That seems to be it. As of this morning, Queensland’s electoral commission hasn’t finalised the preference distribution in Bulimba, the only seat remaining in doubt, but according to the Brisbane Times both candidates say the Liberal-National Party has won it by 85 votes — although Labor has asked for a recount.
Assuming no surprises there, the LNP finishes with 78 seats, up 44 from its total at the previous election. Labor has just seven (down 44), Bob Katter’s Australian Party two (up two, although both of them sat in the old parliament as defectors from the LNP) and two independents (down two).
That looks like a massacre of astronomical proportions. And so it was. But if you look at the vote totals a small element of doubt creeps in.
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The LNP, despite winning about seven-eighths of the seats, actually won just under half the vote: 49.7%. Labor had 26.7%, Katter’s group 11.5% and the Greens 7.5%. No one else was really in the running; Family First well back on 1.4%, and the rest about 3.3% between them.
Everyone likes clear results, and there’s nothing wrong with a party that so clearly dominated its rivals winning a solid majority. But is there any rational reason it has to be so massively disproportional? The 2009 result was lopsided as well — Labor won 17 more seats than the LNP despite leading them by less than 1% — but it was nothing like this.
The result is not just undemocratic, but it hampers the proper functioning of parliament. With only seven seats (one of which it could lose in a byelection), Labor will be unable to staff a proper shadow ministry, and the huge size of the LNP backbench will hamper its operations as well. Meanwhile, those who voted for the Greens get no representation at all.
Our single-member electoral systems throw up weird results all the time, but Queensland is particularly prone to this sort of unfairness because the south-east, where most of the seats are, is more socially homogeneous than Sydney or Melbourne. It doesn’t have the substantial concentrations of working-class votes that provide downside protection for Labor in the other states, or the exclusive affluent suburbs that do the same for the Liberals (who finished with just one seat in greater Brisbane after the 2001 election).
Compare last year’s election in New South Wales, where Labor’s vote was lower than in Queensland (25.6%) but it still retained 20 seats, or 21.5% of the total. Still a landslide, but at least Labor retains some capacity to function.
If the electorate is really becoming more volatile (as recent results suggest), then problems such as this are going to get worse rather than better. It’s well past time we had a serious debate about electoral reform.
For example, if Queensland had the same mixed-member proportional system that New Zealand does, Labor would have won 25 seats, Katter’s party 11 and the Greens seven. The LNP would still have had a clear majority with at least 46 (and probably a few more as an “overhang”), but those that voted against them would be fairly represented.
Alas, the problem of electoral reform is that the losers are unable to do anything while the winners see no reason for change. But yesterday’s winners are tomorrow’s losers; it’s only two years since the Liberals in South Australia were voted in by the electorate, with 51.6% of the two-party-preferred vote, but denied office by the caprice of the electoral system.
In Queensland the boot was on the other foot, and Labor got a very hard kicking from it.