Labor’s two-party vote from Essential Research has a five in front of it for the first time since January, dropping two points to 58-42. The report also finds Kevin Rudd’s position on asylum seekers is favoured over Malcolm Turnbull’s by 45 per cent to 33 per cent; the Labor Party is thought better to handle immigration and border security by 46 per cent against 34 per cent; the government’s handling of climate change has 45 per cent approval and 30 per cent disapproval; “total concern” about employment prospects has risen 5 per cent since February; and approval of the government’s handling of the global financial crisis has steadily decreased from 63 per cent to 56 per cent since October. Most interestingly, 41 per cent believe the government would be justified in calling an early election if its “financial measures and other legislation” were “opposed” by the opposition, up from 38 per cent in February.
• Submissions on the federal redistribution of Queensland have been published. Featured are minutely detailed proposals from the major parties. Interestingly, both Labor and the LNP want new electorates straddling the Warrego Highway between Ipswich and Toowoomba. However, the LNP’s proposed seat of Killen (in honour of Gorton-to-Fraser minister Jim) extends northwards from here, while Labor’s proposed Theodore (in honour of Depression-era Treasurer and party legend “Red Ted”) ambitiously sweeps around Boonah and Beaudesert to the Gold Coast hinterland. The LNP submission interestingly calls for Leichhardt to be drawn into Cairns and its Cape York balance to be transferred to Bob Katter’s electorate of Kennedy. Veteran observer Adam Carr says: “I don’t know why the parties bother with these submissions. They commissioners never take the least bit of notice, in fact they seem to go out of their way not to do what either of the parties want them to do.”
• If you feel like making a suggestion for the New South Wales federal redistribution, submissions are being received until May 1.
• The Liberals are complaining about the high number of people who are incorrectly enrolled, as revealed in the Australian Electoral Commission’s answer to a parliamentary question. The average error rate was 3.5 per cent, mostly involving failures to update enrolment following changes of address. Liberal Senator Michael Ronaldson creatively notes this is “greater than the margin by which 33 seats were decided at the last federal election”. His line of logic has failed to impress Bernard Keane at Crikey.
• Dig Possum’s booth result maps.
• I recently had occasion to discuss Malcolm Mackerras’s concerns with New Zealand mixed-member proportional system, in which I noted its similarities and subtle differences with Germany’s election system. In doing so I erroneously stated that mid-term vacancies in German electorates are filled not through by-elections as in New Zealand, but by “unelected candidates from the party’s national lists”. In fact, the lists are not national, as Mackerras writes to explain:
My recent article in Crikey on the forthcoming by-election for Mount Albert in New Zealand seems to have created a minor confusion. Trying to limit my number of words I allowed you to write this précis in your Poll Bludger blog: “New Zealand’s Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system is modelled on Germany’s, but departs from it in that vacated constituency seats are filled by unelected candidates from the party’s national lists – which New Zealand was obviously loath to do as it would randomly match members to electorates with which they have had no connection.” That is not quite right so I had best elaborate. Germany is a federation whereas New Zealand is a unitary state. In Germany there are no national party lists – there are Land party lists. A German Land is what we Anglos would call a state or province. Consequently if, for example, a constituency member for a Munich seat were to depart he/she would be replaced by the next unelected candidate of his/her party on the Bavarian list. Since New Zealand is more like a German Land than Germany as a whole I contend that any logical New Zealand MMP system would allow Labour’s Damien Peter O’Connor automatically to become the member for Mount Albert, rather than put the Labour Party to the cost of a by-election it might lose. O’Connor was, for several years, the member for West Coast-Tasman until he was defeated by the National Party’s candidate at the November 2008 general election. Since constituency members switching from the North Island to the South Island (and vice versa) is so common in New Zealand I can see no reason why O’Connor should not automatically become the next member for Mount Albert.
So, how did the present situation arise? It all goes back to the Royal Commission Report in December 1986. Because of my interest in these matters I took sabbatical leave in New Zealand for that semester so I could be there when the Report was published. I was shocked by it. The feature which most shocked me was the number of howlers I found in the Royal Commission’s Report. Among them was this recommendation on page 44: “Vacancies caused by the resignation or death of a sitting constituency member would be filled by a by-election as under the present system. List members would be replaced by the next available person on the relevant party list.” No further elaboration. No discussion as to why New Zealand should copy Germany in so many other ways but not in this way.
So I set about to find out how the Royal Commission could have written that howler, along with the others. The explanation I came up with (which I am convinced is correct) is that when Royal Commission members visited Germany they never thought to ask the German experts as to how Germany actually fills its vacancies. Meanwhile the German hosts did not think to inform their New Zealand visitors about this feature of German law. Both sides assumed their position to be self-evident. The difference is that the Germans actually understood their system. The New Zealanders never did – so the Royal Commission recommended to the people of New Zealand that they should vote for a system which the Royal Commission did not understand. That 54 per cent of New Zealanders actually voted for this ratbag scheme is easily explained. The issue of electoral reform was overshadowed by unpopular economic reform. The Business Roundtable was far too influential in economic policy making under both Labour and National governments. When the Business Roundtable asked the people of New Zealand not to vote for MMP the popular reaction was to say: “If they say vote against it that is the best argument to vote for it.”
Meanwhile John Key, now Prime Minister, promised during the election campaign that there would be another referendum on MMP. No details were given. So I took the liberty of seeking an interview with him to press my proposal which is that there should be two referendums. The first would accompany the next general election and be indicative only – the kind of legally non-binding vote which we in Australia would call a plebiscite. At that referendum, to be held in conjunction with the November 2011 general election, the people would be offered the choice of two alternative systems. The winner of that would then run off against MMP at a referendum to be held in conjunction with the November 2014 general election and that, of course, would be legally binding.
The two alternative systems would be the Single Transferable Vote (STV), what we in Australia call Hare-Clark. That is the one for which I would vote if I were a New Zealander – or a British Columbian for that matter. The other choice would be the Mixed Member Majoritarian (MMM) system, known in New Zealand for many years as Supplementary Member. That is quite simple to explain. The basic structure of MMP would stay. Every elector would get two votes, one for a constituency candidate, one for a party. The party list seats would be distributed proportionally between the parties. Under such a system by-elections would be quite logical because that would be a mixed system, not one of proportional representation. I have no idea which of STV or MMM would win in 2011. I am in no doubt, however, that the winning system of 2011 would easily defeat MMP in 2014.