Well, that’s a wrap: the New South Wales state election concluded this morning when the electoral commission distributed preferences for the legislative council, producing a result of 11 Coalition (seven Liberals and four Nationals), five ALP, three Greens, one Shooters/Fishers and one Christian Democrat. Former One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, running as an independent, narrowly lost to the Greens for the last position.

The new government will need the help of the Shooters and CDP to put together a majority.

Regular readers will know that I’m by no means a Hanson fan, but I can’t resist pointing out that well before the election I said it was “not at all impossible that she could get something like 2.5% this time and be well in the running for a seat.” In fact she got 2.4% to finish just short.

Inevitably, this will attract comparisons with other cases of extremist minority candidates being elected —  such as Steve Fielding in the senate for Victoria in 2004 with just 1.8% of the primary vote, or the DLP’s John Madigan replacing him six years later with only 2.3%.

But Hanson’s case is not only different to theirs, in fact it’s the exact opposite. Fielding and Madigan won courtesy of preferences — Fielding from a backroom deal with the ALP, Madigan by harvesting the preferences of minor parties to ultimately get ahead of the Coalition.

Neither would have won if those elections had been by New South Wales rules.

Hanson, however, came close because people voted for her: her primary vote was enough to keep her in the race until the last eliminations.

Automatic group ticket preferencing, as in the senate, would more likely have hurt her than helped.

Minor party candidates win in New South Wales not because of sleazy preference deals, but because the system is more democratic, electing 21 members at a time (compared to six per state for the senate) and therefore giving scope for a wider range of views to be represented.

Nothing undemocratic about that.

This is the first time since the NSW upper house was reformed (following the 1999 election) that preferences have ever mattered: in the past, you could get the result just by ranking the candidates in the order of the primary votes left over after all the whole quotas are filled, just like an ordinary list system of proportional representation. But on that basis Hanson would have won; on primaries she was ahead of not just the Greens but the 11th Coalition candidate as well.

That role for preferences, mind you, comes at the price of a big difference in the ease of counting; the electoral commission does data entry for thousands of preferences that are unlikely to matter, while (as I’ve pointed out before) anyone with a spreadsheet can do a Sainte-Laguë calculation in 30 seconds — we would have had the results nearly two weeks ago.

And what do the results mean? Well, Hanson will miss out on having a new forum for her views; if you think — as Sean Nicholls in this morning’s SMH seems to — that she’s interested in restarting her own party, then it would indeed have “provide[d] her with a platform to contest the next two elections”.

But since the past decade seems to have shown pretty conclusively that she really has nothing to say, my guess is that people would quickly have tired of listening to her. Now that result might come about a bit more quickly.

Peter Fray

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