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Kate started her adult life studying Arts/Law at Sydney University – majoring in Australian history – before giving up the law to transfer to a career in technology and innovation. After working and studying across Asia and the US, Kate now has her feet firmly planted back in Australia, where she spends her day job asking ‘why?’, why not?’ and ‘what if?’. She moonlights as a citizen journalist, where she asks the same questions of our political system, believing in the power of conversation to challenge and change the status quo. You can read more of her thoughts at Progressive Conversation.

Website: http://progressiveconversation.wordpress.com

What kind of a President would Donald Trump be? (The top 5 signs your would-be world leader’s narcissism is out of control.)

With the US Election only days away, the rest of the world watches on as the American public decides who will be the next ‘leader of the free world’ – Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?

Hillary Clinton has been a key player on the world stage for years now, so we have some idea of what she would be like as President. On the other hand, self-described ‘outsider’ Donald Trump is an unknown when it comes to political leadership. So it’s worth considering…

What kind of a President would Donald Trump be?

One way to judge this is to look at previous world leaders with similar personality characteristics. And according to a number of mental health professionals – including Harvard Professor Howard Gardener – one of the most striking things about Donald Trump’s personality is that he is a textbook narcissist.

Narcissism is sometimes known as the “disease that hurts other people“. It is self-love on steroids – but not in a good way. The narcissist feeds on the admiration of others, seeing themselves as the hero of their own story with everyone else in their life lowly ‘bit players’.

In terms of previous narcissistic world leaders  – three of the most famous in the last 100 years have been  Stalin, Hitler and Sadam Hussein.

These three world leaders were obviously extremes – but is Trump really that bad? Should we be worried? If Trump wins the election next week, exactly how bad is his narcissism?

Here’s a handy checklist:

The top 5 signs your would-be world leader’s narcissism is out of control

FIVE: They throw a tantrum if you insult them

A narcissist will often put others down. Whether it’s calling an entire race rapists, drug lords, and criminals or referring to women as pigs, slobs and dogs – narcissists are often legendary sledgers. But throw just a little of it back their way, and no matter how old the narcissist, they will typically respond like a five-year-old.

Here’s a recent example of how US Presidential Candidate Donald Trump responded to criticism from Hillary Clinton during the third Presidential Debate held in October:

FOUR: They say ‘Heh – if you’ve got a nuclear bomb, why not use it?’

One of the key trademarks of a narcissist is their pathological inability to feel empathy. Here’s an example:

After being told at an event that two men beat a Hispanic 58-year-old homeless man in Trump’s name —breaking his nose and urinating on him, Trump said:  “I will say the people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and want this country to be great again.”

Trump demonstrates no empathy whatsoever for the homeless man. Instead, he focuses on how passionate this must mean his followers are about him.

whattrumpseesinmirrorSo what happens when you take someone whose singular focus is on themselves – and give them the ability to materially impact the safety and well-being not just of the USA, but of much of the world?

To date, the world has arguably been kept safe from wholesale nuclear attack by the ‘Mutually Assured Destruction‘ or ‘MAD’ policy. This policy assumes that if two countries both have nuclear weapons of mass destruction, then neither side will use them for fear of reprisal and the tremendous potential for loss of life on both sides. But exactly how would this work if you put someone who doesn’t care about anybody else’s pain in charge of the world largest’s stockpile of nuclear weapons?

Trump has publicly stated that he would “not do first strikes“. However, it has been reported that in a foreign intelligence briefing  a few months back, Trump asked a foreign policy expert three times within an hour:

“If we have [nuclear weapons], why can’t we use them?”

THREE: They have to wear flame-resistant pants

For a narcissist,  the truth at any point in time is what suits them.  If it helps them to say all Mexicans are criminals and rapists one minute and then claim to love all Hispanics the next – then that’s what they’ll do.

Pulitzer prize winning fact-checker website Politifact assesses all American presidential candidate’s statements against the actual facts. According to them, only 1 in 25 of Trump’s statements is completely true. Even if you include statements that are ‘mostly true’ and ‘half true’, the count still only comes in at 3 in 10 – leaving Trump’s pants well and truly in flames for at least 70% of the time.

To avoid his followers being distracted by the readily apparent contradictions in what he says, Trump regularly demonises the media at his rallies. Trump calls the media ‘horrible liars’ and tells his supporters that he’ll tell them “what the truth is”.

Ex-Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott may not have been the suppository of all wisdom – but clearly, Trump believes that he is.

TWO: They literally believe they are the Messiah

As the election campaign has progressed, Trump seems to be speaking of himself in increasingly glowing terms, and often in the third person.  More disturbingly, as John Oliver recently pointed out on Last Week Tonight, Trump is now speaking of himself as though he is literally the Messiah:

Many of Trump’s supporters seem to have picked up on this messianic vibe, following Trump with the unwavering religious fervour not often seen outside a church.

ONE: They think the only reason they wouldn’t be elected President of the United States is because the election is rigged

And finally – the number one sign that a would-be world leader’s narcissism is out of control, is that he thinks the only way he could lose an election for President of the United States is because the election is rigged.

In the final presidential debate, Trump famously refused to confirm that he would accept the outcome of the election on November 8, saying that he would wait until the outcome was known before he would make up his mind.

Trump subsequently clarified how he will judge whether the election is rigged – saying:

“I will totally accept the results of this great and historical presidential election results if I win”.

Not – “I’ll accept the results after my scrutineers have confirmed that everything is above board” or  “I’ll accept the results following an independent inquiry into possible voter fraud”. No. In this ultimate act of narcissism, Trump’s only yardstick as to whether the election for the most senior political office in the world is rigged is whether or not he wins.

The verdict is in – Trump’s narcissism may actually break records

Trump isn’t the first narcissist to want to rule the world – but if he wins the upcoming election, he would be taking the reins of power in the USA at a crucial time in world history. At a time when the world’s economies are transitioning to cope with the information age, globalisation and a burgeoning population. At a time when the humanitarian crisis is greater than it has ever been. And at a time when global warming poses a huge threat to the future of the planet.

Right now, the world needs strong global leaders to navigate through these problems. But the strength that is needed is not the brash self-confidence of a manipulative narcissist who was literally born with a golden spoon in his mouth and who will focus primarily on his own personal well-being rather than the good of all. What the world needs now is global leaders with the maturity to bring an end to the destruction that war brings and forge a path that unites rather than destroys. Whatever Trump’s level of narcissism – he is definitely not that person.

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.

Turnbull’s Folly: The Double Dissolution Disaster

The Senate results are finally in, and one thing’s abundantly clear – Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s decision to take Australia to a double dissolution election instead of just calling a standard election has backfired big time.

Roll back the clocks to March this year, and unable to convince the Senate that they should pass his ABCC legislation, Turnbull threatened Senators with a double dissolution of parliament, saying:

The time for playing games is over.” (21 March 2016)

Turnbull’s goal? Clearly he believed the outcome of a double dissolution election – where all seats in the Senate are up for re-election instead of just under half – would give him a Senate more inclined to deliver on the LNP’s agenda. He could have just called a standard election – but he didn’t. Perhaps he thought the threat of a double dissolution would get some Senators at risk of losing their seats to toe what he perceived to be ‘the line’. But they didn’t – and so Turnbull threw caution to the wind and tossed the Senate dice in the air – believing this would enable him to better negotiate his way through parliament. It turns out – not so much.

A quick reminder of the pre-2016 Federal Election Senate

In brief there are 76 seats in the Senate – 12 Senators from each State and 2 from each Territory.  Here’s what the Senate looked like prior to the Federal Election:

FedSenatePre2016FE

In numerical terms – there were:

  • 33 LNP Senators
  • 25 Labor Senators
  • 10 Green Senators, and
  • 8 Cross-Benchers – Jacqui Lambie (JLN), Glenn Lazarus, Dio Wang (PUP), Nick Xenophon (XEN), Ricky Muir (AMEP), David Lleyonhelm (LDP),  Bob Day (FFP) and John Madigan (DLP).

This mix of Senators meant that in order for the LNP to pass any of its legislation through the Senate prior to the 2016 Federal Election, they needed the votes of 39 Senators. With only 33 of their own Senators, they still needed the support of either the ALP or the Greens to pass legislation – and failing that, six of the Cross-Benchers. None of these groups were inclined to support some of the LNP’s key legislation, which brings us to…

The 2016 Double Dissolution Senate 

Following Turnbull’s throw of the double dissolution dice, an election was held in early July. Counting for the outcome of Senate seats was finally completed yesterday, and the Senate now looks like this:

FedSenatePost2016FE

When compared to the 2013 Senate there are:

  • 3 less LNP Senators
  • 1 more Labor Senator 
  • 1 less Green Senator
  • 2 more Xenophon Senators (in addition to Nick Xenophon)
  • 4 One Nation Senators (Pauline Hanson plus three others)
  • Of the remaining four independent senators – only Jacqui Lambie, Bob Day and David Lleyonhelm remain (from the previous Senate), and are joined by Derryn Hinch.

Pauline Hanson and Nick Xenophon now hold the balance of power 

As a result of the 2016 election, the LNP now has to get nine additional Senators (instead of six) to support any legislation they want to put through parliament. This will be impossible without the support of either the ALP, the Greens or Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party plus Nick Xenophon’s team (and two other Senators). This effectively gives Hanson and Xenophon the balance of power in the Senate.

What if Turnbull had called a standard election instead of a Double Dissolution? 

A number of commentators are blaming the influx of independent Senators and the poor outcome for the LNP in the Senate on changes to the way Senate preferences were allocated this election. However in reality, the challenging outcome is more likely to be due to the fact that a double dissolution election was called instead of a standard one. This had the effect of increasing the number of positions that needed to be filled in the Senate and correspondingly lowering the barrier to entry.

I did some quick calculations on the back of an envelope today by looking at preference flows for each of the counts in each State to see what the Senate might have looked like if Turnbull had called a standard election instead of a double dissolution – and there is a material difference:

DDvStd

No single group would hold the balance of power

Here’s a summary of the key differences in outcome if Turnbull had decided to call a standard election instead of a double dissolution:

  • The LNP would have one more seat (31 instead of 30);
  • The ALP would have two fewer seats (24 instead of 26);
  • There would be no change for the Greens or Nick Xenophon’s team;
  • Pauline Hanson would have three less seats (one seat instead of four);
  • Jacqui Lambie would have one more seat (two seats instead of one); and
  • The remaining three cross-benchers (David Lleyonhelm, Bob Day and Derryn Hinch) would be joined by Glenn Lazarus, Ricky Muir and Dio Wang (PUP). 

The outcome if Turnbull had called a standard election instead of a double dissolution would have been that the LNP would only need eight (instead of nine) additional votes to get legislation through the Senate. More importantly, the LNP would have more options in terms of negotiating legislation through the Senate as they would not be limited to having to seek the approval of Pauline Hanson and Nick Xenophon when they were unable to negotiate with the ALP or the Greens (which is most of the time).

In a world where Turnbull had called a standard election instead of a double dissolution, no minor party or Independent would hold the balance of power in the Senate. And while Pauline Hanson would still be there, she would be there on her own and her voice would just be one of many cross-benchers – instead of her being hailed as the ‘queen of the Senate‘. Turnbull’s double dissolution folly has unwittingly – but not unforseeably – handed Hanson the keys to the Senate Kingdom, thereby giving her a major influence over all of our futures for the next three years.

Which brings us to…

The real Losers from Turnbull’s Double Dissolution Disaster? The Australian people. 

As usual, the real losers when our pollies make poor decisions are the Australian people. Governing a democracy is no easy task – it requires an ability to negotiate and compromise to get things done – particularly in a diverse parliament. This is not typically a bad thing – as if politicians from different parties can reach a compromise, this can end up with a far better outcome for the population as a whole than when one political party dominates. Unfortunately Turnbull’s response to the ABCC legislation earlier this year implied that he is either unwilling or unable to negotiate.

However the stark reality for Turnbull and the LNP moving forward is that to get any legislation passed, they will need to pick one of the following to negotiate with in the Senate:

  • The ALP;
  • The Greens; or
  • Pauline Hanson and Nick Xenophon (plus two other cross-benchers).

Our only hope now is that Nick Xenophon stays centered

Malcolm Turnbull’s double dissolution gamble has meant that he’s now going to have to pick between negotiations with the left or Hanson’s far-right version of politics. In the best case scenario, Turnbull would negotiate legislative outcomes with the ALP and/or the Greens since they represent the largest groups of Australians.

However, given the agitation within Turnbull’s own party to lean further to the right, it’s hard to see that happening. This means that instead of the majority ruling – as democracy intended – Australia’s future could very well end up in the tiny hands of Pauline Hanson. That said, Hanson can’t deliver the Senate vote to Turnbull on her own – he needs Nick Xenophon as well (plus two additional Senators).  The two additional Senators shouldn’t be difficult for Turnbull – as Bob Day and David Lleyonhelm have regularly sided with the LNP.

This leaves Nick Xenophon to be the buffer between Australia and the far-right of politics. Let’s hope Nick Xenophon can stand firm. He may be all that stands between the sane people of Australia and a Royal Commission into climate change followed by a descent into Trump-like lunacy.

I don’t mean to be alarmist, but Turnbull has a mammoth task ahead of him – one that requires enormous strength of character and an ability to skilfully negotiate with both the left and right sides of politics. If he can’t manage to find the stones and the skill to do this – and he has so far shown himself capable of neither – we are looking at a parliament either incapable of functioning or one dominated by the far-right.

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation

Ever wondered why the Nationals have seven times as many seats as the Greens with less than half the votes? It’s all in the Gerrymander.

Earlier this week I wrote about inaccuracies in our voting system which are impacting  who wins government. I showed how the LNP have held government far more often than Australia’s voting preferences suggest they should – and how if we had used a more accurate model in the 2016 election, Bill Shorten might be PM now instead of Malcolm Turnbull.

The reason for these inaccuracies is that the model of voting we use for our House of Representatives is focused primarily on ensuring that every location in Australia is represented in parliament at the expense of ensuring that the mix of political parties in parliament reflects the wishes of the Australian people. The model basically assumes that it’s more important to you that you have someone from your local area representing you than that your representative is from the political party that you support.

