Thursday, September 26, 2013

Labor And The Greens Shall Not Complain About Family First

(Update 1 Oct: Bob Day has been elected as expected.)

You'll see a lot of this sort of thing in the next six years if, as expected, Family First's Bob Day gets up in South Australia:

For those who don't know, Helen Polley is a Labor Senator for Tasmania, albeit a very "socially conservative" one.   Now, I have no problem with the proposition that there may be some real nutters in the seemingly soft and fuzzy Family First fold.  My open question then to Senator Polley is this:

If Day and Fielding are indeed so bad, why did your party preference both of them?

In the case of Fielding in 2004, those who remember it would know that this was a preference deal that backfired.  Labor and the Democrats dealt with Fielding expecting him to be excluded and to receive his preferences.  Fielding snowballed ahead of the Democrats on micro party preferences and an unexpected Coalition surplus, and used the Democrat preferences to beat Labor and the Labor preferences to beat the Greens.   Senator Fielding was widely regarded by the left and parts of the right as well as a crass embarrassment to the Senate, but he wasn't just symbolic nuisance value.  He actually held part of the balance of power for three years, and - in one of his few redeeming moments - delivered the Howard government's voluntary student unionism legislation when his vote for it cancelled out Barnaby Joyce's vote against.  (Another was when he invoked the ire of, yes, Bob Day, by having the sense to realise that Tony Abbott's carbon-tax plebiscite was a silly idea.)

Parties are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, but if Bob Day is elected then Labor has learnt nothing.  Because the same prospective FF Senator who Polley rails against - and will have more to rail against based on his H.R. Nicholls Society background - is the same one who her own party preferenced!

You can see this on the ABC's Senate Calculator model:

At this point in the count, the model shows Sarah Hanson-Young (Green) crossing the line with a very large surplus.  This surplus contains the Greens' ticket votes and those of many minor parties, as well as those of the ALP.  However, the ALP and Green ticket votes are most of it, and they flow to Bob Day ahead of Nick Xenophon's running mate Stirling Griff and the Liberals.  This puts Day over the line. 

Note above the large number of votes going from Labor to Day  - 42,772 of them.  The exact figure will be slightly different to that, but on present figures it is touch and go as to whether a Labor ticket order of Griff-Liberal-FF would alone have caused Day not to win.  (Update: It would; see below) What is certain is that if neither Labor nor the Greens preferenced Day ahead of Griff or the Liberals, Day would have lost.

And the payoff? Why, of course!  The Family First ticket in South Australia places the ALP 54-56, ahead of the Xenophon Group in 57-58.  But as in Victoria in 2004, it is Family First who get the spoils.

The Greens, for their part, gained next to no benefit from preferencing Family First ahead of the Liberals and the second candidate for the Xenophon Group.  (They preferenced Xenophon himself more highly, but he was always going to be elected anyway.)  FF in turn preferenced the Greens only above its mortal enemies the Sex Party, who it would have put last anyway.  But the Greens' decision to demote Xenophon's running mate to position 63 - below Family First, the DLP and even No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics (but above the Liberals) - is widely seen as having something to do with a preferencing spat between the Greens and Nick Xenophon that resulted in him preferencing them below Labor on both rotations of his own complex preferencing ticket.  Xenophon did, however, preference the Greens ahead of both the Liberals and FF on one rotation, so had his preferences been distributed beyond his own ticket, the Greens would have been second in line behind Labor for half of them. 

There are various stories about the source of the Xenophon preference strategy; for instance here you can see Bob Brown accusing Xenophon of trying to make himself a Senate kingmaker.  Xenophon in turn links it to the Greens' decision to preference Labor ahead of Andrew Wilkie in Denison.  That was, itself, a decision that came across as rather strange given that the Greens ran an open ticket in 2010 and their Denison 2013 candidate complained that she couldn't find any issues to run against Wilkie on, because they agreed on too much.

But the background to all this doesn't really matter, because a party is responsible for the consequences of its preferencing decisions and for who they actually elect.  And Labor and the Greens are, assuming it happens, collectively, directly and absolutely responsible for Bob Day's election to the Senate.  Even after the current Senate voting system is hopefully gone, their blame for electing him will remain. 

