No one believes Queensland's Nationals leader Lawrence Springborg
will be that state's premier after next Saturday's election. Peter
Beattie's Labor government holds 66 of the parliament's 89 seats,
and the swing required to oust him is 10per cent.
But as a recent exchange on the Crikey website between Democrats
number-cruncher John Cherry and ABC election analyst Antony Green
illustrated, those figures belie a closer contest.
To understand why, let's brush up on Australia's voting system by
looking at the French one. There, votes are cast for a field of
candidates. If no one receives more than 50per cent support, voters
return two weeks later to choose from the two frontrunners.
In Australia, we do something similar but all on the same day by
ranking candidates. A politician's primary vote is like the French
first-round support, and the two-candidate-preferred vote (after
preferences) roughly equates to the French second round.
But this is complicated by our compulsory versus optional
preferential voting (CPV and OPV).
By law, Australians must go to a polling booth, but we don't have
to register a vote.
However, under CPV (used at federal elections), if we do vote, we
"must number every square". This is like telling the
French that voting is optional but if they do it in round one, they
must do it again in a fortnight.
Queensland uses OPV, so you can number as many squares as you
wish - like being able to attend either or both French rounds.
For the purposes of this exercise, imagine French law saying that
if you vote for a candidate in round one, and that candidate
survives to round two, you must vote for them again.
We can now look at next Saturday's vote as a two-round contest.
At the last Queensland election, in 2001, 10per cent voted in the
first round but not the second. They had no influence on the
outcome. And about three quarters of that 10per cent were
This happened because the conservative vote splintered from the
coalition to One Nation and others, and because people just voted
"one", their votes went nowhere when their candidate
dropped out of the count.
The conservative vote is expected to substantially return to the
coalition next Saturday. In addition, Liberals and Nationals have
agreed not to run in the same seats, and the Greens are contesting
more electorates, so siphoning ALP votes. Fewer Queenslanders,
therefore, will abstain from round two, and more of those who do
will be Labor supporters.
Cherry sees the coalition winning five seats from the government
- without taking one vote from it. Green writes that if Queensland
used CPV, Beattie's majority would shrink by eight, and
Springborg's required swing would only be 6.8per cent.
You can quibble with their numbers, but what they say is almost
certainly true: tens of thousands of anti-Labor Queenslanders - who
wasted their votes in 2001 - won't be wasting their vote again next
Peter Brent is editor of mumble.com.au.