9 October 2004

Don't head for New Zealand Just yet

The state of the parties in the House of Representatives is unchanged at 22:35, although doubtful seats will give the prime minister an increased majority.

  • Liberal 40.7% +3.2 75 seats
  • National 6.0% +0.4 12 seats
  • Labor 37.9% +0.0 58 60 seats
  • Greens 7.0% +2.1 0 seats
  • Democrats 1.1% -4.3 0 seats
  • One Nation 1.2% -3.1 0 seats
  • Others 6.1% +1.7 3 seats

The Senate looks scary. Victoria may elect a Family First senator and give the government control of the Senate for the first time since 1980.

The Liberal/National Coalition will control the House and form the government for the next three years. I'll think about this and scribble more over the next few days. Hindsight is useless, except there will be another election in 3 years time. I think Labor can win that election easily. Every issue from the economy to national security favours the government right now, but it's all built on the housing bubble, the special relationship with George Bush, the interest rates of mass destruction, and Labor's inability to get back the 2001 Tampa voters. Those issues will not be there in 3 years time. neither will the Man of Steel and Iron Mark will be a seasoned leader facing the happy alternatives of Abbot or Costello. Labor also needs to think hard about seats like Greenway and the advent of an organised religious right in Australia. Those votes wiill not come to Labor no matter how many principles are compromised.

The media has been spectacularly complaisant, but I think that can be changed over the next three years. If Family First wins the sixth Senate seat in Victoria an avalanche of legislation will scream through the Senate, That will make the choices much clearer next time around. The Man of Steel must be praying that interest rates, which respond to the global economy more than domestic policy, do not rise in the next three years.

Raining down policies once the election is declared does not work. You have to do what Whitlam did and run a permanent campaign. A year ago Labor was facing the loss of 25 seats. Holding seats in an essentially unchanged parliament is fairly spectacular achievement.

Bloggers need to get a lot more active and build a closer relationship with the parties of progress. After the Democrat implosion that means Labor and the Greens. We especially need to start riding the media in the way the US blogosphere does. More when I'm less depressed and when the Senate result is clearer.

8 October 2004

unspinning group voting tickets

The strange allocation of preferences in the Senate, where Howard has associated himself with a fundamentalist confessional party (and perhaps legislated to gain their support) could be cured easily. The NSW 1999 election was also skewed by an outbreak of microparties with unlikely names and platforms who exchanged preferences in a fairly promiscuous manner.

Antony Green's New South Wales Legislative Council Elections 2003 (PDF) tells us:
While the new voting system retained the 'above the line' or group voting option, groups had to nominate full lists of 15 or more candidates to have access to a group voting square. Votes cast using the group voting method only counted as preferences for the selected party, and could not be directed to other parties. Like-minded parties running against each other would therefore split their base vote. Previously, like-minded parties had been able to compete for votes against each other, sure of their ability to swap preferences. At recent elections, several parties have used this tactic to elect MLCs despite receiving quite small totals on the primary count.

A new form of 'above the line' voting was also introduced, allowing voters to order parties above the line, in an analogy with the way candidates can be ordered 'below the line'. Data on ballot papers is not yet available, but from the details provided in the distribution of preferences, it appears that less than ten percent of voters took advantage of this new option.

A consequence of the changes was that only 15 groups nominated in 2003 compared to 80 at the last election. However, every group nominated 15 or more candidate, compared to just three groups in 1999. So while the number of groups fell, producing a much more manageable ballot paper, the number of candidates rose from 264 to 284.


Two findings are clear from the detailed distribution of preferences in Section 1.

(1) Preferences played no part in the final outcome. Under the previous operation of group ticket voting, preferences flowed strongly between groups on the ballot paper, as more than 90% of votes had been cast using the group voting option. Under the new system, 80-90% of preferences exhausted between groups. The number of members elected from each group at the 2003 election was determined entirely by the level of primary vote support for each group and was unaffected by the distribution of between group preferences.

(2) Parties that divided their core support were disadvantaged by the new system. The Shooters Party, Independent Pauline Hanson, One Nation, the Fishing/Horse Riders/4WD ticket, and Australians Against Further Immigration, probably share a similar support base. Together they polled 1.63 quotas. Under the old electoral system, this support could have been accumulated using ticket voting, giving an outside chance of electing two MLCs between the groups. Under the new system, these parties split their vote, no preferences flowed and John Tingle from the Shooters Party was elected with less than half a quota, edging out Pauline Hanson for the final vacancy.