Since I’ve had a few questions about why this is, I wanted to post some more information about gerrymandering – which is probably the best way to  explain how our current voting system distorts election outcomes.

Gerrymandering explained 

Gerrymandering is basically the way physical electoral boundaries influence the outcome of an election. The following diagram from a Washington Post article last year illustrates how the drawing of electoral boundaries can seriously change and distort who wins an election:

GerrymanderingExplainedNT

The above diagram is a simplified example which shows how moving electoral boundaries in a state with 5 electorates and 50 voters can change the outcome of an election. In the example above,  60% of the people typically vote blue and 40% of them typically vote red. In an ideal world, a voting system which accurately represented the people of this state would elect 2 candidates from the red party and 3 candidates from the blue party to parliament.

The first split shown – labelled ‘Perfect representation’ – illustrates that the only safe way to achieve an accurate representation of the political perspective of these voters, is for all voters of the same political persuasion to live right next to each other. It’s the equivalent of saying – all Labor voters must live in one suburb and all Liberal voters in another. Clearly that’s not practical.

In the second split shown above – labelled ‘Compact but unfair’ – the electorate boundary lines mean that each of the five electorates includes an equal number of supporters from both the red and blue parties. On the surface this sounds fine. However because each electorate only votes in one candidate, it results in only blue candidates being elected, and those who support red candidates bring unrepresented in parliament. This is not an accurate representation of voters’ wishes and is what often happens to the Green vote in Australia. This is because Green supporters are distributed across all Australian electorates  – meaning there is rarely enough Green voters in a single electorate to get a candidate elected.

In the third split – labelled ‘Neither compact nor fair’ – the concentration of red voters in a small number of electorates means that the state ends up with three red party representatives in parliament and the blue party only with two. Again this is a distortion of the intention of the voters in that state. This is arguably what happens with the National vote in Australia. They get less than half the votes of the Green Party but have seven times as many representatives in the House of Reps. Why? Because National voters are concentrated in only a few electorates – instead of distributed across the country – so they end up with more representatives than their primary vote suggests they should have.

The bottom line is that the way boundaries are drawn between different electorates – or groups of voters – will determine how many representatives from each party end up in parliament without necessarily any regard for what people’s preferences are about this. It also demonstrates how difficult it is to get an accurate representative model when you are using physical electoral boundaries alone – as our current election model in the House of Representatives does – to determine who should represent us in parliament.

The reason the Nationals get seven times as many seats in our House of Representatives than the Greens is not because the AEC has failed in its job to draw electoral boundaries fairly, or that someone is rigging the system – it’s because the electoral system itself is flawed. The good news is that there are alternative electoral models which factor in both voters’ location and their political perspective – delivering a more accurate political result for voters.  (See here for more information.)

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.

Would we have an LNP government now if we used the NZ voting system?

If you look back at the last thirty Australian Federal Elections, the Australian Labor and Liberal National Parties have won the countrywide two-party preferred vote exactly fifteen times each – a 50/50 split. If our electoral system were accurately translating Australian voters’ wishes into election outcomes – as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in February that it should – then this would mean that each Party would have held the reins of government exactly half of the time. But they haven’t. In fact the LNP has been in government nearly twice as often as Labor (nineteen times to Labor’s eleven).

Great news for LNP supporters – not so much for everyone else.

How should a voting system work? 

According to Malcolm Turnbull:

The operation of any electoral system, any voting system, should be to clearly and transparently translate the wish of the voter into a parliamentary result. (Feb 2016)

These were the words Turnbull used to justify changes made to the Senate voting structure in February this year – citing Ricky Muir’s election to the Senate with less than 1% of the primary vote as justification that the current Sentate voting system was broken.

Turnbull is right – to the extent that the goal of an electoral system in any democracy should be to create a parliament that represents the wishes and voices of its citizens. Unfortunately, Turnbull’s actions didn’t entirely reflect the sentiment he expressed. If they had, then his focus  would have been firstly on reforming the voting system we use for the House of Representatives. Why? Because the voting system used to elect politicians to our House of Reps was – and remains – far less representative of Australian voters’ wishes than the one used for the Senate.

What’s wrong with the voting system used for Australia’s House of Representatives?

In determining whether any voting system accurately represents the wishes of its voters, you need to look at who or what it is that needs to be represented. When it comes to elections, the two main ways citizens of a democracy typically expect to be represented are:

  • By location – we want people who can speak to the issues that are relevant to where we live; and
  • By political perspective (or party) – we also want a say in the policies our government implements and who gets to govern the country.

The  main problem with the voting system we currently use in our House of Representatives is that it is outdated. Unlike other more modern systems, it focuses primarily on ensuring that only one of the two expectations listed above is adequately catered for – location.

While Australian voters do get a say in the political perspective of the politicians elected to our House of Representatives, it is secondary to location. This is because even though each electorate gets to vote for representatives from different political parties, the drawing of electoral boundaries between groups of voters – each of which only gets to elect a single representative – distorts the way seats are allocated to different political parties.  (Want to know more? For an explanation on how physical electoral boundaries can distort an election outcome, see Gerrymandering explained.)

How has this impacted the outcome of elections in Australia?

As previously mentioned, over the last thirty Federal Elections, Australia has ended up with an LNP government roughly two-thirds of the time despite voter preferences indicating a 50/50 split. That’s up to twelve more years of an LNP government than the people of Australia actually wanted.

Further, if you take a more detailed look at some of the individual Federal Election results, there are other distortions. For example, in the 2013 Federal Election results, only 45% of Australians picked the LNP as their first preference for the House of Representatives, and yet the LNP ended up with 60% of the seats. Conversely, the minor Parties and Independents received just over 21% of primary votes, but ended up with only 3% of the seats.

What would a more accurate voting model look like?

A proportional electoral system is a voting model which factors in both location and political perspective. It typically does this by giving citizens two votes – one for an individual to represent their electorate and another for a political Party (or independent) that best represents their political views.

This type of voting system is used in 21 out of 28 democracies in Europe and is also used by our Kiwi neighbours. The great thing about this model is not only that it is able to more accurately reflect voters’ wishes, but according to former associate professor Klaas Woldring:

“The European model of proportional representation is co-operative, rather than adversarial in nature…Apart from being co-operative, it also ensures diverse and democratic representation. There are no byelections, pork-barrelling or horse trading on preferences behind closed doors.”

To give you some idea of how a proportional voting system works in practice  – let’s take a quick look at the New Zeland model.

Proportional voting in New Zealand

In the New Zealand Mixed Member Proportional (or MPP) voting system, there are 120 seats in parliament – 71 of these are determined by whoever gets the most votes in each electorate (or location), and the balance are allocated proportionally according to the ‘share’ of the vote that a particular political party receives (as long as they receive a minimum of 5% of the vote across the country). Here’s a quick video which provides an overview of how New Zealand’s MPP works:


The New Zealand system is arguably more accurate than our current system because it factors in representating its citizens views both by location and by political perspective.

Would the outcome of the 2016 Australian Federal Election have been different if we used proportional voting?

Very possibly – yes. Obviously we don’t have that system in place, nor do we know exactly what a similar system would look like in Australia if deployed, so it’s impossible to tell for sure. However based on modelling I did using current AEC data and applying NZ rules for proportional allocation –  I have looked at what the recent Election outcome might have been if  Australia had added a ‘proportional’ component to determining who won seats in our House of Representatives. Here’s a visual representation of the difference between the actual outcome of the 2016 Federal Election, and what the House of Reps might have looked like if we had a proportional system in place:

ActualvProportional

The first thing you’ll notice looking at the two diagrams above is that there are more elected representatives in the proportional model than in our actual model  – 170 instead of 150. If we were to deploy this model in Australia we wouldn’t necessarily have to increase the number of representatives – but we would then have to reduce the number of electorates. Number of seats aside, here’s a summary of the key differences in outcome:

  • The big winners when you apply a proportional count would be:
    • The Greens – who would have sixteen MPs in the House of Representatives (instead of one in our current model)
    • The Nick Xenophon party – who would have six MPs in the House of Representatives (instead of one in our current model)
  • All other elected representatives (under our current system) would keep their seats – including the two independent candidates (McGowan and Wilkie).

The bottom line: The ALP could be in government right now if we were using a similar model to the Kiwis

In the model above, neither the LNP nor the ALP have the 86 seats needed to form Government in their own right. However, in this scenario, assuming the ALP had entered into an arrangement with the Greens and Andrew Wilkie – even if only on supply and confidence motions – then they would have enough seats to form government. This suggests that had we used a proportional model in the 2016 Federal Election, the ALP could be in government now, and Bill Shorten would be Prime Minister.

What we do know

Any model can only ever be hypothetical. But what we do know about our current electoral system for the House of Representatives is that it is outdated and inaccurate. It’s so inaccurate in fact, that it has arguably resulted in:

  • Australia having 12 more years of an LNP government than we otherwise might have; and
  • The ALP potentially missing out on an opportunity to take the reins of government in 2016.

Turnbull promised in February this year to give us an electoral system that more accurately translates Australians’ votes into an election result. Clearly we’ve still got a way to go.

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation

(Note: there was an error in one of my numbers – picked up by an observant reader. As a result, I updated them at 5:30 pm on 28 July to fix this error. The overall conclusions are the same.)

Assumptions used/notes regarding my model

For those interested in the detail behind my model above, here are the assumptions I used and some additional notes:

  • I assumed that the ‘electorate’ seat allocation and preferential system component of the model was ‘as is’ in Australia right now – meaning I allowed for 150 seats to be allocated according to the recent Federal Election outcome (assuming 76 seats to the LNP and 69 to the ALP).
    • I did not apply the ‘first past the post’ principle that NZ applies to its electorate voting.
    • I did use NZ’s ‘overhang’ rules to allocate additional seats above 150.
  • I used available Senate first preference votes from the 2016 Federal Election available at 17 July 2016 to estimate how Australians would have voted for ‘party’ (which is the proportional vote) – as it more closely approximates the NZ party vote than first preferences at the House of Reps level. (Note – vote counting continues, so these numbers may vary.)
  • I used the Sainte-Lague Allocation formula used by NZ to determine the proportional allocation of seats for all Australian parties that received more than 5% of Senate first preference votes plus anyone who won a seat.

The Politician’s Guide to Democracy: Part One (Five things Democracy IS NOT) #ItsTime

Are you a Politician who can’t get his own way? Have you put forward perfectly reasonable policies to the people of your country – only to hear the whiny cries of your ungrateful constituents? Are you trying to get some legislation through parliament, but find that those unreasonable Politicians in opposition won’t play ball? Are you sick of people ignoring your mandate to – well, do whatever the hell you please?

Well this is the Guide for you. It goes through the basics of what true democracy is and – more importantly for many of you – what democracy is not.

The good news is that despite many of your constituents’ lack of faith in you, it’s not all that hard. There’s nothing in these lessons that hasn’t been done before. In fact, there are actually Politicians out there today who have a good understanding of the contents of this Guide and can work fairly effectively in their democracies. So put your phones down, stop googling yourself and read on…

Part One: Five things a Democracy is NOT

We’re going to start your training by dispelling a few widely held myths about a Politician’s role in a Democracy. But before we get going, here’s a quick reminder of what US President Abraham Lincoln said Democracy is:

Government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Lesson One: You have a mandate to represent, not to ruleNotRuler

‘Mandate’ seems to be a favourite word for many Politicians. You like to use it to claim that you have the right to do all manner of things. And the truth is that when we elect you to parliament we actually do give you a mandate. But it’s a mandate to represent us – the people – not to rule over us.

You’re not monarchs, you’re not rulers – a democracy is not meant to be some sort of limited-term dictatorship where one person (or even a small group of people) gets to do whatever they want to a country for a few years.

A democracy is about equality, not hierarchy. We citizens vote in a group of people to represent us. Each of our votes is equal and each of the representatives we elect is equal on the floor of parliament. Or at least they should be. Further, in a democracy everyone has the right to have a say about the policies of the nation. A Politician’s job – your mandate – is not to sit above the citizens who elect you – but to sit with us; it’s not to speak for us – but to be our voice; it’s not to act in your own best interests – but to act in ours.

The key to your role is confirmed by the oath you take when you enter office, at which time you promise to ‘serve’ us – the people who hire you and the people who can fire you – the people you represent.

That’s your mandate – to serve your constituents. And this is the only mandate you have. It’s not about what you want or need, it’s not about your personal philosophical or religious beliefs – it’s about us.

NotWinnerTakesAllLesson Two: Democracy is NOT ‘winner-takes-all’

The following quote from Jean-Paul Gagnon (University of Canberra) may surprise some of you:

“Democracy is not a winner-takes-all scenario where those who win the election become the rulers with a sacred mandate to govern as they see fit. Democracy is an ongoing process of deliberation, monitoring, inclusion and resistance.”

You see – winning a seat in parliament doesn’t give you the right to do whatever you want, even if you belong to the political Party that is in the majority.

Why?  Because in a democracy, a parliament that is truly representative of its citizens will most likely include people with a wide range of opinions. It turns out – this is not actually a bad thing. A parliament with representatives who have different views means that an issue can be considered from all sides, which invariably makes the output more likely to meet a greater number of people’s needs.

However, simply having representatives with many differing views won’t help you if the political Party with the majority of representatives in parliament tries to dominate – to treat their election as a ‘winner-takes-all’ affair. When political Parties make governmental decisions behind closed doors, and then present legislation to parliament in an “it’s my way or the highway” fashion – this is not democracy. Nor is it particularly effective. It’s so ineffective in fact, that many democracies’ parliaments are slowly grinding to a halt.

In Australia, our most recent parliament – led by Prime Ministers Abbott and Turnbull – passed less than two-thirds the number of Bills enacted by the prior parliament. The government’s excuse? According to Abbott, it was due to a ‘feral‘ Senate – who requested changes to some of the government’s key legislation before they would pass it. Unable or unwilling to reach a compromise,  Turnbull instead dissolved both Houses of Parliament and called an election.

Similarly, in the US, their Congress has enacted only half as many laws as Congress did ten years previously, again because opposing political Parties are unable to compromise – seemingly scared to give their opponents any ‘political brownie points’ by agreeing that an idea they had might have some merit.

