretakers.  (The "before" did cheat by one of their number being lost at sea, but Holt may well have been rolled soon anyway.)

The Hewson-Downer-Howard rollercoaster had nothing to do with fortnightly Newspolls and everything to do with Hewson being cooked as leader by defeat in the "unloseable" 1993 election, and Downer being just a dud.  At the time it was also seen as having something to do with Andrew Peacock's effective veto on Howard resuming the leadership, which ended when Peacock retired.

Anyway, that's a pleasant historical diversion from the extremely boring task of writing about Bill Shorten's net rating of -20 (33-53.  Actually, feeble as it is, it's his best of the year), or the preferred prime minister score (42-33 to Turnbull, the same lead as before.)

Essential a few weeks ago had Turnbull up from -17 to -12 in a month, Shorten up from -19 to -13 and the better PM lead to the incumbent at 39-28.

Other polling

I'm pleased to say that I've seen less obviously dodgy polling in the last few weeks than I was seeing in the average day at the time of the previous episode.

Essential polled approval ratings of crossbench Senators, finding that Senators Xenophon, Hinch and Lambie are all reasonably well regarded, Senator Hanson polarises opinion but is more disliked than liked, and Senators Leyonhjelm and Bernardi don't have massive fan clubs.

Essential also polled a voting mobility exercise, which showed that voters who report voting for the major parties (and to a lesser degree the Greens) tend to have voted more stably than those who vote for the smaller parties.  The table takes quite a lot of unpacking - each vertical column gives a party a respondent has said they have voted for in the last ten years, and then lists the chance that they had also voted for each of the other listed parties.  The average voter who has voted Liberal-National reports voting for 1.69 of the listed parties in the past ten years at state and federal elections combined, compared to 1.83 parties for Labor, 2.34 for the Greens, 2.53 for One Nation, 2.95 for NXT, 3.15 for Family First, 2.82 for independents.  The ultimate party-hoppers were those who had voted for PUP (3.57) but that makes sense since no-one could have voted exclusively for that party over a decade.  I suspect voters are over-reporting the extent to which they have voted for One Nation, given that the party's share of the vote in state and federal elections was very poor from 2007 until the 2016 election at which they managed over 4% in the Senate.

Essential voters overall narrowly approved of the recent US bombing of Syria (41-36), but don't think we should get involved (31-50).  There are plenty more issues polls over at Essential for anyone who finds the opinions of a panel of 100,000 grumps interesting, but I thought this one on breaking the law was especially odd. 47% of Greens voters think it is never justified to break the law?  Do these people not even know who Bob Brown is?

A JWS survey taken in March found that 50% of voters wanted longer parliamentary terms (of some sort) while only 13% wanted more elections.

2016 Warringah entrails

The most interesting poll-shaped object of the last few weeks has been the supposedly "leaked" poll purporting to show that Tony Abbott had been in danger of losing Warringah to Labor or an independent until Malcolm Turnbull saved his embattled mate with a robocall.

As appealingly undignified in a classically Abbott way as this story is, the most likely explanation for all of this is simply that the poll results were wrong.  It had a sample size of only 400, and the poll was reportedly conducted by Sexton, rather than Textor, at Abbott's request.  The preferencing seems to have been screwy too, since the reported 57-43 to Labor "aided vote" sample (with Abbott named) off primaries of 34-19 would have required an 81% flow of all preferences to Labor (in reality Labor would have got about 52-53% off the stated primaries.)

The robocalls were real as attested by some (but not very many) sources at the time.  But if a robocall from the boss and the other named interventions were really worth seventeen (or even seven) points in Warringah, it would be likely that the same sort of thing would have been worth quite a lot in other electorates where the Prime Minister was then still regarded well.   And while naming or not naming a candidate sometimes does make a difference, I'd be surprised to see it matter as much as ten points and for that effect to then be repeated at a ballot box.

If the story about Abbott requesting a different pollster is true then that shows a lack of judgement that Turnbull was only too happy to take advantage of.  In reality Abbott's opponents were a rabble and Abbott's vote was never likely to be anything other than, as Antony Green put it, "a whale surrounded by minnows".  If there really was such a savage primary vote slide against the former PM then a ReachTEL conducted by the Australia Institute six months earlier, while suggesting voters wanted Abbott to retire, had shown no signs of it.

Anyway, on we go to the next prism through which every slightest poll move can be misconstrued, the Budget!  Budget polls always need to be put in their historical place, so another roundup is probably not too far away.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wonk Central: Why We Don't Use The Hare Quota In Hare-Clark (Or The Senate)

For this exciting episode of Wonk Central I turn to the question of the Hare Quota, and why it is deservedly extinct in Single Transferable Vote multi-member electoral systems like the ACT and Tasmanian parliaments, and also the federal Senate and various state upper houses.  A warning that as usual for Wonk Central articles, this piece is especially mathsy.  A more important warning: I strongly advise readers with the slightest interest in the merits of different quotas for STV to stay well away from Wikipedia coverage of the matter.  It is so bad that I can't work out where to start in attempting to improve it.

The Hare Quota is best known to the psephosphere through the output of one Anthony van der Craats (aka MelbCity, democracyATwork etc) who continues to argue that the current Droop Quota disenfranchises voters and distorts outcomes in favour of the major parties.  An example is here (PDF); I am not sure if it is a representative example and I don't really care; any random one is enough to get the flavour of it.

Recently the Hare Quota made a surprise appearance in Bob Day's failed challenge against the new Senate laws (a challenge brought at a time when Day was not actually eligible to even be in the Senate, as it turns out).  Day asked the court to find in favour of the Hare Quota and against the Droop Quota for the Senate, but not much was seen of this claim in the actual arguments.  The court concluded that Day's argument against the Droop quota was "elusive", and that even had it been valid, there was no codified principle of proportional representation for a quota system to offend against anyway.

The Hare quota is sometimes used in multi-member elections that do not employ preferences.  While it can cause problems there too (such as encouraging parties to deliberately split into multiple tickets), this article is only concerned with its use in STV elections.

I hope that this piece will save people the effort of arguing with Hare-quota supporters who complain about the Droop quota.  While these people are extremely few in number they can be extremely persistent with their pet theory.  All you need to do if you see this nonsense is to thwack it with the link to this article.

The quotas

If a candidate gets a quota in one of these sorts of multi-member STV elections, they are elected.  If they have over a quota then spare votes are passed on to other candidates and the elected candidate is brought down to a quota in this process.  Whether these spare votes consist of all the candidate's votes at reduced value, some of them at reduced value, a selection at full or even increased value (etc) will vary by the system and the stage of the election at which the candidate has crossed the line.  The key question for this article is what that actual quota should be.

The Hare Quota is simply the number of formal votes divided by the number of seats.  If there are 42000 formal votes and 6 seats then the Hare Quota is 7000 votes.  The Hare Quota was used in some early implementations of STV but recent examples of its use in serious legislatures seem to not even exist.

The Droop Quota, now generally used instead, is:

(votes/(seats+1))+1  , rounded down.

So for 42000 voters and 6 seats, the Droop Quota is 6001 votes.

The argument for Droop Quota

The argument for the Droop Quota is that, for an election for n seats, the Droop Quota is the smallest number of votes that n candidates can reach, but more than n candidates cannot.  If the quota was 6000 votes, then in theory seven candidates could get exactly that many each, so there might be a need to break ties.  If the quota was higher than the Droop Quota, then not only might the count take longer than it needs to (an issue with hand-counting) but also votes could flow pointlessly as preferences to candidates who are already mathematically sure to win.