The way to resolve this is to abolish group voting tickets and applyRobson rotation:

Of special interest is a feature of the Tasmanian electoral system whereby through a process of rotation each candidate gets a share of the position at the top of a particular column. This system has been in use since 1979. This is an attempt to even out the donkey vote (simply voting up or down the ballot) which is said to favour surnames early in the alphabet, or candidates early in the list. This system of rotation was championed by Hon. Neil Robson MHA, and is often known as 'Robson rotation'

Under the current electoral process a draw is made for the position of Party or independent groups across the ballot paper. Other candidates are classed as 'ungrouped' on the far right of the ballot paper. Next the rotation process is applied. Since 1996 this has been achieved by batch printing which first places candidates in a random sequence in each vertical column, then 'rotates' the names evenly in the positions available.

On polling day only first preference counting occurs; after postal votes arrive the cut-up of preferences commences. Candidates who achieve or exceed a quota of first preferences are declared elected.

Family First have proved the flaw in group voting tickets - people's votes are going to parties and candidates they have no intention of voting for. We know they have no intention of voting for them because no-one, but no-one, ever knows the registered orders of preference in any detail. The NSW solution is not bad, but its discriminatory between GVT voters and individual voters. Pure Robson rotation, on other hand, skews things to strongly against GVT voters.

What we really want is a system that's neutral between Robsonian individualism and GVT colllectivism. If I had my druthers, and there is absolutely no prospect of that happening, I'd:

  • get rid of the line altogether;
  • list all candidates and tickets in the same area of the ballot paper and apply Robson rotation across the board;
  • allow voters to give as many or as few preferences as they wish.

Boring technical points
There would need to be rules that :

  • because each candidate would appear individually and on each ticket, a candidate could only receive the highest preference shown for them on each ballot.
  • a ticket preference would count as the next available preference for each ticket candidate and then revert to the voter's individual order
  • ideally the same rules would apply to House and Senate elections with the quota calculated as V/S+1 (rounded up) where V= the number of voters and S=the number of seats to be filled.
  • ideally we will one day elect our president this way.

disco lights of mass destruction

The disco terrors
A Romanian village was left deserted when its inhabitants fled in panic, mistaking disco lights in a nearby town for an alien invasion.

Villagers in Cristinesti, eastern Romania, thought they were under attack by aliens when they saw multicoloured lights in the sky.

Police called to investigate discovered the lights were coming from an open-air disco, Adevarul reports.

At least they didn't invade New Mexico.

counting the polls, I mean the votes

I have no idea who will win this election. I find it hard to believe the Man of Steel commands the highest Liberal primary vote since Menzies. Blogic seems to demand that you're a feeble blogger if you don't 'call' the election, but the act is meaningless. Are you saying 'I want X to win' or 'I think X will win' or 'This is only a guess but if I get it right I just might improve my hit rate'? Both here and in the US the polls are contradicting each other, although in Australia they seem to show a clear trend towards the Coalition.

The opiate of the electorate
Opinion polls are the narcotic of choice for the politically active part of the US electorate. Like all narcotics, polls have their uses: they sometimes allow us to function better as political practitioners or even as dreamers, and don't forget that fabulous rush of exhilaration when our candidate shows dramatic gains. But polls are an addiction that also distort our political feelings and actions even as they trivialize political campaigns - and they allow our political and media suppliers to manipulate us ruthlessly. The negatives, as pollsters might say, outweigh the positives.

But let's start with the good things, the stuff that makes people monitor polls in the first place, relying on them to determine their moods, their attitudes and their activities. The centerpiece of all that's good in the polls lies in the volatility of public opinion, a trait that polls certainly discovered. The scientific consensus before World War II had it that political attitudes were bedrock, unchanging values.


The emotional roller-coaster that results from misleading fluctuations in poll results, managed by manipulative media outlets, is the most dramatic symptom of the larger problem. They keep us riveted on the minutiae of the debates (in this case, "presentation and demeanor" are the major foci of the analyses of why Kerry won), while distracting the electorate from the underlying issues that have animated people's discontent with the Bush administration in the first place. Lost in the excitement over the Kerry first-debate victory are his promises of more troops and a more aggressive foreign policy. The rise in the polls makes this belligerent posture acceptable, and even dedicated anti-war activists end up suspending their politics in the excitement over the return of the presidential race to a "statistical dead heat".

Americans' reliance on polls for political validation combines with unscrupulous press coverage of these polls to create a lethal threat to our political sanity and our political effectiveness. Our addiction to polls has done more than enhance the already unacceptable power of the media; it has also redirected our attention and efforts away from policy and toward trivial personality contests at a time when much is at stake

The polls are declining in accuracy in both countries and are being drastically misused by media and the political apparat in both countries. No pollster has ever claimed that a poll predicts an election. All they ever say is that a poll detects how an election held on the date of the poll would come out, subject t the margin of error. Media pay a lot for polls and are not about to announce that their expensive purchase is not predictive at all. Equally politicians favoured by a poll become gung-ho about their 'lead' and those disadvantaged by a poll start mumbling about election day being the only poll that matters.