By way of contrast, in Denmark there are nine political parties in parliament, none of which have ever held an absolute majority. This gives the people of Denmark a much wider choice of representatives and policies. Further, their Politicians have learned how to compromise and work together. Why? Because no political Party in Denmark has ever had the luxury of a majority vote enabling them to simply force legislation through parliament without the need for proper debate and discussion – so if they didn’t compromise, they’d never get anything done.

Believe it or not, Politicians in Denmark manage to get their job done quite effectively, despite not having a ‘winner takes all’ mentality. This results in Denmark’s citizens having a much higher level of engagement with their democracy – with 86% of eligible voters turning out at election time to vote, even though voting is not compulsory there like it is in Australia. This contrasts with a turnout rate of 53.6% in the US, where voting is also not compulsory.

NoCryBabiesLesson Three: Democracy is not a kids’ game

When elected in 2013, then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott proudly announced that “the adults are back in charge“.

But here’s the thing – if you have to tell people that you’re an ‘adult’, then at some level you recognise that there are people out there who either don’t think this is true or have their doubts. If there were no question as to your maturity – why would you need to make the point?

Don’t get me wrong – I can see why at least some Politicians would feel the need to try and convince us that they are adults. Just take a look at this short video of US Presidential hopeful Donald ‘he-started-it’ Trump:

Trump isn’t the only one of course. Check out the following excerpts from the UK parliament:

OK – I’m not gong to deny that this video is pretty amusing. And if we were paying you Pollies to be comedians then you’d be getting full marks right now.

But we’re not paying you to be funny.  We’re paying you to run our democracies – and democracy is a serious business. The outcomes of our democratic process determine almost every aspect of our day to day lives – how wealth is distributed, the quality and cost of our health resources, our education, who we can marry, the rules around what type of food we can buy – not to mention life and death matters like whether or not we go to war. And yet, despite the seriousness of the issues you are tasked with managing – you Politicans behave so immaturely that you feel the need to confirm to us that you are in fact ‘adults’.

There’s a reason why parents don’t typically encourage their kids to model their behaviour on their local Politician – it’s because your behaviour is sometimes like that of a group of students who have been on a bender for the last two years. Maybe that’s why a group of Politicians is called a ‘Party’?

Don’t get me wrong – everyone likes to party from time-to-time. But democracy is not only serious, it’s also considered by many experts to be the most challenging form of government. Democracy requires Politicians to have both mental and emotional intelligence – to be able to exhibit maturity, not act as though you just joined a fraternity. If you don’t know how to do this, then democracy isn’t for you. Democracy isn’t a kids’ game.

Lesson Four: Nobody votes in an opposition

NoHecklersNow taking what you learned in Lessons Two and Three to the next stage – when we citizens all trot along to the polling booths on election day, none of us is voting for an opposition. We’re voting in representatives to govern the country. All of you – not just some of you.

This doesn’t mean we want you to always agree – in fact it’s the exact opposite. We want you to debate the issues – like adults. What we don’t want is for you to oppose an idea just because the idea hasn’t come from your political Party.

In September 2010, after finding out that he had lost his bid to become Prime Minister in the Australian Federal Election, then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott promised the people of Australia that for next three years:

I now rededicate the Coalition to the task of opposition. I believe that we will be an even more effective opposition in the coming Parliament than we were in the last one.

No. That’s not what the people who voted you in elected you for. We voted you ALL in to run the country by debating issues, sharing ideas and being mature enough to recognise when an idea that hasn’t come from your Party is actually a good one.  We DID NOT vote you in to act like the two hecklers in the Muppets. If you did this in the real world – outside the rarefied world of parliament – you’d be fired.

Lesson Five: You can’t be an effective Politician when your pants are constantly on fireNoPantsOnFire

In the real world, real people know that lying can get them into trouble. If we lie to our spouses or to our bosses – we may lose our marriage or our job. If a company lies to its customers when trying to sell them something – then that company can be fined or sued. If we lie to a government official, we may be fined or jailed.

But when it comes to Politicians, lying would appear to be standard operating procedure. In fact many of you Politicians appear to have become so accustomed to lying that you don’t even seem to notice that you’re doing it anymore. Some of you even scream blue murder when another Politician lies about you, while then turning around and happily ‘stretching’ the truth yourself – often well beyond breaking point.

We – your constituents – have also become numbed to your lying, and have even come to expect it. One journalist recently said: “Pretty much everyone assumes that once they see a politician’s lips move, that means that…you’re not necessarily going to hear the truth.”

FirstDogFreedomFromTruth

By @FirstDogOnMoon in The Guardian. See full cartoon: gu.com/p/4m82y/stw

There are many problems with this. One critical issue is that democracy is supposed to be built on citizens being able to make informed choices. But without truth, without transparency, without citizens being able to trust what you tell us – we can’t make informed choices, because we don’t have accurate information to do so.  And like the boy who cried wolf – on the rare occasion you do tell us the truth, because of all your previous lies, we no longer believe you.

This is why a true democracy requires you to be truthful – to keep your pants ‘fire’ free.

Don’t get me wrong here – we’re not asking Politicians to be saints or share State secrets. We’re just asking you to live by the same standards that we all have to. As I said above, if a company or an individual misrepresents themselves or their products to the public – they can be prosecuted or sued. But Politicians are exempt from truth in advertising laws and other laws that us regular folk have to live by.

It’s time Politicians lived by the same rules as us when it comes to your responsibility to tell the truth. We all do it – you can too.

And finally, if in doubt, ask yourself “What would a non-Politician do?” 

That’s it for Part One of the Politician’s Guide to Democracy. Although at first glance, the five lessons outlined in this section may seem challenging to some of you, there’s an easy trick you can use in all situations which will help you to put these simple lessons into practice. All you need to do is to stop and ask yourself, “What would a non-Politician do in this situation?” For example – next time you’re about to give a press conference, check your notes and ask “If I wasn’t a Politician, could I be prosecuted or sued for what I’m about to say?”

You see the bottom line is that citizens of democracies are sick of many of their Politicians abusing the mandate we give you when we vote you into office – that you’re there to govern for the people, and not for yourselves. We’re sick of you living by a different set of rules to the rest of us – many of which have been in place unchanged since the Middle Ages, a time period when dueling with pistols at dawn was considered the most appropriate way to resolve a dispute. And we’re sick of you fighting all the time instead of getting on and governing – which is what we pay you to do. It’s time you Politicians learned the basics of what a true democracy is and learned to live by the same codes of conducts and ethics as us. (#ItsTime.)

In our next installment of the Guide, having now dispelled some common myths, we’ll start looking at what a democracy actually is. (Stay tuned.)

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation

Federal Election Tracker: Quick P.S.

I know I wrote yesterday that I was packing up my ‘election night’ tracking desk, having already called the outcome. However curiosity as to how the remaining ‘hot seats’ were tracking got the better of me this evening. So I pulled the election desk out of the cupboard and did some quick analysis on the latest tally numbers to see how close we are to knowing where those remaining few seats are going to fall. Here’s the post-script to my final update for those still following…

I’m calling both Melbourne Ports and Hindmarsh for the ALP.  (I’m late to the party on Melbourne Ports – others called it a few days ago, but due to one in three votes being cast as declaration votes rather than on polling day, and the strong swing to the LNP in postal votes, I held off calling it until now.)

To my mind, there are now only four seats where I believe the outcome is uncertain – Capricornia, Cowan, Flynn and Herbert. Based on my projections, both Capricornia and Flynn will most likely go to the LNP – but the margin is still close enough not to be able to call these as any more than ‘likely’.

That leaves Herbert and Cowan.  According to my calculations, it’s more probable that they will go to the LNP than to Labor – BUT the projected margin is so tight, it could still go either way. Of the two really tight seats – both won by the LNP in 2013 – Herbert is the seat Labor are most likely to steal.

Taking these latest numbers into account, my Balance of Power meter now shows:

  • 74 certain seats for the LNP with two seats highly likely to go their way, and a further two seats that are too close to call for either the LNP or Labor;
  • 67 certain seats for the ALP with the 2 extra seats noted above as outside chances; and
  • 5 seats to Minor Parties/Independents (Katter, Greens, NXT, McGowan and Wilkie).

In the end – as I said in my update yesterday – regardless of how the remaining four ‘hot seats’ fall out, the LNP will be able to form government – and most likely a majority one, albeit with the tightest of tight margins and a hostile Senate.

Here’s my latest Balance of Power Meter:

BalanceOfPowerOmeter0907700pm.jpg

(If you’re interested in seeing earlier updates and a description of the difference between Decider and safe seats, see my earlier post. )

Is this setting the tone for the next three years? 

I guess it makes sense that the aftermath of the second longest election campaign in Australian history would be a fortnight-long election tally – which is likely how long it will be before the final outcome for our House of Representatives is pronounced by the AEC. But you have to wonder whether this is just the way things are going to be for the next three years – glacially slow, but without the ‘steady’.

Buckle in for an interesting three years folks.

 

Federal Election Tracker 2016: I’m calling it

Final Update on 8 July at 8:30am

I’m calling it folks. I’m packing up my election ‘night’ desk for another three years. While there are still a number of seats that have to be finalised, it would take such a dramatic shift in voting trends now that the outcome is pretty much certain.

The LNP will be able to form government – and most probably a majority government, albeit with a much reduced hold on power. In my view, the most likely outcome is:

  • 77 or 78 seats for the LNP
  • 67 or 68 seats for the ALP, and
  • 5 seats for Minor parties/Independents.

Even if there was some miraculous shift in trend for the outstanding seats, the absolute best the ALP could do would be 71 seats. To form government that would require them to get the support of all five Minors and Independents – and with Bob Katter having already declared his hand, this is not going to happen.

So that’s it for the House of Reps folks. Now it’s time to focus on the Senate and who holds the all important balance of power there. And while we don’t know the final outcome there, we do know the LNP haven’t won there.

If you’re interested in reading my previous updates – read on:

Update at 9:00 am, 7 July 2016 (with mini-update at 6:30 pm below)

At 9:00 am on 7 July, in my increasingly ill-named ‘Election night’ tracker – since my most recent update, more postal results have come in which have firmed up the outcome for a number of doubtful seats, and continued the swing towards the LNP that I wrote about last night.

Based on my calculations, there are now only six seats in doubt, plus two others we need to keep an eye on – Grey and Cowper – where the AEC is taking a while to do a two-party preferred count on the Green/Independent candidates. This means that while it’s probable both will be held by the incumbent LNP MP, it’s not completely certain.

Based on my projections – and assuming that both Grey and Cowper stay with the incumbent LNP MP –  this is where we currently stand:

  • The LNP have likely won betweeen 74 and 77 seats – with 74 seats being fairly firm and 3 seats leaning heavily in their direction. There are also another 3 seats which I’m not attributing either way – Capricornia, Cowan and Melbourne Ports – meaning their best possible outcome is 80 seats.
  • Labor have likely won 65 seats. Unfortunately for them, the postal swings in the ‘too close to call’ seats have all gone the LNP’s way, and as more postals are counted, the probability of them picking up more seats is narrowing. There are still the 3 seats I noted above which could go their way – but that would only take them to 68 seats.
  • Our Independents/Minor parties continue to hold 5 seats between them:
    • Katter party – 1
    • Xenophon party – 1
    • Greens – 1
    • Independents – 2 (Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan)

Mini-Update at 6:30pm

It’s 6:30pm and during the day the count of postal votes and the few small outstanding polling booths has continued in our undecided seats. This has had the expected effect of tipping the scales further and further in favour of the LNP.

In terms of updates to my ‘where we currently stand’ statement above and the graphic below, the only thing that has happened since this morning is that one of the three seats I classified as ‘too close to call’ this morning  – Capricornia (discussed further below) – has slid further into LNP territory, and is now arguably  likely to go to the LNP.

Just how close is close?

I mentioned above that there are three seats that are too close to call. These are Capricornia in Queensland, Cowan in WA and Melbourne Ports in VIC. If you’re interested in understanding why these seats are too close to call, I’m going to break down the current numbers for Capricornia.

So far for Capricornia the numbers from the AEC website at the time of writing this are 75,067 formal (or valid) votes counted – of these:

  • 37,899 (or 50.49%) of the votes are in favour of the ALP in two-party preferred terms and 37,167 (or 49.51%) of the votes are in favour of the LNP.
  • 73,119 are ‘ordinary’ votes (or votes cast on election day) and 1,948 are ‘declaration’ votes (which includes all other votes – including postal votes).

At a glance, those numbers look good for the ALP. However, if you split out the voting trends for ordinary votes and postal votes – you see a different story.  While 50.62% of ordinary votes were cast in favour of the ALP (in two-party preferred terms), for postal votes it is only 45.64%.  This difference between ordinary and postal votes is common, and in fact is more pronounced in other seats as I wrote last night – where Flynn had 51.5% of ordinary votes in favour of the ALP but only 34.7% of postal votes.

So of course the outcome for Capricornia will depend on how the remaining votes not yet counted and/or received by the AEC pan out. At this stage, all but one small group of ordinary votes are counted – one of the polling stations that go around to hospitals, which based on the other hospital polling stations probably has less than 200 votes.  However, in regards to postal votes there are:

  • 1,948 postal votes received AND counted,
  • 8,245 postal votes received but NOT counted by the AEC,
  • another 7,330 declaration votes (includes postals, absentee votes and pre-polls) issued but not yet returned by voters (or not yet received).

If we assume that the remaining postal votes received but not yet counted by the AEC fall out in a similar manner to those received so far – then the outcome would be 41,662 votes to the ALP and 41,649 votes to the LNP – a victory to the ALP, but only by 13 votes.

But if we then factor in all declaration votes that have not yet been returned to the AEC (which won’t happen), then if the current postal voting trend held across all declaration voting types,  the outcome would be 45,007 votes to the ALP and 45,635 vote to the LNP  – a victory to the LNP, but only by a margin of 627 votes.

The numbers of potential outstanding votes are also not final – there could be other votes yet to be received and factored in, further complicating the potential to determine an outcome when the margins are this tight.

