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Massive swings to conservatives in state elections

March 21st, 2010 at 07:04am

Regardless of who actually forms government in Tasmania and South Australia, there can be no doubt that the mood in those two states has shifted drastically towards conservatives, much as we have seen in recent elections such as the 2008 Northern Territory election and, to a lesser extent, the 2008 Western Australian election and the 2009 Queensland election. Much like most of those elections though, the swings might not be big enough for conservatives to form government due to large incumbent majorities.

Tasmania is set to go down as a hung parliament with the most likely outcome as ten seats each for the Labor and Liberal parties, with the Greens taking out the remaining five seats despite the Liberals taking more of the primary vote than Labor 39.1% to 37.1% with the Greens taking 21.3%. This is thanks to the strange Hare-Clark proportional counting system allowing for large numbers of votes which don’t fit in to a “quota” to effectively be wasted.

Labor took a serious beating with a swing against them of 12.1%, whilst the Liberal party gained a 7.2% swing and the Greens received a lesser 4.6% swing. None of this takes in to account the postal votes etc which have not been counted yet. As such, the 10-10-5 result isn’t guaranteed but appears to be the most likely.

Either way, Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett said prior to the election that whichever party receives the most votes in a minority government should be given the first opportunity to form government. Given this statement, and the fact that the Greens will probably decide who governs and will be wary of a partnership with their supposed ideological comrades in the Labor Party after the way they have been shafted in the ACT, it is probable that we will see Liberal leader Will Hodgman as Premier, forming a minority government with Green Party backing.

Will seemed very confident of forming government in his speech, and given the way that much of his party seems to be interested in renewable energy (presumably in a sensible cost-effective way rather than a “all the polar bears will have to swim to the equator if we don’t build five zillion wind farms by 10am” way), I’d suggest that he is right.

Over in South Australia we see a similar story of a massive swing to the Liberal Party (7.3%) and a similar swing against Labor. We also see the similar-to-Tasmania story of the Liberals receiving more votes but not more seats. With 72.9% of the vote counted, The Liberals hold 41.4% of the primary vote to Labor’s 37.9 and the Greens’ 8%. Oddly though this sees Labor ahead on seats.

Seat calculations have been thrown in to disarray by the extremely close results in a number of seats, and the swing is haphazard. Whilst the overall swing is against Labor, many seats had strong swings in either direction, and it seems that the obvious Liberal victories are mostly by huge margins, which means that a lot of their overall swing is “wasted” on excess votes in seats which they have clearly won, at the expense of the closer seats. This makes it possible for the Labor party to retain government.

The ABC computer claims that Labor will take 25 seats, Liberals 18, and independents and minor parties 4. This, however, is disputed by the ABC’s analysts which think there is likely to be two or three seats which the computer has awarded to Labor, but could easily go to the Liberals. This would bring the Labor party under the 24 seat threshold required for a majority government and potentially make it a 22-21-4 parliament. This would give Labor more seats, but still make it possible for the Liberals to form government with independent/minor party backing thanks to the fact that the parliament still gets to elect its leader, and this does not have to come from the party with the most seats. One could argue that in a 22-21-4 environment, the 21 seat party could be more likely to get independent/minor party backing if they attracted more votes from the public.

I would be tempted to say that incumbent Labor Premier Mike Rann will be returned to power except for that fact that his speech last night sounded like he thought he is going to lose. He did everything you would expect from a concession speech except concede, and this makes me think that his party officials have told him that the postal votes will go against him and that he will be facing a big backroom-deal-with-the-independents battle. Liberal leader Isobel Redmond’s speech was much more optimistic (although nowhere near as optimistic as the almost-victory speech of Tasmanian Liberal leader Will Hodgman) and so I strongly suspect that we will see a further substantial number of votes go to the Liberals before the counting is over.

At this time, I’m predicting a Liberal-led and Greens-backed government in Tasmania, and a minority Labor government in South Australia with a change to a minority Liberal government mid-term when Mike Rann pulls the pin or looks like he is going to pull the pin.

The swing to the conservatives is very heartening, and despite the decent swing to the Greens in Tasmania, I still have to say that this is just another sign that the world seems to be shifting back to the conservative side of politics after its 2006-2008 anti-incumbent shift to the left. In such a swing to the conservatives, a swing to the Greens is to be expected in a relatively left-wing state such as Tasmania. Tasmania has a substantial left-wing “environmentalist” population, and it’s only natural in a shift away from an incumbent Labor government that the Greens would pick up the votes of those who refuse to vote Labor but can’t bring themselves to stomach the notion of voting for the Liberals. Tasmania is very similar to the ACT in this way as we have a relatively left-wing population thanks to our massive public servant workforce and we saw a similar swing in the 2008 election.

Victoria’s Labor government faces an election this year and would have to be a tad concerned by these results even though the polls suggest that they still have a comfortable lead. They really need to hope that the federal election is called before the state election occurs, as the Tasmanian and South Australian elections are quite indicative of the shift which appears to be occurring at the national level and people don’t seem to like voting for the same party at a national and state level within a few weeks of each other.

Federally, Kevin Rudd won’t be happy today as he is likely to face a very similar backlash at the polls and doesn’t have the same percentage lead as his Tasmanian and South Australian counterparts. Tony Abbott on the other hand will be sure to try to seize on the momentum of his state colleagues.

It’s hard to draw definitive conclusions between state and federal elections due to the nature of the different policies and responsibilities of these governments, but when you have swings as big as we have seen in these two elections with only a handful of months until the federal election, the swings can’t be ignored.


Entry Filed under: General News,Samuel's Editorials

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