Jul 27, 2012

Mayne: how a rainbow coalition saved ALP in Melbourne

There may have been a record 16 candidates in the Melbourne byelection but only two them bothered to turn up for this morning’s formal declaration of the poll. It told the tale of the tape.

Stephen Mayne — Journalist and Founder

Stephen Mayne

Journalist and Founder

There may have been a record 16 candidates in the Melbourne byelection but only two of them bothered to turn up for yesterday morning's formal declaration of the poll. With 13 Victorian Electoral Commission staff looking on and in the absence of anyone else, I was left to give the formal acceptance speech on behalf of the defeated 15. The successful Labor candidate Jennifer Kanis was there with her husband, David, and their much-photographed 10-month-old son, Blake, so it wasn't the time to let fly with any bitter political barbs. I congratulated Labor on a hard-fought win and said Melbourne City Council would be the lesser for the elevation of Cr Kanis to the state Parliament. However, the VEC also released the full preference distribution at the declaration of the poll which confirms the decisive impact of Labor's preference deals with six key minor candidates. It was curious that the VEC was simultaneously formally declaring the result whilst at the same time stating that a further 540 postal votes will be counted next Monday. Let's start with the primary vote which saw Greens candidate Cathy Oke on 10,023, 869 votes clear of Labor's Jennifer Kanis on 9154. After the first seven candidates were eliminated, most of whom were preferencing the Greens, Oke's lead had only extended by 119 votes to 988 (10,252 verses 9264). So much for the pulling power of these so-called "Green stooges" identified in the "dossier" released by Labor deputy leader James Merlino during the campaign. After that, it was Labor’s preference deals with six of the seven most popular minor candidates which saved the day, not that there was any mention of this in Daniel Andrew's explanation of his glorious victory in The Australian yesterday. Similarly, ALP state secretary Noah Carroll also gloated about his party's famous victory in an opinion piece in today's Herald Sun which made no reference to preference deals. Rather than political statements and opinionated assertions, let's go through the actual figures. Australian Christian's anti-abortion candidate Maria Bengtsson was excluded eighth and she delivered Kanis just 31 votes whilst Oke collected 61. However, the majority of her 354 votes went to Family First and the DLP which were later delivered to Labor. The DLP's Michael Murphy was eliminated ninth and this added 140 to the Labor tally and just 55 to the Greens. Next out was Ashley Fenn, who will be Family First’s Victorian Senate candidate next year, and he delivered 383 votes to Labor and just 118 to the Greens. With only six candidates left, Labor was still behind by 668 votes (10,486 to 9818). This is where the three key preference and mutual back-scratching deals with the adult industry, the Liberal independent and the African community saved the day. Dr Berhan Ahmed may have been a former Greens candidate but he was promised plenty by Labor -- as Crikey revealed on election eve. Berhan's campaign was run by former Liberal Ken Betts and there were some prominent Liberals handing out for him on the day. He had the benefit of the donkey vote and the best preference flow from anyone, including a No. 2 from me, two spots ahead of the Greens who were placed fourth on the card. When Berhan was the 11th candidate eliminated, his 1649 votes flowed as follows:
  • S-x: up 75 to 2116
  • Mayne: up 145 to 1845
  • Greens: up 224 to 10,710
  • Labor: up 476 to 10,294
  • David Nolte: up 729 to 2468.
That left me eliminated in fifth place after preferences and this is how those 1845 votes were distributed:
  • Labor: up 292 to 10,586
  • S-x: up 309 to 2425
  • Nolte: up 558 to 3026
  • Greens: up 686 to 11,396.
So with just four candidates left, Labor’s Jennifer Kanis still trailed her Melbourne City Council colleague Oke by 810 votes (11,396 verses 10,586). S-x Party candidate Fiona Patten went out next and her 2425 votes flowed as followed:
  • Labor: up 457 to 11,043
  • Green: up 894 to 12,290
  • Nolte: up 1074 to 4100.
David Nolte, a 38-year-old Liberal Party member who was controversially assisted by elements of the ALP Right, was therefore the ultimate kingmaker and preference harvester as his elimination turned a 1247 deficit for Labor into a 1067 vote victory. When Nolte’s 4100 accumulated votes flowed, he added a whopping 3207 votes to the Labor tally and just 893 for the Greens. Game over. This 78.2% flow in favour of Labor reflected Nolte's own how-to-vote card, along with S-x, Family First, DLP and Berhan Ahmed preferences which went to him ahead of Labor and then the Greens after that. And that is the biggest reason why Labor was able to defy the bookmakers and most pundits to secure a famous victory despite almost 30% less people showing up on Saturday and giving the party a primary vote, as opposed to the same seat at the 2010 state election. Sure, Andrews did out-campaign the Greens who faded somewhat at the finish, but his account in The Oz should not have airbrushed all those clever and critical preference deals. It was also a little odd that Andrews was talking up his softly-softly approach in not rashly abusing the Greens whilst then describing them as "frauds", something The Oz's headline writers naturally leap upon. The line from his State Secretary, Noah Carroll, in today's Herald Sun seemed to be endorsing a NSW Right-style of aggression, which is certainly what the Murdoch press wants to see. *Stephen Mayne was not paid for this item

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8 thoughts on “Mayne: how a rainbow coalition saved ALP in Melbourne

  1. wilful

    I hardly find it surprising or wrong that a Liberal aligned candidate, Nolte, would preference the ALP over the Greens. Sounds like a well functioning preferential voting system.