So how close is close? It’s too close to call – so stay tuned for an update later today…

Original post from Saturday evening….

The following commentary was written last Saturday – but the graphic has been updated along with the commentary about safe seats at the end.

The Deciders rule

As I’ve written previously, while there were technically 150 seats up for grabs in the House of Representatives this election, the reality is that the vast majority of electorates are considered to be ‘safe’ seats – meaning they won’t be changing hands, because, well, they almost never do.  This means that the outcome of yesterday’s election will actually be determined by just over a third of electorates – the Deciders. These are typically electorates which either have a high proportion of swinging voters in them (marginal seats and a few fairly safe seats) plus electorates where there is a well-known and well-liked Independent/Minor-party candidate running.

As a result, when you’re looking at the election outcome from last night, it’s really only the outcome in the Decider seats that matters.  So I’ve created the following Balance of Power Meter to track how the election outcome is going based primarily on the results in the Decider seats – rather than all seats – as it’s a more accurate proxy of how both parties are tracking.  (I am keeping an eye on the safe seats as well and adjust the chart if any of them decide to perform out of character. So far the LNP lost one – Wyatt Roy’s seat – and may possibly lose Peter Dutton’s seat.)  I am continuing to update my Balance of Power Meter – so check back in (make sure you refresh the page) for regular updates on progress.

 

BalanceOfPowerOmeter0707600pm

Decider seats

My list of  54 Decider seats shown below is based on the ABC’s Antony Green’s list of Key seats plus I have added:

  • Cowper – Rob Oakeshott’s seat – as recent polls suggest he’s in within cooee of an upset in this seat; and
  • Warringah – Tony Abbott’s seat – enough said.

I’ve included running totals for each group to show where they end up, which I will update as the night progresses.

a) Decider seats won by the LNP in 2013 – 32 seats

This includes: Banks (NSW): Bass (Tas); Bonner (Qld); Boothby (SA); Braddon (Tas); Brisbane (Qld); Burt (new seat in WA); Capricornia (Qld); Corangamite (Vic); Cowan (WA); Cowper (NSW); Deaken (Vic); Dunkley (Vic); Eden-Monaro (NSW); Forde (Qld); Gilmore (NSW); Herbert (Qld); Hindmarsh (SA); La Trobe (Vic); Lindsay (NSW); Lyons (Tas); Macarthur (NSW); Macquarie (NSW); Mayo (SA); Murray (Vic); New England (NSW); Page (NSW); Petrie (Qld); Reid (NSW); Robertson (NSW);  Solomon (NT) and Tony Abbott’s seat – Warringah (NSW).

b) Decider seats won by the ALP in 2013 – 18 seats

This includes: Barton (NSW); Batman (Vic); Bendigo (Vic); Bruce (Vic); Chisholm (Vic); Dobell (NSW); Grayndler (NSW); Greenway (NSW); Lilley (Qld);  Lingiari (NT); McEwen (Vic); Melbourne Ports (Vic); Moreton (Qld); Parramatta (NSW); Paterson (NSW); Perth (WA); Richmond (NSW); and Wills (Vic).

c) Decider seats won by minor parties and independent candidates in 2013 – 4 seats

This includes: Denison (won by independent candidate Andrew Wilkie in Tas); Fairfax (won by Clive Palmer of PUP fame in Qld); Indi (won by independent candidate Cathy McGowan); and Melbourne (won by Andrew Bandt from the Greens in Vic).

Safe Seats

For a full list of all 150 seats up for election see the AEC’s list.  Any seat that I haven’t listed above, is classed as a Safe Seat in my Balance of Power Meter (although the AEC may have classed some of them as ‘Fairly safe’).

Update: The LNP have lost a Safe Seat – Wyatt Roy’s seat – to the ALP and the seat of Flynn in Queensland is also in doubt, but thanks to postals is likely to stay with them. Peter Dutton’s seat was also up for grabs for a while, but he seems to have slid in by the skin of his teeth.

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.

Balance of Power: Federal Election 2016 – Day Five

Update at 9:00 am, 7 July 2016 (with mini-update at 6:30 pm below)

At 9:00 am on 7 July, in my increasingly ill-named ‘Election night’ tracker – since my most recent update, more postal results have come in which have firmed up the outcome for a number of doubtful seats, and continued the swing towards the LNP that I wrote about last night.

Based on my calculations, there are now only six seats in doubt, plus two others we need to keep an eye on – Grey and Cowper – where the AEC is taking a while to do a two-party preferred count on the Green/Independent candidates. This means that while it’s probable both will be held by the incumbent LNP MP, it’s not completely certain.

Based on my projections – and assuming that both Grey and Cowper stay with the incumbent LNP MP –  this is where we currently stand:

  • The LNP have likely won betweeen 74 and 77 seats – with 74 seats being fairly firm and 3 seats leaning heavily in their direction. There are also another 3 seats which I’m not attributing either way – Capricornia, Cowan and Melbourne Ports – meaning their best possible outcome is 80 seats.
  • Labor have likely won 65 seats. Unfortunately for them, the postal swings in the ‘too close to call’ seats have all gone the LNP’s way, and as more postals are counted, the probability of them picking up more seats is narrowing. There are still the 3 seats I noted above which could go their way – but that would only take them to 68 seats.
  • Our Independents/Minor parties continue to hold 5 seats between them:
    • Katter party – 1
    • Xenophon party – 1
    • Greens – 1
    • Independents – 2 (Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan)

Mini-Update at 6:30pm

It’s 6:30pm and during the day the count of postal votes and the few small outstanding polling booths has continued in our undecided seats. This has had the expected effect of tipping the scales further and further in favour of the LNP.

In terms of updates to my ‘where we currently stand’ statement above and the graphic below, the only thing that has happened since this morning is that one of the three seats I classified as ‘too close to call’ this morning  – Capricornia (discussed further below) – has slid further into LNP territory, and is now arguably  likely to go to the LNP.

Just how close is close?

I mentioned above that there are three seats that are too close to call. These are Capricornia in Queensland, Cowan in WA and Melbourne Ports in VIC. If you’re interested in understanding why these seats are too close to call, I’m going to break down the current numbers for Capricornia.

So far for Capricornia the numbers from the AEC website at the time of writing this are 75,067 formal (or valid) votes counted – of these:

  • 37,899 (or 50.49%) of the votes are in favour of the ALP in two-party preferred terms and 37,167 (or 49.51%) of the votes are in favour of the LNP.
  • 73,119 are ‘ordinary’ votes (or votes cast on election day) and 1,948 are ‘declaration’ votes (which includes all other votes – including postal votes).

At a glance, those numbers look good for the ALP. However, if you split out the voting trends for ordinary votes and postal votes – you see a different story.  While 50.62% of ordinary votes were cast in favour of the ALP (in two-party preferred terms), for postal votes it is only 45.64%.  This difference between ordinary and postal votes is common, and in fact is more pronounced in other seats as I wrote last night – where Flynn had 51.5% of ordinary votes in favour of the ALP but only 34.7% of postal votes.

So of course the outcome for Capricornia will depend on how the remaining votes not yet counted and/or received by the AEC pan out. At this stage, all but one small group of ordinary votes are counted – one of the polling stations that go around to hospitals, which based on the other hospital polling stations probably has less than 200 votes.  However, in regards to postal votes there are:

  • 1,948 postal votes received AND counted,
  • 8,245 postal votes received but NOT counted by the AEC,
  • another 7,330 declaration votes (includes postals, absentee votes and pre-polls) issued but not yet returned by voters (or not yet received).

If we assume that the remaining postal votes received but not yet counted by the AEC fall out in a similar manner to those received so far – then the outcome would be 41,662 votes to the ALP and 41,649 votes to the LNP – a victory to the ALP, but only by 13 votes.

But if we then factor in all declaration votes that have not yet been returned to the AEC (which won’t happen), then if the current postal voting trend held across all declaration voting types,  the outcome would be 45,007 votes to the ALP and 45,635 vote to the LNP  – a victory to the LNP, but only by a margin of 627 votes.

The numbers of potential outstanding votes are also not final – there could be other votes yet to be received and factored in, further complicating the potential to determine an outcome when the margins are this tight.

So how close is close? It’s too close to call – so stay tuned for an update later today…

Original post from Saturday evening….

The following commentary was written last Saturday – but the graphic has been updated along with the commentary about safe seats at the end.

The Deciders rule

As I’ve written previously, while there were technically 150 seats up for grabs in the House of Representatives this election, the reality is that the vast majority of electorates are considered to be ‘safe’ seats – meaning they won’t be changing hands, because, well, they almost never do.  This means that the outcome of yesterday’s election will actually be determined by just over a third of electorates – the Deciders. These are typically electorates which either have a high proportion of swinging voters in them (marginal seats and a few fairly safe seats) plus electorates where there is a well-known and well-liked Independent/Minor-party candidate running.

As a result, when you’re looking at the election outcome from last night, it’s really only the outcome in the Decider seats that matters.  So I’ve created the following Balance of Power Meter to track how the election outcome is going based primarily on the results in the Decider seats – rather than all seats – as it’s a more accurate proxy of how both parties are tracking.  (I am keeping an eye on the safe seats as well and adjust the chart if any of them decide to perform out of character. So far the LNP lost one – Wyatt Roy’s seat – and may possibly lose Peter Dutton’s seat.)  I am continuing to update my Balance of Power Meter – so check back in (make sure you refresh the page) for regular updates on progress.

BalanceOfPowerOmeter0707900am.jpg

Decider seats

My list of  54 Decider seats shown below is based on the ABC’s Antony Green’s list of Key seats plus I have added:

  • Cowper – Rob Oakeshott’s seat – as recent polls suggest he’s in within cooee of an upset in this seat; and
  • Warringah – Tony Abbott’s seat – enough said.

I’ve included running totals for each group to show where they end up, which I will update as the night progresses.

a) Decider seats won by the LNP in 2013 – 32 seats

This includes: Banks (NSW): Bass (Tas); Bonner (Qld); Boothby (SA); Braddon (Tas); Brisbane (Qld); Burt (new seat in WA); Capricornia (Qld); Corangamite (Vic); Cowan (WA); Cowper (NSW); Deaken (Vic); Dunkley (Vic); Eden-Monaro (NSW); Forde (Qld); Gilmore (NSW); Herbert (Qld); Hindmarsh (SA); La Trobe (Vic); Lindsay (NSW); Lyons (Tas); Macarthur (NSW); Macquarie (NSW); Mayo (SA); Murray (Vic); New England (NSW); Page (NSW); Petrie (Qld); Reid (NSW); Robertson (NSW);  Solomon (NT) and Tony Abbott’s seat – Warringah (NSW).

b) Decider seats won by the ALP in 2013 – 18 seats

This includes: Barton (NSW); Batman (Vic); Bendigo (Vic); Bruce (Vic); Chisholm (Vic); Dobell (NSW); Grayndler (NSW); Greenway (NSW); Lilley (Qld);  Lingiari (NT); McEwen (Vic); Melbourne Ports (Vic); Moreton (Qld); Parramatta (NSW); Paterson (NSW); Perth (WA); Richmond (NSW); and Wills (Vic).

c) Decider seats won by minor parties and independent candidates in 2013 – 4 seats

This includes: Denison (won by independent candidate Andrew Wilkie in Tas); Fairfax (won by Clive Palmer of PUP fame in Qld); Indi (won by independent candidate Cathy McGowan); and Melbourne (won by Andrew Bandt from the Greens in Vic).

Safe Seats

For a full list of all 150 seats up for election see the AEC’s list.  Any seat that I haven’t listed above, is classed as a Safe Seat in my Balance of Power Meter (although the AEC may have classed some of them as ‘Fairly safe’).

Update: The LNP have lost a Safe Seat – Wyatt Roy’s seat – to the ALP and the seat of Flynn in Queensland is also in doubt, but thanks to postals is likely to stay with them. Peter Dutton’s seat was also up for grabs for a while, but he seems to have slid in by the skin of his teeth.

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.

Balance of Power Tracker: 2016 Federal Election Results Update

Update at 7:00 pm, 6 July 2016

At 7:00 pm on 6 July, since my update at 8am this morning, there’s been a lot more counting of postal votes which has changed the flavour of things materially in favour of the LNP.

Postal votes are tipping the scales to the right

The big news today is the impact of postal votes on the outcome as the AEC makes inroads into counting these votes. As expected, postal votes are leaning heavily towards the LNP – but to quite a serious extent when compared to ordinary (polling booth) votes.  For example,  in Flynn (Queensland), 51.53% of ordinary voters chose the ALP candidate over the sitting LNP candidate, but only 34.74% of postal voters did.

The impact of postal votes being factored into the outcome has meant:

  • At least one ‘safe’ seats that had been deemed decided is now back in the likely category. This is Flynn in Queensland, which I referenced above. It was held by the LNP prior to this election, but had been deemed as won by the ALP candidate in this election. Thanks to nearly two in three postal voters picking the LNP over Labor, the LNP is slowly clawing back this seat.
  • One undecided seat – Dunkley – which was leaning towards going to the ALP, has now been called as going to the LNP thanks to  60.5% of postal vote counted so far going their way.
  •  Of the nine remaining undecided seats:
    • Three that were leaning towards the ALP are now borderline, and could cross over into LNP territory if the trend continues. These are Capricornia, Herbert and Hindmarsh.
    • Only two are now  leaning towards the ALP – Cowan and Melbourne Ports. This morning it was six – so this is a dramatic shift.
    • Four undecided seats are leaning strongly towards the LNP – and unless the trend in postal votes changes, they will go to them. These are Chisholm, Cowper, Forde and Gilmore.

Where does this leave us?

This materially changes the complexion of the possible outcome. This morning, the ALP were potentially in contention of forming a minority government – and the Independents/Minor parties were looking like the Kingmakers. However based on the strong LNP count in today’s postals, the ALP winning has gone back to being a Steven Bradbury affair – it’s not impossible, but it will require a significant shift in the current direction.

