Putting the handbrake on

If the Barry O’farrell-led Coalition wins the expected lower house landslide at this month’s election Mr O’farrell will have no problems forming a government, but governing will be much harder as the Greens will probably control the upper house.

Voters who choose to vote for change need to remember that legislation needs to pass both the lower house and the upper house when they cast their ballot on March 26.

Present indications are that a Liberal- National Coalition government will not have a majority in the NSW Legislative Council and will need to negotiate everything opposed by an ALP Opposition with the minor parties and independents.

The best result for an O’farrell led government would be for it to rely upon the support of the Christian Democratic Party, Family First and the Shooters and Fishers Party.

The alternative could be that the Greens hold the balance of power, as in the federal Senate.

A ‘hung’ upper house means the government must negotiate and change its policies and legislation, including funding, to get the support of the cross-bench members.

The minor parties and independents may also seek to achieve outcomes and funding for social, environmental or economic policies they favour in return for their support.

They can also force controversial issues onto the parliamentary agenda.

As a result, a government with a reform agenda can be seriously delayed and obstructed as bills are amended or blocked and hostile committee inquiries launched.

However, the NSW upper house is not able to block the budget and supply to create a 1975-type constitutional crisis.

The look of the house

The Legislative Council consists of 42 members (MLCs) elected for staggered eight- year terms.

At each election, 21 members are elected at large across the state.

The quota for election is 4.55 per cent.

Optional preferential voting is used, with voters required to give at least 15 preferences.

The Coalition should win either nine or 10 upper house seats, while the ALP vote has collapsed to possibly picking up only five seats.

If the Greens win more than four or the Liberal-National joint ticket fails to win 10 it is very likely the Greens will, as a result, hold the balance of power.

To get a majority in its own right the Coalition needs to elect 14 members, representing 64 per cent of the vote.

This is very unlikely.

One or other of the Christian Democratic Party and Family First should win a seat to rejoin the Rev Fred Nile, who is not up for re- election.

The Shooters and Fishers candidate should be re-elected to give a total of two MLCs.

One wild card is the decision of former high-profile anti-corruption campaigner and independent MP John Hatton to run for election to the upper house.

The current NSW ALP Government has been forced to rely upon Greens support to pass its legislation, just as in Canberra Julia Gillard has to rely upon the Greens and rural independents.

Dr Karin Sowada is currently CEO of the Anglican Deaconess Ministries Ltd. She served as a Senator in the Commonwealth Parliament from 1991-93 and is a member of the Diocesan Social Issues Executive. Karin is also an archaeologist specialising in ancient Egypt.

Comments (9)

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  • Richard Blight
    March 21, 11 - 9:03pm
    Hi Karen, any concerns about 'splitting the Christian vote' between CDP and Family First and ending up with neither getting a seat? I know plenty of people have trouble with the preferential voting system - especially the version for the NSW Legislative Council.
  • Stephen Davis
    March 22, 11 - 1:40am
    Whoever he makes a deal with, let's hope it is not the Greens!
  • Andrew White
    March 22, 11 - 4:44am
    Richard, a preferential system makes it virtually impossible to "split the vote". If two candidates represent a voting "bloc", then whichever is eliminated will tend to dump all their votes onto the other, thus preserving the bloc.

    Consider a very simple system, electing two of three candidates. In a preferential system, this puts the quota at ~34%. One candidate (A) is favoured by 40% of the voters, the other two (B, C) combined by 60%. There are basically two possibilities:

    One of B or C gets more than 40% of the vote. They are elected, and their preferences above 34% are redistributed on a pro-rata basis. Assume that B is elected and the vast majority of preferences flow to C. But C can't get more than 40% of the vote (B used 34%, A has 40% = 74%, which leaves only 26%), so A is elected also.

    Alternatively, A gets 40%, and B and C split the remaining 60% roughly evenly between them. The 6% surplus from A is redistributed, which will result in one or the other of B and C reaching the magic 34%.

    In fact, an even split of primary votes is more rather than less desirable. Assuming there's a scrabble for the last few places, a heavily skewed vote is more likely to result in one of the candidates being eliminated early, while two middling totals might pick up enough preferences to push them both over.