(In electoral systems that allow votes to exhaust, a common modification is to have a progressively reducing Droop quota rather than one fixed for the whole count.  Now that computers can easily handle this, it would be nice to see a lot more of this in Australian systems.)

Hare Quota: failed arguments and other problems

The wasted quota argument

The major argument made for the Hare Quota is that if there are n seats and Droop Quota is used, then around 1/n of the vote never elects anyone, but sits as an allegedly "wasted quota" of supposedly "disenfranchised" votes.  Quite often these votes pool with a candidate who is neither elected nor excluded - the candidate who comes seventh in an election for six seats, and loses because he/she is in last place, everyone has been excluded and there are no other votes left to distribute.

If we apply this to a single-seat preferential election, we should immediately notice how silly this is.  For a single-seat election, the Droop Quota is 50% of votes, plus one, rounded down, which is also known as an absolute majority.  Does this mean those whose votes finished with the losing candidate out of the final pair were "disenfranchised" and their votes were "wasted" just because they did not elect anybody?  No, it just means that when only one seat is elected it isn't possible that everyone preferences the winner.  Elections have winners and losers.

Also, when someone wins big in a single seat election, the supposedly wasted vote isn't 1/n - it's actually much smaller.

Both these points apply in multi-seat elections too.  Just as somebody has to come second in a single seat election, so also somebody has to come sixth in a race for five seats.  In the Hare-Clark or Senate systems using Droop quota this person is left without quota while the others are elected, but it happens in the Hare quota too.  For instance for a Hare Quota six-candidate election with five seats and 5000 voters, suppose the six candidates poll 1000, 900, 850, 800, 750 and 700 votes.  The candidate with 700 votes is excluded immediately and loses.  As all the other candidates will automatically win, and distributing the excluded candidate's preferences will not change the result of the election, so effectively 14% of the votes have been "wasted".  This isn't some scandal of disenfranchisement, it just means that six into five doesn't go.

And the number of votes left with the final failed candidate under Droop Quota is usually not that close to 1/n anyway, unless the outcome for the final seat is very close.  In Tasmanian House of Assembly elections, in theory the wasted quota is 16.67%, but in practice in 2014 the rump candidate finished with 11.1-13.7%.  Exhaust plays a role here, but even without it, margins of 2% or so for the final seat are not uncommon.  In theory one could keep distributing votes once the last candidate got a quota and thereby "fill up" the wasted quota, but why bother.  After all, the votes coming in have helped elect someone.

And indeed, it's often not understood that the votes that make up the "wasted quota" also include fractions of votes that have been used to elect successful candidates.  Even if there is a "wasted quota" of vote values, that doesn't mean there is a quota of voters who have not helped elect anybody.

Hidden Vote Wastage

What the Hare Quota devotees won't tell you when they talk about the "wasted quota" is that it is actually their system that wastes vote-values, only the vote-wasting is hidden through the count rather than sitting somewhere obvious.  Once a candidate has reached the Droop Quota, they are certain to be elected no matter what the quota is even if they don't get any more votes for the rest of the preference distribution.  So all the votes they get between the Droop Quota and the Hare Quota are unnecessary to them, and will just reduce the value of their surplus below what it would be under Droop.

This is most starkly seen if we look at the Hare-Clark system, in which only the last bundle of preferences that puts a candidate over the line are thrown again as a surplus, rather than all votes they have received being thrown again as in the Senate.  Suppose there are four seats and candidate A tops the poll and polls the Droop Quota (20%+1) on primaries. Candidate B polls last and polls 4%, all of whom put candidate A second. In a Droop quota election, candidate A is elected immediately.  Candidate B is excluded, and B's votes flow at full value to whover else is in the race.  In a Hare Quota election, Candidate B's votes flow to Candidate A even though Candidate A was already certain to be elected, and flow no further from this point.  Although they technically help elect someone, they really make no difference.  B's votes may as well have been thrown away after the primary count, so it is really the Hare quota system that is destroying voter intention.

Over the course of a Hare quota STV election, this hidden vote wastage can waste (n-1)/(n*(n+1)) of the value of all votes before the final seat gets decided - 15% for 4 seats, 13.3% for 5 seats, 11.9% for 6 seats and so on.  And this is genuine pointless vote value wastage, not the spurious conception of "waste" that comes from the fact that not everyone can always vote for a winner.  It's a point completely missed by those who think the use of the Droop quota is just a convenience for manual processing.

Minority Rules

A well-known paradox with the use of Hare quota for STV goes like this.  In a very polarised electorate six candidates for five seats run in two teams, A, B and C versus D, E and F.  The first team's voters all vote in the order A-B-C, meaning that A gets a primary vote of 52%.  The second team's voters split their votes, with D getting 17% of primaries, E 16% and F 15%.  A is elected with a surplus of 32% which flows to B.  B is elected with a surplus of 12% which flows to C.  Now C is last with 12% and loses.  As a result team A-B-C wins two seats with 52% of the vote, and team D-E-F wins three with 48%.

In contrast using the Droop system: the quota is now 16.67% so all of A, D, B and C are elected with quota, and the surpluses of D (0.33%) and C (2%) will then decide the last seat between E and F.  The more popular team wins three seats, as it should be.  Some might say parties should be encouraged to pick a range of candidates who can poll healthy primary votes in their own right, but it's not a party's fault if it happens to have a candidate who its voters all think is especially good.

This objection is in itself widely and rightly considered fatal to the use of the Hare quota in STV.


Supporters of the Hare Quota frequently argue that it is more proportional.  That it is more helpful for small parties generally compared to the Droop Quota is pretty obvious because the major parties cop hidden vote wastage every time a surplus is thrown.  The table below shows what share of seats a party would be guaranteed in a five-seat election, assuming a 100% down-the-ticket preference flow (but no preferences from any other party) for various sizes of primary vote under each system:

In the Hare quota system parties are only guaranteed a seat share exceeding their primary vote share if they poll above 90% (in this case they are certain to win the fifth seat without quota).  But in the Droop system there are bands where this occurs at as low as just over a sixth of a vote, and these become commoner as the vote increases.

However, it may well be that the Hare quota system would be too favourable for leading minor parties.  A good example is the 1998 Tasmanian state election, in which Labor (44.8%) won 14 seats, the Liberals (38.1%) won 10 seats, the Greens (10.2%) won 1 seat and Tasmania First (5.7%) won nothing.  The Greens were clearly diddled on a proportionality basis (more so than has been normal in the 25-seat House). Using the Hare quota, however, the seat result would have been 10-10-5, with Labor under-represented for their vote share and the Greens getting almost twice as high a share of seats than votes.  Indeed, the result of this 1998 election using the Hare quota would be exactly the same as for the 2010 election at which the Greens actually did break 20%!

In conclusion

The Hare quota is simply not a valid option for STV elections.  The system fails to prevent the so-called "wasted" vote issue in the Droop system, which actually isn't an issue at all, but in the process wastes votes itself (and lots of them.)  The system creates a risk of a minority beating a majority unfairly.  While it has been claimed that it results in greater proportionality, that claim has not been tested enough using real electoral data, and even if it were true, the other defects mean that the system is unusable anyway.

Note: Normally I reject posts that advocate the Hare Quota from this site but this thread is of course an exception.  If anyone wants a go at defending the indefensible, go right ahead.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Launceston

This is my third of three preview articles for the three Legislative Council seats up for grabs next month.  Rumney has already been posted here and Murchison is here. There will be a live coverage thread for all seats on the night of Saturday 6 May.  There may also be other threads on Launceston if a campaign issue warrants them.  For more about the current political makeup of the Legislative Council see my assessment of voting patterns.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates or changed assessments.

