State Election Musings
I will hold off on writing about the state election campaign till we more fully know the result. For now I will just say thanks to those of you in South Eastern Metro who gave me a Number 1 below the line. It is fun to have a friend say "hey I voted for you" and also brings the whole political experience into some sort of wider life context. In other words it reminds me that the different compartments of my life are in fact part of the same whole. The juxtaposition can be a bit surreal...
Now I can expand on those aspects of the campaign and its results that were of interest to me. To start I have to say that the phrase “taking one for the team” is the perfect description of my standing as an Australian Democrat. Once more we got dismal 1ish and 2ish percent figures and some may wonder why we even bother. My answer is that the decision to eliminate the Australian Democrats from the political scene belongs to the electorate rather than to a handful of party volunteers. Even if we are tired of all this I think it is still important that we give voters every opportunity to support or reject the party and what it stands for. Only then can we truly say that the public will get the representation they deserve.
My own wish list for the election result was as follows:
1. Any growth at all in ADs primary vote
2. The return of the Bracks Labor Government with a
reduced majority in the Legislative Assembly
3. A Legislative Council in which nobody has a majority
With this in mind the election was a mixed result for me.
Wish List Item 1
The ADs seem to be stuck with one and two percent figures. This is the case in all five electorates in which we stood even if the level of effort put into regional campaigns differed markedly. What this seems to suggest is that on-the-ground campaigning makes barely any difference and that in modern campaigning mass media is of utmost importance. The media as a whole seemed to make a decision to cease reporting on ADs activity during our time of internal trench warfare and the resultant rapid changes in Federal Parliamentary Leadership. This is a decision they have stuck with despite us having addressed those internal issues since that 2002-04 timeframe. The most common comment got by ADs helpers on polling booths these days is the surprised “are you still here?”. That alone is grounds to keep standing.
We are mistaken however if we think that media is the only thing that matters in a campaign. People Power had a lot of media attention and managed to attract some strong community-based candidates but they fared worse than even us. For many voters People Power were too new and so I suppose it helps to also have some kind of roots in political history or in particular electoral demographics.
The Australian Greens had decent media coverage and they have a grounding in the electorate and recent political history. And I think they did well to go from zero representation to most likely having two Members of the Legislative Council (MLCs). I understand however that a lot of Greens members and supporters feel deflated. This can only be in relation to overblown expectations. This falling short of expectations has occurred now at three elections (two state and one Federal) and I wonder why. To some extent it can be a clever tactic to overstate your chances thereby helping get yourself into the ‘story’ the media tell. However to consistently overblow your chances by that much suggests something more.
I think too many Greens accept at face value party propaganda which says that “The Future is Green”. Even if environmental issues become more significant to the electorate (as they did in this election) it is more likely that this will result in the greening of the major parties than in the elevation of the Greens to major party status. However State Parliament may have been greener if the Greens had had better preference arrangements than they did. As it is the Australian Democrats were pretty much the only party to consistently preference Greens and I hope that it is Democrats preferences that will get the Greens over the line and into a more diverse and representative Legislative Council.
I want to pay tribute to the Australian Democrats (Victorian Division) preference negotiators (they know who they are) whose expertise and integrity gave us preferences that both we and others were happy with. If we had had a better primary vote then these preference arrangements would have given us a chance of parliamentary representation. If we can replicate the same kind of standard in preference negotiation for the 2007 Federal Election while also getting the kind of primary vote suggested by recent Federal opinion polling (5.5% in Morganpoll) then there still may be a future for the ADs in Victoria.
Preferences became a big media issue during the campaign and I am thankful that that was one story we were never part of. To my mind preferences as a media story fall into the same category as personal attacks on candidates. Both detract from coverage of substantive issues and both cater to the desire of the media to present politics as nasty and personalised. The definitive statement on preferences was made by Australian Greens Federal Parliamentary Leader Senator Bob Brown (‘The Age’ Thursday 23 November 2006 p 12):
”When Greens come up with a sensible, mature arrangement that gets the Greens the preferences in those four Melbourne seats, I say good on them, that's a sign of political maturity"
In other words the purpose of preference negotiations is to help get your own members elected. In the past however the Greens have attacked others for saying exactly the same thing. But why would you criticise others for what you do yourself? Here is Brown once more (same source):
"You have to recognise the important thing here is who gets into the Parliament. I'm a green in a world that needs it...”
The Australian Greens think that the Australian Greens are the best party. But the thing they are missing is that every party thinks that it is the most important party. Only once you recognize that your competitors legitimately have different objectives from you can be begin to engage with those competitors in a respectful and constructive manner. This is something I think the Greens still need to take on as part of a maturing process. At present they seem to think that everyone should work for the best interests of the Greens rather than for themselves. This is why they will divert some campaigners away from the job of campaigning for Greens candidates and into the task of hampering the ability of rivals to campaign. Hence we witnessed greens protesters making life difficult for the Member for Melbourne District because she had the audacity to campaign to keep her own electorate (the cheeky thing).