In terms of actual numbers here is where I believe we are at right now in terms of seats – and this remains a movable feast, because this is one election where every vote (at least in a ‘Decider’ seat), really does count:

  • The LNP have likely won 70 seats – and 5 seats are leaning heavily in their direction. There are also another 3 seats which I’m not attributing either way. This makes the LNP’s probable outcome (at this stage) between 75 and 78 seats.
  • Labor have likely won 65 seats – and 2 seats are leaning heavily in their direction. Taking into account the 3 seats which I’m not attributing either way, Labor’s probable outcome (at this stage) is between and 67 and 70 seats.
  • Our Independents/Minor parties continue to hold 5 seats between them:
    • Katter party – 1
    • Xenophon party – 1
    • Greens – 1
    • Independents – 2 (Andrew Wilkie and Cathy McGowan)

That’s the state of play at 7pm on 6 July. Stay tuned for further updates.

The following commentary was written last Saturday – but the graphic has been updated:

The Deciders rule

As I’ve written previously, while there were technically 150 seats up for grabs in the House of Representatives this election, the reality is that the vast majority of electorates are considered to be ‘safe’ seats – meaning they won’t be changing hands, because, well, they almost never do.  This means that the outcome of yesterday’s election will actually be determined by just over a third of electorates – the Deciders. These are typically electorates which either have a high proportion of swinging voters in them (marginal seats and a few fairly safe seats) plus electorates where there is a well-known and well-liked Independent/Minor-party candidate running.

As a result, when you’re looking at the election outcome from last night, it’s really only the outcome in the Decider seats that matters.  So I’ve created the following Balance of Power Meter to track how the election outcome is going based primarily on the results in the Decider seats – rather than all seats – as it’s a more accurate proxy of how both parties are tracking.  (I am keeping an eye on the safe seats as well and adjust the chart if any of them decide to perform out of character. So far the LNP lost two seats – Wyatt Roy’s seat and Ken O’Dowd’s seat – and for a while looked like it would lose Peter Dutton’s seat.)  I am continuing to update my Balance of Power Meter – so check back in (make sure you refresh the page) for later updates on progress.

BalanceOfPowerOmeter0607700pm

Decider seats

My list of  54 Decider seats shown below is based on the ABC’s Antony Green’s list of Key seats plus I have added:

  • Cowper – Rob Oakeshott’s seat – as recent polls suggest he’s in within cooee of an upset in this seat; and
  • Warringah – Tony Abbott’s seat – enough said.

I’ve included running totals for each group to show where they end up, which I will update as the night progresses.

a) Decider seats won by the LNP in 2013 – 32 seats

This includes: Banks (NSW): Bass (Tas); Bonner (Qld); Boothby (SA); Braddon (Tas); Brisbane (Qld); Burt (new seat in WA); Capricornia (Qld); Corangamite (Vic); Cowan (WA); Cowper (NSW); Deaken (Vic); Dunkley (Vic); Eden-Monaro (NSW); Forde (Qld); Gilmore (NSW); Herbert (Qld); Hindmarsh (SA); La Trobe (Vic); Lindsay (NSW); Lyons (Tas); Macarthur (NSW); Macquarie (NSW); Mayo (SA); Murray (Vic); New England (NSW); Page (NSW); Petrie (Qld); Reid (NSW); Robertson (NSW);  Solomon (NT) and Tony Abbott’s seat – Warringah (NSW).

b) Decider seats won by the ALP in 2013 – 18 seats

This includes: Barton (NSW); Batman (Vic); Bendigo (Vic); Bruce (Vic); Chisholm (Vic); Dobell (NSW); Grayndler (NSW); Greenway (NSW); Lilley (Qld);  Lingiari (NT); McEwen (Vic); Melbourne Ports (Vic); Moreton (Qld); Parramatta (NSW); Paterson (NSW); Perth (WA); Richmond (NSW); and Wills (Vic).

c) Decider seats won by minor parties and independent candidates in 2013 – 4 seats

This includes: Denison (won by independent candidate Andrew Wilkie in Tas); Fairfax (won by Clive Palmer of PUP fame in Qld); Indi (won by independent candidate Cathy McGowan); and Melbourne (won by Andrew Bandt from the Greens in Vic).

Safe Seats

For a full list of all 150 seats up for election see the AEC’s list.  Any seat that I haven’t listed above, is classed as a Safe Seat in my Balance of Power Meter (although the AEC may have classed some of them as ‘Fairly safe’).

Update: The LNP have lost a Safe Seat – Wyatt Roy’s seat – to the ALP and the seat of Flynn in Queensland is also in doubt, but thanks to postals is likely to stay with them. Peter Dutton’s seat was also up for grabs for a while, but he seems to have slid in by the skin of his teeth.

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.

Balance of Power Meter: 2016 Federal Election Night Tracker

Update at 8:00 am, 3 July 2016

At 8:00 am on 3 July, there are around nine Decider seats that are too close to call. As shown in my diagram below, the most likely outcome right now – based on votes counted to date, and including seats that are too close to call is:

  • LNP with 74 seats (although Peter Dutton’s previously safe seat is now in doubt)
  • Labor with 71 seats
  • Minors/Independents – 5 seats (Katter, Wilkie, McGowan, Bandt and a Xenophoner)

No matter which way you cut and slice it, the LNP have been thrashed. They may hold onto government, but if they do, it will be by the skin of their teeth and/or in a minority government.

Seats in the Balance

There are around nine seats that are still too close to call – including one where there is literally five votes in it. In addition, Minister for saying “We’ve stopped the boats” – one PDuddy – has caused a previously safe LNP seat to be in doubt. Here’s the latest count details:

  • Batman (Vic) – 70.6% of the vote is counted. Currently 51.5% to the ALP and 48.5% to the Greens.
  • Capricornia (Qld) – 76.6% of the vote is counted. Currently 50.7% to the ALP and 49.3% to the LNP.
  • Chisholm (Vic) – 67.7% of the vote counted. There is literally 5 votes difference in the count. Not 5%. Not 0.5%. Five votes. It’s 50%/50% between the ALP and the LNP.
  • Cowan (WA) – 71.8% of the vote counted. Currently 50.1% to the ALP and 49.9% to the LNP.
  • Forde (Qld) – 69.6% of the vote counted. Currently 50.7% to the ALP and 49.3% to the LNP.
  • Gilmore (NSW) – 80.2% of the vote counted. Currently 50.2% to the LNP and 49.8% to the ALP.
  • Hindmarsh (SA) – 74.5% of the vote counted. Currently 50.2% to the ALP and 49.8% to the LNP.
  • Melbourne Ports (Vic) – 60.4% of the vote counted. There’s a three way race here between the ALP, the LNP and the Greens. The ALP in the lead in an ALP v LNP contest – but it’s unclear what the count is with the Greens.
  • Petrie (Qld) – 71.5% of the vote counted. The LNP are ahead on this one with 51.9% of the vote so far.

According to the AEC, there will be no counting again now until next Tuesday – so no more news until then.

The Deciders rule

As I’ve written previously, while there were technically 150 seats up for grabs in the House of Representatives this election, the reality is that the vast majority of electorates are considered to be ‘safe’ seats – meaning they won’t be changing hands, because, well, they almost never do.  This means that the outcome of yesterday’s election will actually be determined by just over a third of electorates – the Deciders. These are typically electorates which either have a high proportion of swinging voters in them (marginal seats and a few fairly safe seats) plus electorates where there is a well-known and well-liked Independent/Minor-party candidate running.

As a result, when you’re looking at the election outcome from last night, it’s really only the outcome in the Decider seats that matters.  So I’ve created the following Balance of Power Meter to track how the election outcome is going based primarily on the results in the Decider seats – rather than all seats – as it’s a more accurate proxy of how both parties are tracking.  (I am keeping an eye on the safe seats as well and adjust the chart if any of them decide to perform out of character. So far the LNP lost one – Wyatt Roy’s seat – and may possibly lose Peter Dutton’s seat.)  I am continuing to update my Balance of Power Meter – so check back in (make sure you refresh the page) for regular updates on progress.

 

BalanceOfPowerOmeter800am.jpg

Decider seats

My list of  54 Decider seats shown below is based on the ABC’s Antony Green’s list of Key seats plus I have added:

  • Cowper – Rob Oakeshott’s seat – as recent polls suggest he’s in within cooee of an upset in this seat; and
  • Warringah – Tony Abbott’s seat – enough said.

I’ve included running totals for each group to show where they end up, which I will update as the night progresses.

a) Decider seats won by the LNP in 2013 – 32 seats

This includes: Banks (NSW): Bass (Tas); Bonner (Qld); Boothby (SA); Braddon (Tas); Brisbane (Qld); Burt (new seat in WA); Capricornia (Qld); Corangamite (Vic); Cowan (WA); Cowper (NSW); Deaken (Vic); Dunkley (Vic); Eden-Monaro (NSW); Forde (Qld); Gilmore (NSW); Herbert (Qld); Hindmarsh (SA); La Trobe (Vic); Lindsay (NSW); Lyons (Tas); Macarthur (NSW); Macquarie (NSW); Mayo (SA); Murray (Vic); New England (NSW); Page (NSW); Petrie (Qld); Reid (NSW); Robertson (NSW);  Solomon (NT) and Tony Abbott’s seat – Warringah (NSW).

Outcome in 2016: Latest Number of 2013 LNP Decider Seats won by:

The LNP: 15
The ALP: 10
Other: 01
Unknown: 06

b) Decider seats won by the ALP in 2013 – 18 seats

This includes: Barton (NSW); Batman (Vic); Bendigo (Vic); Bruce (Vic); Chisholm (Vic); Dobell (NSW); Grayndler (NSW); Greenway (NSW); Lilley (Qld);  Lingiari (NT); McEwen (Vic); Melbourne Ports (Vic); Moreton (Qld); Parramatta (NSW); Paterson (NSW); Perth (WA); Richmond (NSW); and Wills (Vic).

Outcome in 2016: Latest Number of 2013 ALP Decider Seats won by:

The LNP: 00
The ALP: 15
Other: 00
Unknown: 03

c) Decider seats won by minor parties and independent candidates in 2013 – 4 seats

This includes: Denison (won by independent candidate Andrew Wilkie in Tas); Fairfax (won by Clive Palmer of PUP fame in Qld); Indi (won by independent candidate Cathy McGowan); and Melbourne (won by Andrew Bandt from the Greens in Vic).

Outcome in 2016: Latest Number of 2013 ‘Other’ Decider Seats won by:

The LNP: 01 (from PUP)
The ALP: 00
Other: 03
Unknown: 00

Safe Seats

For a full list of all 150 seats up for election see the AEC’s list.  Any seat that I haven’t listed above, is classed as a Safe Seat in my Balance of Power Meter (although the AEC may have classed some of them as ‘Fairly safe’).

Update: The LNP have lost a Safe Seat – Wyatt Roy’s seat – to the ALP. They may also lose Peter Dutton’s seat.
This article was first posted on ProgressiveConversation.

The disillusioned voter’s guide to making a difference with your vote

You wouldn’t know there was an election coming where I live. There’s no posters on poles, no pollies hanging around on the streets, no letterbox drops, no text messages and no robocalls. If you didn’t follow the news, you wouldn’t even know there was an election on. This is in stark contrast to the New England electorate – home to Deputy PM Bananaby Joyce and independent candidate Tony Windsor – where election fatigue set in weeks, maybe even months ago. New England locals are besieged by posters, billboards, calls, and personal visits by candidates from all parties keen to paint a picture of how wonderful life in New England would be if only they were elected to parliament.

The difference between being a voter in my electorate and in New England of course is that the citizens of New England live in a critical seat for this election – a seat where the outcome of the vote is not considered a foregone conclusion. Voters in about twenty key seats around the country are the electoral belles of our politicians’ election ball. They are courted by the politicians with promises of hospitals, car parks and other infrastructure spending. I however – like the majority of Australians – live in a safe seat. I’m an electoral wallflower – my vote in the House of Representatives matters to no one.

It’s easy to feel disenfranchised by this – to feel like my vote doesn’t matter. That’s because – according to the ABC – it doesn’t. According to the ABC, only 12.9% of Australians’ votes will actually make a difference to the outcome of the upcoming Federal election – and I’m not among them. It turns out, when it comes to your vote in the House of Representatives, all votes might be equal – but some are definitely more equal than others.

It’s no wonder the vast majority of Australians feel like their vote doesn’t count for much at all – that they have little or no influence over national decision-making. Even if you are one of the privileged few swinging voters who live in a key seat, you’re just as likely to be frustrated by politicians you don’t feel you can trust and parties who change their policies once elected.

The one vote that really DOES make a difference

As I wrote earlier this week, a key reason so many Australians feel their vote on Saturday is meaningless is because the focus of our politicians and most media outlets is on the outcome of our vote in only one of our two Houses of Parliament – the House of Representatives. (This is the vote you cast on the little green voting paper.) The reason this House is so popular with our pollies is not because it’s more important than the other House (the Senate) – but because convention dictates that the political party that wins a majority of seats in the  House of Reps is the one that ends up holding the reins of government for the next three years. Those reins grant the holder executive control of our government – which includes the power to decide who is Prime Minister and who fills all the various Ministerial positions. AusHousesofParl

In the Senate – YOUR vote counts

Unlike in the House of Representatives – where only 12.9% of Australians get to influence the outcome of the election – in the Senate, everyone’s vote counts. And despite the fact that the Senate gets almost no fanfare at election time, when it comes to making and passing the laws that govern our country, the Senate was designed by our Nation’s founders to be almost as powerful as the House of Representatives. The Senate can veto or amend any legislation the government wants to put through. The Senate can hold the government to account and undertake Inquiries into whatever it sees fit. The Senate even has the power to introduce its own legislation (except around government expenditure or taxation).

And the really good news about your vote for the Senate is that votes are counted at a State (or Territory) level rather than at a local electorate level and they go towards determining who wins more than one seat. This means that your individual vote can actually influence the election outcome in the Senate, even if you live in a safe seat – as long as you know how the voting works.

Your vote in the Senate matters – it can make a difference to how this country is run over the next three years. In fact, unless you are a swinging voter in a key seat, the MOST IMPORTANT vote you will cast in the upcoming election is your vote in the Senate.

