(Not) Free to Choose

A story on ABC radio this morning (can’t find it online, sorry), reported that the NSW Libs and Nats have decided that they’re firmly set against any three-cornered contests – even for open seats, apparently.

What happened to that ol’ belief in competition that conservatives are supposed to be famed for? Can we get an explanation as to why these supposed free-marketeers now reject the view that the consumer (voter) knows best?

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16 Responses to (Not) Free to Choose

  1. Sacha Blumen says:

    For the very practical (and non-idealistic) reason that there isn’t a 100% rate of preferences flowing from National to Liberal or vice versa. The worst thing (from their point of view) is that some preferences exhaust, allowing the ALP to win on fewer votes than otherwise!

    Good examples of the ALP winning in cases where a lot of preferences exhaust are Harry Woods winning Casino in the 2001 state NSW election, and Steve Rodgers winning Burdekin in the 2001 Qld state election.

  2. Guy says:

    Politics is a Macchiavellian game. Ideals tend to drift into obscurity somewhat when there is power on the table for grabs.

    A bit of a sad reality perhaps.

  3. Sacha Blumen says:

    In practise, the ALP has a greater chance of winning otherwise-coalition seats where optional preferential voting is used. However, this can backfire if small centre left/left parties appear and siphon votes away from the ALP.

    Of course, if the Libs and Nats run in the same seat, they’d probably each receive a fair amount of the vote (at least 5-10% each, at a guess), so there’s a systemic benefit to the ALP under optional preferential voting unless the Libs and Nats don’t stand against each other.

    Personally, I’m in favour of optional preferential voting as it allows the voter to vote as they wish, without having the possibility of their vote going to a candidate they don’t want it to! A much better system than compulsory preferential voting.

  4. Sacha Blumen says:

    Sorry, in my previous comment I assumed that the very few Libs would preference the Nats over the ALP and vice versa in a compulsory preferential system.

    I’m not certain if that’s always true – certainly in Qld in the 1989 state election (with compulsory preferential voting), about 20% of Lib voters preferenced the ALP over the Nats.

  5. Andrew Leigh says:

    Sacha, your first comment seems pertinent, but this would suggest that the Libs and Nats only ban 3-cornered contests in tight marginals. It looks to me as though they ban it in plenty of safe seats too.

    I think your second comment is probably not an issue. To see this, suppose there are two groups of people. Group A’s underlying preference structure is 1.Libs, 2.ALP, 3.Nats. Group B’s underlying preference structure is 1.Nats, 2.ALP, 3.Libs. If you ban 3-cornered contests, you’ll lose either group A or group B voters to the ALP. The only way to get both to vote Coalition first preference is to allow 3-cornered contests.

  6. Sacha Blumen says:

    Thanks Andrew, I lived in Qld until moving down to Sydney 5 years ago, and so I’m influenced by what I remember happening up there. I seem to recall (and I think that a version of it is still happening up in Qld) that the Libs and Nats kept on fighting over which seats each party would contest, especially as the common wisdom was that the urban and SEQ population was increasing much more than the rural population, and the urban and SEQ population is much more likely to vote Liberal than National given the choice.

    And so the fight is related to the Qld Libs thinking that they are the long-term natural coalition partner in Qld. This may be end up being true, but it would probably require the Libs winning quite a number of urban seats in SEQ – especially in Brisbane.

    In NSW there’s no such pressure – as the Libs are almost certain to remain the senior partner in the coalition given the spread of population around the state. I remember reading once that in one of the Neville Wran-slide NSW elections, the Libs and Nats each won 14 seats – I’m not sure if that’s true, but if it is, it’s probably the closest the NSW Nats have come to being the senior coalition partner in state politics.

  7. Sacha Blumen says:

    Sorry, I should have added a little bit. Perhaps, if they divy up the seats amongst themselves, there are no niggling annoyances between the Libs and Nats. Personally, I’d like to see competition in the political sphere – then we have a choice of whom to vote for!