  • Andrew White
    March 22, 11 - 4:48am

    The primary advantages of preferential voting systems are:
    (1) They are robust against vote-splitting.
    (2) Voters can vote for the candidate they really want without giving up their say on which of the front-runners they prefer.

    So, vote, use your preferences, and don't try to second-guess the system. :)
  • Richard Blight
    March 22, 11 - 6:14am
    Andrew, thanks for your input, but we are talking about possible outcomes for the minor parties for the NSW Upper House election (as per Karen's article). In the NSW Upper house election there is optional preferential voting. If voting below the line, voters only have to indicate 15 prefernces (but 21 people will be elected). If voting 'above the line' voters only have to indicate one preference (although they can indicate more). Party preference deals are not allowed in the MLC election - voters have to indicate their preferences or the ballot is discarded once their chosen candidates are eliminated.

    When Gordon Moyes was elected on the CDP ticket 8 years ago there was no Family First Party. Now Gordon Moyes has joined Family First and is running under their banner. For those who wish to vote for a 'Christian Aligned' party there are now (at least) two choices (we could include DLP here). If voters just vote [1] above the line for either of these parties their ballot will be exhausted / discarded once their candidate is eliminated.

    Therefore it is possible that the 'Christian vote' might be 'split' between FF & CDP and neither get a seat.

    The solution is for voters who wish to vote for these candidates to vote at least 1 and 2 above the line, but I suspect many won't realise this is necessary.
  • Andrew White
    March 22, 11 - 6:29am
    Party preference deals are not allowed in the MLC election - voters have to indicate their preferences or the ballot is discarded once their chosen candidates are eliminated

    Ah, I didn't realise the subtlety that people might vote above the line for only one. I just assume that "vote for everyone you prefer, in order" means exactly that.

    But I can see the confusion between the federal system (where you can vote for a preference ballot) and the state system (where you're only voting for the group).

    However, that's not technically a "split vote" problem; that's just failing (accidentally or deliberately) to indicate preferences. The same issue will occur if someone votes for a major party and doesn't preference minor parties.
  • Duncan W MacInnes
    March 22, 11 - 8:01am
    Forgive me but, as an outsider, I find Australian state politics and its relationship to federal politics confusing.

    Coming from Britain - part of the liberal secular northern arc of Europe (which includes Scandinavia, Belgium and Netherlands) - it is astounding that a self confessed athiest Prime Minister should be defending the Bible and Christian principles. In our part of the world conservative politicians adovocate same sex marriages, so it is extraordinary viewing the debate from this side of the world.

    However, I think (as is certainly happening in the USA), 'moral values politics' as Gillard is advocating and the Liberal opposition naturally holds, just makes the advocates of the liberal secular wing more angry and adventurous in say, advocationg full same sex marriage instead of civil unions (this has happened in the USA). Here in northern Europe, people like the Greens are part of the mainstream parties, and have framed policy. I think it is just a time lag, as to when Austraia follows - perhaps more quickly than here, as when tensions rise up things often tend to break and the floodgates open. Perhaps the northern European model of gradual creep is better for preparing opposing voices.
  • Kevin Goddard
    March 22, 11 - 9:56am
    governing will be much harder as the Greens will probably control the upper house

    What a depressing thought. But here's some good news that might affect that scenario :

    Double blow to NSW Greens' election chances
    8pm Tues 22 March 2011

    The Greens' hopes of winning their first Lower House seats in this weekend's New South Wales election have suffered a double blow.

    The party's Marrickville candidate, Fiona Byrne, has been caught up in a major gaffe over a planned boycott of Israel, while one of the Greens' other main hopes, Jamie Parker, now faces an uphill battle after a high-profile anti-corruption campaigner backed one of his rivals....

    So maybe that will translate to the electorate waking up - and not voting for the Greens at all. We live in hope ;)
  • Stephen Davis
    March 22, 11 - 10:15pm
    Duncan, you make a relevant point when you say "'moral values politics' as Gillard is advocating and the Liberal opposition naturally holds, just makes the advocates of the liberal secular wing more angry and adventurous in say, advocationg full same sex marriage instead of civil unions". That is why the Church needs to be as vigilant as ever and step up to the increasing challenge posed by the liberal secular wing.