BUT – if you don’t know how voting works in the Senate, you may end up accidentally voting for a party you don’t support

There are some things you need to know in order to make your vote say what you want it to  in the Senate. Different rules apply to vote counting in the Senate to those in the House of Reps – which mean that different rules apply to how you should vote in the Senate in order to express your opinion.

For example, in regards to your vote for the House of Representatives, you will often hear something like “put the LNP last”. But in the Senate – this is not a good strategy unless you’re planning to number ALL the boxes. Otherwise, putting the party you don’t support last may actually result in you voting FOR that party.

Here’s why voting in the Senate is so important and what you need to know in order to REALLY make your vote count the way you want it to …

WHY the most important vote you cast will likely be for the Senate

1. The House of Representatives is the home of the disempowered vote

No matter who you are – swinging voter in a marginal seat, voter in a safe seat or somewhere in between – your vote on that little green voting paper for who represents your electorate in the House of Reps isn’t really worth all that much.

Seriously , it isn’t.

As I’ve written previously, your vote in the House of Representatives:

  • is more ‘representish’ than representative as it is not an accurate aggregate representation of the primary votes of all Australians;
  • is not always equal to other votes when it comes to determining which party is in government – all votes are equal, but as discussed above, votes in key seats are more equal than others;
  • doesn’t guarantee that the government will implement a certain set of policies – as politicians are perfectly within their rights to say one thing before the election and do another straight after it; and
  • doesn’t determine who is Prime Minister, or any other ministerial position for that matter – that’s up to the parties themselves.

It’s no wonder one in three Australians believe the House of Reps voting paper should have a ‘none of the above’ option on it.

2. The Senate is more representative of voters’ views than the House of Reps

Votes in the Senate are counted at a State/Territory level (rather than at an micro-electoral level). For that reason it is actually considered to be the more ‘representative’ of the two Houses of Parliament. According to the Parliament of Australia website:

The Senate is elected by a system of proportional representation which ensures that the composition of the Senate more accurately reflects the votes of the electors than the method used to elect members of the House of Representatives.

This is also reflected in the way seats are allocated relative to Australian voters’ primary vote. In the 2013 Federal Election, just over one in five Australian voters (21%) gave their first preference vote in the House of Representatives to a minor party or independent candidate – but they won only 3% of the seats. By contrast, the LNP got only 45% of primary votes in 2013 for the House of Reps but was allocated nearly 60% of the seats.

In the Senate however, 33% of voters gave their first preference to a minor party or an independent candidate in the 2013 election and they won 27% of the seats – still not one for one, but arguably a much more accurate representation of Australian voters’ intentions.

3. The Senate is our democracy’s fail-safe

If you listened to Turnbull and Abbott, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Senate is an obstruction rather than an integral part of Australian democracy. Abbott called the Senate ‘feral‘ and Turnbull said it was a ‘disgrace‘. Certainly, in their minds, they appear to believe that once elected, Prime Ministers should be allowed to rule like Kings, unfettered and unchecked.

But unfettered, unchecked rule by a small group of individuals is not how a democracy is supposed to work. And it’s certainly not how our democracy was designed to work. Voting for Australia’s representatives in the Senate is deliberately different to that in the House of Representatives to ensure that as far as possible, the candidates who are elected to both Houses of Parliament – are a true representation of all Australians.

When the Senate disagrees with the House of Representatives, it’s not a mistake, it’s not chaos, it’s democracy at work. And instead of throwing their toys out of the cot and behaving like toddlers when another member of Parliament dares to question what they want to do, politicians in a democracy are supposed to compromise like adults, to work together to achieve a solution that reflects what Australians want. 

THE TRUTH ABOUT MANDATES

In a democracy, every duly elected representative in either House of Parliament has only one mandate – the ongoing representation of the people who elected them – whether those people are in the majority or not. That’s it. When a Prime Minister claims that the ‘people have spoken’ and that MPs or Senators disagreeing with government positions are going against the will of the people – it’s just plain wrong.

In the words of Assistant Professor in Politics at the University of Canberra, Jean-Paul Gagnon:

“Democracy is not a winner-takes-all scenario where those who win the election become the rulers with a sacred mandate to govern as they see fit. Democracy is an ongoing process of deliberation, monitoring, inclusion and resistance.”

4. Your vote in the Senate can go a long way… Or it can go nowhere at all. 

In the House of Representatives, your vote counts towards the outcome of one seat of Parliament only – the seat for your electorate. In the Senate however, instead of just voting for one seat, your ONE VOTE can count towards determining the outcome of MULTIPLE SEATS and contribute towards electing Senators from MULTIPLE PARTIES. BUT – if you don’t know what you’re doing, it may not count at all, even if you fill out the form correctly.

This is particularly important because…

Minor parties/independents will hold the balance of power in the Senate – it’s important you have a say in which ones hold sway

Regardless of who wins government in the House of Representatives, they will need to negotiate with minor parties and independents in the Senate. This isn’t a new phenomena. In fact, if you look back at the makeup of Parliament since Federation in 1901, it’s actually relatively rare that one political party holds a majority in both Houses of Parliament – with only 14% of parliaments in the last 50 years experiencing this luxury.

Further, for all you Labor supporters out there, the ALP has never held a majority in both Houses of Parliament, and only once held a majority in the Senate. And this is unlikely to change in the 2016 election as polling shows that the trend towards voting for minor parties and/or independents has increased by up to 30% since 2013.

This means that in order for any government to govern – which requires successfully getting laws through the Senate – they will need to negotiate with the minor parties and independents.

You can tailor your vote in the Senate to give voice to issues YOU care about

One of the great things about your vote in the Senate being able to count towards multiple parties or independents is that you can tailor your vote so that you preference minor parties or independents who will be your voice for policies that are particularly important to you.

Whether it’s climate change, the treatment of asylum seekers, marriage equality, greater transparency and accountability of government or the way our democracy functions – there’s a variety of parties out there that you can add to your ‘preference’ list for the Senate who, if elected, can influence these issues.

That said…..

There are some things you need to know about voting in the Senate 

There are some tricks to voting in the Senate which you do need to know about in order to make your vote count. I published an article on this earlier this week providing more detail, but here’s a brief rundown:

LeftLeaningVotersGuide

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation

Was Brexit really democracy in action? (#ItsTime)

Over thirty-three millions Brits exercised their democratic right to have a say in whether Britain should remain in the EU or leave last Thursday.

But did they?

Was the Brexit vote democracy in action – or politics at its worst?

Democracy is a serious business

Democracy is a serious business – as the people of the UK were reminded last week. About eight hours after the polls in Britain had closed, Google reported that British searches for ‘what happens if we leave the EU’ had more than tripled as many ‘Leave’ voters started to come to terms with the implications of what they had done. The next day a number of ‘Leave’ voters expressed “voters’ bregret” at their decision to leave the UK – with one voter saying:

I was really disappointed about the results. Even though I voted to Leave – this morning I woke up and the reality did actually hit me.

A few days later, and many ‘Leave’ voters were only just starting to feel outrage as they realised that they had made a serious decision about Britain’s future on the basis of promises made to them prior to the referendum. Promises such as  increased funding to healthcare and greater controls on immigration – which in the stark light of post-election reality were turning out to be nothing more than election fluffery.

Democracy is a serious business. The outcomes of our democratic input have an impact on pretty much every aspect of our life – from healthcare, who we can marry, education, where we can live, how much money we have to spend right through to our food supplies, our water supplies and what happens to our environment.

ScareCampaign

By @FirstDogOnMoon in The Guardian (gu.com/p/4m82y/stw)

And yet our politicians treat us with disdain

Democracy is a serious business – and yet our politicians treat us with disdain. They lie to us, try to scare us into believing Armageddon is around the corner and that they alone can save us. They insist that their access to information about us must be unfettered and unrestricted while at the same time working seriously hard to limit our access to information about what they are doing.

In other words – truth and access to accurate relevant information are in short supply in many western democracies today. This situation is not helped by the fact that our media is under serious threat on a number of  fronts including surviving both the digital age and the influence of wealthy owners, investors and advertisers.

“Information is the currency of Democracy” (Thomas Jefferson)

In a democracy every person’s vote – their decision about an issue – is equal. But people can only be truly free to make a decision – any decision – when they are given accurate information about that decision.

FirstDogFreedomFromTruth

By @FirstDogOnMoon in The Guardian (gu.com/p/4m82y/stw)

We recognise the importance of having accurate information as consumers. If you go into a store and a sales person sells you an item by making inaccurate representations about what that item can do, our laws protect you. If a company advertises a product and makes misleading claims about that product, our laws protect you. If you go into the supermarket there are laws which require food manufacturers to give you information about the food you are buying so that you can make an informed choice.

In the overall scheme of things, these are relatively minor decisions – and yet we believe they are important enough to have laws which enable us to make an informed choice.

When we exercise our democratic right to vote however – our democratic right to have a say in how our country is run – this is without a doubt one of the most important decisions we make. And yet our politicians ask us to make that decision in a fact-free fear-filled zone.

The very real problem with voters being asked to make decisions in a fact-free zone is that information is democracy’s life blood. Without it, true democracy cannot exist.

The Brexit campaign – informed choice or…?

FaragePosterEdit

‘Leave’ advocate Nigel Farage in front of his favourite fear campaign

Just look at what happened recently with Brexit. On one side the Brits had ‘Leave’ advocates telling citizens they would be overrun by Syrian refugees if they didn’t leave the EU – and that leaving the EU would mean the government could provide an extra 350 million pounds for Britain’s health care system every month. And on the other side, ‘Remain’ advocates ran a campaign described by some commentators and perceived by many voters as being ‘Project Fear’.

What was clearly missing from the whole decision making process was a factual trustworthy analysis of BOTH options. How do we know that this didn’t exist? Because now that the decision for Britain to exit the EU has been made, nobody has an actual clue about what a post-Brexit Britain will look like. British voters were literally asked to vote between the status quo and an undefined politically-manufactured future.

By way of analogy, imagine you were asked to make the following decision:

  1. Keep your current car – which still goes, but has sporadic problems and has to keep going to the mechanic for repairs; or
  2. Get another unseen car without knowing the car’s make, model, year, features and with no guarantee that the car will work better than your current car, or even work at all – but which you are promised by the salesperson will likely save you money and keep you safe from terrorists.

A sensible consumer would be skeptical about the second option and ask for more information before making a decision. And yet Brits were asked to make a serious decision about the future of their country without any real idea of what the ‘Leave’ option really entailed.

That’s not a democratic choice – it’s political fluffery pure and simple.

The Brits aren’t the only ones being fluffed

In the US, Donald Trump is the poster boy for political fluffery –  ramping up the rhetoric, the lies and fear campaigns to levels that beggar belief.

In Australia, as we stare down a Federal Election this coming weekend, the lies, the scare campaigns and the frightening political hyperbole are so bad, it’s become nearly impossible to watch. Even a political tragic like myself can no longer listen to the same old catchphrases and fright-inducers that are being rolled out again and again and again. And again.

What’s the answer? It’s time we reclaim our democracy.

In the words of Alan Moore:

“People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

Seriously – it’s time we tell our pollies that enough is bloody well enough. As I wrote a few weeks back, our politicians are still living by rules of conduct from the Middle Ages – rules which allow them to behave like spoilt toddlers and lie with impunity.

It’s time we tell our politicians to come out of the Middle Ages and live in the 21st century. It’s time they lived by the same standards of conduct that the rest of us have to. It’s time we all agree that this needs to change – and make our politicians listen to us.

To quote from my previous article:

“There is a ground swell globally of people who are sick of politicians. Sick of being lied to. Sick of politicians creating greater inequality instead of greater equality. The answer isn’t electing people like Donald Trump – who pretend that they are different from those currently in power. It’s in demanding higher standards of our pollies.”

An uninformed vote is not a democratic one

Simply giving people a ‘vote’ is NOT democracy if you’re not giving them the information they need to make an informed choice regarding what they are voting about.

If politicians in Britain had been required by law to present an accurate picture of what the options for Brexit were – to apply the same standards we require of companies advertising their products – would the outcome of last week’s referendum have been the same? We’ll never know. But at least the Brits would have had the opportunity to make a truly democratic decision.

#ItsTime

It’s time we stopped accepting this antiquted outdated behaviour from our politicians people. #ItsTime.

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.

The ‘other’ House: A strategic guide to making your vote really count. (For left-leaning voters’ eyes only.)

You don’t hear much about the election for the ‘other House’ in our Federal Parliament – the Senate. There’s no polls predicting who will win. Parties don’t do a special launch of their State/Territory Senate candidates. You don’t get letterbox drops or see State Senate candidates plastered on our local electricity poles. And yet the outcome of the Senate election will have a huge impact on the next three years in Australia, because Senators are just as vital to the working of Australia’s democracy as our MPs in the House of Representatives.

Further – as I wrote recently – for the majority of Australian voters, despite what our politicians would have you believe, your vote in the Senate is arguably more important and can have more of an impact than your vote in the House of Representatives. Despite this, these’s very little information available to the average punter both on who is running for the Senate and how to make your vote count.

This lack of understanding about the Senate is magnified by recent changes to Senate voting rules. However these changes actually mean that if you DO know what you’re doing, there’s a good chance your vote in the Senate will be especially powerful this election. But on the flip-side if you don’t know what you’re doing – even if your vote is technically valid, it may not count at all.  

What’s so special about votes in the Senate? 

The House of Representatives is the Lower House in our Federal Parliament. It’s the House that our pollies care about primarily because the outcome determines which of the two major parties gets to govern for the next three years. When voting for a representative in this House, as long as you fill out the little green voting form properly, your vote always counts. But only once. Maybe not always towards your first preference – but it always counts towards determining which candidate gets to take a seat as representative (or MP) for your electorate. This is because your ONE VOTE counts towards determining the outcome for ONE SEAT of Parliament (your local electorate).

The Senate is the Upper House in our Federal Parliament. It’s the House that our pollies ignore at election time, but which you should care about. The way Senators are elected to the Upper House is different to the way MPs are elected in the Lower House because votes for Senators are counted at a State (or Territory) level, and there are 12 seats to be filled for each State (and 2 for each Territory). This means that when you cast your vote for the Senate, your ONE VOTE can count towards determining the outcome of MULTIPLE SEATS and towards electing candidates from MULTIPLE PARTIES. But if you don’t know what you’re doing – even if you’ve filled out the large white Senate voting paper according to AEC guidelines – it’s possible your vote may NOT COUNT at all.

