Opinion and Analysis

There is no denying it. Unemployment is a social burden, and a major driver of inequality in our society. There are a few countries now flirting with the idea of giving everyone cash payments with no obligations as one way of resolving this. The Greens platform advocates for a UBI, and it’s time for our Government to seriously look at the idea as well.

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In the event of a marriage equality plebiscite, all supporters of equal marriage in Australia must fight tooth and nail for the yes cause. It does not matter if you, like me, are opposed to the whole idea of a plebiscite. It does not matter on what grounds you are opposed to a plebiscite; whether it be on monitory grounds or on the grounds that equal rights should not be subject to a popular vote. It does not matter. We must all fight and campaign for the yes cause.

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It is easy to dismiss Pauline Hanson supporters as simply a bunch of redneck racist troglodytes; indeed, the most vocal of her support base fall very well into this category, and browsing her echo chamber on social media also makes it incredibly easy to get this impression. However, more than 4% of all voters across the country put a '1' in the box next One Nation, in the Senate, at this year's federal election, including more than 9% of Queenslanders. A few hundred vocal people on Facebook is not representative of the hundreds of thousands of others who voted the way they did.

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A battle between the Greens, Liberal Party and Labor is playing out in the seat of Melbourne Ports, with the Greens only a couple of percent behind the sitting Labor MP, who are both well behind the Coalition candidate. This seat will be a repeat of the state seat of Prahran in the 2014 Victorian State Election, whereby preferences from minor party and independent candidates allowed the Greens candidate to leapfrog from third into second place ahead of Labor, allowing the Greens to take the seat on the back of Labor preferences.

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There has been a lot of talk in recent months about the electability of Nick Xenophon, or more specifically, his new party that he is now leading, and that is standing candidates in a number of seats around the country. But is the Nick Xenophon Team really a good alternative for progressive voters who are tired of the major parties? I'm not so sure. I may be biased in assessing this, but there are some serious issues when it comes to Xenophon that need to be addressed.

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I have been seeing a lot of nonsense claims in recent weeks that claim that the Greens support for Senate voting reform will send them the 'the way of the Democrats', or that Richard Di Natale is the 'Meg Lees of the Greens', among other similar lines. Not only is it ridiculous (and a borderline fallacy) to compare the implementation of voting reform with the implementation of a regressive tax (it's like comparing apples and oranges), it is also a ridiculous argument that the Democrats' support of the GST was the sole instigator of their downfall. Fact is, there were a number of factors that led to the downfall of the Democrats that don't apply to the Greens at all.

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I've been getting a few people saying that the Senate voting changes will cause 'vote splitting'. I think this is better addressed as a separate post rather than in the post about the Senate voting reform.

First of all, for those who don't know - vote splitting occurs whereby there are two or more ideologically aligned candidates in an election, causing the vote to be split between them. This ultimately results in the candidate of the opposing ideology being successful. It is often talked about that the Labor and the Greens vote splits between each other in House of Representative seats, resulting in lower primary votes for the Labor Party when compared to the Liberal Party/National Party. However, because of full-preferential voting (and even in states that use optional preferential voting), this doesn't result in the final outcome favouring the Coalition, as it would in a first-past-the-post system.

Because of the potential for vote splitting in a first-past-the-post system; this has people ultimately gravitating towards two major parties (one on the Left, the other on the Right) and see's those who would normally vote for minor parties, vote for the corresponding major party in the form of tactical voting, generally out of fear that the candidate they oppose the most will otherwise win the seat. This ultimately sees two major parties dominate, and smaller parties fall. Look at the United States as an example, in particular.

Now, with that out of the way: claims that Senate voting changes to abolish group voting tickets and moving to part-preferential voting above and below the line would result in the progressive vote being split is absolute hog-wash.

  1. Vote splitting, as mentioned above, can only really occur in a first-past-the-post system, and can only really occur where people are elected into single-member constituencies. The only situation where vote splitting can occur in a multi-member constituency is if the winner takes all system is used.
     
  2. Senators are elected proportionately, into multi-member constituencies (being, the states), not into single member constituencies, and this isn't changing.
     
  3. Because voters will still have to direct preferences regardless of whether they vote above the line or below the line; the vote won't be split between progressive parties because votes to unsuccessful progressive parties and candidates will still flow according to voters choice.
     
  4. The savings provision for above the line voting very likely won't factor in because, believe it or not, a vast majority of voters actually read the instructions on the ballot paper (which will instruct them to number at least six boxes above the line) when they vote. If they didn't, there would be an alarmingly high rate of informal voting in the House of Representatives.

In fact, a vast majority of proportional systems around the developed world don't use preferential voting at all, and these systems still see considerable political diversity. Claims that vote splitting will occur as a result of giving individual voters more power simply doesn't stack up to fact.

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The latest Essential Research poll has pegged the two-party preferred result at 51-49 in the Coalition's favour, where it has remained steady for the better part of a month. Roy Morgan's latest polling, which to date has credited the Coalition with its biggest leads since Malcolm Turnbull took the Liberal leadership, has seen the Coalition's lead slashed from 55-45 to 52.5-47.5; with both Labor and the Greens moving up on the primary vote. 7 News' ReachTEL polling has only recorded a slight drop in support for the Coalition, 54-46 in the Coalition's favour, down from 55-45, but nonetheless see's a continuation of the same trend, which is all but confirmed in the latest Ipsos poll.

