Do the politicians think we have no memory? Part 3

After an Australian election, if  one party gets a majority of the whole population vote but another party wins the majority of seats the losing  politicians regularly grumble, throwing around words like “gerrymander.”

Politicians say they want schools to teach students to understand and value our way of government.  They say they want schools to emphasise teaching of history, and it is an important part of our history that a great deal of care was put into setting up our system, which started peacefully and by negotiation well after the hasty and violent starts of the main European countries and the USA.   They say they want these things in the curriculum,  but I wonder whether they want voters to remember their schooling when they come to vote.

Background  to  the Australian Electoral System

(Skip this if you know it already)

It was a deliberate choice to have States’ federal Senate numbers equal regardless of population and representing proportional votes within each State, to prevent the tyranny of the majority.   They were certainly influenced by John Calhoun’s ideas on concurrent majority as an approach to the problem, ideas still discussed this century .   It was also a deliberate choice to have each voter  have as many preferential votes as there are candidates up for election in the State,¹ a change made in 1949, even though the mathematics and vote tracing were horribly curly in the days before computerised  counting.    A voter may vote for all one party first, or one Green, one Independent, one Labor, one Liberal, and one Euthanasia party candidate, then mix up the remaining candidates in any order as long as each candidate has ves preferred number on the paper.  If a candidate has more first preferences than ve needs (one-sixth-plus-one of the votes is the quota if there are 6 seats), ves surplus votes are distributed as first preferences in proportion to the preferences of the voters who gave ver the votes.  Candidates who get less than the fraction needed to get a seat are knocked out from least votes up, and at each step the loser’s votes next preferences are distributed and the scrutineers check whether someone has got the quota.    (Messy!  I’m not making this up – check with the Australian Electoral Commission)  No wonder they introduced “Or you can tick one party’s box and we will distribute all their preferences the way they have told the us to.”

It was also a deliberate choice to have each House of Representative seat linked to its own area (and electorates other than islands are single patches of land), and that the voters from that area  vote  for  individual candidates as individuals, though the candidates  could ally to parties.  That way, local interests could be well represented by someone known to the locals.   Also, in each area, the voter has preferential votes as in the Senate – so that if they like Alan but would rather have Jan than Ursula if they can’t have Alan, they can try for Alan but know that Jan will get their vote if he fails.  They just number the order of preference in the candidates’ boxes.  This means that you don’t get someone hated by 60% of the electorate into the seat just because the 60% have slightly different ideas about the best way to do things and vote for 3 other candidates first.  If they all prefer a 4th to the 40%er, they get their way.

Demographics

For philosophical reasons, State governments have been selling off State-owned housing in expensive areas, buying housing in less expensive locations,  and subsidising private rentals for those in need – who can seldom get private rentals in the prime locations.   In addition, those short of money sell out of high-value areas to free up the money, and the wealthy seek houses close to well-known exclusive schools and other valued social resources.  This has led to the service-providers (shop assistants, teachers, police, cleaners, etc) having to travel long distances to work, and tertiary students having to travel hours to their studies, with the associated travel costs – while the wealthy are within easy foot or  public transport access of resources.  This is fair in the  eyes of those benefiting from the user-pays  approach, and they see its good points:  after all, if the State provided enough low cost housing in the  upmarket areas, the dregs of society would lower property values.  An additional benefit is that the local State schools have a better class of student and parents and thus better outcomes than in the more difficult suburbs..

You got over half the total but not enough seats.  Problem?

True, there are many reasons people vote their different ways, but let’s pretend that wealth-aligned interests are usually enough to swing the vote.  Let us assume that the electoral boundaries are fair, with pretty similar numbers in each electorate, and thus there is no real gerrymander.  Our Electoral Commission does work at being fair that way.

Pretend there are 10 electorates.

Rich party has 90% of the votes in each of 4 electorates.

Poor party has 60% of the votes in each of 6 electorates.

% of total voters                   %  of total vote             seats / 10

R 36%        P 4%                                 40%                      4

R 24%        P 36 %                              60%                      6

total votes by  party                 R 60 %        P 40 %

Total seats by party                 R   4             P  6

Don’t complain.  This was part of the design of the Australian system, deliberately included to control concentrated power groups with regional agendas inimical to the wider society.   This is in the curriculum – the intersection of History with Society and Environment.   Why don’t the journalists call the politicians on this, rather than just quoting them?

I am so annoyed that I am going to shout.  

If  you want a greater proportion of the seats, have a better distribution of your supporters across electorates. 

A good start would be:  Get out of your enclaves of power, and make housing available for the “lower orders” closer to the places that they work.  If you can’t stop the worsening inequality, at least reduce home address’s value as a predictor of socioeconomic status.  

 

¹ I know, it is really “a preferential vote” but they used be allowed to number only a limited number of preferences and I wanted to make the distinction .

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