Friday, November 24, 2006

Victorian Elections

A short note for the benefit of my international readers with an interest in Australian politics.

The Victorian State elections will take place tomorrow, 24 November with electors casting votes for both the lower house or Legislative Assembly (districts) and the upper house or Legislative Council (provinces).

Under Australia's Westminster system, the party or coalition of parties obtaining a majority of seats in the lower house forms the Government. At the last state elections, the Australian Labor Party won in a landslide ending with 62 of the 88 Assembly seats as compared to 17 for the Liberal Party, 7 for the National Party with 2 independents.

Voting is compulsory in Australia, so well over 90 per cent of the electorate will vote. Compulsory voting reflects the mix between the individualist and collectivist in the Australian character that sometimes confuses outside observers. Because we are a democracy, every citizen must vote!

Preferential voting is used in the lower house to elect candidates to single member seats. This makes second or even third preferences important. The phrase "two party preferred vote" is used to describe the final outcome after distribution of preferences. The practical effect of preferential voting is to ensure that the electorate takes into account not just their favourite but also those they oppose least among the rest.

Since the last election new constitutional arrangements have been introduced for the Legislative Council. This includes multi-member regional seats elected by proportional representation on a system like the Australian Senate. This advantages parties such as the Greens who get a reasonable vote across the state if below the level required to win an Assembly seat in their own right. It disadvantages parties such as the Nationals whose vote is highly concentrated in particular geographic areas.

The public opinion polls suggest the the Labor Government will be returned, although the Liberal Party appears to have clawed back some ground. The key things to watch in the election are:
  1. The extent to which the Liberals can recover seats.
  2. The performance of the Greens in the Assembly (they have been preferenced by the Liberal Party in some seats) giving them a chance in a small number of otherwise Labor Party seats and in the Council. In my view, this is a make or break election for the Greens
  3. The performance of the Nationals. There is no coalition agreement in Victoria, and the Liberal Party is running against them in every seat.

Australia is fortunate in having good on-line election coverage. The ABC site is especially good here. The pre-election analysis by Antony Green is especially good for the outsider.

No comments: