What is a donkey vote?

In my post-election conversations and eavesdropping I have heard several people refer to informal votes as ‘donkey votes’.

In standard usage – still supported by the Macquarie Dictionary and several random Australian politics books I checked – a donkey vote is defined as the practice of numbering all candidates in the order they appear in the ballot paper, rather than according to the voter’s political preference. This is a formal vote, which will eventually go to whichever serious candidate appears first in the list of candidates. However Wikipedia is wobbling, suggesting that informal votes can also be classified as ‘donkey votes’.

In Bryan Garner’s five stages of language change, ‘donkey vote’ is at stage two or three. Several of the people I have heard use ‘donkey vote’ when they mean informal vote have university degrees.

Stage 2: The form spreads to a significant fraction of the language community but remains unacceptable in standard usage.

Stage 3: The form becomes commonplace even among many well-educated people but is still avoided in careful usage.

Continue reading “What is a donkey vote?”

The hypocrisy of GetUp!

When it comes to political parties, activist group GetUp! favours strictly regulating donations. Its principles include:

* Only individuals should be allowed to donate to political parties.
* Increase transparency requirements.
* Cap individual donations at a reasonable limit [they suggest $1,000 a year]

But when it comes to donations to GetUp! things seem to be rather different, as the SMH reported yesterday:

The union movement has emerged as a key financial backer of the advocacy group GetUp!, with six unions pouring more than a million dollars into its election purse in the past three weeks alone.

GetUp! has splashed nearly $1.5 million on TV advertising since the campaign began, meaning the unions have effectively supplied two-thirds of its advertising budget.

The organisation’s director, Simon Sheikh, refused to name the six unions yesterday, saying they wanted their identities kept secret until after donor returns are filed with the Australian Electoral Commission.

So this arrangement breaches all of GetUp!’s three principles: Continue reading “The hypocrisy of GetUp!”

Spare a thought for the hacks

Terry Barnes empathises with the electorate and ministerial staff who could be out of a job by Sunday morning.

While I don’t think the punters should worry about them too much, I know what he is talking about. When I was a ministerial adviser during the 1998 election I could hardly bear to watch the election night coverage. It felt like I was being slowly sacked on live TV.

In the end the Coalition scraped back with a minority of the votes but a majority of the seats. And so then began the wait to see if my minister would get to keep the portfolio.

As Barnes says, political staffers know the risks. Most political careers end in failure – mine certainly did. While I survived the 1998 election the reform I had hoped to be involved with died in the controversy surrounding the leak of its Cabinet submission.

Why Labor voters in Melbourne need to vote Liberal

In the 2002 French presidential election it came down to a run-off contest between the conservative Jacques Chirac and the nationalist firebrand Jean-Marie Le Pen, after the left candidate Lionel Jospin was eliminated. Showing they had not lost their sense of humour, French leftists set up a shower outside a polling booth, to wash themselves after voting for Chirac to keep the lunatic Le Pen out of the Élysée Palace.

Labor voters in the seat of Melbourne may need to do something similar this Saturday. In what may be a first for Australian major party politics (or at least very rare), the only way Labor can guarantee itself victory in this seat is to boost the Liberal vote.

Their problem is that if the Liberals are eliminated before the Greens their preferences will run heavily against Labor. The figures on Antony Green’s website suggest that about 85% of Liberal preferences went to the Greens in 2007.

Yet if the Greens are elmininated first, Labor is headed for the kind of crushing victory over the Liberals it achieved before 2007, because Green preferences overwhelmingly flow to Labor. Continue reading “Why Labor voters in Melbourne need to vote Liberal”

Bowtell for Melbourne (or why the Greens are just too flaky for me)

Last night on ABC TV news Lindsay Tanner filled what seemed to me to be a major omission in Labor candidate for Melbourne Cath Bowtell’s campaign. He appealed directly to Liberal voters to ignore their party’s Green preferencing how-to-vote card and preference Labor instead.

All the Bowtell campaign material I have received is focused on a competition with the Greens for the ‘progressive’ vote. Even the admission that Labor is not as far left as the Greens is phrased in apologetic terms: ‘Unlike the Greens, Labor does not have the luxury of behaving like a single-issue group’ said one campaign letter I received from Bowtell.

But despite the ‘progressive’ vote focus, it is likely that Liberal voters will decide the seat of Melbourne. Indeed, for all the money the Greens spend in Melbourne, and all the buzz their campaign generates, they would have no hope whatsoever of winning the seat were it not for the Liberal how-to-vote card. On the primary vote in 2007 the Greens were actually about 600 votes behind the Liberal candidate. Only the distribution of minor party and then Liberal preferences made them serious contenders. Continue reading “Bowtell for Melbourne (or why the Greens are just too flaky for me)”

High Court defends right to vote

Activist group GetUp! had a big win in the High Court today, which will allow thousands of people who enrolled after the writs for the election to vote on 21 August. The reasons are yet to be announced, but the best analysis so far is this Inside Story article by election law expert Graeme Orr.

While I am not generally a fan of constitutionalised rights protection, I don’t see a major difficulty with very specific protections of basic political institutions such as the right to vote. As the sorry saga of the previous government’s 2006 amendments to electoral law – including the early closing of the roll and the political expenditure laws I have criticised many times – indicates, the temptation to use election regulation for political advantage is just too great for politicians to resist.

I’m not normally a fan of GetUp!, but they deserve credit for backing this case.

Written and authorised by the government?

In this week’s episode of The Gruen Transfer they discussed this mining industry ad against the government’s proposed mining tax. Host Wil Anderson asked the panel about the ‘Authorised by M. Hooke, MCA, Canberra’ message at the end.

Rather surprisingly regular panel member Todd Sampson thought that this was a clever move to make it look like a government ad. Fellow panel member Carolyn Miller also thought that this was a sign of government advertising. In reality, as the other regular panel member Russel Howcroft pointed out, the written and authorised message is a legal requirement applying to electoral matter.

It seems that the government itself is such a dominant political advertiser that a provision aimed at revealing who is behind political campaigns is taken by people in the advertising industry itself to be a government endorsement. There is so little other political advertising that they don’t notice that all of it tells you who is behind it.

I’ve long suspected that the written and authorised message is useless. Now I think it may be positively misleading.

Hamilton is no friend of democracy

Recently in The Age Clive Hamilton published an op-ed calling the campaign by the miners against the government’s proposed mining tax an attempt ‘by plutocrats to destroy Australian democracy’.

Sinclair Davidson has already reminded us that Clive Hamilton has publicly contemplated suspending democracy to tackle climate change.

But Hamilton’s suspend democracy op-ed was a rare moment of political candour. The Age op-ed is far closer to his standard modus operandi. This is to provide arguments for some major curtailment of liberty but to stop short of proposing it, or do so only in the most general way.

Unlike Hamilton’s plans for ending the consumer society, his implied argument for curtailing the mining industry’s capacity to put its case has some realistic chance of persuading lawmakers. The various proposals to cap campaign expenditures would inevitably spill over into regulation of interest groups (though this may end up being declared unconstitutional).

Whatever the merits of the mining industry’s case, it is a response to the state launching a major attack on the industry. They have every right to defend themselves. Far from being an attempt to destroy democracy, this is the democratic system working effectively to subject politicians to scrutiny and and perhaps accountability.

Should Rudd be trusted to regulate his political opponents?

What is going on in Kevin Rudd’s mind? The decision to spend $38 million of borrowed money promoting the government’s mining ‘superprofits’ tax will surely create more problems than it solves.

For a start, it is not clear that it will have much impact over and above the arguments and assertions the government is already presenting in the normal way. Despite the millions spent by the mining lobby, and the Opposition’s stance presumably helping bring Coalition partisans on side, the Morgan Poll suggests that public opinion has moved the government’s way over the last couple of weeks.

The millions spent by the previous government on its WorkChoices campaign had no discernible effect on public opinion. While admittedly industrial relations is a bit different, in that there are long-established public beliefs on the subject, it is a warning that simply spending a lot of money does not guarantee that views will change.

Against the quite possibly small or non-existent mining tax political gains had to be weighed the risk that this decision would contribute to a far more dangerous political problem for the government than recalcitrant miners, the perception that Rudd is a promise breaker or worse. Continue reading “Should Rudd be trusted to regulate his political opponents?”

Classical liberalism and bills of rights

Andrew Carr asks why, as a classical liberal, I do not support a bill of rights. My political identity survey last year found that among classical liberals only about a third supported a bill of rights, so on this I am not an outlier.

The apparent incongruity is that classical liberals support individual freedom, but oppose a measure that could protect freedom from ‘big government’ or the ‘tyranny of the majority’.

Part of the answer is that virtually all classical liberals believe in democracy as well. Though much has been made of the ‘tensions’ between liberalism and democracy, which obviously can occur, there are also many parallels.

Both give significant weight to the preferences and knowledge of ordinary individual citizens, who ajudicate on the choices offered to them – by parties and candidates in the political sphere, by firms in the economic sphere, and by varying traditions and associations in the cultural sphere. Continue reading “Classical liberalism and bills of rights”