Interesting piece by Imre Salusinszky in this morning’s Australian on the new electoral pendulum in New South Wales, and what it says about the state’s electoral fairness.
Salusinszky has got the date of the next NSW election wrong (it’s 26 March 2011, not 19 March), but he’s right about the size of the swing the opposition will need. As I explained immediately after last month’s election, although there was a substantial swing to the opposition, its distribution was not very favorable for them.
The target for winning government on a uniform swing last time (making certain assumptions about the independents) was 8.9%; it’s now 6.8%. So having won 47.5% two-party-preferred this year, the Coalition would need about 54% to win government.
That’s a bad thing for democracy. But the problem is inherent in a system of single-member electorates, and can happen whenever the concentration of support shifts (Labor’s “safe” NSW seats have become much more marginal in recent years, while the Coalition’s have become safer).
The option Salusinszky mentions, of requiring boundaries to target “fairness” in the way the South Australian system does, is at best a patch job. Because it depends on the voting patterns of the previous election, it does not ensure that government’s will have majority support, as shown in 2002 when Labor formed government in South Australia on a minority of the two-party-preferred vote.
A much more effective solution is New Zealand’s, where electorates still have individual MPs but the party votes determine the overall composition of parliament.
Interesting also to compare with Victoria, where the opposition has a less serious case of the same problem. Its target for 2010 is a uniform swing of 6.2% (although there will be a redistribution before then, so that figure will probably change slightly). That would put it on a two-party-preferred vote of about 52%; before last year’s election, the target was close to the theoretically fair 50%.
So at least in the two biggest states, electoral arithmetic seems to be moving against the non-Labor parties. Perhaps that will stir their enthusiasm for democratic reform.
Apart from one brief reference yesterday by Ted Baillieu to wanting to be there for “2010 and beyond”, no-one in the Victorian Liberals wants to admit that the next election is out of reach. But their problem is that even with 52% they would have to form a Coalition with the Nationals, and that’s even more of a taboo subject.