Labor, as expected, has won with a projected 88 seats to the incumbent Coalition’s projected 60 in the House of Representatives. On first preference votes, Labor beat Liberal+National (the main components of the ‘Coalition’), 44.0% to 41.8%. The third largest party was Greens, on 7.6%. Of course, the Greens won no seats in the House, but thanks to the use of the alternative vote (i.e. single transferable vote in single-seat districts, or “instant runoff”), their voters’ second preferences may have helped Labor in some marginal seats1 Family First was the next largest party, with 1.9% of the first-preference vote (and no seats).
This is a swing of 22 seats out of 1502, and a very cool interactive map lets you see where these districts are. It is the lower house that determines the government, and thus Kevin Rudd of the Labor party will be Prime Minister, with a large majority in the House of Representatives.
But what is really interesting is the Senate. Australia’s Senate is one of the more powerful upper houses of any federal parliamentary system. It is elected by single transferable vote, with six seats at stake in each state (and 2 per territory). However, most voters tick an “above the line vote” that essentially converts it into a “transferable closed list” PR system. Votes above the line for party tickets that do not elect any candidates, as well as votes remaining for a ticket after it has elected candidates but does not have enough left over to elect another, get transferred in an order determined by the party.3
The use of STV and the posting of detailed results mean that the voters, and their elected representatives and senators, can learn just how the winning electoral coalitions were formed, for any who did not win on first-preference votes alone. The posted results show, in each stage of the count, how the votes were transferred from party to party to produce the final result. These transfers in each state’s senate election can determine the incentives of elected senators to follow their national party leadership or to deviate form the party line, as some senators may owe their election to transfers from voters for parties closer to the other main national bloc. (However, I am not sure how common that is in practice; I did not parse the preference transfers, except for the Greens, as noted below.) It is not clear–at least to me–whether Rudd’s government will be able to have effective control of the Senate. However, it is clear that the method of electing the Australian Senate is a potential model that should be looked at in the USA, as it combines state representation with much greater responsiveness to the federation-wide electorate than is the case with the US Senate.
Of the 40 seats at stake in the Senate, preliminary results posted by ABC suggest that Labor and the Liberal/National Coalition each won 18. The Greens won three,4 Family First none, and one “other” won a seat. The “other” is independent Nick Xenophon, who won the third of six seats in South Australia. He won the seat on a full quota. In the comments below, JoffrÃ© identifies Xenophon as a Labor ally on some issues, but also right-wing on others (which presumably explains why he ran as an independent).5
Of the 36 continuing seats, Labor holds 14 to the Liberal/National Coalition’s 19, Greens 2 and Family First 1. Add them up, and the Coalition still has a plurality, but not a majority: 37-32. The Greens five brings the broad progressive bloc to parity, with the continuing Family First senator and Xenophon having the swing votes. Now, that is an interesting result! I hope a reader can tell us whether this means the opposition will continue effective control of the upper house, or whether the new Labor government will be able to do so. (Of course, these results are preliminary, and even one seat swinging on final results could make a big difference!)
The Australian Senate is a good example of the ability of a federal chamber to combine at once the federalist principle of states’ representation with the democratic principle of responsiveness to the national electorate on whose behalf the federal legislature ultimately makes binding law. Like the US Senate, Australia’s represents the states equally (territories and the capital district have representation, but not at parity). Very much unlike the US Senate, national partisan vote swings are reasonably well reflected in the body. The difference, of course, is that the PR system means even the minority in every state is represented. Additionally, half the body, including seats in every state/territory, is elected at each election, instead of one seat in just around a third of the states at each election in the USA.
In other words, one need not return to the original Madisonian proposal for the US Senate (seats from each state in proportion to its population) in order to represent the national electorate within a federal context. A larger body with elections in all states by a non-plurality formula would preserve the equal representation of each state while making the body relatively more accountable to the federation for whom it makes laws.
We Americans could learn from our friends Down Under.
I will leave it to my Australian readers or others more knowledgeable about that country’s politics to inform us about the extent to which the Australian Senate really does inject state-specific interests into national policy making, as well as what the close result means for the ability of the incoming Labor government to work with the Senate.
Finally, thanks to Tom Round for his several informative comments to Friday’s planting ahead of the election result.
- See Braddon, Tasmania, for one example, where the two main party candidates were essentially tied in first-preference votes. Or Hasluck, in metro Perth, where the Liberal candidate had a lead on first-preference votes, but transfers from Greens and others put the Labor candidate over the top. [↩]
- So far, with a few still too close to call, only one seat, Cowan in Western Australia, is certain to have swung against the national tide. It did so by less than a percentage point, and in spite of the Labor candidate in this open seat having 42.7% and the Green 5.4%. The Liberal candidate’s 45.8% and the votes for several smaller parties of the right were enough to swing the seat. It looks like a district where a stronger Labor candidate to replace a retiring incumbent could have made a difference. [↩]
- Voters who do not want their vote transferred as determined by their first-choice party, or who want to change the order of their party’s ticket, may determine how their own vote will be transferred ‘simply’ by giving a numbered preference rank to each candidate on the ballot. [↩]
- These were elected in Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania. The Greens elected a Brown–Bob–in Tasmania with enough votes for a quota, the party having won 17% of the vote. In the other two states where a Green was elected, the party won the sixth and final seat, thanks to multiple rounds of preference transferring that one can trace in great detail from the results posted by ABC. In South Australia Sarah Hanson-Young headed the ticket, which won 6.4% of first preference votes. She was eventually elected thanks to transfers from What Women Want (0.4% initially), The Climate Change Coalition (0.3%), the Socialist Alliance (0.07%), as well as some independents and, ultimately, some Labor votes that were insufficient to elect a third candidate from that party. In Western Australia, the ultimate pattern of transfers was similar. There was a ticket called Conservatives for Climate and Environment, which started with 0.1% but picked up transfers from the Liberty and Democracy Party (also 0.1%). When LDC was eliminated, the CCE votes then went to the Climate Change Coalition, while the LDC went to Democratic Labor (just under 1% on the first count). When Climate Change votes needed to be transferred, both their votes and those of CCE went to the Australian Democrats (1% on first count). Must of the original Democrats vote total eventually went to the Greens, while those votes the Democrats picked up from CCE went further rightward once the Democrats were eliminated. Much further rightward: Family First. Those votes, as well as most of those that were originally with Climate Change ultimately wound up with the Christian Democrats, whose final votes gave them .71 of a quota at a point at which the Greens had .75. What put the Greens over the top was a half quota’s worth of votes from Labor on the last count. In other words, the Greens owe the final margin to Labor votes and not to voters who preferred right-leaning small parties that had some signal of concern for the environment in their party name. [↩]
- Previously, I mis-identified the “other” Senator; thanks to JoffrÃ© for noting my error. [↩]