26 October 2012

The mechanics of local democracy

The ACT election is still undetermined as votes swirl around out of our Hare-Clarke voting slips. It’s a complex system and results can vary given how the votes fall, so it’s well regulated with rules but still it’s a time consuming process. I was at another Politics and in the Pub, this time with speaker Emeritus Professor John Warhurst, speaking on ”the good, the bad and the ugly” of last weekend’s ACT election. I’m not a regular, but it’s a chatty place so I got in a few words with a knowledgeable gent who talked of voting rules, and also Caroline LeCouteur, the Greens MLA who has most likely lost her seat. Every election is different, of course, and it’s interesting to see how calm and rational are the professionals. We voters are often worked into a tiz but these people analyse openly (at least within their own circles), knowing they will return for another go in a few years. I also find it’s interesting that, if you follow the press and decent radio, you can know most of what the insiders know. John Warhurst was openly unsure of several influencing factors in this election: this is not ignorance but honesty. There are many factors in an electoral outcome, and just which ones are the deciders is often not known. Opinion writers confidently present their opinions, but they are just that: opinions, often not based in evidence or at least not balanced against other opinions. So what did JW say? Firstly, he’ll likely remember this election for two things: the Canberra Times survey in the week before the election that gave it so wrongly to Labor, and the Liberals’ “Triple your rates” line. He suggested this was the Libs’ best opportunity to take the government, given a national negativity to Labor and an “It’s time” factor after 11/12 years of Labor government. He observed that ACT governments have been virtually all minority governments, and that the Liberals have got Greens backing to form government at least once in the past. He stated that ACT is not a Labor territory, but small-L liberal. That the election is like three little elections, and that government is likely formed by the party that takes two of three electorates. (For those outside the ACT, we have 3 multi-member electorates with 5,5,7 members in one house, and Hare Clarke voting system with Robson rotation. Interestingly, we don’t have a Governor: this role is taken by Chief Justice and passed to the Chief Minister when elected). The recent swings were partly a correction for unusual factors at the last election. The role of minor parties, both at this and the last election. The question of expanding the Legislative Assembly. The ACT has very limited representation: 17 members in the territory assembly to manage state and local government functions for ~350,000 people. A city state format makes this a bit more feasible. (Note that the ACT has limited Federal representation, too: 2 lower house reps with the two most populous seats in Australia, and 2 senators). The effectiveness of negative campaigns, the difficulty of promoting change and the lack of mechanisms to ensure honesty. The role and effectiveness of door knocking, especially given Robson rotation. Caroline LeCouteur also noted the lack of local knowledge of territory matters in the electorate and wondered how to promote awareness. Politics in the Pub: always an interesting discussion.

This is CJBlog post no. 900.

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