Two weeks on, and results from the Queensland election are now final. The last two seats to be decided, Chatsworth and Redlands, went one each to the ALP and LNP, by 74 votes and 34 votes respectively.

That leaves Labor with 51 seats from 42.3% of the vote, the Nationals 34 from 41.6%, four independents from 5.6%, and the Greens with 8.4% but no seats at all. No other party topped 1%; Daylight Saving for South-East Queensland was the biggest with 0.9%.

Apart from the routine unfairness of single-member districts, the outstanding statistic is how difficult it is for the LNP to win a majority. Having scored maybe slightly more than 49% of the two-party-preferred vote this time, they still need a further uniform swing of 3.2%, even assuming they win the support of all the independents.

This has become characteristic of the mainland states. In New South Wales, the Coalition needs to win something like 54% to win government; in Victoria it’s about 52%. And in Western Australia, Labor would be back in government with a swing of less than 1%, although that would still leave it on about 49% of the two-party-preferred vote.

Historically this is a complete reversal. For most of the twentieth century, Labor was disadvantaged by the electoral system; more of its votes were concentrated in safe seats, and it repeatedly lost elections despite having majority support.

But things have changed in the last twenty or thirty years; traditional working class suburbs have gentrified, cutting Labor’s ultra-safe margins without bringing their opponents any gain in seats, and the non-Labor parties have built up huge margins in rural seats. Queensland shows the pattern: Labor has just three seats with margins above 18%, all in Brisbane; the LNP has seven and independents another three, almost all of them in the bush.

It’s remarkable that there is so little debate about this issue. South Australia has adopted the remedy of requiring its redistributions to explicitly target “fairness”, but this is difficult and disruptive, and carries no guarantee of success: Labor still formed government after the

2002 election, despite winning only 49.1%.

The United States has the same problem in presidential elections: Barack Obama could have won a majority in the electoral college with a uniform swing less than that needed for a majority of the vote, and the Republicans need a theoretical 51.2% of the vote to win back the presidency. Yet moves to end this unfairness by abolishing the electoral college still meet most resistance from Republicans.

Labor at least used to make a fuss when the system worked against it.

But the right don’t seem to care about democracy, even when they lose out as a result.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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