Malcolm Mackerras on Tuesday had the last word on the New South Wales elections as regards the lower house, but that still leaves the Legislative Council, where counting was completed this week.

The result was no surprise. The 21 seats up for election went 9 to the ALP, 5 Liberals, 3 Nationals (the Coalition ran a joint ticket), 2 Greens, 1 Christian Democrat and 1 Shooters Party. That was identical to the 2003 result except for the loss of one Labor seat to the Nationals.

This was the second election held under the latest reform model for the upper house, which has now established it as the most democratic in Australia. The relationship between party support and seats won is remarkably close, as shown by the following table:

Party

% vote

Seats

% seats

Labor

39.1%

9

42.9%

Liberal/Nationals

34.2%

8

38.1%

Greens

9.1%

2

9.5%

Christian Democrat

4.4%

1

4.8%

Shooters Party

2.8%

1

4.8%

Australian Democrats

1.8%

0

0.0%

Although voters can allocate preferences, in practice not enough do to make any difference. As in 2003, the 21 winners were the ones you would predict from just looking at the primary votes. (The NSW electoral commission has all the figures, but they’re not very user-friendly.)

In fact, the result was exactly what a party list PR system, such as the Sainte-Laguë method used in New Zealand, would produce – even though those systems make no provision for preferences.

What makes NSW so democratic is that the whole state is one electorate, meaning the quota for election is very low, and there is no automatic above-the-line preference distribution, so parties cannot harvest preferences through behind-the-scenes deals – the sort that elected Family First to the Senate in 2004, and the DLP to the Victorian upper house last year.

The lesson of this is that voting systems are not rocket science. It’s not that hard to get a house of parliament that reflects the voters’ wishes.

If NSW can do it, why can’t the other states?

Get more Crikey, for less

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

Join us this week for 50% off a year of Crikey.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
50% off