  8. Sacha Blumen says:

    Sorry, I seem to have 2001 on the brain. I meant the 1999 NSW state election, not the 2001 NSW state election – there wasn’t one in 2001!

  9. “What happened to that ol’ belief in competition that conservatives are supposed to be famed for?”

    A few leaders bound by Cabinet solidarity aside, the Nats have never been in favour of competition, and it is a pretty recent idea in the Liberal Party too. It has been the party of private enterprise, not the party of free markets (alas). The ALP’s record here is as good, if not better, than the Liberal record.

  10. Benno says:

    Conservatives are hypocrites and opportunists. Racists are another group famed for allegedly being pro racial competition, but whenever they have the opportunity to prove in the laize faire marketplace that they are superior to people of other races that’s when they pike out and want to introduce restricted immigration. Arguably people who don’t pike out aren’t racists, but thats another story.

  11. Parties skew an already skewed representative system largely by removing choice. We now have a “haha throw your vote away” and “vote for kodos” situation. The question needs to be asked, is a single transferrable voting system of benefit in single member districts?

    SVT in single member districts seems to enforce a two party duopoly. It may be better, and more pluralistic in single member districts to have first past the post (FPTP).

    I think FPTP in single member districts, combined with the Robson Rotation and no by-elections (the Tasmanian innovation being the next popular candidate from the previous election gets the vacated seat) would make the single member districts more competitive.

    Unfortunately, other than Steele Hall in South Australia, every electoral change has been an unscrupulous attempt to entrench the majority of the existing party in power.

    I dont see any altruistic electoral change occurring.

  12. Sacha Blumen says:

    Cameron, I have to disagree with your statement about Steele Hall. If you look at the literature and the SA Hansards when Steele Hall was Premier of SA, you’d see that he tried to introduce a zonal electoral system not unlike that then existing in Qld (from memory I think that Hall’s proposal was a 3 zone system – metro, regional cities, and rural – but I’m not 100% on that) which would have been beneficial to the Liberals (which were strongly a non-metro party – the ALP was very much metro).

    You can see in the Hansard that that proposal was only defeated because it needed an absolute majority of the House of Assembly to vote for it, and the numbers were: ALP = Libs, and there was 1 conservative Independent (I think his name was Stott ?). (Sorry, I don’t remember the exact number of members of the house of assembly back in the late 60’s/early 70’s.) The ALP leader (probably Don Dunstan) ensured that 2 ALP members abstained, so the Bill was carried by a vote of all the liberal members, which did not constitute an absolute majority – so it didn’t meet the constitutional requirements and this zonal system wasn’t introduced.

    A factor in this may have been that the ALP had started to win ostensibly “rural” seats, due to urban growth beyond the “metro” boundaries (in the Barossa valley?).

    I’m not sure how abolished the SA zonal system, but I’d be surprised if it was Steele Hall. I’ll just do a search and find out.

  13. Sacha Blumen says:

    Ah ha! After doing a quick search, I have to apologise to Mr. Hall – while what I wrote above is true, it appears he then must have introduced legislation to remove the then existing zonal system. Oh – the vagaries of having read about this 10 or so years ago!

  14. Benno says:

    Of course Cameron Condorcet voting would solve all of your problems.

  15. Sacha, Yeh, it seems Steele Hall did it even though he knew it would cost him his government. Only instance of electoral altruism I know in Australian political history. Be interested to know if there were any others. But all the ones I know of were to entrench the existing majority, which more often than not backfired. Our SVT system essentially comes from the major parties trying to protect their governments.

  16. Sacha Blumen says:

    Maybe another example of political altruism is Steve Bracks legislating to introducing limited PR in the Victorian upper house. But I would argue that this was partially done to prevent the Coalition holding a majority in the upper house as it had done for many many many years (with the famous exception in 1985), and so it wasn’t just altruism.

    I think I remember reading that in the late 1960s in SA, two-thirds of the population lived in Adelaide but only returned one-third of the members of the House of Assembly – is that a 1:4 disparity in enrolments?

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