Seat Profile

To the surprise, I would suspect, of nobody, Launceston is based in the city of Launceston. It takes in certain central, southern and inner suburbs of the city and the satellite town of Hadspen.  It includes outer-suburban booths that are notoriously swingy at federal elections, as a result of which the federal Bass electorate habitually dumps sitting members.

Launceston booths delivered a strongly pro-Liberal result in the 2010 state election, but at the 2014 election results of 59.3% Liberal, 22% Labor and 12.4% Green weren't much worse for the left than the rest of the Bass electorate.  The volatility of the area, and Bass as a whole, was shown at the 2016 federal election when there was almost a 20% swing from the state result, with the Liberals managing only 39%, Labor 41.2% and the Greens 10.8% in the booths within this LegCo seat.

Launceston has been held by both major parties in the distant past.  Up til 2011 it was held by independent Don Wing for 29 years.  The major parties sometimes tried to beat him but came away with bloody noses.  When Wing retired, both majors had a shot, but failed again.


Rosemary Armitage (Facebook) (independent) is seeking a second term, and is one of several MLCs to have a local government background.  First elected to Launceston City Council in 2005, Armitage easily won the Deputy Mayoralty in 2007 but lost the mayoral race to Albert van Zetten by three votes in 2009 after various recounts.  Choosing not to go into party politics but instead run as an independent for the vacant seat, Armitage was second on primaries with 31.7% in a field of four on election night.  Liberal Sam McQuestin had obviously no chance on preferences with a lead of 2.3% and in the end Armitage thrashed him with 56.2% of the final two-candidate vote.

In LegCo terms, Armitage is very close to the centre of the left-right spectrum.  She votes with the somewhat conservative independent Greg Hall almost two-thirds of the time and apart from that there is almost no variation in how often she votes with or against others.  She is usually community-focused and uncontroversial but struck back with a two-page letter after Liberals accused her of contributing to Andrew Nikolic's defeat in Bass by holding a press conference regarding the Launceston General Hospital during the federal campaign.


Brian Roe OAM (Facebook, Twitter, linkedin, announcement) (Labor) is a high-profile nationally experienced sports administrator, primarily in athletics but also with AFL Tasmania and was once General Manager of a World Rowing Championships in the state.  He also has experience in law. He contested Bass for the party in 2002 polling 1335 votes, and was then a member of Michelle O'Byrne's campaign team for the 2006 election.

Roe has a gregarious online footprint but copped some ribbing on social media for his website with its heading "A Policy Statement Or Something Here", which some really horrible person (okay, it was me) saved to the Wayback Machine.  As of April 6 the website is "Launching Soon".

Neroli Ellis (Facebook, Twitterlinkedin, announcement) (independent) is an even higher-profile contender.  Ellis is the Secretary of the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, a superannuation director and a former Australian of the Year state finallist.  Ellis is frequently interviewed by media. The Mercury rated her the 48th most powerful person in Tasmania in 2016 and Crikey rated her 16th in 2014.

Ellis says she will campaign on "health, education, jobs, infrastructure and development".  Ellis states she is not affiliated to any party and, like Armitage, has resisted preselection offers.  At this stage I do not have a clear sense of how different Ellis might be politically (or not) to the incumbent.  Ellis is running a significant campaign including 30-second TV advertisements.

Emma Anglesey (Facebook, announcement) (Greens) is an advisor to Senator Peter Whish-Wilson.  She is a young musician and songwriter (website, Facebook, Twitter) who has been a Triple J Unearthed Spotlight artist.  Anglesey is campaigning against the government's plan to open up previously deferred forests for logging on the grounds of impacts on Tasmania's brand.

Matthew Allen (announcement, story, linkedin) (Shooters and Fishers), a builder, was the lead Shooters and Fishers (note: the state branch has no "and Farmers") candidate for the Senate in 2016.  The party polled 1.4% in the state.  He was also the lead candidate in 2013.

Mark Tapsell (Facebook, linkedin) (independent), who lists his occupation as "Sheetmetal" was the Recreational Fishers Party candidate for Bass at the federal election, polling 4.9%.  The RFP - an anti-supertrawler party with links to left-wing unions and otherwise Labor-ish policies - is not registered for state elections.


The state of the state's health system is a significant issue in Launceston.  Multiple issues surrounding the Launceston General Hospital - currently a downgrade in teaching accreditation, also bed shortages, waiting times and so on - are continually in the headlines and health continually rates highly in issues polling.  The issue was considered to be a major cause of the unexpectedly heavy defeat of the federal Bass Liberal incumbent Andrew Nikolic.  It is no accident that the issue has attracted the attention not only of Armitage, who has asked several questions about it in parliament, but also Ellis who is first and foremost a health-issues campaigner.

The state of Launceston's water and sewerage systems has also been raised as an issue by all the major candidates.

On April 13 Anglesey criticised Armitage for considering supporting Tania Rattray's amendment to remove "offend" and "insult" from the section 17(1) of the Anti-Discrimination Act.  (Armitage has since apparently decided not to support this proposed change.) This amendment is a recent appearance of the failed federal push to remove similar wording from section 18C, in a debate that was previously dominated by a bad proposal to create a "religious purpose" exemption.  Anglesey has also criticised comments on domestic violence by Rumney MLC Tony Mulder, and this is covered on the Rumney page.

Ellis is portraying herself as a "vote for change" candidate. Armitage portrays her main strength as hard work for the community.  Armitage's TV advertisement, which includes the endorsement of her predecessor Don Wing, intriguingly makes no mention that she is the incumbent.  Both Ellis and Armitage claim to represent "common sense".

See also Rob Inglis' campaign primer.


Labor is currently on a high following strong federal results and a leadership change, but despite Roe's sporting prominence he did not set the track alight in his previous start.  He will probably set a new personal best, but can he snare the gold or even silver?  We'll see, and I don't completely rule out Labor winning, but I think the bigger danger to Armitage comes from the independent Ellis.

Armitage and Ellis come across as quite similar candidates, both well-known and playing from the "100% independent" playbook.  Armitage has the (large) advantage of strong established community connections as the incumbent and based on her local government experience, while Ellis comes across as more dynamic and an adept media player.   It is unusual to see an incumbent as at some risk in a LegCo contest just because of the opponent they are up against.

Nonetheless, high profile does not always mean success in Legislative Council contests and the question is whether voters will see enough reason to shift to a high-profile but politically unknown quantity.

It's not even clear who will finish third.  Labor were third last time, but with a low-profile campaign at a time when their political stocks were tanking.  If Labor make the top two I would expect preferences to flow between the two female independents.  If they don't, I think the left preferences might favour Ellis and hence Armitage might want some sort of primary lead this time around. I expect that conservative voters will prefer the incumbent, who is not exactly radical on social issues.

As for the Greens, this will provide some sort of test of how they are travelling in Bass, where their state seat is often shaky and Andrea Dawkins is still building profile. The Greens tend not to shine in upper house elections because there are so many independents, so anything above say 10% would be OK.

A Sportsbet market has Armitage 1.50 Ellis 3.60 Anglesey 7.00 Roe 15.00 as of April 9.  I suggest this has the Greens too short given poor recent results in the area and probably the other listed challengers too long.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Murchison

This is my second preview article for the three Legislative Council seats up for grabs next month.  Rumney has already been posted here and Launceston will follow. There will be a live coverage thread for all seats on the night of Saturday 6 May.  There may also be other threads on Murchison if a campaign issue warrants them.  For more about the current political makeup of the Legislative Council see my assessment of voting patterns.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates or changed assessments.

