Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Legislative Council Voting Patterns 2020-24

This article is part of my Tasmanian 2024 Legislative Council coverage.  Coverage of the lower house election continues with postcount articles accessible as follows:

Bass Braddon Clark Franklin Lyons Summary


In the last four years, Tasmanian Labor has voted more often with the Liberal government than with any of the seven independents in the Legislative Council.  The Liberals have voted more often with Labor than with five of the seven.

I think those are important takeaways to put right at the top of this year's annual curtain-raiser for my Legislative Council coverage.  There are a couple of important aspects at stake at this year's election: not only the overall left-right balance of the chamber but also the balance of major parties vs independents (and where an endorsed Green would fit into that mix).  While such an assessment might fuel concern about the growing "Laborial" mood in our upper house, there are cases where the major parties in my view get it right while the independents don't.  OK, one case - a recent attempt to greatly reduce the scope of Section 196 of the Tasmanian Electoral Act.  

As of a few months ago, the Legislative Council had four Liberal MLCs, four Labor and seven independents, after last year's elections saw one Labor and two independent incumbents returned very easily.  This year sees the retirement of two-term independent Rob Valentine in Hobart, while Liberal Jane Howlett would have been up for her first re-election attempt in Prosser but resigned her seat early to run for Lyons (where she will be elected within the next few days).  We also have a by-election for Elwick because Labor's Josh Willie has quit two years into his second term to also switch to the lower house, also successfully.  So there will be one Liberal, one Labor and one independent vacancy, in what turns out to be the first case of three vacancies on the same day since 1909.  Especially with a mess downstairs, this Legislative Council election matters.

In last year's voting patterns article based on votes on the floor between 2019 and 2023 I found that as in the 2018-22 piece the clearly left side of the Council had shrunk to three independents (Webb, Valentine and Gaffney) as Ruth Forrest moved into the centre and Labor voted more often with the government (something that became noticeable with COVID management from 2020 but has since continued).  

The methods for this piece are the same as last year.  I look at the last four years of data on a rolling basis.  Where a given Bill or other matter has multiple votes, I include the divisions that are different to each other, up to a maximum of ten divisions per Bill.  I count two .  While there are very rare conscience vote cases where members of a major party can be found on both sides of a vote (none this year), in general I treat "Labor" and "Liberal" as a single actor, and treat a party as absent for that purpose in the case of a split vote (there were no splits on either side this year, apart from one casting vote by Craig Farrell in line with convention).  I exclude lone dissents (there was one this year, a memorable one by Tania Rattray against the second reading of the Electoral Disclosure and Funding Bill 2022).  

Note that Labor gives up a vote on every issue because Craig Farrell is the President.  So far all the very few casting votes he has had have been exercised in line with neutral chairing conventions though he has quite rightly outlined that he would not necessarily be bound by them in a house of 15 members.  This missing vote matters because it means that in the committee stage, where the President is absent, Labor and Liberal combined cannot pass an amendment or a vote that a clause stand part of a Bill if it is opposed by all seven independents.  Nor can the seven independents pass such things if Labor and Liberal are both opposed.  This became significant during the electoral bill debates in late 2023, though the Bills that were ultimately passed never ended up being enacted anyway.

In this year's rolling sample there are 98 divisions, 14 of which are new.  Half the new divisions relate to electoral law reform; the rest include the proposed Macquarie Point stadium, appropriations and a Guardianship and Administraton Bill.  The Council has not actually sat this year but I have maintained the same rolling four year date format as before.  

Agreement matrix and left-right sort

The chart below shows how often each pair of Legislative Council entities (an entity can be an indie or a party) agrees with each other on the contested divisions in the sample.  For instance this year's table finds that Gaffney and Rattray agree with each other 48% of the time.

There are two noticeable clusters with high agreement percentages - firstly the usual Valentine/Webb/Gaffney cluster in the top left and secondly a less strongly defined cluster with Rattray, Armitage and Harris in the bottom right.  The Liberal Party tends to agree with the latter many times more often than it does with the former, but still doesn't agree with any of them more than two-thirds of the time.  Ruth Forrest has some tendency to agree with Armitage and Harriss but is fairly even across the board and Labor has no values outside the 40-60 range aside from a 36% agreement score with Mike Gaffney.  

The "score" figures are based on a simple average of agreement with the Valentine/Webb/Gaffney grouping and Rattray+Armitage+Harriss+Liberal group, similar to what I have used before.  Although this score places Valentine slightly to the left of Webb it can also be argued that Webb's very low agreement score with the Liberals as the most "right" element is more significant and that Webb should be ranked to the left of Valentine.  There is also a tie between Labor and Forrest that I had to take to the third decimal place - which is not to say they are all that similar since the matrix only shows them voting together 51% of the time!  

A possible left-right sort then is (Valentine and Webb in some order), Gaffney, (Forrest and Labor in some order), Rattray, Armitage, Harriss, Liberals.  But squashing onto the left-right axis is obscuring that we are seeing both left-right votes and major party vs independent votes in the sample, such that Labor has voted more often with the Government than with any of the independents!  The overall balance of the chamber then is three left, five centre (one of them the chair), three right-ish independents and four Liberals on the right, meaning that the Council is currently not that difficult for the government except when all the independents are against it.  Overall the Liberals have won about 81% of contested divisions during the past four years in office.  Labor was on the winning side of every division I found in the past year except for the 7-7 loss on the vote that proposed changes to Section 196 of the Electoral Act stand part of the Electoral Matters (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill.  

Roll on May 4th! (Cue obligatory Star Wars joke).  I will have guide threads for the three seats up in the next few days and live coverage on the night.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

The comment system is unreliable. If you cannot submit comments you can email me a comment (via email link in profile) - email must be entitled: Comment for publication, followed by the name of the article you wish to comment on. Comments are accepted in full or not at all. Comments will be published under the name the email is sent from unless an alias is clearly requested and stated. If you submit a comment which is not accepted within a few days you can also email me and I will check if it has been received.