Elections, at least if they’re done properly, take time, but unfortunately that means that by the time figures are finalised, most of the public and the media have lost interest and moved on to other things. Last month’s election results only drew attention until it was resolved who would form government; after that, there weren’t even any particularly close seats to follow.

But it’s worth trying to recapture some interest, because the final figures — available at the AEC website and neatly summarised by Antony Green — say some important things about how Australian democracy actually works.

First, the Senate. Again, despite its great distance from the idea of one-vote-one-value, the Senate ends up doing a good job of reflecting the parties’ support in the electorate. That’s not immediately obvious from the AEC’s summary table, but if you aggregate the various components of the Coalition (which have joint tickets in some states but not others) into one total, you get the following:

Party % vote Seats won % seats
Coalition 38.6% 18 45.0%
ALP 35.1% 15 37.5%
Greens 13.1% 6 15.0%
Family First 2.1% 0 0.0%
Australian S-x Party 2.0% 0 0.0%
Liberal Democrats (LDP) 1.8% 0 0.0%
Shooters and Fishers 1.7% 0 0.0%
Democratic Labor Party 1.1% 1 2.5%

The three major parties are all a bit over-represented at the expense of the minors, but not absurdly so, and one minor party did win a seat — although on voting strength it should have been Family First rather than the DLP.

The House of Representatives doesn’t do as well. Here are the actual nationwide results, compared with the seats each party would have won on a fully proportional system (this is a Sainte-Laguë count), but d’Hondt gives almost exactly the same figures):

Party % vote Proportional
Actual seats % seats
ALP 38.0% 58 72 48.0%
Liberals 30.5% 46 44 29.3%
LNP (Qld) 9.1% 14 21 14.0%
Greens 11.8% 18 1 0.7%
Nationals 3.7% 6 7 4.7%
Family First 2.3% 3 0 0.0%
Christian Democrats 0.7% 1 0 0.0%
CLP (NT) 0.3% 0 1 0.7%
Independent 2.5% 4 4 2.7%

The Coalition total wasn’t too far out — 48.7% of the seats for 43.6% of the vote — and the independents came out about right, but the Greens are hopelessly under-represented, with most of the difference going to the ALP. And the small fundamentalist parties have no chance of representation other than via the strange lottery of above-the-line voting in the Senate.

Either way, the result would have been a hung parliament. But while with our actual system that is an extremely rare occurrence, with proportional representation it would be common. Our parties would have to learn to deal with one another to put together a governing majority, instead of expecting the electoral system to do it for them.

That may or may not be a good thing. Even without moving to a truly proportional set-up, however, we should be looking at ways to temper the oddities of our current arrangements: at the capricious treatment of minor parties, and at the exaggerated majorities a party can win on a minority of the vote. Until we do, we will continue to get at best a rough approximation to democracy.