In polls we trust?
Is Gallup's poll pulling for Bush? The short answer is no; polling experts, even Democratic polling experts, consider Gallup transcendently nonpartisan, one of the survey industry's straightest shooters. Several pollsters say they resent MoveOn's attack on Gallup. But there's a more important side to the kerfuffle over the Gallup Poll, one that lays bare not only legitimate questions over Gallup's methodology but also, more generally, the possible shortcomings of all election polls as well as the mistakes the public and the media make in interpreting them. In addition, there are many reasons, these days, to be broadly suspicious of the truth according to pollsters. Not the least of them is that an increasingly large share of the population fails to respond to pollsters' calls (a phenomenon that may be responsible for Gallup's odd Sept. 17 poll results) and are possibly evading surveyors altogether by using cellphones and caller I.D. systems. In a tight race, these concerns are more consequential; and the polling industry sees no good way around the problems in the long run.

We live, today, in an era of polling ubiquity. In the 2004 election, we'll probably have more polls from more organizations over more topics than we've ever had before, and the public will enjoy far greater access to these polls than in the past. The many polls dictate media coverage and campaign strategy, determining from week to week and day to day how journalists and insiders call the race -- not only who's up and who's down but why, how, where and what they should do about it.

I tend to agree with the idea that the ubiquity of mobile phones skews results. I suspect the young and the poor tend to have mobiles, not landlines, these days and that they are under-represented in polls conducted by landline. I also suspect that people who dislike being rung at home are underrepresented in polls. We won't even speak about Internet junkies who only have a landline.

Labor can probably draw some comfort from antiwar votes in other US allies. The antiwar vote in Spain was there before the Madrid bombing. It had not been detected. The same story happened in Korea. Perhaps the doctors' wives will break for Labor and perhaps they're big among the unusually high number of undecided voters the polls are showing this year. No-one knows which way they will break.

I believe the story of this campaign could and should have been quite different. Labor should not have ignored the USFTA. Labor should not have abandoned Iraq as an issue. Running away from issues might be a good way to hold seats but it's no way to win seats. Alienating voters by supporting Howard's legislative bribe to Family First is not one of the brighter political strategies of recent years. My final preference will go to Labor. My first preference will go to a party that takes human rights seriously.

Labor's tax sums backed by Treasury

In a credibility boost for Labor on the eve of the federal election, the Treasury has endorsed the Opposition's costings of its tax cuts, rejecting claims by Peter Costello of a $700 million hole.

Two weeks ago, Mr Costello said he would stake his economic credibility on his assertion that Labor had understated the cost of its tax cuts, which provide up to $8 a week for low and middle-income earners.

But in a serious embarrassment for the Treasurer, his own department concluded in an analysis released last night that the tax cuts, in fact, would cost less than Labor estimated.

Now that the treasurer no longer (by his own judgment) has any economic credibility, does that mean re-electing him threatens the interest rate?

7 October 2004

more on the Jakarta shakeout

The presidential election is finally declared. Yudhoyono now has to assert control of the parliament, the bureaucracy and the military. Beyond the arena of formal politics the election result is reverberating through the various hierarchies that constitute the Indonesian elite. To try and quickly summarise what's happening:

  • Yudhoyono ally, Hidayat Nur Wahid, leader of the Islam-based reformist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) won the speakership of the MPR by 2 votes over PDIP/Golkar candidate Sutjipto.
  • Megawati's predecessor as president, Abdulrahman Wahid is calling for the removal of Hasyim Muzadi as head of Nahdatul Ulama, the larger of the main Muslim organisations who ran as Megawati's vice-presidential candidate.
  • Amien Rias, head of Masjumi, the other main Muslim organisation, has left politics
  • a number of minor parties are changing their leaders
  • PDIP members demonstrated outside party headquarters demanding the resignation of Megawati's three closest advisers (inevitably known as the Gang of 3)
  • Jusuf Kallar, the incoming vice-president, has announced he will seek the leadership of Golkar at the December party congress

In short a lot of Indonesia's hierarchies are changing and shifting in response to Yudhoyono's election. This is a crucial process because Yudhoyono only controls 10% of the DPR seats. If JK can take over Golkar Yudhoyno will control a narrow majority. The election of Hidayat Nur Wahid is an unexpected victory, although Golkar will control the DPR speakership.

The Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat or people's consultative assembly (universally and understandably called the MPR) was once a fairly corrupt electoral college comprising MPs, presidential appointees and military delegates. It was restructured by the Third Amendment to the 1945 Constitution into a joint sitting of the two houses - the Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat or house of people's representatives (DPD) and the Dewan Perwakilan Daerah or house of regional representatives (DPD). While the MPR still has supreme legislative power and can remove the president on the initiative of the DPR, it is no longer an electoral college.

