Dear Christian

Last week a 21-year-old former John
Brogden staffer was charged with making death threats against Bob Carr.
Turns out the poor guy has serious mental health issues and was
previously involved with the Dems as well.

My question: What procedures/screening if any do staffers have to go through prior to being employed?


Dear Davo

You meet so many, er, interesting people in
politics. I always think Alice’s chat with the Cheshire Cat sounds like
a branch meeting of a political party:

“We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.

always do a bit of due diligence on their staff. After all, most people
working in politics only have their jobs because they’re loyal faction
hacks – or family. That acts as a bit of a filter. The quick answer to
your question is that there aren’t any checks – unless you’re working
for a federal minister. Then you need a security clearance. That
involves a fun interview with a nameless operative of a nameless
security agency, where you ‘fess up to “experimenting” with chemical
and organic leisure supplements at uni and give them a PG-rated version
of your sex life. I got through this, so anyone can.


Dear Christian

time I have sought real detail on the real details of a Senate count, I
have received what I regard as a put-down. It has always intrigued me,
say in NSW with several million votes, they must really have to be
counted a number of times; and done manually that would seem to need a
longer period than the six weeks taken. Clearly some votes are recounted.
But which ones? And precisely how? When and how is a vote declared

My series of questions are:

  1. Are all Senate votes recounted (that is, are the
    votes particularly that comprise the established first quota recounted
    as they are passed on and so on)?
  2. I believe the post quota votes are ‘marked down’ and
    are regarded as less than one vote: what is their diminishing return?
    How was this established? Why? Is that part of the electoral laws? A
    regulation? Or a convention?
  3. Were Senate preferences at some stage distributed through a system of vote sampling? If so does this practice still exist?

Ian, Wagga Wagga

Dear Ian
I once got a Senator thrown out of a count, but I’ve never
actually scrutineered a Senate vote. This is where you want a
psephologist – an expert in the mechanics of elections – not a spin
doctor. People like me can do the numbers for a preselection, but find
the mathematics involved in Senate counts a little hard

There’s chapter and verse at the Electoral Commission site
on the processes that will really rock your socks off, but the parties
would call for their tame wonks. At Crikey, we holler for Antony Green . This is what he has to say:

All Australian PR systems are a form of Proportional
Representation by Single Transferable Vote (PR-STV). There are subtle
differences between these different forms in Australia, and most of
those differences concern how votes are dealt with when a candidate
reaches a quota.

All use a ‘Transfer Value’, which is calculated by dividing the surplus
to quota votes of an elected candidate by their total votes. (Not
quite right, but more later.)

Hare’s original form of proportional representation used the transfer
value to take a random sample of ballot papers from amongst an elected
candidate’s votes. These chosen ballot papers were then transferred at
full value to other candidates.

The change to this introduced by Tasmanian Attorney-General Andrew
Inglis Clark was to instead pass on ALL ballot papers of an elected
candidate, but at a reduced value equal to the transfer value. The
effect is the same as random sampling, except that all sampling
variation is removed, and you also get the ability to re-count the
votes. Hence Hare-Clark voting.

So the discount rate you refer to is the Transfer Value. There is nothing controversial about this method.

When PR-STV was introduced for the Senate in 1949, it was decided that
counting all votes was too complex, so they used the Hare method of
random sampling. When ticket voting was introduced in 1984, the
Hare-Clark transfer value method was also adopted, though with a
significant difference noted below.

SA, WA and from next year Victoria, have followed the Federal lead. NSW
is now the only state still using random sampling, because Neville Wran
went and stuck the Senate’s counting system from 1978 into the state
constitution. I am appearing before a state committee next month
looking at solutions to this random sampling problem. NSW currently
enters all votes into a computer system to ensure random sampling is
done correctly, when in fact the computer could count the votes exactly!