On the topic of misallocation of campaign efforts I have a story to tell on the topic of the Citizens Electoral Council (CEC). During the campaign I walked past a CEC information stall on Swanston Street with two or three members staffing it. I can bet you that at that same moment they had totally neglected to have anyone at the Melbourne Town Hall pre-poll centre. I say this because I remember staffing the pre-poll centre for the 2001 Aston Federal By-Election and the CEC had a temporary office a 30-second walk from there. They had staff there talking on phones but nobody at pre-poll. You would think I would be happy that a rival party is so stupid but I feel that it shows a disturbing lack of regard for the electorate and the political process. But then if you are stuck on bugger-all percent of the vote then maybe kicking back at a stall is smarter than standing on your feet at a polling place!
Mind you I do still enjoy polling place duty. The cross-party company at my booth on election day was good and we were well-served by the local primary school sausage sizzle. I spent all ten hours at it which may have been a bit much for me: That night on laying down my head and closing my eyes for sleep I was suddenly presented with after-images at the back of my eyelids of voters coming at me and my arm twitched reflexively as if to offer them how-to-vote cards!
Wish List Item 2
I have been asked a few times whether my party is more like Labor or Liberal. I think the assumptions behind the question overlook the possibility that the two major parties are more alike than they are like us. But in answering within the confines set by the question I say that we are closer to Labor in policy platform but closer to Liberal in party workings (e.g. an absence of formalised factions and formal links to sectional interests). As a party hack I think that the way a party operates matters. But as a voter I am much more focused on public policy outcomes and with that in mind I prefer Labor governments. Hence I wanted Bracks to win. I am also very keen to see the Labor hegemony at state and territory level preserved till such time as the Liberal-National coalition looses power at a Federal level (big fan of the difusing of power me).
However as a big fan of limited government I also wanted Bracks to win with a reduced majority because it never pays for any government to take its power for granted. I got that but much less so than was expected. I think I got a bit sucked into the whole media feeling that Baillieu was much stronger in presenting policy messages than was Bracks. However it seems that the contest between Bracks and Baillieu was an instance of "the tortoise and the hare" in which the slow-and-steady of the incumbent was what won the race.
The small growth in Liberal support is hardly surprising given a number of key factors. To start with Baillieu was given barely any time to establish his image. If the Opposition want to do better next time then they need to stick with one Parliamentary Leader. And while Baillieu did present some innovative policies, these were frequently neutralised by Bracks releasing very similar policies. This bidding war for votes may be populist but it does seem to deliver the public what they want. I for one am happy with this process as it will have given me the merging of the Met Ticket Zone 3 into Zone 2 which will make my life that bit simpler and better priced.
Those predicting stronger growth in Liberal representation tended to exaggerate the impact of particular issues. The imposition of tolls onto the Scoresby Freeway was supposed to return many eastern suburban electorates to the Liberals. This was minimised by the vague and changing position of the Opposition on the issue. However I think it was also a mistake to assume that there was only one opinion in the area to that issue: "I want a freeway that is toll-free therefore I will abandon the party that gave us tolls". In addition there may well have been "I wanted a freeway that is toll-free but the contracts have been made so the issue is over and done with" and "I wanted a freeway and am prepared to make a co-contribution for what is a massive infrastructure project" to "I never wanted the bloody freeway anyway so who cares if it is tolled". Besides which, voters rarely make decisions based on just one issue.
One surprise for many from the election was the modest growth made by the Nationals. This I think can be attributed to them forging an identity separate from the Liberals at a state level. Some commentators have advised re-establishing the coalition but I think that the Libs and Nats are better served by cultivating distinct images rather than in throwing in together.
Wish List Item 3
It takes ages to finalise the count of proportional preferential voting so we are yet to be told the final composition of the new 20-member Legislative Council. My hope is that Labor will fall short of having a majority in the chamber thereby necessitating negotiation between government and non-government parties to pass legislation. The most likely result that will give me what I want is this:
ALP (20) - LPA (16) - NPA (2) - AGV (2)
If Labor had to work with any one of Lib or Nat or Green that that will produce more representative outcomes than if they can simply use a majority to rubber-stamp everything. However the end result may differ from my suggested figures. Labor may still get that extra position they need to have a majority (at the expense of Libs or Greens). Even then the new Legislative Council will be better than the old one in that there will be a number of alternate perspectives represented and the opportunity for debate and scrutiny of government actions. Also with both chambers now facing fixed four-year terms there is every chance of a more balanced Parliament next time.
But what will happen between now and then? Nobody can say for sure. I had better get onto checking that Zone 3 is abolished as promised. So who is the new minister for PT anyway?
Since having written this entry the final results for the Legislative Council have been determined and the composition of that chamber is as follows:
ALP (19) - LPA (15) - AGV (3) - NPA (2) - DLP (1)
I have written more on the topic of the DLP in this more recent post.