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It looks like the system used to elect Senators will be reformed after the government, the Greens and Nick Xenophon have agreed on legislation that has now passed the Senate. Unfortunately, the above linked report in the Guardian is somewhat misleading. The changes are expected to be as follows:

  • Group voting tickets will be done away with, which means that parties will no longer be able to dictate where preferences go for those who choose to vote above the line. Instead, voters will be able to direct their own preferences above the line by numbering at least six boxes, which will be the directions on the Senate ballot paper. A savings provision will exist whereby a vote is still valid if a voter only marks "1" in a single box. A vote will exhaust if none of a voter's preferred choices are successful.
     
  • The legislation also stipulates that an individual must not be a registered officer of more than one political party.
     
  • A Greens amendment, and government agreement, mean that voters will be able to number from 1 to at least 12 below the line; a position that has always been consistent with what the Greens were wanting.
     
  • In an interesting twist, the proposal states that party logos must be included on the ballot papers; likely to alleviate confusion between similarly named parties; for example, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Liberal Party. This change is in line with many other nations around the world which show party logos on the ballot paper.
     
  • The Greens don't want party registration requirements to change or become more stringent, which means under the proposal, if passed, parties will still only need 500 members to register as a party. This is stated to be the Greens' line in the sand.

Despite these changes, voters will still have to direct preferences to other parties and as such, minor parties will still have a voice in the Senate and still have a good chance of being elected. It just means that those same minor parties, such as the Liberal Democratic Party, won't be able to set up front parties to funnel preferences to them. Likewise, single-issue candidates and microparties that attract a negligible amount of the vote won't get elected on preference flows dictated purely by the parties, either.

Ultimately, candidates and microparties parties having to attract a greater share of the vote to get elected means they have more legitimacy and credibility when elected, and legitimacy and credibility is a good thing. Putting voters in control of preferencing and out of control of the parties greatly enhances this legitimacy and credibility too.

Update Feb 13, 2016: Senator Lee Rhiannon's press release, on behalf of The Greens, on the matter of senate voting reform confirms this, in particular, the last point above: The Greens do not want to disadvantage small parties by upping membership requirements, and as such, will not support this.

“A vote Above the Line of 1 – 6 rather than just 1 will ensure more voters are able to indicate their preference for parties and groups including minor parties. We have indicated to the government that our bottom line is that the Greens will not support any changes to party membership that makes it harder for small and emerging parties to obtain registration."

Update Feb 18, 2016: Claims made within the last few days that the Coalition would win an majority of Senate seats in a double dissolution are also completely and utterly false. Election analyst Antony Green has more to say on the matter:

"To elect six Senators at a double dissolution, the Coalition would need to reach 46.2% of the first preference vote. If they poll more than 46.2%, they have a candidate in the race for a seventh seat, but realistically the Coalition would need close to 50% of the first preference vote to elect seven Senators..

But if the Coalition poll less than 46.2% of the vote, it would be impossible for it to elect seven members from a single ticket. For Breen to claim the Coalition will win seven seats in NSW, Queensland and WA is to say the party will poll more than 46.2% of the vote.

How often has  the Coalition done that at Senate elections? Here's the list of first preference Coalition votes above 46.2% since 1990.

Queensland 1996 - 50.3%
Western Australia 1990 - 46.2%
Western Australia 1993 - 50.1%
Western Australia 1996 - 47.5%
Western Australia 2004 - 50.2%
Western Australia 2007 - 47.7%
Western Australia 2010 - 46.4%
South Australia 2004 - 47.5%

The above cases are the only instances in the last quarter century where the Coalition could have won seven seats at a double dissolution, yet Breen and Askey are claiming it will happen in three states in 2016, including NSW and Victoria."

Update Feb 24, 2016: Updated the details of the proposal now that the legislation has been introduced into parliament.

Update Mar 7, 2016: I've been getting a few emails and Facebook messages asking me: "Why would the government support these changes, if they thought the changes wouldn't advantage them?"

My response to this is simple: Malcolm Turnbull is arrogant enough to believe anything will advantage him, even in the face of mounting evidence and a number of factors that strongly indicates that the opposite will be true. You only need to look at how Turnbull waves the double dissolution card around in the face of falling poll numbers.

As for whether the Greens will be advantaged (or disadvantaged): they might, they might not. If they are, it would leave them in a higher chance of holding the balance of power and being in a position to negotiate or block the most atrocious legislation that comes before the Senate, regardless of who is in government.

Numbers indicate, however, that had the proposed changes been in place at the 2013 Federal Election, the Greens would have won a Senate seat in New South Wales while losing one in South Australia. That indicates no net gain or loss for the Greens. In 2016, the Greens vote is likely to increase regardless of Senate voting changes.

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Keeping this one short: Pauline Hanson is now batting for the anti-vaxxer movement, something which was once considered pretty far left, and incredibly loopy if not ignorant.

For those of you who are unaware or if you need your memory jogged: Pauline Hanson is the one who claimed that immigration from South Africa would bring about an AIDS epidemic, that Australia would be "swamped by Asians", and has done a whole host of other things over the years to put her ignorance on full display - some of them bizarre, most to incite hatred.

One has to say, when your movement has someone like Pauline Hanson batting for it - as a 'free thinking progressive thinker'; if the medical research with regards to vaccines being safe, controlling and eradicating disease and not causing autism wasn't enough for you to reconsider your stance against vaccines, you should probably be re-evaluating just where you stand.

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