The other big difference is to consider which votes to examine for
preferences when a candidate reaches a quota. The Hare-Clark method is
called the ‘Gregory’ or ‘last bundle’ method. The bundle of votes that
put a candidate over a quota are the only ones examined to determine

So if a candidate had 9,800 votes, the quota was 10,000, and a bundle
of 400 votes was received putting the candidate over the quota, the
only votes looked at would be the last 400 received. So 200 out of 400
votes would be transferred as surplus to quota votes. The primary votes
previously held by the elected candidate would not be examined.

This used to be the Senate method as well. In 1980, the Labor Party
reckoned they missed a Queensland Senate seat because many Labor voters
had given first preference to Neville Bonner. But Bonner was elected on
the surplus of the lead Liberal candidate, so his primary votes were
never looked at for their preferences, and Labor reckoned it was robbed
of those part preferences.

So as part of the 1984 changes, the Senate adopted what is called the
‘Inclusive Gregory’ method. When a candidate reaches a quota, all the
votes they currently hold are examined. The maths is a bit complex, but
these votes include all primary votes, all full preferences and the
ballot papers of all discounted votes received. This system is used in
SA, WA and Victoria. NSW and the ACT use the Tasmanian system. There
are further subtle differences in the method, but they are not worth
discussing here.

One remaining problem with the Inclusive Gregory Method is that it is
possible for votes to increase in transfer value at certain points in
the count. In almost every case, the number of votes involved is
trivial, but theoretically it is a problem.

The solution is a new system walled ‘Weighted Inclusive Gregory’, which
has yet to be introduced anywhere, but almost certainly will within a
few years. Instead of dealing with ballot papers, it deals with votes,
which is ballot papers discounted by their transfer value. As all votes
are now counted by computer systems, weighted inclusive Gregory can be
introduced, where under a manual system it would be very complex.


Dear Christian

Why would Alexander Downer be looking to become the next Liberal
Deputy? Peter Costello clearly believes a deputy’s job is in the
treasury (see Shaun Carney’s The New Liberal )? Downer’s
experience/background seems to be in foreign affairs. What would he
gain from the move (other than a better seat at the table)? Admittedly,
the same book also slated Mr Costello as wanting to get to the lodge
through the AG’s job. Could he seriously believe he could have a run at
the top job again post Costello?


Dear Tim

Never, ever, ever underestimate the power of the political ego – or the
peculiarities of the political psyche. Alexander wants the job to have
the title – and to stop someone else from having it. If you want a very
entertaining exploration of this subject – applied – read the diaries
of Alan Clark, the British Tory MP.


Dear Christian

What is the alternative to economic rationalism and where is it successfully practised?


Dear Bill

Do you really expect me to go all soppy over soft Scandinavian
socialism? If my minister was going to be asked that question, I’d
shove under their nose these lines from a speech James Callaghan, the
last “Old Labour” British prime minister who died at the end of March,
gave to a party conference more than a quarter of century ago:

“We used to think that you could spend your way out of a
recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting
government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no
longer exists, and insofar as it ever did exist, it only worked on each
occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the
economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment”.


Dear Christian

I feel a bit like ‘Ted the Dentist’ from the toothpaste ad. I can’t use
my real name or personal email address as I work in Parliament House.
As an employee in Parliament House, I have been reminded on several
occasions that it is a no-smoking environment. Crikey has reported, on
occasions in the past, the serial offenders who blatantly choose to
ignore this directive. Are these, and other politicians, who choose to
exercise their independence in their Parliament House offices, breaking
the law or merely contravening the Speaker’s and President’s edict?

A lowly employee in APH

Dear Lowly

a wonderful grey area. Obscured by clouds of smoke, maybe. This might
even be a matter of privilege. Play the bush lawyer. Have a look at Senate or House of Representatives Practice.

good pollies should do what the presiding officers say – but outside
the chambers, they don’t really carry any clout. The standing orders
don’t cover this sort of thing. You can’t get suspended from parliament
for fagging away in your office. That’s why MPs’ suites become defacto
smoking areas for poor staff who have nowhere else to go – it gets cold
on a Parliament House balcony in winter. The only option the presiding
officers really have is naming and shaming. That would go down well
with the Gallery. One for the party whips, maybe?

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