Perhaps a Squeaker for Labor, Perhaps a Hung Parliament in Australia
by Charles Lemos, Sat Aug 21, 2010 at 07:38:54 AM EDT
Fourteen million Australians went to the polls on Saturday to determine the fate of two month old Australian Labor Party (ALP) government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Exit polls in eastern Australia suggest the centre-right Coalition composed of the Liberal Party, the Australian National Party and their associated parties in Queensland made gains in New South Wales and Queensland but not enough to claim control of the government. The Australian Green Party is poised to turn in its best performance in any election and will claim over 11 percent of the popular vote if current trends hold though that may not translate into many seats in Australia's single member districts first past the post system.
A hung parliament remains a distinct possibility despite the exit polls pointing to a narrow win for Prime Minister Gillard's ALP. If it is a hung parliament, it will be the first hung Parliament in Australia since 1940. That time, Bob Menzies led a short-lived minority United Australia Party government. The balance of power hangs on the four independents returned to the House and on the newly elected Green member.
As of this hour with 74.9 percent of the vote counted, the ALP has won 70 seats to the Coalition's 71. Seventy-six seats are required to form a government. The Australian, the country's largest newspaper, is projecting 69 seats for the ALP to 60 for the Coalition. Another noted Aussie political analyst, Anthony Green, is predicting a hung Parliament. His forecast for the final tally is Labor: 71 seats; Coalition: 74 seats; Greens: 1 seat; Independents: 4 seats.
In terms of the popular vote, the ALP has a 38.1 percent share down -5.4 points from the last election in 2007 while the various Coalition parties have a 43.7 percent share up 1.6 points over their 2007 performance. The Greens are so far an 11.6 share up an impressive 3.8 points over 2007 results. Other minor parties have captured a 6.6 percent share and three seats. Adam Bandt of the Green party has claimed victory in seat in Melbourne, Victoria. It is the first seat ever for the Greens in the lower house. The Greens may also win a second seat in Tasmania. Tasmania is the most solidly leftist state in Australia.
Results have yet to trickle in from Western Australia. Labor has lost at least 13 seats but has picked up at least one in South Australia. The Welsh-born Gillard easily won her Melbourne district with over 70 percent of the vote. Tony Abbott, the Liberal leader, has also won his Warringah electorate in New South Wales. Abbott is a conservative family values Roman Catholic while Gillard is a working class atheist who lives with her unmarried partner, a hair dresser. Abbott is typical of the hard right in Australia and a climate skeptic.
Issues in the election centered on a carbon tax/emission trading system (ETS) and concerns of over Australia's mining economy. The Liberal party also focused heavily throughout the campaign on border protection. Its slogan has been "stop the boats", a reference to asylum seekers arriving in northern Australia from as far as away as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Fears about asylum seekers resonate strongly in marginal electorates, despite the fact that refugees make up less than 5 percent of immigrants to Australia.
Labor has fared poorly in Queensland. Labor is suffering a swing against it in Queensland of 5.8 per cent as voters in former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's home state punish the government. The greatest swing against Labour came in New South Wales where there was 6.1 percent swing.
One curiosity to share. The Liberal National Party's Wyatt Roy, the country's second youngest candidate ever, is polling extremely well in his Longman constituency in Queensland. Longman is a district that is just north of Brisbane. The electorate includes Bribie Island, which is home to some of the nation's oldest voters. The just turned 20-year-old Roy is on track to become the youngest House member ever; it's the first time he has even voted in a Federal election.
Australia has a complex electoral system. The lower chamber, the House of Representatives, is composed of 150 single member districts using a first past the post system. Its upper house, called a Senate, is elected using proportional voting. Together these two houses form the Australian Parliament. The country is governed by a Westminster style system. The Prime Minister holds office because he/she can command the support of the majority of the House of Representatives. Australia largely eschews voting machines, voting is by paper ballot. Perhaps not surprising since the secret ballot is an Australian innovation dating back to the 1850s. Secret ballots were not used in the US until after the Civil War. Voting is also compulsory in the land down under.
Australia also uses various forms of preferential voting. Under this system, voters number the candidates on the ballot paper in the order of their preference. The counting of first preference votes, also known as the "primary vote", takes place first. If no candidate secures an absolute majority of primary votes, then the candidate with the fewest votes is "eliminated" from the count. The ballot papers of the eliminated candidate are re-allocated amongst the remaining candidates according to the number "2", or "second preference" votes. If no candidate has yet secured an absolute majority of the vote, then the next candidate with the fewest primary votes is eliminated. This preference allocation continues until there is a candidate with an absolute majority.
Following the full allocation of preferences, it is possible to derive a two-party-preferred figure, where the votes are divided between the two main candidates in the election. In the two party-preferred vote, the Australian Labor Party has captured 50.2 share of the vote to 49.8 for the Coalition. In the Better PM preference the tally stands at 50 percent for Julia Gillard, 37 percent for Tony Abbott and 13 percent uncommitted.
In the Senate, the Coalition will add 15 new Senators for a total of 31 overall to become the largest block in the upper house. The ALP has gained 13 new Senators to bring their total to 29. The Australian Green Party, however, will control the balance of power in the Senate. Coupled with their three continuing Senators, they have elected five new Senators for a total of eight. The far-right Family First also appears to have elected a Senator. Six seats remain unallocated.