It's not just South Australia either.  It very nearly happened in Tasmania as well, where the usually pro-gay-rights Greens preferenced FF's Peter Madden, one of the two most anti-gay candidates in the field, 18th out of 54.  Madden's election was averted only because he was nipped off by the Sex Party by a flimsy 821 votes at a crucial point in the cutup, and this only happened because Sex Party voting surged more on the day (proportionally) in Tasmania than the national average.  I believe the cause of that decision by the Greens was a hopelessly sloppy absence of due diligence on Madden's appalling gay rights record, and not a preference deal.  Anyway I've ranted quite enough about the narrowly-averted election of an anti-gay extremist on the preferences of Bob Brown's beloved party in previous articles.   I just hope we never see anything like it again.

There's a view that we don't have to worry about preference deals in the Senate any more because the anger over the absurdity of this Senate election is such that we will not see this group-ticket voting system in the future.  I'm not so sure about that, and I think we will have to wait and see what we actually get by way of electoral reform.  Perhaps no-one will care in a year or two (especially if people decide they like the "joke" Senators better than the "real" ones) and perhaps it will be one of these things where parties are more concerned about being seen to do something than with whether their reforms are actually all that good.  We cannot take effective reform for granted yet, and I believe we should study what specific parties did and what were the consequences of their actions.  Especially where those same parties complain about the things they caused.

So my message then to Labor and the Greens is to enjoy every painful minute of the coming six years of Senator Bob Day for all it's worth.

He's yours!


Update Oct 2: Some commentary today has disproportionately blamed the Greens for the outcome while ignoring Labor's greater, and as it turned out, decisive, role.  For instance, Andrew Crook's article in today's Crikey sealed section goes into the Greens' culpability for the result at great length without mentioning Labor's even once.

This is partly a product of the confusing nature of the process by which Day was elected.  Day did indeed cross on Senator Hanson-Young's surplus.  But the votes from Senator Hanson-Young that made up her surplus included votes she had received from other parties.  At the time Hanson-Young was elected, 40% of the value of her vote came from the ALP.  But because of the distortions produced by the unweighted Inclusive Gregory system, the Labor votes became worth about 65% of Hanson-Young's surplus.  Had the Greens not preferenced Day ahead of Griff and the Liberals, the Labor votes that flowed through the Greens to Day would still have done so, and Day would still have reached his quota after the throwing of the Hanson-Young surplus.

I mentioned above that it was not so clear whether Labor votes alone made the difference to Day's election.  But this is clear now with the final results showing that following the Green surplus, Bob Day was 7342 votes weaker than the ABC calculator model and Stirling Griff was 4794 votes stronger.  On that basis, had the Labor ticket votes not flowed to Day but instead flowed to Griff and then to Birmingham, Griff's surplus (consisting largely of Labor and Xenophon ATLs of roughly even value) would then have caused Birmingham's election.

Had Labor preferenced in the order Griff-Day-Birmingham then Griff and Day would have won.  But this is only the case because the Greens preferenced Day-Griff-Birmingham.  Had Labor preferenced Griff-Day-Birmingham and the Greens preferenced Griff-Birmingham-Day then it would have been very close between Birmingham and Day for the final seat after Griff's surplus.  My rough calculations have Birmingham just winning.  (In the event that Day won in this scenario, Xenophon would also be partly to blame.)

It is therefore Labor that primarily caused the election of Bob Day, with the Greens also culpable because one of Labor's possible alternative orderings would probably have resulted in the Greens' decision making the difference.  And the Greens are also morally guilty of helping Day get elected even although their preferences were not alone decisive.

But Senator Hanson-Young is playing innocent!

This is technically, literally, true (at least hypothetically), but also grossly misleading by omission.  In fact the SA Greens preferences went to Xenephon ahead of FF and the Liberals, but they did not go to Xenephon's running mate ahead of FF.  So by the time Hanson-Young's surplus was distributed, Xenophon was elected so the Green votes did not go to him.  All Labor candidates were either elected or excluded so the Greens votes did not go to them.  Because Bob Day was preferenced ahead of Stirling Griff, it was Day who the Green votes went to.

Update Oct 2: Senator Polley Misleads The House Of Twitter

Unintentionally, of course!

As the screenshot above shows (and the tweet in question from several days ago is still in Senator Polley's Twitter feed at this moment) this is false.  (Barring only the pedantry that Day was not actually a new Senator yet at that time, nor is he technically one even now; he has however been declared elected to take up his place as such mid next year.)

There was also this:

Which reminds me a bit of the famous inaugural appearance of the expression "faceless men", which came about when Arthur Calwell and Gough Whitlam were damagingly snapped in 1963 outside a conference they lacked entitlement to be at, in which the policies they would take to an election were being decided by party hacks.