Seat Profile

Murchison is a large regional/rural/remote electorate on the west coast of Tasmania.  It contains the north-western centres of Smithton, Wynyard and Stanley, the West Coast mining towns of Queenstown, Rosebery and Zeehan and the tourism and fishing hub of Strahan.  It also includes King Island and the far western suburbs of the small city of Burnie.

The electorate of Murchison was formed in 1999, with the malapportioned west coast electorate of Gordon being abolished and the member for the also-abolished Russell, Tony Fletcher, taking over at the 1999 election.  Gordon had been sometimes held by the ALP but Russell was only ever held by independents - just six of them in 114 years.  Fletcher, who served as Leader in the Upper House for two Liberal Governments, retired in 2005 after having been re-elected three times, two of them unopposed.

At the last state election, dislike of the Labor-Green forestry peace deal (especially) propelled the Liberals to a massive 59.8% vote in Murchison.  Labor scored 21% and most of the rest was Palmer United with the Greens scoring just 6.7%.  Labor won only one booth (Waratah) and the Liberals more than doubled their vote at all bar two others.  At the federal election, however, the Liberals got only 44.1%, Labor 37.4% and the Greens 7.4%.  While Murchison was still about 2.5 points more conservative than the rest of Braddon, these state-to-federal shifts were fairly typical of Tasmania as a whole.  In general, Labor won the West Coast and the suburban Wynyard-Somerset booths and the Liberals won the rural and forestry centres.


Ruth Forrest (Facebook, Twitter) (independent) won the contest to replace Fletcher in 2005, narrowly leading on primaries with 29% in a field of five, and beating Kevin Hyland after preferences with 51.4% of the two-candidate vote.  Hyland had intended to run against Forrest in 2011 as an endorsed Labor candidate but withdrew and Forrest was re-elected unopposed, the last time a Legislative Councillor did not have to face a ballot.

Prior to politics, Forrest worked as a midwife, nurse and sexuality educator and has the advantage of having personally delivered a fair share of Murchison's voters.  Her professional experience has also been relevant to several Legislative Council debates.  Forrest is very highly regarded for her policy contributions and persistent nuisance value to politics-as-usual by the Tasmanian commentariat.

Forrest has no known links to any party, but my analysis of Legislative Council voting patterns (2013, 2017) has found that she has generally been one of the Council's more left-wing members.  She has become slightly more likely to vote with Labor, and significantly less likely to vote with the Liberals, since the change of government in 2014.  For more discussion of Forrest's voting record see the Campaign section.

In 2016 Forrest was involved in a dispute with Liberal Infrastructure Minister Rene Hidding after Hidding engaged in some pushy in-person lobbying, which he later admitted had been unacceptable.  Hidding at one stage threatened to sue Forrest claiming that her claims of bullying and a Code of Conduct breach about the incident had gone too far.  Eventually the matter was settled.

Forrest is pro-same-sex marriage and says she is cautious about euthanasia legislation.


Daryl Quilliam (announcement, Facebook) (independent) is the mayor of Circular Head Council.  Circular Head includes about a quarter of Murchison's voters.  Quilliam was elected to the council around 30 years ago and became Deputy Mayor in 2000, defeating former Labor state MP Michael Weldon.  He was re-elected twice and then won the mayoralty in 2007 with a 55.8% two-candidate result.  He was then twice returned unopposed, and won with 55.1% when finally opposed again in 2014. He also polled more than two quotas as an alderman that year.

In view of his attack on Forrest's voting record (see below) I thought it might be interesting to look at Quilliam's, but I was wrong, as CH council minutes aren't a goldmine of contested voting.  Save for a habitual dissenter who resigned in late 2015, Mayor Quilliam has usually but not always voted together with each other member of the Council on the few contested votes in the last couple of years - some more than others, but the sample size is very small.  I couldn't find any case in the last 18 months where he was on the losing side of any vote (though he was sometimes on the winning side of ties.)

Quilliam is a Dairy Business Development Officer at Roberts and has worked, according to a 2011 interview, in real estate, dairy and nutrition.

Quilliam was a member of the Liberal Party 30 years ago but says he has no current links to the party. However his online comments clearly indicate a pro-forestry, pro-4WD, pro-mining and anti-Greens view of politics that is typical of those Tasmanians who support majority government of either stripe over anything involving the Greens.  It does seem Quilliam's relations with his local Libs are friendly. He has given "family values", "economy" and "community" in that order as his intended yardsticks for measuring legislation.

Quilliam is a "traditionalist" on same-sex marriage and says he will consider euthanasia legislation on its merits.

As of 5 April, Quilliam is the sole declared challenger.  Building support in this large electorate full of small towns would take time and any late-declaring challengers will probably be wasting theirs.


On first announcing he intended to run, Quilliam talked about what he wanted to do and was paraphrased as not intending to attack the incumbent.  However, the gloves are off after the challenger seized on the voting record figures published here a few days ago to declare that Ruth Forrest "would be more at home if she was living at Salamanca".  Such attacks are often used by the right (here's one from Braddon Liberal MP Joan Rylah) and when used by a north-west coaster carry a taint of parochialism on top of the usual hints of latte-sipping leftism.  There has been a flood of supportive messages on Forrest's Facebook page following the comments.  Quilliam has now claimed his comments were "in no way a personal attack".

(For those who have read both my piece and Forrest's comments, I can say that she is using a broader definition of "procedural motion" than I am - especially when it comes to motions to refer matters to committees rather than making a decision straight away.)

Forestry (as distinct from forrestry) - especially the Government's plan to open up deferred temporary reserves for logging two years earlier than intended - has been flagged as a campaign issue by both contenders.  Smithton especially is a prominent timber town in the area and has displayed large swings in response to forestry issues at elections in the past.  Quilliam supports Guy Barnett's plan to increase harvesting.  Forrest's position was incorrectly summarised in the article and I have reposted a post from her in comments, at least until I can actually find it on social media and link to it.  A further Forrest statement has now been published in The Advocate (18 April).

Quilliam has stated he will run on agriculture, forestry, tourism and employment and training issues, while Forrest has recently pushed issues including health services (a major issue in the state at present), upgrading of the Bass Highway and King Island shipping.

The Advocate has also reported at length on the views of the candidates: Quilliam presenting a largely traditional pro-development position, Forrest looking for new technology and advances in education.

In the ABC radio debate on 26 April, Forrest particularly pushed more investment in early childhood education.  The candidates disagreed mainly on the government's forestry bill (see above).  As well as the traditional ABC debate there are three candidate forums.

Election signs for both candidates have been vandalised.


Voting-record based attacks on LegCo incumbents have been commonplace in recent years (Kerry Finch and Mike Gaffney have faced them from the right, and Ivan Dean from the left).  However, there's not much evidence that such attacks actually work.  The election will more likely come down to personalities, campaign effort, and what voters think of each candidate, rather than ideology and partisan politics.

Local government figures have big advantages in Legislative Council elections, and this is especially true of mayors.  Quilliam fits the script of having a very long and successful career in local government, though his wins as mayor haven't been as dominant as those of some mayors who have gone on to an Upper House career.  Also given that his voter-base is not that large, he comes across as a very solid opponent for Forrest, but not an unstoppable one.

