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Party matters

Mar 20, 2013

Western Australian election wraps up

The Western Australian election is all decided, and neither Greens nor Liberals got any benefit from the other's preferences. But they probably didn't do them any harm either.

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The Western Australian election has now been fully resolved. The one upper house seat that was still in doubt went to the National Party, and recounts in two lower house seats failed (as expected) to change their results. (The official website still shows “count in progress” for the Legislative Council, but both Antony Green and the Poll Bludger have final results.)

That means the Liberals finish with 17 seats in the upper house (up one) to Labor’s eleven (unchanged), with the Nationals on five (unchanged), Greens two (down two) and Shooters one (up one). That’s a more proportional result than in the lower house, but it’s still a travesty that the Greens, with more than half as many votes again as the Nationals, won only 40% as many seats.

So although the Nationals lost the balance of power in the Legislative Assembly, they’ve retained it in the Council. Not surprisingly, they will stay in the ministry, but their influence may now be felt a bit less.

Those who read my story before polling day on the Liberal-Greens preference exchange might be wondering whether it had any effect on the results. The answer seems to be no. The Liberals fell short in the two seats where they received Greens preferences, North West Central and Warren-Blackwood, although in the latter only by 3.1%.

More significantly, preferences didn’t really flow as directed. In North West Central the Greens only had 5% of the vote, and more than half of it went to the Nationals. It’s a huge outback seat, so presumably Greens how-to-vote coverage wasn’t very good.

In Warren-Blackwood the Greens had 16.3% and the ALP was eliminated before them, so it’s impossible to say just how tightly either of their preferences flowed (the WA electoral commission doesn’t publish preference flows). But of their combined total of 7,493 votes (including a few from independents and Family First), only 3,449 ended up with the Liberals and 4,027 with the Nationals, even though both were directed to the Liberals.

Labor’s votes seemed to be leaking more – 970 of them went straight to the Nationals without even going to the Greens first. Even so, it seems unlikely that much more than half of Greens voters did what they were told and preferenced the Liberals. (Perhaps some scrutineers out there can give us better figures.)

It looks as if the instinct of both Labor and Greens voters is to treat the Liberals as the main enemy, regardless of what the how-to-vote card says.

In the Legislative Council, preferences go where they’re directed because most people vote above the line (strictly speaking to the left of the line, since ballot papers are oriented differently to federal ones). But Liberal preferences still don’t seem to have helped the Greens. One of the two seats they held, in Mining and Pastoral, was in one of the two regions where the Liberals preferenced against them; it made no difference.

The other Green to get back was Lynn MacLaren in South Metropolitan: she had Liberal preferences as against the ALP, but in the end she was fighting against the Christian Party candidate, who of course got Liberal preferences first (but still lost due to ALP preferences).

So the deal didn’t help either side, but it doesn’t seem to have hurt them either; it’s not as if they had any better options. The Greens may of course associate dealing with the Liberals with the fact that their overall vote declined, but I don’t see any evidence for that (the decline is consistent with polling in other states, where no such factor is at work).

And while it might seem parochial, I don’t think this is just a Western Australian or just an Australian story. The question of co-operation between Greens and centre-right parties is topical in many countries; no-one expects it to become the norm, but it’s a big potential benefit to both if they can at least maintain it as a live option.

 

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