Here’s why this is so important in the 2016 election and what you need to know to make your vote really count…

Why this is so crucial in the 2016 federal election

Understanding how to make your vote really count in the Senate is particularly important in this election due to the fact that:

  • Minor parties and Independents will very likely control the balance of power in the Senate for at least the next three years. In fact, since Federation in 1901, Labor has only once held a majority in the Senate – and that was more than 50 years ago. Understanding how your vote in the Senate works can help determine whether the Senate leans progressive or conservative.
  • Along similar lines, the polls are tight and could go either way. If you’re a progressive voter like me, then you need to maximise your vote in the Senate to ensure that we have a progressive Senate regardless of who ends up in government in the House of Reps. Importantly, if we end up with the LNP in government in the House of Reps, then a more progressive Senate can protect Australia from the worst of right-wing lunacy.
  • It’s a double dissolution election – which means that in the Senate, voters in each State are electing twice as many Senators as they usually do. Or put another way – there’s more Senate booty up for grabs, and more potential for anomalies to occur if Australian voters don’t know what they are doing.
  • This is the first time the new Senate voting rules have been used – it’s likely there will be a lag in people understanding how they work, increasing the probability that up to 80% of voters’ votes will ‘exhaust’ – or run out of steam before the final Senate positions are decided. With twice as many State Senate positions up for grabs than usual, that will mean that the last few Senate seat in each State may be decided by only the votes of those voters who know what they are doing.

To help illustrate how counting in the Senate works, I’ve prepared a simplified example below based on the rules the AEC have posted on their website – from both a candidate’s perspective and a voter’s perspective.

(If you don’t want to know the detail behind Senate voting or are just happy to take my word for it, I suggest you skip to the ‘The Strategic Guide to really make your Senate vote count’ section at the end of this article for tips on making sure you are one of the voters who maximises their vote at this election. This is not a ‘How to Vote’ guide OR an explanation of AEC rules – rather it’s a strategic guide to getting the most out of your vote.)

Senate voting explained from a Candidate’s perspective – a simplified example

Assume there were six candidates up for election in your state for only two Senate seats – Ann, Bob, Carl, Don, Edith and Frances. (In reality there will be many many more than six candidates to choose from in your State or Territory, and there are 12 Senate seats up for grabs in each State.)

These are broadly the steps the AEC would follow to determine which of the six Senate Candidates won the two Senate seats up for election:

Step One: Work out the Senate Quota (number of votes needed to become a senator)

When the AEC determine which Senators have been elected, they first have to work out what the ‘Senate quota’ is – or the number of votes each Senator needs to be allocated in order to be elected. They do this using this formula:

(Number of formal ballot papers / (Number of senators to be elected + 1)) + 1 )

In our simplified example, there are two Senate seats and 300 valid votes cast (any invalid votes are discarded before they work out the quotas). Using the AEC formula, the number of votes (or quota) that each potential candidate requires to become a Senator is:

Senate Quota: ((300 votes)/(2 seats +1)) + 1 = 101  

SenateRound1VotesStep Two: Count first preferences

Once they’ve established what the quota is, the AEC then counts the first preferences on every voting paper.

In this example, after they’ve allocated the first preferences for all 300 votes, the voting tally is shown on the right. Only one candidate – Anne – has reached the quota of 101 votes in this round of counting, meaning she is the first elected Senator.

Step Three: Transfer any surplus votes from any elected Senators

In our example, Anne has been elected Senator as she received 140 votes – which is 39 more than the Senate Quota of 101 votes. Since Anne received 39 ‘surplus’ votes – and in a democracy, every vote should count – 39 votes need to be allocated to one or more other Senate candidates.

Rather than randomly picking 39 votes to allocate to another Senate candidate, the second preferences for all Anne’s 140 votes are counted. They are then allocated to the other candidates at a reduced value – so that in total, 39 votes are deducted from Anne’s tally and 39 votes are allocated across the other candidates.

The reduced or ‘transfer value’ of each second preference vote to be allocated to another candidate is calculated by the AEC as (Surplus votes / Number of votes for candidate = Transfer value).

In this case, the transfer value would be: 39/140 = 0.27857.  Each second preference vote for another candidate is counted as 0.27857 of a vote, instead of as a whole vote.

SenateRound2VotesLooking at the second preferences given by the 140 voters who listed Anne as their first preference – they were:

  • 100 for Bob
  • 20 for Edith; and
  • 20  people didn’t list a second preference.

Bob and Edith are allocated extra votes as follows:

  • Bob gets 100 x 0.27857 = 28 extra votes
  • Edith gets 20 x 0.27857 = 6 extra votes

In regards to the twenty people who only marked ‘1’ next to Anne’s name and didn’t preference anybody else, their votes are classified as ‘exhausted’. This means they are out of the game and their views no longer count in determining who is elected as the second Senator for your state.

In our Running Tally – shown above on the right – after the surplus votes have been allocated, with 98 votes, Bob is close to being elected as the second Senator but is not quite there.  So the AEC would then move on to Step Four.

Step Four: Eliminate the candidate with the lowest number of votes

In this step, the remaining Senate candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated, and their votes are allocated to the second preferences of those who voted for them.

SenateRound3VotesThe first candidate to be eliminated from our simplified election is Frances – who only had 5 first preference votes.  The second preferences given by the 5 voters who voted for Frances as their first preference are as follows:

  • Bob gets 3 votes
  • Don gets 1 vote
  • One person didn’t list a second preference – so their vote is exhausted.

With the extra 3 votes, Bob reaches exactly 101 votes and is declared the second Senator for this election.

Steps Five, Six etc: Repeat Steps Three & Four as required

In my example, both Senate seats were  filled by the end of Step Four. But in a real election, Steps Three and Four would be repeated (as relevant) until either:

  • all Senate Seats are allocated due to Senate Candidates reaching the Senate Quota; or
  • the number of remaining candidates (those that haven’t been eliminated) equals the number of remaining seats.

Further, in my simplified example I have used rounded numbers in Step Three. I have no idea how the AEC deals with decimal places in practice – so if you’re interested in the detail behind these equations, you’ll need to contact them.

Senate voting explained from a Voter’s perspective – a simplified example

I’ve explained above how Senate counting works from a Senate Candidate’s perspective. Here’s how it looks from a voter’s perspective.DeadPlant

Sally (makes up her mind on the day)
Vote type: Exhausted

Sally doesn’t get too involved in politics – she just tunes into the news every so often.  A few days prior to the election, she heard Senate candidate Frances interviewed on radio and liked what Frances had to say about renewable energy.  On election day Sally rushed to the polling booths early to get her voting out of the way and put a ‘1’ next to Frances’ name on her Senate voting paper. She didn’t bother to indicate any other preferences.

As we saw above, Frances was the candidate with the least number of votes which meant that the votes of people who put Frances first on their Senate voting form were allocated to their second preferences. However, because Sally didn’t list any other preferences on her voting form, her vote was classified as ‘exhausted’ and didn’t count at all towards the final outcome. Had she indicated a second preference, her vote would have been allocated in full to her second preference.

Sally’s vote is classified as ‘exhausted’ – as it didn’t make the distance, and didn’t have any impact at all on which Senate Candidate was elected. LazyPlant

Tom (always votes for the same party and only that party)
Vote type: Lazy

Tom’s a loyal voter. He’s been a member of Senate candidate Anne’s party for over 20 years and always votes for her.  On his Senate voting card, he  marked ‘1’ next to Anne’s name – but didn’t put a ‘2’, ‘3’ or any other preferences next to anyone else.

In terms of outcome, Tom achieved his goal of getting Anne elected. However because the second preferences of everyone who voted for Anne were partially allocated to other candidates, he missed out on having 0.28 of his second preference allocated to another candidate and having a say in who won the second Senate seat.

In this very simplified example, the fact that Tom only voted for one candidate didn’t matter too much because there were only two seats and the candidates weren’t close (in terms of number of votes).

But in the upcoming elections there are 12 seats for each State and the outcomes could be close. So if Tom did the same thing in the upcoming Senate Election – and only put a ‘1’ next to Labor above the line for example, Tom’s failure to allocate preferences to other parties after Labor could mean the difference between Pauline Hanson being elected or not.

Tom’s vote is classified as ‘Lazy’ – because it did have some impact on who was elected, but he didn’t make the most of his vote.AlivePlant

Penny (informed voter)
Vote type: Fully Active

Penny is a progressive voter who keeps on top of the news and likes to know what’s going on. She – like Tom – has supported Anne for over 20 years. But she’s not a big fan of Anne’s policies about education. She’s still going to support Anne first in the Senate – because overall she’s loyal to Anne and thinks on balance, her policies are best.

But knowing how the Senate voting rules work, Penny does some research into the other Senate candidates’ policies about education. She likes what Senate candidate Bob has to say about education, and agrees with most of his other policies so she decides to put him 2nd on her ballot paper. She checks out the rest of the Senate candidates and decides she likes what Frances has to say, but doesn’t agree with either Carl, Don or Edith as they are all fairly conservative.

On voting day, Penny puts a ‘1’ next to Anne’s name, a ‘2’ next to Bob’s name and a ‘3’ next to Frances’ name. She doesn’t put anything next to either Carl, Don or Edith’s name.

Penny’s vote is the most powerful of all three voters. Her vote helps to get both Anne and Bob elected. In fact, as Bob only just got to 101 votes, if Penny hadn’t put a ‘2’ next to Bob’s name, he may not have been elected, as they would have moved to another stage of vote counting, and who knows how the next round of preferences would have been allocated.

Penny’s vote is classified as ‘fully active’ as her vote had an impact on two candidates being elected.Vote

The Strategic Guide to making sure your vote in the Senate REALLY counts

In the Senate, your vote can – and if you follow these guidelines, probably will – count towards electing multiple Senators for your State or Territory. Importantly, even if you allocate your preferences firstly to a Major party, you can still influence which of the Minor Parties or Independents holds the balance of power in the Senate.

Here’s what you need to do:

BEFORE YOU VOTE: Make a list of at least six parties you would support being in the Senate  

Unfortunately there’s not a lot of indepth scrutinised information around covering the policies and pedigree of Minor parties/Independents standing in the Senate. The media focuses almost exclusively on the two major parties with a smidgen of Greens, Tony Windsor, Jacqui Lambie and Nick Xehophon thrown in. I’m going to do a Quick Guide to Minor Parties in the next few days – but that will just be my perspective on it, so you’re going to want to take at least a quick look yourself. Here’s some tips:

DOs:

  • DO look at Antony Green’s ABC’s election guide for the Senate it’s a great place to start as it lists the parties/candidates for the Senate in each State – and shows each Party’s “How to vote” recommendations.
  • Check out the Weasels’ incomplete guide – as it gives a good run down.
  • DO google each of the parties you’re interested in and take a good look at what their platform is and how they are likely to vote across a range of issues. If they don’t have a website, they’re probably not worth voting for.
  • DO check out Getup as it also has some interesting comparative information about some of the policies for a few of the smaller parties in a table which you may find interesting.

DON’Ts: 

  • DON’T just pick a minor party based on their name – they aren’t always what they appear to be. For example, the Sustainable Australia party sounds like it would be primarily focused on environmental issues when it’s main platform is actually about ‘lower immigration’.
  • DON’T just follow the ‘How To Vote’ cards in the Senate for your preferred party – I’m not sure what’s happened here – the parties must have done some strange preference deals. For example, some of the ALP ‘How to Vote’ State Senate cards preference the Katter party and the Lib Dems – who are clearly conservative parties that are also preferenced by the LNP.
  • DON’T pick single issue parties without looking at their broader platform – Senators have to vote on ALL Bills that come before them, not just those relating to one issue. There are some great ‘single issue’ parties out there – like the Arts Party or the Voluntary Euthanasia party – but make sure you know where they stand on broader issues like health, education, the economy and immigration before throwing your vote behind them.

WHEN YOU VOTE: Take your list with you and vote for AT LEAST six parties above the line or 12 candidates below the line

DO:

  • DO use your list to vote for at least six parties of your choice above the line or 12 candidates below the line -it doesn’t matter whether you vote above or below the line, but ideally don’t do both. You can technically do both and still have your vote count – but you REALLY need to know what you’re doing to try this.
  • DO vote ONLY for parties that you support –  voting in the Senate is not like voting in the House of Reps where you put the party you like least last. In the Senate you should ONLY put a number next to parties and candidates that you DO support.

DON’Ts:

  • DON’T just vote ‘1’ – if you do, you are wasting your vote – even if you have a preferred party you vote for (like the ALP), you should still come up with a list of five or six minor parties/independents you would support after the ALP. Your vote will always count towards your first preference party until it no longer can – and will only be allocated to your second preference party once the last candidate in your preferred party is no longer in contention.  For example, if you vote 1 above the line for the ALP, your vote will continue to be allocated to the list of ALP Senate candidates in contention for your state until all ALP Senate candidates have either been elected as Senators or eliminated (because they had the lowest number of votes).
  • DON’T put parties you don’t support last – this is a catchphrase for the House of Reps – to ‘put the LNP last’. The ONLY time you should do this in the Senate is if you number ALL the boxes (either above or the below the line). Otherwise, you should just not vote for parties you don’t support at all. Whatever you do, don’t put a ‘6’ next to the LNP because you are only voting for 6 parties and want to put them last. This is actually a vote FOR the LNP and not against them.

 

And finally

As usual, the pollies have made this election all about themselves. But don’t let them steal the show.

Democracy is about us – the average Aussie voter – and not the politicians. Democracy is about us making an informed decision about the future of our country and having a real input into Australia’s future direction. If you follow the guidelines I’ve outlined above, you can make the most out of your vote. So as a progressive voter in the upcoming election, take the time to make your vote count. Your informed vote in the Senate could make a real difference to what happens in the next three years. So don’t pull a #Brexit and end up with “voter’s ‘Bregret'” next week – take the time to make an informed decision this week.