Few of its members are brazen enough to say so, but the Hodgman government views Forrest as a pest who they would dearly like to give the flick at this election. But provided that she has kept in touch with the whole of her electorate and campaigns sufficiently, I think that would be a win against the run of play, and the usual pattern that incumbents tend to be returned.  Among left-wing observers I have noticed some consider Forrest to be a shoo-in while others are seriously concerned that Quilliam may beat her.  As usual there has been no polling, and I have not been on the ground in Murchison during this campaign.  Comments about the level and quality of campaign activity are welcome.


A Sportsbet market has Forrest 1.72 Quilliam 2.00 as of 9 April.  As of 10 April Forrest 1.62 Quilliam 2.15.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Rumney

With about a month to go until the Legislative Council elections it's time to roll out some preview coverage of the three seats up for election.  I've decided to start with Rumney because it is the one where the Hodgman Government faces the biggest peril to its ability to get bills through the Upper House.  It's also the closest thing to a normal two-party contest and hence the one on which there is the most available data to crunch.  And, at this stage, it's the one with the most candidates.

There will be a live coverage thread for all seats on the night of Saturday 6 May.  There may also be other threads on Rumney if a campaign issue warrants them.  For more about the current political makeup of the Legislative Council see my assessment of voting patterns.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates or changed assessments.

Guides for Murchison and Launceston are also now up.

Seat Profile

Rumney is a mixed urban-rural electorate in the south-east of Tasmania.  It includes outer Clarence City suburbs such as Lauderdale, Rokeby and Clarendon Vale (the latter two being traditionally strong Labor areas), the town of Sorell, the Tasman and Forestier Peninsulas and South Arm, and a number of small coastal and rural towns.  Population is increasing in the area and the current redistribution proposal would see the electorate lose Sorell and the Peninsulas and take on more of the Clarence outskirts in the future.  That would make it a more obviously Labor seat; however, this election will be fought on the current boundaries.

In my 2011 profile I noted that the seat was not then the strong Labor area it had once been, but maybe it's becoming so again.  The Labor vote held up fairly well in Rumney at the 2014 state election.  At that election Labor polled 33.8% at booths in Rumney (6.5 points above the state average), the Liberals polled 46.1% (5.1 below) and the Greens polled 14.4% (0.6 above).  Labor won three booths (Clarendon Vale, Rokeby and Primrose Sands) and were only beaten by the Greens at one smallish booth (Copping).  In the 2016 federal election (where the Liberals polled poorly in Tasmania), Labor topped the primary count in all but four Rumney booths and won the two-party preferred in every booth, with results as high as 80:20 around Rokeby/Clarendon Vale.

Formerly Monmouth, Rumney was held by conservative independent Stephen Wilson for three terms until 1999. Labor's Lin Thorp beat him by 65 votes and was re-elected without going to preferences against fairly weak opposition in 2005.  By the 2011 election Thorp was embroiled in a child protection scandal and plagued by claims of junketing and incompetence, and was defeated by Tony Mulder.  Thorp in fact won the primary vote by 4.5 points, but was run down on preferences thanks to a 76:24 preference flow to her rival from independent Paul Mason - a dish served cold from the former state Children's Commissioner.


Tony Mulder (Facebook, Twitter) is seeking a second term in Rumney.

To start with his party status, Mulder is formally an Independent.  He campaigned at the 2011 election as an "independent liberal" (case-sensitive) and during his term was sometimes (at least during 2013) listed on the Parliament House website as "Independent Liberal" or "Ind. LP", but is now showing solely as "Independent".  During debate in mid-2016 Mulder confirmed that he was at that time a member of the Liberal Party and I am assuming he still is unless I find out otherwise.  In any case he is not an endorsed party candidate and hence not subject to party discipline in his voting in the Council.

Mulder, a former senior policeman, was a long-term Clarence councillor and stood as a Liberal in the 2010 state election for Franklin, with a pretty good result but without winning a seat.  He then defeated Thorp, polling 53.1% after preferences.

When I first measured Legislative Council voting patterns in 2013 I found Mulder to be very unpredictable.  Over time his voting patterns, while still not consistently following the party line, have moved more towards the Liberal Party and the more conservative independents.  So, for instance, the share of votes he agrees with Liberal Vanessa Goodwin on has increased from 46% to 73% over this time.

Mulder is a colourful and intellectual contrarian with a small-l liberal streak and a Leyonhjelm-like penchant for forthright, quirky if not bizarre, proudly politically incorrect and sometimes grumpy comments.  Of all the Legislative Councillors he is the one who on average least often agrees with any other. During the state-based same-sex marriage debate (where he voted for the state to lead the nation, arguing that gay marriage was better than unhappy marriage) Mulder was noted by one politico for his unique ability to deliver a speech that offended all sides of a debate at once.  For another example of this, see the Campaign section.


Sarah Lovell (announcement, Facebook, Twitter) is a United Voice union campaigner and has also been a St Vincent de Paul volunteer.  Lovell, like Labor's new state leader Rebecca White (herself a Sorell local), is emblematic of the demographic shift towards young families in the south of the state electorate of Lyons that is making Rumney a juicier target for Labor.  White's first photo opportunity as leader was campaigining with Lovell in Sorell.  Lovell appears to be a first-time candidate with a relatively low profile (just the odd previous public statement, see here) but presents coherently enough in interviews and should not be underestimated.

Steve Mav (independent) had humble political beginnings at the Tasmania University Union, where he used to get about the average for Young Liberals back in those days, twenty votes (these days, the President is one!)  However Mav struck political paydirt with a campaign to rid Glenorchy pensioners of an Argentine ant infestation, and was elected to Glenorchy council in 2000, fourth out of six with almost a quota in his own right.  A similar vote saw him returned third in 2005. He resigned from the council four months after contentiously starting to work outside the state in mid-2008.

That work was in Western Australia, where Mav attracted much controversy as Chief Executive Officer for the Gumala Aboriginal Corporation.  See here, here, here, here, here and many others.  Now he's back, and doorknocking, oh and taking a swing at the incumbent about prohibited signs.  This is actually not Steve Mav's first upper house tilt; he contested Apsley in 2004 where he placed a surprisingly strong third out of ten with 15% of the vote.  While in WA Mav also found time to run for office under his full name Mavrigiannakis, placing second in the 2015 mayoral contest for Victoria Park.  Mav lists himself as a "business services advisor" from Cambridge, which is at least within the electorate.

Debra Thurley (linkedin, Twitter, detailed bio) (independent) is an academically well-qualified small business figure (experience in retail and human resources) who also has a public service background and is a current Clarence councillor.  After narrowly missing out in Clarence in 2011 when she polled 5.8%, Thurley was 11th of 12 elected at the 2014 election with a primary vote of 3.2% (the vote drop being down to the switch to all-in-all-out which meant there were a lot more incumbents running.)

Thurley contested Franklin for the Palmer United Party at the 2014 state election polling an unremarkable 579 votes (1.1%) and also contested Denison - where PUP were never getting any votes to speak of - for the same party at the 2013 federal election.  Like nearly everyone else involved, Thurley ended up quitting the party.  Some of Thurley's tweets suggest she's not an unabashed fan of the left-wing side of Australia's culture wars.

Cheryl Arnol (announcement, linkedin) (Shooters and Fishers - the state party has no "and Farmers") is the current Deputy Mayor of Glamorgan-Spring Bay council, the east coast council adjacent to Rumney to its north.  Arnol was first elected to the council in 1996 and immediately made Deputy Mayor by fellow Councillors.  In 1999 Arnol polled a massive 28% of the Councillor vote and fellow Councillors promoted her to Mayor.  Arnol was re-elected by voters with 56% against two opponents in 2000, and unopposed in 2002, before quitting Council in 2005 citing abuse from the public.  Arnol returned to Council at the 2007 elections and almost recaptured the mayoralty, losing to Bertrand Cadart by just two votes.  Unable to defeat Cadart in two more attempts, she contested the Deputy Mayoralty in 2014 and won, while Cadart was defeated by an off-Council challenge from Michael Kent.

Arnol has worked for engineering and outdoor equipment firms and is a current Director of the Forest Practices Authority*.  She also contested Apsley in 2004, coming sixth with 9.5%, and was lead candidate in the 2013 Senate race for the Country Alliance, which didn't much trouble the scorers.

Shelley Shay (Facebook, linkedin) (independent) is a CFMEU unionist who stood for the Recreational Fishers Party (headed by Kevin Harkins) in Lyons at the last election, polling 6.3%, and as much as 8% at Dunalley, a booth within Rumney.  The RFP is opposed to supertrawlers and otherwise resembles Labor in its policies.

Other candidates, if any, will be added when announced.  It is not clear whether the Greens are running but if so they don't seem to be making a serious effort.


This one is for keeps.  It's possibly the nearest thing the LegCo has to a swing seat (Windermere and Pembroke would also be candidates for that title).  Expect no effort to be spared as the Mulder and ALP teams go all-out to win the seat, or as all-out as you can go when campaign spending is so restricted.  From what I hear, they already are.

As of early April, there has not been much public engagement between the various campaigns (Mav's signage snipe doesn't really count) but that may change.  Mulder has thus far stuck, from what I can see, to his own variant of the parish-pump style campaigning that is common in these elections.  Lovell has pushed one such issue especially - traffic congestion, especially around the Hobart Airport.

On 18 April I visited Rumney, passing through Cambridge, Midway Point, Sorell and Dodges Ferry.  I saw the following numbers of candidate sign locations: Mulder 15 (including electorate office), Mav 11, Lovell 11 (including electorate office and car), Shay 3 (including one on a trailer, and plus one in Rosny out of electorate), Arnol 2 (sort-of; these are recycled Senate signs that show just the party logo and name), Thurley 0.  If I went to Rokeby and Clarendon Vale instead I would expect to see a lot more red.

More notes on the campaign may be added here as it develops.

Mulder Domestic Violence Comments:

On 13 April Mulder was targeted on social media by Greens Senator for Queensland (!) Larissa Waters and Greens candidate for Launceston (!) Emma Anglesey regarding comments he made in a debate about domestic violence last August.  A video has been circulated of Mulder making the following comments:

"It is about time we had a pro-arrest policy for both parties - the party that breached the order and the party that connived at the order - because some of these victims have to understand that they have put themselves in this position."  [This wording is from Hansard - "connived at" sounds like "connives" to me.]

Mulder states he was taken out of context.  Mulder's comments were specific to situations in which a victim of domestic violence resumes living with the subject of a domestic violence order who is supposed to stay away from (usually) her.  Even in that context though, the comments are typically controversial and do appear to blame victims for some domestic violence situations.  I have uploaded a full Hansard transcript so readers and voters can judge for themselves.  (Mulder's comment that none of his colleagues took exception to his point is clearly incorrect - Josh Willie did.)  The issue generated some mainstream reporting but doesn't seem to have stuck around long on social media.


My initial impression was that this seat was between Mulder and Lovell.  I still think this is the case, but Mav is clearly making a big effort.  Maybe if Mulder's primary vote collapses, Mav could overtake him, but I don't think this is especially likely.  Mav is a bit of a smokey because despite his long absence from the state and unclear connection to the electorate he does have a lot of experience and an electoral history of pretty strong performances out of nowhere.  That said he does not seem to have any online presence for this election.  The remaining three don't appear to be serious threats.

The election will be seen as a big test for Labor's decision to change leaders, whatever the result and whatever its actual causes.  The party's results in recent elections (Elwick and the federal wins last year) have been so good that expectations are bound to be high, especially with a honeymoon effect for Rebecca White likely to be factored in.  We might ask whether Lovell is high-profile enough but a lack of profile did not stop Josh Willie winning Elwick last year, so the same blueprint might mean the same result.

Mulder's personality and performance is also an important factor.  He won't win too many congeniality prizes, but is he also well regarded for doing the work, connecting with communities and getting stuff done?  Enough for voters to put that first and ignore everything else?  This may be the central question as to whether he can beat the ALP army. His win in 2011 was by no means big enough to give him a stranglehold on the seat, achieved as it was at the expense of an embattled incumbent from a fading Labor government.  Now the tide seems to be flowing the other way, as do the demographics, and a new Labor leader from the same electorate was probably the last thing this incumbent needed.

Predicting Upper House elections is difficult as there is usually no polling to speak of, and transplanting results from other elections is difficult.  But I think the incumbent has a really serious fight on his hands.  If Mulder can retain by any margin at all, it will be an impressive achievement.

A Sportsbet market had Mulder 1.50 Lovell 2.50 Mav and Arnol 21.00 as of 9 April.  As of 10 April Mulder out to 1.80 Mav into 7.00. As of 11 April Lovell out to 2.95 Mav into 4.00. As of 13 April Mulder 1.90 Lovell 2.20 Mav 5.50 Arnol 26.

* Disclosure: the author sometimes works on contract for FPA.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Legislative Council Voting Patterns 2013-7

(Note: for updates on the Braddon recount go here)

Advance Summary:

1. This article presents a revised analysis of voting patterns in the Legislative Council (the upper house of Tasmanian Parliament) based on contested divisions in the last four years.

2. Although there is a degree of independence in all Legislative Council voting, the Council continues to have a clearly defined "left wing" consisting of Craig Farrell and Josh Willie (Labor), and independents Mike Gaffney, Ruth Forrest, Kerry Finch and Rob Valentine.

3. Excepting Rosemary Armitage and Tania Rattray (and Jim Wilkinson, who does not vote) the remaining MLCs (independents Ivan Dean, Robert Armstrong, Greg Hall, independent Liberal Tony Mulder and endorsed Liberals Vanessa Goodwin and Leonie Hiscutt) can all be clearly placed on the "right wing" side.

4. A possible left-to-right sort of the Council could be Valentine, Forrest, Gaffney, Farrell and Willie, Finch, Armitage, Rattray, Hall, Armstrong, Dean, Goodwin, Mulder, Hiscutt.  However most of the exact positions in this list are debatable.

5. Voting in the Legislative Council was again not very party-polarised in 2016.

6. The Legislative Council is finely balanced going into the 2017 elections.


We're gearing up for another season of Tasmanian Legislative Council fun and games with three incumbents facing the music in May, and eight hopefuls known to be challenging them already.  With the Council now finely balanced, MLCs Forrest, Armitage and Mulder will try to defend their positions, after last year's ousting of former Glenorchy Mayor Adriana Taylor showed that the red couches are not quite the safe seats that they used to be.  As my traditional (and traditionally super-wonky) curtain-raiser for my coverage of the contest, here's my annual review of the voting patterns displayed by the current MLCs in the last four years.

For previous articles on this see last year's piece, which in turn links back to previous years.

Every time I do this review, I only include the last four years of data, which means no Jim Wilkinson this year as it's been four years since his last non-casting vote. I only include votes where there were at least two MLCs on each side of the floor, and not the many unanimous votes or cases where no division was called.  Since the last review there have been another twenty votes to include.  Issues covered in these have included politicians' pay, Uber licences, anti-discrimination law, education, community protection bills and gaming.  There have also been symbolic motions on same-sex marriage and Aboriginal names for electorates.  In general, there have again not been that many big-ticket left-right stoushes coming upstairs from the Lower House, and so there have been more chances for MLCs to display independence from each other.  Or not, as the case may be.