  2. Sam

    So I assume Mr Mayne’s opinion is that in an election seen from the start as between Labor and the Greens, the 20% of the electorate whose first preference was someone else couldn’t care less which of the two major candidates was elected and just blindly went along with the how to vote card of their first preference?

  3. Paula Nambour

    “Stephen Mayne was not paid for this item”

    Does that mean Crikey subscriber’s funds go to paying him normally? It’s a crying shame if young voices about real issues of concern in the community and real news are being denied a chance in order to accommodate Mayne’s mile-wide mean-streak.

    I once used to like his work but it’s hard to love the predictable rantings about his local council, his latest election loss and whatever vendetta is currently inflamed.

    Breaking down the preference flow in a state by-election and suggesting incorrectly that candidates “deliver” votes to other candidates (voters number every square, not candidates, and even Mayne’s review of the numbers shows that’s what happened, with very few blindly following how to votes cards) is probably the most boring thing I’ve ever read here.

    Crikey has moved on from Stephen Mayne and doesn’t need this bile. Please stop giving him preferences.

  4. Russell

    Yet another “we was robbed” sob. story, again in Crikey… There have been quite a few.

    In Balmain in 2011. a similar win by preferences occurred. In that case, the Liberals won the primary vote, but the third placed candidate was able to leap frog the other two based on the complicated preference flow of the other candidates (In NSW’s optional system, most don’t allocate preferences, although some of the minor candidates were “stand-ins” and did issue directives)

    When the result was declared, there were no agonised recriminations, no accusations of skullduggery. Crikey (and everyone else) either ignored it or wrote “historic win!” stories. Even the candidate who won the most first votes retained a dignified silence.

    But in that case, a Greens MP was elected.

  5. Ian Mack

    One wonders what a bit of a chat with Ms Patten & Dr Ahmed would have done to the outcome, had the Greens secured their preferenes above the the ALP? Ms Patten certainly stated that the Greens didn’t phone her to discuss preferences, did they call the good Doctor?

  6. JamesJohnsonCHR

    Thank you for another fine blog Stephen. I think the key sentence is your opening line “.. a record 16 candidates .. only two bothered turning up ..” *Sigh* I guess we don’t get the democracy we don’t deserve.

    Good on you for giving it a go. And good on you for turning up at the formal declaration.

    A very interesting analysis of the preference redistributions too. I can’t help but think that when the outcome comes down to preference trading, the next trend will be for the main candidates to buddy up (I hesitate to say set up) a candidate or three specifically as ‘wide receivers’ of those magical late / last preference votes.

    While the direction of preferences was probably as easily foreseen before as after the event, I wonder whether S-x, Mr Nolte, Mr Fenn, Mr Ahmed – or Mr Mayne – would be more thoughtful with where they directed preferences if they could have their time again (which you can of course, in 3 years time). Life is a never ending learning curve.

    I can’t help but think that a simpler system is less susceptible to corruption wouuld be better. What’s so terribly wrong with one vote, one value, counted once – first past the post? After all MPs don’t run the government. They just oversee the professional bureaucrats who do. And I think the case can be made that preferencing votes (ie giving them a chance to count twice, three or even 15 times in a case of 16 candidates) is another anti-democratic spin on democracy.

    If I can add a comment of my own, it seems that we live in an age where Rule Brittania’s ‘Westminster Government’ has morphed into an even less democratic ‘Yes Minister Government.’ MPs notoriously do as their party heads and bureaucrat chiefs direct them rather than as their constituents wish to be represented.

    So I suggest that the real voting strategy should be to always vote the sitting Members last. This would over time see the end of careerism, cronyism, corruption and (eventually) a demise in political parties too. Given we have professional / career bureaucrats, we need parliamentarians who are independent trustees watching over the benches of professional career bureaucrats. Independence from the bureaucrats and representativeness of the people are the virtues that we should look for in parliamentarians. If (as Senior MPs do) they identify with their bureaucrats more than they do their constituents then surely that’s the opposite of democracy?

    Curiously it only needed one MP (Mr Nolte) to “put the sitting MP (‘s party) last” in his preferencing scheme, and then the tangled web of the preference system would have produced the same outcome as the first past the post -without the extra processing, without the extra room for manipulation. Maybe next time?

  7. AR

    As PaulaN noted above, very few blindly followed HTV slips (even a quarter of FF’s voters went Green rather than Labor), including Mayne’s cohort, which is as it should be assuming semi sentient electorate.
    I do wonder though why the lack of compact between S-x & Greens given their similar stance on so many issues.

  8. Gavin Moodie

    I found this piece informative. It wasn’t ‘We wuz robbed’ but complaining that ‘History is written by the victors’.

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