Sunday, October 27, 2013

When Is The Next State Election Due? (And Other Stories)

 When Is The Next State Election Due?

This is the kind of subject matter you're normally much more likely to find on Antony Green's site than mine, but this time I just couldn't resist!  Today's State Leader's Address by Opposition Leader Will Hodgman contained the following comment:

"And the next election - due in just 138 days - will be the most important election in a generation for our state.  Because the decision that Tasmanians make in March, will define our state's future for the next generation."

The concept of an election being "due" or "overdue" got a lot of running in the leadup to the 2013 federal election, based on the possibility that Kevin Rudd would seriously run down the clock by going into October or even November in search of time to re-establish himself.  Given the confused nature of the campaign Rudd and Labor eventually ran, and especially the lack of a developed quality control mechanism for policy announcements, he might have done better had he done so.  In the end, the 2013 federal election was held a few weeks after the government's third anniversary, which was not unusual.  As Antony Green notes, 13 of 43 federal parliaments went beyond three years.  Governments that went more than a month over their three years typically did so because they were likely to lose anyway and either hoped something might save them or just felt like extending their tenure.

If we look at the history of Tasmanian state elections since the start of Hare-Clark in 1909, the notional term of parliament has varied confusingly from time to time.  The term of parliament was initially set at five years as of 1854.  By 1909 it was apparently three years.  This was increased to five years sometime before the 1941 election (I have not found full details yet and welcome further information), then reduced to three in 1969.  On recovering government in 1972 Labor attempted to return the term to five years but were only able to secure a single five-year term and a four-year maximum thereafter from the Legislative Council.  It has been four years ever since.

There is a long history of early elections in Tasmania, frequently by reason of government collapse or political advantage, and in one case (1948) by reason of the Legislative Council forcing an election.  Of the elections since 1909 - hoping I've got this all right given all the chopping and changing mentioned above:

* The elections in 1912 and 1964 were held exactly on the relevant anniversary of the last election.
* The elections in 1925, 1928, 1931, 1946 and 1972 were held in the month prior to the anniversary of the last election.
* The elections in 1922, 1934, 1969, 1996 and 2010 were held within one month after the anniversary of the last election.
* The elections of 1916 and 1919 were held more than one month after the anniversary of the last election.  (The Labor government going into the 1916 election had taken government mid-term in contentious circumstances.)
* All the remainder were held more than one month "early".

In the case of the 2010 election, in 2008 then-Premier David Bartlett announced fixed-term legislation that would see the next election held on 20 March 2010.  The legislation wasn't enacted but the date was retained anyway; at no time to my knowledge was Bartlett seriously accused of wanting to go overdue because he had gone two days past the four-year anniversary.  He was, however, accused of being a serious nuisance to election addicts by again clashing with the South Australian election.

The following are the constraints on when the election must be held.

1. S 23 of the Constitution Act requires that "The Assembly shall continue for 4 years from the day of the return of the writs for the general election at which the Members thereof were elected and no longer, unless it is sooner dissolved by the Governor."  The Assembly expires, unless dissolved earlier, on 7 April 2014.

2. S 63 of the Tasmanian Electoral Act requires that "Whenever –
(a) a proclamation dissolving the Assembly is published in the Gazette; or
(b) the terms for which Members of the Assembly have been elected expire by effluxion of time –
writs for the holding of an Assembly general election are to be issued by the Governor not less than 5 days and within 10 days after that publication or the expiry of those terms"

10 days after the Assembly expires is 17 April 2014.

3. S69 of the Act requires that "Nomination day is to be a day which is not less than 7 days, nor more than 21 days, after the date on which the writ for the election was issued, or such later day as the Governor may fix by proclamation."

21 days after 17 April 2014 is 8 May 2014.

4.  S70 of the Act requires that " (1) The polling day fixed for – (a) an Assembly election is to be a Saturday which is not less than 15 days, nor more than 30 days, after nomination day;"

30 days after 8 May 2014 is 7 June 2014, which is a Saturday.  But don't expect Labor to go that late.

Beyond that requirement, the concept of an election being "due" at a certain date is a very rubbery one that's very prone to double standards.  Tony Abbott used it to try to pressure Kevin Rudd to call an election for August, but Abbott's own former leader and continuing mentor John Howard went more than a month past the three-year anniversary twice.  Any of the following might be subjectively offered as the "due" date of the election by a given person, some more convincingly than others:

* The first Saturday before the four-year anniversary of the last election, being 15 March (this is also the fixed date of the South Australian election).
* The first Saturday after the four-year anniversary, being 22 March.
* The last Saturday before the expiry of the previous term, being 6 April.
* The last Saturday that extends the span between elections above four years by not more than a month, being 19 April - which is Easter, so make it 12 April.
* Some assessment of a reasonable schedule for a fairly quick election called at the latest possible time before the House expires (say 11 May).