The Council even found time to have a split vote on an amendment to an amendment (the principle issue being a gaming enquiry).  I've been on the Australian Chess Federation Council for 17 years and as weird as chess politics is, we have never had one of those!

I've again aimed to produce a couple of different descriptions of the observed voting patterns.  One of these is a two-dimensional graph and the other is a left-right sort.  Again this mainly follows the methods spelt out in the ultrawonky PDF attachment to an old Tasmanian Times Hobart Council article.

A number of judgement calls were made in the left-right ordering, which is much more rubbery this year than normal, and these are discussed later.  By the way I often get requests, invariably from the left, to separate procedural and substantive motions, but I don't do it.  Split motions that are clearly procedural in the LegCo are rather rare, but in my experience motions that appear to be procedural can sometimes be proxy for something more substantive anyway.

In Two Dimensions

The following is a two-dimensional view of the voting patterns of the fifteen current MLCs over the last four years.   For those unfamiliar with graphs of these sorts, a principal components analysis aims to represent patterns in 2D with as little distortion as possible.  Both the angle of different lines to each other and the distance of different data points from the centre are relevant here.  The angles between different candidates indicate whether or not they display different kinds of voting patterns and the distance indicates how strongly each pattern is realised.  Even if two Legislative Councillors appear opposite each other, if one is close to the centre they will still agree fairly often.  If two Legislative Councillors are at a similar angle and a similar distance from the centre then it is likely their political views are rather similar. The two axes chosen by the analysis do not necessarily mean anything in particular and are not predetermined by me, but it's obvious in this case that the x-axis corresponds pretty closely to "left-right".

The "left-right" axis explains 75% of all the variation in the extent to which different MLCs do or don't agree with each other.  The other axis only explains 9% and might be called the Rattray factor.  In policy terms, it doesn't have any clear definition, and it's possible that the left-right axis is the only real pattern there is and the second axis is mostly noise (see comments.) If I went to three dimensions, a third axis explaining just less than the second one would have Rattray closer to the centre but Armitage well away from it, so the pattern that these two are basically near the centre (but in different ways) while everyone else can be placed on the left or right is well supported.

(Arm: Rosemary Armitage (Ind), Arms: Robert Armstrong (Ind), Dean: Ivan Dean (Ind), Farr: Craig Farrell (ALP), Fin: Kerry Finch (Ind), Forr: Ruth Forrest (Ind), Gaff: Mike Gaffney (Ind), Good: Vanessa Goodwin (Lib), Mul: Tony Mulder (Ind Lib), Hall: Greg Hall (Ind), Hisc: Leonie Hiscutt (Lib), Ratt: Tania Rattray (Ind), Val: Rob Valentine (Ind), Will: Josh Willie (ALP))

The placement of Josh Willie on the chart is a bit unreliable because only sixteen votes by him were included.  Gaffney and Finch appear together not because they always vote together (they don't) but because the differences in how often they vote with other MLCs are basically random.  Goodwin and Hiscutt, on the other hand, have almost always voted together, an exception this year being a vote to support same-sex marriage.

The main change this year is that Rattray is even further away from the right-wing cluster, while Valentine is slightly closer to the rest of the left.  These changes are minor as the removal of Taylor and Wilkinson from the sample could well affect how the PCA sees things.  (The fact that the graph is upside-down as concerns the position of Rattray compared to last year's is irrelevant.)

Left-right sort

As usual the agreement matrix below shows some similar patterns to the PCA graph.  The matrix shows the percentage of contested divisions on which each pair of MLCs voted together.  For instance it shows that Goodwin and Armitage have voted together 57% of the time.

The highest agreement percentages are 100% for the two Labor MLCs (I've assumed the order of names was inverted in the Pair listing for one motion, which otherwise seems to show Willie on the other side to Farrell), 97% for the two Liberals, 90% for Forrest-Gaffney and 88% for Hall-Armstrong.  The lowest are 23% for Valentine-Dean and 24% for Valentine-Hiscutt and Farrell-Mulder.

As usual I've highlighted agreement percentages of 75+% (a common cutoff for identifying clusters) and weakly highlighted those between 70 and 74.

As in last year, I give two different alignment scores.  Score1 reflects how strongly the MLC tends to vote with the left of the Council (red) or the right of the Council (blue), rather than the other way around.  Rattray and Armitage are considered neither right nor left, although both are very slightly closer to the right.  Score2 is based on ratios between the MLCs based on whether a pair of MLCs are more likely to vote with those to the right of them than those to the left (again this is explained in the ultrawonky HCC methods piece.)  For the purposes of Score1, agreement scores involving Willie were downweighted by a factor of three because of small sample size.

* Note: Limited data for Josh Willie so treat all numbers with caution, see comments below

There is an obvious cluster of high scores in each corner, and a couple of MLCs who don't have any 70+% scores with anyone.  These are the same left-right clusters we have seen before but now there are six on the left and six on the right.  Not only did the left gain a seat last year but also over time Tania Rattray, once one of the more conservative independents, has moved towards the centre.

The small sample size for Josh Willie and the relatively non-partisan issues mix means that all the figures involving him have to be treated with caution.  One would not expect that he and Mike Gaffney will only vote together half the time in the long term, assuming Gaffney's normal voting pattern continues.

There are a lot more judgement calls in my ordering of the MLCs this year than normal:

Valentine and Forrest: Score1 (from left to right) says Forrest-Valentine, Score2 says Valentine-Forrest.  Inspection of the figures shows Valentine is less likely to agree with MLCs on both the left and the right.  Score2 is good at picking this sort of thing up if the reason is that someone is more to one side then the rest of their cluster, so I've gone with Score2 and kept last year's ranking.

Gaffney, Farrell, Willie and Finch: The problem here is we have four years of data for Farrell but only one for Willie, and although the two have always voted together so far and possibly always will, the Labor position falls closer to the centre in the last year than normal.  So things get messy - Score1 says Farrell-Gaffney-Finch-Willie and Score2 says Gaffney-Farrell-Finch-Willie.  It makes no sense to separate the two Labor MLCs at this stage and the evidence from Farrell's track record is likely to be more useful.  So I've gone with Gaffney-Farrell-Willie-Finch.

Armitage and Rattray: Score1 says Armitage-Rattray by a small margin, score 2 says Rattray-Armitage at the fourth decimal place.  There's no reason Score2 should be better in the middle of the pack so I've gone with Score1.

Dean, Mulder and Goodwin: Partly because of Goodwin's high agreement score with Hiscutt although Goodwin is more moderate on social issues, Score2 suggests Dean-Mulder-Goodwin and Score1 suggests Goodwin-Dean-Mulder.  I've therefore gone with Dean-Goodwin-Mulder.

We are seeing generally that there is more distance between the Liberals and the "independent Liberal" Mulder on the one hand and the conservative independents, with more data for Armstrong showing that he is less conservative than he initially seemed, and Hall also now closer to the middle than he was.

In the last year, the government got its way on slightly more than half the actually meaningful motions, and one of the losses was the attempt to disallow a pay rise for politicians (the sort of motion they may have secretly wanted to pass, so long as they were seen on the losing side.)  That one aside, none of the losses were remotely front-page stuff, but that could change.

This fine balance of power makes for an election that could mean everything or nothing.  Those facing election are one from the left (Forrest), one from the centre (Armitage) and one from the right (Mulder).  If the left gains another seat then the Hodgman Government could find it very hard to get anything really contentious through the chamber in the last year of its term.  Federally, you'd start looking for a double dissolution, but Tasmania doesn't have those, so the government would just have to deal with it - including if it won the next election.  The Liberal Governments of old, in the terrible days before one-vote-one-value, didn't have to worry much about this problem!