I would be surprised if an ordinary ALP member does not exercise any potential level of control over the direction of Labor preferencing, even if it is through some extremely indirect route like voting for committee X that appoints Y who then deals with Z.   But even if so, the idea that a party's own senators cannot have any influence on preferencing decisions by making their views known in advance about who should be preferenced is one I have a lot of trouble taking seriously.

Any insight into the dark machinations of how the ALP decides its preferences are welcome!


  1. Roll eyes. 'No one!' but believers believe in global warming now that the science has moved on, it's just still not politically correct (enough) to say so for those in the major parties, and counterproductive for the Greens. Maybe the complaint is more 'Why can't I say that yet?'

    Anyway, you make a good point regarding counterintuitive preferencing. On the other hand, I think the general strategy of small preferencing small has worked out pretty well for small parties in general. Without it, I suspect that we would have seen major parties with more seat; this way, all the small players have a chance to scoop the lottery. With six lotteries being held, it should balance out over time.

    It still may do, with results in WA, NSW still very much in the balance. I also suspect VIC is less settled than currently believed due to the high number (0.3%) of no ticket votes.

  2. The Green's counter-intuitive preferencing has worked for them. Would SHY have won without pro-mining, anti-carbon-tax PUP preferences? Ludlam is no chance without PUP.

    1. Yes Senator Hanson-Young would have won without PUP preferences. PUP only polled 2.65% in SA and she crosses with more than 6% to spare. Also there is no point at which the lack of the PUP preferences excludes her. It's the ALP preferences in this case that are crucial to her election.

      At the moment the fruit of that deal has been PUP's - they won Tasmania on Green preferences and would not have done so had the Greens preferenced either the LDP or Liberals ahead of them. But I agree with Christine Milne that across the full range of policies there is a case that the Liberals at least are worse than PUP from a Green perspective.

      I have no problem with parties pragmatically ordering other parties that they feel about the same way about in order to obtain those parties' preferences.

      But that was nothing to do with the Family First situation, where the Greens preferenced a party they should be wanting to wipe off the political map and got nothing out of it besides revenge on Xenophon. It's possible for one part of a party's strategy to be canny and reasonable while another is offensive and stupid.

  3. But without PUP would SHY have overtaken Farrell in the first place?
    If PUP go to Labor or No Carbon Tax SHY is gone, if PUP go to Lib Dems we have a whole different game.
    PUP prefs pretty key for SHY getting up.

    1. Whoops! I made the rather obvious error there of just looking at the consequences of SHY just not having the PUP prefs and ignored the impact of who else gets them (in some cases). So the first part of my comment above was indeed incorrect.

      As mentioned I see no problem with the PUP deal; it raised a few eyebrows but was ideologically and strategically defensible. The preferencing of Family First is a different matter.

  4. Pretty sure I did mention that SH-Y's preferences originally from Labor went on to elect Day (par 7). And there are other innumerable what ifs. Let's assume there were no recriminations over Denison and Xenophon ended up cutting a deal with the Greens. The Advertiser runs a "Xeno-Greens deal" line and Xenophon's primary drops to the point where preferences are distributed to Farrell. Or part of the Greens deal is that Xenophon goes to Labor and the Greens before Griff and voters don't care. Completely different result. Or SA Labor reasons that HR Nicholls' Day is more injurious to workers rights than retailers assoc Griff, or...

    1. The "originally from Labor went on" bit is not so clear to me in the sentence "In the wash-up, Hanson-Young was elected on PUP and Labor preferences but her preferences went on to elect Day instead of Griff." Readers might not be aware from that that the preferences electing Day instead of Griff from the SHY surplus were mostly Labor preferences, the direction of which the Greens didn't control.

      Agree that there are always many what-ifs, and that's why this sort of thing should keep being exposed even if it isn't causative in any particular case.

  5. Interesting that if the presumed WA revote results in a 3:3 left-right split rather than the original 2:4 left-right split, Labor’s preference decision will (from my quick look at the Senate numbers) have delivered a right wing majority in the Senate after July next year. If WA goes 3:3, which seems possible, and if Labor had preferenced Xenophon’s running mate, the Coalition would otherwise have needed one of the two Xenophon Senators to get to 39 and pass legislation opposed by the two left wing parties.

    Assuming Xenophon’s running mate had some awareness of his best chance at re-election he would surely have voted with his leader, so even if he was in some way doubtful (I have no idea what he was like and he can’t have been worse than Day) Xenophon, who doesn’t seem particularly right wing, would effectively have had a legislative veto. This may turn out to have been a highly consequential preference decision, possibly until July 2020, just like Victoria in 2004 which meant the last Labor government faced a right wing blocking majority in the Senate for its first 3 years 10 months.


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