(One final note regarding my example above – please feel free to check my interpretation of the rules and my calculations. I don’t work for the AEC and as an independent writer don’t have the luxury of a sub-editor to check my work – so if I’ve made any mathematical errors, please post a comment and I will happily rectify them!)

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation

What if our politicians had to tell the truth? (#ItsTime)

Imagine a world where our politicians suffered real consequences when they mislead the public with a lie. A world where politicians had to work together like civil adults – instead of tearing each other apart like badly behaved toddlers. In other words – imagine a world where politicians had to live by the same standards that we do.

For too long we’ve accepted politicians’ lies and childlike behaviour as normal. For too long we’ve accepted that our politicians are untouchable – protected by law and power from having to change.

“That’s what elections are for” our politicians argue.

The problem with that argument is that the issue is systemic. The way our pollies behave is built into the laws, conventions and traditions that govern them – many of which have been in place for hundreds of years. This is why changing ‘who’ is in parliament at election time seems to have very little impact on ‘what’ politicians the world over do – leaving us feeling frustrated, helpless and disillusioned about those we choose to govern us.

Well I’ve got some good news. It turns out – for those of us in functioning democracies at least – we’re not as powerless as we’ve been led to believe. The tide has turned a little this century and we – the average punter – have much more power to make change happen, right from the comfort of our living rooms.

Here’s why we need to. And more importantly – how…..

As a species, we’ve made huge leaps forward in the last 150 years…

If you think back over the last 150 years – mankind has progressed on so many fronts. We’ve harnessed electricity to power our homes. We’ve gone to the moon. We’ve cured diseases that once wiped out hundreds of thousands. We’ve run the four minute mile. We’ve learned how to share knowledge and connect with each other through devices we carry around on our person. Our human rights record has even improved – albeit slowly.

But there’s one front where mankind has made little progress…

Despite all this progress on a physical and intellectual level, there’s one aspect of mankind that has hung doggedly onto the traditions of the past – and that’s our political culture, the way those who lead us, our politicians, behave.

Stop and think about it for two seconds. If there’s one thing we can pretty much all agree on, regardless of your political orientation or whether you have any interest in politics whatsoever – it’s that our politicians’ behaviour leaves a lot to be desired. All over the world you can easily find examples of politicians behaving, well like toddlers. Ok – worse than toddlers:

If they’re not fighting physically – our politicians are calling each other names, heckling each other and generally looking at how they can make anyone not from their own political faction look bad. Here’s comedian Shaun Micallef with some examples from last year in the Australian parliament:

And it’s not just the fighting – it’s the lies. Politicians can literally lie with impunity. Unlike the rest of us, they are specifically excluded from having to be truthful in their advertising. Nor are they subject to the same defamation laws the rest of us are. They can legally get up in parliament and say pretty much whatever they like without fear of fine, civil lawsuit or imprisonment. And because we’re so used to it now, most of us don’t even blink an eye.  In the words of one Australian Political Commentator:

“Pretty much everyone assumes that once they see a politicians lips move, that means you’re not necessarily going to hear the truth” (Niki Savva, Insiders, 2015)

It’s easy to shrug this off – many people do. Many people feel that they can do nothing about this, that their vote doesn’t count – that politicians are untouchable – so they just accept it.

But politicians are our leaders – the ones in charge. They are the people we elect to represent us, to determine the future of mankind on this planet. We should have people in charge of our countries who represent and are examples of the best of humanity – not the worst. 

And yet…

Our politicians are still living by rules from the Middle ages

Our Prime Minister speaks of innovation – it’s the new buzz word in politics. But our politicians are still living out political traditions from the Middle Ages – literally. In fact, according to Maurice Bond, OBE, FSA – who wrote the book on British parliamentary procedure:

“In general…there have been few changes in the basic rules of [parliamentary] debate since the days of Elizabeth I”

Elizabeth I reigned over Britain in the late 16th century. And yet the rules of British parliamentary debate – which have formed the basis of the rules used by many current democracies around the world (including Australia) – have not changed. The same is true in other areas of parliamentary behaviour.

Imagine if we behaved the way our politicians do…

To grasp exactly how absurd politicians’ behaviour is – how out of touch it is with current standards – let’s imagine what life would be like if companies today operated the way parliament does:

Imagine  you are a shareholder in a company of 100 employees who build widgets. Now imagine that rather than all 100 employees working together to build widgets, only 60 of them are actually involved in widget production.  We’ll call them ‘the Controllers’.

TMS-Statler&Waldorf-BalconyBoxThe job of the remaining 40 employees – who we will call ‘the Opposers’ –  is to sit around and heckle the Controllers and occasionally call press conferences to tell shareholders what a bad job the Controllers are doing running the company. 

In our imaginary world, when the Controllers and Opposers get together at company meetings, they do very little company business. Instead they shout at each other, call each other names and accuse each other of various atrocities.  

Keep going with this – and imagine that widget production is way down on expected targets and so are widget sales. (Hardly surprising – given that only 60% of staff are actually building widgets and that the remaining 40% of staff spend their time talking about how bad the company’s widgets are.)

However, rather than trying to fix the actual problem, the Controllers embark on an advertising campaign. They run an ad saying their widgets are half the price of any other widget on the market, and that there are serious health risks with their competitor’s widgets which will likely lead to the early death of anyone who purchases them. (Not true of course – in fact the company’s widgets are the most expensive on the market, and their competitors’ widgets are perfectly safe – but in our imaginary world, the company can behave like politicians, so truth in advertising is not a requirement.) 

Now imagine that you and the other shareholders are becoming concerned about the way things are going. You’ve heard the press releases from the Opposers saying the company’s widgets are really bad. You’ve seen the ads which you know are not true. You go to the Shareholder meeting hoping to get some answers, but every time anyone asks a question, the Controllers either don’t answer the question, tell you something which is demonstrably untrue or say it’s not their fault anyway – that it was the Opposers who did it. 

Finding it hard to imagine? 

That’s not surprising. Because if the rest of us behaved like our politicians do – we’d be fired, fined a lot of money and/or locked up in jail. And the widget company would go out of business pretty quickly. After all, who would buy something from a company whose own employees hold press conferences spelling out what a bad job they are doing? And what company would think it a good idea to pay 40% of its employees to heckle the remaining 60%.

In the real world, real people learn to compromise – to work with people they don’t always agree with. The good ones even recognise that working with people who have different opinions to themselves can be a strength as they provide a different perspective.

In the real world, if a company or an individual misrepresents themselves to the public for financial gain, or lies to their boss or shareholders – it’s called fraud – and they can be heavily fined, sued for their lies and sometimes even jailed.

We’re all pretty much agreed that the politicians that we – the people – employ to run our country are, on the whole, doing a pretty poor job of it. So what needs to change?

For a start – politicians need to start playing by the same rules that we do.

It’s time.  It’s time that our politicians stepped out of their medieval ivory towers and moved into the 21st century, and lived by the same rules that we do.

While many politicians like to act as though they are our rulers, in a democracy their job is to represent and serve us. Ministers swear an oath when they take office in Australia, promising to ‘serve the people‘. They are our servants. We hire them. We pay their salary. And once every few years we decide which servants still have a job.

It’s time we demand our servants – our politicians – change.  Let’s get them to start with two basic small steps:

Step One: Stop lying and stick to the facts

It’s time our politicians were required to work with facts rather than political spin. It’s time to eliminate the laws that allow politicians to lie to us or ‘misrepresent’ the truth. If a company lies in an advertisement, they can be prosecuted and fined by the ACCC. If you or I lie in an advertisement to sell a car, the person who bought the car could sue us. If a company director lies, they can go to jail.

ItsAfactMinister

Picture taken of random politicians by @FirstDogOnMoon from the Guardian

It’s time these same standards applied to politicians – not just in advertisements, but in any representations they make to us, particularly at election time. And if they don’t tell us the truth – then they should be prosecuted, fined and/or lose their jobs.

 

Along the same lines, we should remove laws that protect politicians from defamation – again, they should be bound by the same rules as the rest of us.

Step Two: Behave like adults (and not children)

Here’s three fairly simple steps that the rest of us all have to live by in our workplaces:

  • No heckling, fighting and name-calling:
    Politicians are hired to run the country, not to heckle each other and point-score. And every single person sitting in that parliament has been voted in by us, the people who pay those politicians’ salaries. When politicians disrespect each other they are disrespecting us – since we voted them in.
  • Learn to compromise and work together:
    It’s ridiculous that we pay people to heckle and that only the ‘majority’ get to ‘govern’.  Ok – it’s not quite that simple – but that is a big part of their job.  We pay all our politicians to govern us – they should work out how to come together and do the job we pay them to do. In the real world we all learn to work together. It’s time that ALL elected representatives in parliament get real input and a real say, and that parliament is a real place of debate and discussion – not just a place where laws that have already been decided upon behind the closed doors of cabinet meetings are rubber-stamped.
  • Live within our means Politicians keep telling us we have to do this. And yet their expense claims are beyond ridiculous.  They’re our servants, not our masters – and yet they live better than we do.  Enough’s enough.

The need has never been greater

Right now the world is facing problems which need global solutions – which need our leaders to work together. Problems like:

These are not problems that any one nation can solve on its own. These problems have to be solved at a global level – with global solutions. But how on earth are our leaders going to solve these problems, when they are still playing by rules that were created in the Middle Ages – back in a time when duels and wars were considered an honorable way to solve a dispute.

Today, the rest of us have mostly learned to solve our disputes with logic, with reason – it’s time our politicians did too. It’s time we demanded that our pollies live by the same rules we do.

It’s time. But how?

Democratic revolutions are fought and won with voices, not with guns  

It’s actually not that hard to make change happen. Oh sure – politicians will whinge and complain and push back – after all, they’re experts at that. But at the end of the day, they work for us. And if the majority of us want change, it will happen – not with fighting and guns, but by us all simply using our voices.

That’s the way it’s always happened.

Real change at a political level has pretty much always come from the people – not from our leaders. It’s come about when someone has an idea and shares it with others, who in turn share it with others. In the past – before democracy – those who wanted change often needed guns to make their ideas reality. But in a democratic society, ideas are our weapons and we take up arms when we voice our opinion, not just when we vote, but every day.

Women didn’t get the vote early last century because politicians came up with the idea and sold it to the people. They got the vote because citizens started talking about it, because they stood up and made their voices heard, because they talked about the issue until the tide of public opinion changed. Only then did a majority of politicians have to get on board.

Changes to racial discrimination laws weren’t initiated by politicians. They came about because civil rights activists started talking about the issues, started questioning whether the status quo was right. They stood up and made their voices heard and eventually a majority of politicians had to get on board.

It’s always been that way. Revolutions have always started with ideas. With real everyday people like you and me using their voices to share those ideas – and with those ideas catching on and gaining support.

That’s what democracy is all about – at least in theory – us all deciding which ideas we want to adopt.  That’s what makes a democracy different to any other form of government – it allows the free discussion and vote on ideas. It’s what makes us different to countries like China or North Korea – where access to ideas on the internet is tightly controlled. Why? Because their leaders recognise that ideas, that the voices of its people are the greatest threat to their continued rule of those countries. It’s the reason governments like Nauru shut down access to social media – to stop the spread of ideas, to stop people using their voices.

Those of us in functioning democracies have it easy today – we don’t even have to meet together physically to share our thoughts and ideas. With the internet and social media, each of us can share our ideas with hundreds, even thousands of others from the comfort of our living room. Today, thanks to technology, we the people have never been more powerful, because our voices have never been more able to be heard. 

Sit down for what you believe in

And so, my fellow democratic citizens – if you think it’s time our politicians moved out of the middle ages and started living by the same standards as the rest of us, all you need to do is spread this idea. Talk about it at the dinner table. Share this article. Or write your own. Start your own hash tag – or use #ItsTime.

As I’ve written before – Kevin Bacon was right. We are all only separated by six degrees of separation. If you were to talk to everyone you know about this, and they in turn talked to everyone they knew – it would really only take six layers of conversations for everyone to be on the same page. In no time, we could technically all agree that change needed to happen. Of course it’s never entirely that simple – it’s rare for everyone to agree. But in a democracy, everyone doesn’t have to agree – just the majority.

And once a majority of us agree, and keep saying it’s important to us, in the end our politicians will have to come on board – or a new mob of politicians who are on board with the idea will take their place. That’s how democracy works.

Our Pollies have lived in the middle ages for too long. Whether they like it or not – change is coming. There is a ground swell globally of people who are sick of politicians. Sick of being lied to. Sick of politicians creating greater inequality instead of greater equality. The answer isn’t voting in people like Donald Trump – who pretend that they are different from those currently in power. It’s in demanding higher standards of our pollies.

You can be a part of creating a positive model for us to move forward with – by just using your voice, by standing up – actually better still, sitting down – for what you believe in. To make it really clear that:

It’s time our politicians lived like us (#ItsTime)

This isn’t a silver bullet. It won’t magically fix our governments. But requiring our politicians to move into this century – to work in the realm of facts and not spin, to learn to work together – it has to be an improvement on their medieval practices of today.

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation

It’s Election Christmas!!!! Enjoy it while you can…

Election Christmas comes but once every three years. And this year, thanks to some naughty little Senate Elves who wouldn’t do what Santa Turnbull wanted, Election Christmas has come early!!

Hooray!!

For a brief – but extremely long – two month period, the fine Citizens of Australia no longer have to worry about the age of entitlement being over, or pulling in our belts so that we can live within our means….Because suddenly, there’s plenty of money to go around…

It’s boat building jobs for you!!!

Free dentist visits for you!!!

And if you live in a marginal seat, you might just get a whole new hospital wing or some new roads…But only if you vote the way Santa Turnbull wants you to of course. If you don’t, you’ll go onto the naughty list, have all your gifts taken away and be shut out in the cold with those naughty Senate Elves. (Just ask Santa’s Helper – Sophie Mirabella.)

To kick off the Election Christmas season, Santa Turnbull has created an Election Christmas Advent Calendar:

ElectionAdventCalendarOpen.jpg

Enjoy these gifts while you can. Don’t open them all at once. Because once  Election Christmas is over, Santa Turnbull may ask for some of the presents back, or send you a bill for them – with interest.

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.