Legislative Council guides should be posted here this week.


Addendum (5 April): I'm commenting on a comment about this article posted by Brent Smedley on Ruth Forrest's Facebook page, following an attack on Forrest's voting record by her opponent.  Brent writes:

"I read Kevin's blog not long after he posted it and my first thought was that his labelling of voting as left or right had the potential to cause misunderstandings. There are several disclaimers in the blog that many votes in the LegCo are procedural. Another way to interpret his statistics are that people on the right are more in lock step with the government while those whose voting record is on the left are more independent. Traditionally independence has been seen as a positive trait for a legislative councillor. Unfortunately your typical voter isn't going to get that distinction."

The problem with this objection, as I read it, is that it's empirically incorrect.  Those who are on the right were by and large also on the right when Labor was in government - they usually voted against Labor and with the Liberals then and are doing the same thing now.  Those who are on the left were also on the left when Labor was in government - they usually voted with Labor and against the Liberals then and are also doing the same thing now.  The only ones who have moved all that much are Rattray who has moved from right to centre, and Mulder who has done the opposite.  It might be suggested from this that Rattray has been cautious about both governments while Mulder has some tendency to try to give the government of the day a go.  Obviously given his Liberal sympathies that would be more pronounced with the Liberals in power.

A consistent left or right position says nothing about whether people are more or less independent of governments of the day than the other side.  It says only that lefties will be more independent of right-wing governments and righties will be more independent of left-wing governments.  That's hardly news to anyone.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Postal Plebiscite: Australia's Biggest Bad Elector Survey

The federal Coalition went to the 2016 federal election with a commitment to hold a national non-binding plebiscite on marriage equality (aka "same-sex marriage") prior to any further parliamentary vote on the issue.  The plebiscite was, as noted here before, a bad idea in policy terms, though it was mostly successful in neutralising marriage equality as a campaign issue.  The plebiscite plan was voted down in the Senate, leaving the whole issue apparently unable to progress within this term.

The option of simply changing the law seems impossible because religious reactionaries within and supporting the Coalition won't allow it.  (They're the ones who don't understand why people keep talking about marriage equality, but would bring down the Prime Minister and/or destroy their own party even in a failed attempt to stop it.) Leaving the issue as a festering distraction til the next election isn't too attractive either, so along comes Peter Dutton with a proposal to have the plebiscite anyway, but to do it by post.  Voting would be optional.

The idea of holding a voluntary ballot that does not need the approval of parliament is not new; this option of a "fee-for-service" ballot under Section 7A of the Electoral Act was discussed in the Senate plebiscite report. The option was not costed at the time because there was no proposed legislation to implement it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Poll Roundup: Attack Of The Poll-Shaped Objects

2PP Aggregate: 52.8 to Labor (-0.8 since last week)
Labor would comfortably win election "held right now"

This week has been a confusing week for many poll-watchers, and an amusing week for those of us who watch the antics of the poll-watching partisans.  Newspoll was eagerly anticipated following its 55:45 to Labor three weeks ago, and widely expected to come out with more of the same if not then some, but pulled up at only 52:48.  Oh well, the line went, maybe it was never 55:45 to begin with, after all Essential had only got out to 53s and the odd 54.  But then Essential jumped to 55:45, so two polls not usually noted for volatility had delivered it not just in spades but also in opposite directions.  At the moment we don't have a third opinion, since the others are very inactive lately.

In trying to decide between these competing figures, it is worth bearing in mind that Newspoll is now administered by Galaxy.  Galaxy was the best pollster of the 2013 election, and the Galaxy/Newspoll stable triumphed again in 2016.  Essential was poor in 2013, and while its final poll in 2016 was very good, its tracking performance suggests it was probably lucky or herding.  So my aggregate comes down more on the side of Newspoll, crediting Labor with 52.8% 2PP.

Anyway, that is a recovery of sorts, but we have seen false dawns before.  Here's the smoothed tracking graph:

For anyone with an interest in my input values, this Newspoll went in at 45.1% for the Coalition after considering the primaries, and the last three Essentials have been 46.9 (published 47), 46.7 (47) and 45.2 (45).

Friday, March 17, 2017

White New Labor Leader, But Who Will Take Green's Seat?

Recount Update 3 April: The recount has started (see figures here).  Shane Broad leads Brenton Best by 1044 votes with 2540 preferences to throw, meaning Brenton Best would need to get 70.6% of preferences if none exhausted, but probably a few will so he will need a higher share of those that do not.  Making things harder for Best are that, for instance, a vote that was Bessell-Broad-Green will still come back to Broad, but a vote that was Bessell-Best-Green is not in the recount, so the bug continues to advantage Broad on the remaining votes.  Furthermore among the remaining votes there is quite a slab from Paul O'Halloran (Greens) and Best annoyed many Greens voters in the last parliament.   I cannot see how Best can possibly win this.

4 April: Broad has extended his lead by seven votes on the first two exclusions and Best now needs 74.4% of preferences if none exhaust.  It may already be mathematically impossible.

11:30: The ABC has reported Broad is over the line.

12:20: Broad has won by a massive 1989 votes.  On that basis even without all the benefits of the recount bug he probably still would have got over the line by 100-200 votes or so.  The blowout in the margin was largely because preferences from Darryl Bessell flowed heavily to Broad in the recount, unlike preferences from Bessell in the election which had flowed heavily to Best.  So voters who voted Bessell-Green or Green-Bessell (ignoring non-contesting candidates) saw the choice between Broad and Best completely differently to those who voted for Bessell then went straight to Broad or Best.


It's been a huge day in Tasmanian state politics with the resignation of Labor leader Bryan Green and his unopposed (at least within the PLP) replacement by Rebecca White.  White is the youngest ever Tasmanian Labor leader and will be the youngest Premier by a few to several months if she wins the next state election.  (She is not, however, the youngest Labor leader nationally - Chris Watson, later to be PM, was probably one day younger when he became the first federal Labor leader.  There may have been other younger Labor leaders in other states; I haven't checked.  She is also not the youngest Tasmanian major party leader - Liberal Geoff Pearsall was 32 in 1979.)

Bryan Green is the second long-term Labor leader after Neil Batt (leader 1986-88) to not contest an election.  While Green was  uncompetitive in head-to-head matchups with Will Hodgman (even after allowing for the edge to the incumbent on such measures) he oversaw a time in which the parliamentary party was almost always unified in public and bloodletting following a massive loss in 2014 was contained.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

WA Washup: Another One Bites The Dust

It's a familiar script.  Five conservative state and territory governments have sought re-election since the Coalition took power federally and only one of the five (NSW) has survived.  Western Australia joins Queensland, the Northern Territory and (less emphatically) Victoria as jurisdictions where Coalition incumbents have been given the boot in the last few years.

The outcome in WA has been on the cards for years, and the fact that the Barnett government lost breaks no new ground by itself.  Defeat could be predicted as probable based on a combination of what I call federal drag (being of the same party as in power federally), the age of the state government, and the federal government's poor polling.  Indeed even Colin Barnett's poor personal ratings alone suggested he was already likely to lose this election less than a year out from his very strong 2013 result.  There's a strong case that Barnett should have been removed at least a year ago. Those who failed to do so look quite silly now, but they are geniuses compared to those who wanted to replace Mark McGowan with someone not even in the parliament because McGowan was thought to be too boring to win the election!