3 October 2004

Guantanamo has 'failed to prevent terror attacks'

Prisoner interrogations at Guantánamo Bay, the controversial US military detention centre where guards have been accused of brutality and torture, have not prevented a single terrorist attack, according to a senior Pentagon intelligence officer who worked at the heart of the US war on terror.

Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Christino, who retired last June after 20 years in military intelligence, says that President George W Bush and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have 'wildly exaggerated' their intelligence value.

Christino's revelations, to be published this week in Guantánamo: America's War on Human Rights, by British journalist David Rose, are supported by three further intelligence officials. Christino also disclosed that the 'screening' process in Afghanistan which determined whether detainees were sent to Guantánamo was 'hopelessly flawed from the get-go'.

The world did not change on 9 September 2001. The War on Terror may have made governments more anxious for intelligence, but that does not mean the exceptional methods authorised by the US now work if they did not before. Really, this just more of the magical thinking that says defeat will not happen because it is unthinkable.

governing on the dark side

Documents reveal plans for Iraq war
Australia took part in detailed planning to invade Iraq earlier than previously admitted, according to Pentagon documents.

The records emerged as Prime Minister John Howard refused to follow Britain's Tony Blair in apologising for presenting incorrect information on whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

It would be a 'terrible defeat for the West' if coalition nations pulled out of Iraq before security had been restored, a defiant Mr Howard said yesterday.

He said he had acted in good faith, assessing intelligence briefings before making the decision to go to war. 'I don't apologise for one moment for the fact that we joined in getting rid of Saddam Hussein.'

London's Evening Standard yesterday reported that the United States Central Command in Florida hosted a 'planning conference' for Iraq on June 28, 2002, with Australian and British military commanders.

PM called talks to derail renewable energy
The Federal Government and fossil-fuel industry executives discussed ways to stifle growing investment in renewable energy projects at a secret meeting earlier this year.

Prime Minister John Howard called the meeting on May 6, five weeks before releasing the energy white paper on June 14.

The white paper favours massive investment in research to make fossil fuels cleaner, at the expense of schemes boosting growth in renewable energy.

Mr Howard called together the fossil-fuel-based Lower Emissions Technology Advisory Group to seek advice on ways to avoid extending the mandatory renewable energy targets scheme.

The Government has touted the scheme as a key plank in achieving its Kyoto Protocol target to hold greenhouse emissions at 108 per cent of 1990 levels.

The Government continues to refuse to ratify the protocol, despite Russia's decision last week to ratify and bring the protocol into legal effect.

Russia's move further isolates the United States and Australia.

Labor attack Govt over Honan ethanol deal
ANNA BURKE, MEMBER FOR CHISHOLM: Prime Minister, was the Government contacted by the major Australian producer of ethanol or by any representative of him or his company or the industry association before its decision to impose fuel excise on ethanol?

EMMA GRIFFITHS: The PM's answer was clear.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: Speaking for myself, I didn't personally have any discussions, from recollection, with any of them.

EMMA GRIFFITHS: But his statement's now in question, disputed by a document obtained by the Opposition under freedom of information laws and made public last week.

It records a meeting between John Howard and Dick Honan about ethanol, just six weeks before the decision.

The Opposition says Parliament has been misled.

The secret meeting is par for the course for the Man of Steel's government. Each time the Man of Steel gets caught in one he blames his staff for not sending the papers. The Manildra meeting was most dramatic because the prime minister's defence was apparently that his staff had not told him he attended a meeting.

The Bushiad - George Dreams

Who are you,' asks George, 'Where's the blackbird?'
'I am the blackbird, don't you know my name?'
He asks in deep and accented voice, resonant and rich.
Dressed in black he wears strange headgear and a cape.
'I can't remember,' George stammers, searching.
'Darth Vader?' asks George. His voice trembles.

'Not quite, young Bush, but close. Hussein's the name, Saddam.
I am your father!' 'No!' cries George, tries to pull away.
But Saddam won't let go, 'Join me, Son. Together
We will rule the world, Father and Son together at last!'
'Never!' shrieks George, 'The world is mine!'
Saddam lets go, and George falls.

The blackbird flies to the darkening east
Disappearing into the blackness.
Golden grasses glow beneath the setting sun.
Lost and alone between Texas wind and Maine surf
Confused, George gazes at a shining point at the horizon,
A lone star alongside the crescent moon.

Tip for The Bushiad and The Idyossey | The Epic Battle of Testosterone circa 2003 via Bad Attitudes.