March 24, 2015

Horse 1863 - The Liberal Party Thinks You Can Just...

Firstly an "instructional" video.

This I can only assume is the Liberal Party of NSW's method of showing complete and utter contempt for the operation of democracy and the decent and respectable people of New South Wales¹.
I argue that the name of the video is wrong. It shouldn't be "How to Vote on 28 March 2015" because that's legally a lie. It should read "How we Think You Should Mark Your Ballot Paper on 28 March 2015". The video on YouTube then helpfully, denies any conversation about the subject with the delightful tag that "Comments are disabled for this video".

Why does this stick in my craw so? Why am I so riled up and wound up tighter than a spinning top which is ready to go? Why? Because I think that this video is inviting the decent and respectable people of New South Wales to throw their preferences down the toilet. It even condescendingly tells the decent and respectable people of New South Wales that they "can just vote one", in the same way that you might tell your enemy that they "can just naff off".

The reason why we have preferential voting in Australia is almost a century old and even involves the to ancestors of what would become both sides of the coalition in Australia, and formally the Liberal-National Party in Queensland. Preferential voting was originally introduced for mechanical reasons; which I shall now expand upon.

In the 1918 Swan by-election which took place under the first-past the post method (that is, the candidate with the most votes won), Edwin Corboy won the seat despite having more than 65% of the electorate vote against him. The votes fell as follows:

6540 - Edwin Corboy (Labour Party)
5975 - Basil Murray (Farmers and Settlers Party - which would become the Country Party and finally the National Party)
5635 - William Hedges (Nationalist - which was succeeded by the United Australia Party and then the Liberal Party)
884 - William Watson (Indpendent)

As the Farmers and Settlers Party candidate and the Nationalist candidate were both centre-right candidates, they effectively took votes off each other, which meant that the Labour candidate won. Had this happened in 2015, it would be akin to if a Liberal and National candidate had taken votes off each other and a Labour candidate won.

As the  United States Declaration of Independence says, "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed". How can you possibly have the consent of the governed when only 34% of the electorate voted for the winning candidate?
Clearly, when you have almost two-thirds of the electorate who are of a broadly different political hue to their eventual elected representative, then it makes a mockery of democracy itself.

Just on that idea, the phrase "the consent of the governed" implies that power flows upwards rather than downwards. Members of Parliament should remember that they are there to represent their constituents; this is made all the more obvious in some houses of debate where even the title of the chamber is the House Of Representatives.
This being true, then that consent should in theory be derived from at least half the population. In a full preferential voting system, they majority of votes is 50% + 1 of all votes counted; the important thing there though is that at some point, in order to achieve that 50% + 1 of the votes, consent has had to be given, even if that is through preferences. In optional preferential voting, if one's preferred candidate is eliminated and some has "just vote 1" on the ballot paper, then those votes are discarded and do not count for preferences. This campaign has in effect, actively told candidates and encouraged them to surrender a degree of their democratic right of speech through the ballot box for no other reason than it suits their political ends.

I think that any campaign which erodes democracy, should be stomped into the ground. This campaign should be seen for what it is, an attempt to disenfranchise people through legal operation. Just because something is legal does not make it right or just and the fact that in Queensland where there were signs reminding people to take back their vote and the Liberal Party kicked up a stink about this, is insidious.

The other important thing that preferential voting does is give signals to those in power. Currently there is no "none of the above" option for the electorate to voice their displeasure at the candidates. In an age where we have a political class who are increasingly disconnected with their electorate, and where cynicism of the political process and indeed politics itself is shown by the electorate, the ability to send messages via the ballot box is very important.

What do you do if you don't lime the candidates or the major parties? Under a first past the post system, you could vote for a minor party, or for someone on the fringes, or even a lunatic candidate but after the votes are counted, your vote may as well been flung down the toilet for all the good it did. In a preferential system, you can mark your ballot paper in favour of all the wingnuts and dropkicks you like, safe in the knowledge that your eventual preference for the major party candidate will be counted.
Now I know that opponents of preferential voting will argue that it gives people several bites of the cherry but it's only in a very few electorates and political races where independents are elected; most of those are either ex-members of major parties or local community activists who've spent years fighting for their community. Duverger's Law suggests that in single member constituency political systems, that in the long run, the system will tend to favour a two party system. This took about 10 years to establish itself in Australia and since 1918, preferential voting system in Australia has proven to be perfectly sensible and reasonable.
Preferential voting performs one last highly important function. In the marketplace of political ideas, the electorate really only gets to voice its opinion once every few years. Because preferential voting allows the electorate  to mark preferences for parties who are outside the normal domain of politics, these preferences can and should act as signals to the major parties. Signalling is important in things like complex markets for derivatives, other goods and services and labour markets, and so to actively campaign against these signals being expressed through the ballot box, I think shows contempt for the electorate itself.

Actually this campaign has changed my voting preferences quite markedly for this upcoming election. In telling me to "just vote 1" on the ballot paper, the Liberal Party has ensured that I'm going to put them last on the ballot paper. I'm putting them last because they've shown that that is where they put me, and I'm going to use my vote to express my displeasure.

¹ In the words of Francis De Groot -

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope you die in a hole.