However a basis for considering the election "due" in March and no later is that Lara Giddings has stated it will be held in that month.

Beyond that, I can't see how an election on 22 March could be reasonably considered "overdue", since it would make the spans of 2006-2010 and 2010-2014 parliaments exactly the same.  And given that the last Tasmanian majority governments by each party have both gone a little longer than four years (three weeks over for the Groom Liberals in 1992-6), I think the four-years-plus-one-month standard is fair and that any time in March is acceptable. 

One thing that is certainly not correct is Will Hodgman's claim that the election is due in 138 days.  Why?  Because 138 days from today is 14 March 2014, which is a Friday! Looks like he has a mathematically challenged speechwriter.

Does Voting For Minor Parties Cause A Hung Parliament Even If They Lose?

This was not the only erroneous claim in Mr Hodgman's address.  A more serious one was this one:

"So to ensure that we don't get another minority government with the Greens pulling the strings, it will need those Tasmanians who voted ‘Labor’ at the last election and even those who have voted Labor all their lives - to vote ‘Liberal’ at the next election, if they want to get rid of the Greens. 

But Tasmanians also need to know this: A vote for another party - the Palmer United Party, or the Nationals, or any other minor party or independent - is also a vote for another minority government, another Labor - Green minority government. That’s the risk. Under our electoral system, whilst these minor parties may not win a seat, they will help deliver another hung Parliament and another minority government, where the Greens call the shots."

It's the last sentence that is the problem here.  Mr Hodgman's desire to scare voters away from supporting minor parties, and hence to maintain enormous poll leads and a perception that the Liberals can and probably will win outright, is quite understandable.  And it is true that a PUP crossbencher with the balance of power, for instance, would be no sure supportive vote for the Liberals.  

But if voters who prefer the Liberals over Labor and the Greens want to vote 1 for an independent or minor party candidate and then direct their preferences to the Liberals, and if their first-preferred candidate is then excluded, then this actually does the Liberals no harm whatsoever.

Indeed in Franklin, where Will Hodgman will have a massive surplus some of which will leak to other parties, a vote that is 1 for an obscure independent with absolutely no chance of winning, then 2 to 6 down the whole Liberal ticket, will flow at full value to the critical Liberal candidates in that seat. Such votes are actually slightly more valuable to the party, on a value-per-vote basis, than if they had been cast 1 Hodgman.  

There is the possibility that a minor party candidate could knock a Liberal out of a race and then go on to lose anyway, but in such cases the Liberal would not have won either as their preference flow from ALP and Green voters would be even worse.

There is a also a risk that an otherwise intending Liberal voter might prefer PUP and vote 1-5 PUP and then exhaust their vote without preferencing the Liberals, in the case that PUP are excluded. But really it's the voter's choice to not preference the Liberals that is the culprit here as much as their decision to not vote for the Liberals from the start.  And even in this case, the minor party will probably be doing as much damage to other parties, if not more.  Hodgman is perpetuating the myth that votes for fourth parties are "wasted", but the wastage isn't in the choice of first preference - if it exists at all, it's in the decision to exhaust a vote too early. 

The accuracy or otherwise of whatever the Liberals say about the election isn't likely to have the slightest impact on the result, and I cover it just for the interest of those who want to know what the facts about these claims are. (Oh, and perhaps also in the hope of averting another SA-Tas date clash and thereby saving Australia from a two-degree temperature increase caused by heat trapping inflicted by steam coming out of Antony's ears.)  

The last week of reported "infighting" within the Labor-Green government has been mostly smoke rather than fire, so far, aided by a deal of speculation.  Rebel backbencher Brenton Best and union official Kevin Harkins are known suspects and nobody else has actually put their name to the rumblings.  The only things concrete to see here were the O'Byrne - McKim disagreement over Lady Gowrie, and the increased stridency of Best's criticism.  

But it all fuels the perception that the government is a shambles and that it cannot even get its storyline sorted out.  It's not an enviable choice - if the government runs on its record then it runs with the Greens, and gets massive swings against it in all the timber booths in Lyons a la the Federal election.  If the government breaks from the past and says it won't do deals with the Greens, no-one in their right mind will believe it.  If it does something in between it will create confusion.  

And no matter what message it puts out, neither Kim Booth nor Brenton Best will necessarily follow the line after the election (should either or both still be there.)  It's a dismal strategic position for the party even without the added burdens of long incumbency, and one in which the Liberals have a clean hand to keep on pumping out the same simple majority-government vote-for-us-or-else message over and over again.  

Even if it's not entirely true.

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