24/09/2008 - 22:00

Tale of the tape a painful read

24/09/2008 - 22:00


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IT'S difficult when assessing elections not to immediately reach for statistics - size of swings, percentage of preferences gained by parties, levels of various majorities, and other such measures that help assess how well or how badly parties and candida

IT'S difficult when assessing elections not to immediately reach for statistics - size of swings, percentage of preferences gained by parties, levels of various majorities, and other such measures that help assess how well or how badly parties and candidates performed.

Despite Mark Twain magnanimously attributing to Benjamin Disraeli that often-uttered saying, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics", it's worth stressing that statistics also disclose easily overlooked truths.

Take some of the following.

WA's Electoral Commission, an agency whose work largely hinges around statistics, tells us there were 1.33 million voters registered on election day for the recent state poll.

But only 1.09 million, or 82 per cent, of votes were counted, meaning 240,000 electors, for varying reasons, missed out.

So a shade below one in every six Western Australians didn't participate in the election of one of the 59 Legislative Assembly members or any of the 36 Legislative Councillors.

Put otherwise, since each Legislative Assembly seat had about 23,000 voters, the missing 240,000 voters made up nearly 11 seats - a truly significant figure when viewed thus.

This difficult-to-explain number of missing votes also makes one wonder how many voters would visit a polling booth if voting in wasn't compulsory.

Using the 82 per cent figure as a benchmark we see most seats falling into the 84-to-88 per cent band, with some at 89 per cent.

The three standout seats that exceeded the 90 per cent voter turnout mark were Kingsley, Collie-Preston, and Albany.

State Scene is unable to offer an explanation for this, beyond saying that in any race someone must be a winner and here it was Kingsley, at 90.50 per cent. Collie-Preston polled 90.33 per cent and Albany 90.14 per cent.

The four seats with the lowest voter turnout were, in descending order: Kalgoorlie (76.42); North-West (75.36); Pilbara (69.23) and Kimberley (61.98).

In other words, seats fairly described as outback, home to significant Aboriginal populations, generally in remote locations, and short-term resource project workers.

Taking the Legislative Assembly again, the Liberals easily topped the voting aggregate with 418,721 votes to Labor's 390,997.

The Liberals, again using assembly figures, came in with 38.40 per cent compared with Labor's even more dismal 35.86 per cent, while the Greens attracted a respectable 11.91 percent.

That meant the majors together registered below 75 per cent of the vote.

One in every four voters preferred candidates other than from the Liberals or Labor, which seems to suggest the view held in the lead-up to the premature election and during the campaign - that it was a contest between two undeserving entities - is probably valid.

Nationals WA attracted just 4.87 per cent of the votes in the assembly to win four crucial seats, thereby forcing both major parties to sit up and begin bidding for their backing.

But that 4.87 per cent was gained by contesting only seven of the 59 assembly seats.

In other words, the Nationals vote-changing, two-year Royalties for Regions campaign was both focused and targeted.

Because the Nationals adopted such a marketing ploy they were not only able to win four of the seven targeted seats, but a further five in the Legislative Council, where they now also hold the balance of power.

This can only be described as a power grabbing bonanza, since their low but regionally targeted vote presents the Nationals with more parliamentary firepower - votes on the floor of each chamber - than either major party or the Greens who scored well over double the Nationals' vote with 11.91 per cent.

Although Labor - the state's oldest party - beat the Greens vote aggregate of 129,913 votes by about 260,000, it's worth emphasising that the relatively young Greens vote is a third of Labor's vote.

If that trend continues it won't be long before a Greens candidate is sitting in the Legislative Assembly; and the seat they're most likely to snap-up is Fremantle.

Their best chance of taking it will come when Labor leftist powerbroker, Jim McGinty, stands down, which is likely to be at the next election due around 2012-13.

The Greens Fremantle candidate, Adele Carles, attracted a respectable 5,191 votes (27.6 per cent) to Mr McGinty's 7,286 (38.7 per cent).

Ms Carles was only 498 votes behind Liberal, Brian Christie, suggesting a Greens-Liberal preference swap deal is all that's needed for the Greens to bag Dockers country that iconic Labor Prime Minister, John Curtin, once represented.

This could be possible if the Greens are willing to help the Liberals in another seat both conclude the Liberals have a good chance of snatching from Labor next time.

Let's see what happens as the next election approaches.

All this raises the interesting question of just when that election will be called.

Can Mr Barnett and his strident Nationals partners enjoy an extra six months in power because former premier, Alan Carpenter, so foolishly cut his own premiership short by half a year?

Or is Mr Barnett now locked into a pre-Christmas 2012 election rather than an early 2013 contest?

State Scene has been told the new government will need to consult top constitutional lawyers on precisely when it can call that poll.

One insider suggested Mr Carpenter's decision to go so early will force the Barnett-Nationals partnership to either call that election well before February 1 2013, otherwise moves will need to be made to institute fixed elections.

If the latter option is taken, the next election could legally be set for a date soon after February 1 2013.

Because governments steer clear of calling elections during school holidays - since schools double as polling stations and during school term teachers often double as electoral officers - Mr Carpenter's decision to opt for September this year may act as an incentive for fixed-term legislation to be passed with the support of both major parties.

Time will tell.

Another interesting statistic is the number of candidates who attracted less than half of voters in their respective seats.

In a huge 45 out of the 59 Legislative Assembly contests, candidates had to rely on preferences to get across the line; that is, they could not gain absolute majorities in their own right.

Independent Liberal Liz Constable registered the best score by a long way with 67.32 per cent of the primary votes, followed by Mr Barnett with 64.45 per cent.

They were the only candidates to score above the 60 percentage point mark.

The other dozen in the 50s band included: Labor's best performer, high-profile ex-minister Alannah MacTiernan, at 55.96 per cent; Liberal, Kim Hames (55.74 per cent); and one-time Liberal leader, Troy Buswell, at 55.70 per cent.

Mr Carpenter also came in above the half-way mark, but only just, at 51.65 per cent.

The best new Labor performer was Janine Freeman in the safe seat of Nollamara at 51.16 per cent, while Liberal frontbencher, Christian Porter won 53.40 per cent in Bateman.

He entered State Parliament at a by-election early this year.

On the basis of the statistical outcomes highlighted it's clear the stand-out feature of election 2008 was the emergence of the Nationals' voting power on the floors of the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council - four members in the former and five in the latter - with less than 5 per cent of assembly votes.

Another notable feature was that neither major party was able to attract even 40 per cent of the vote.

Let's also not forget that the right-of-centre Barnett-Nationals partnership only scored a combined 43.27 per cent - so well below the half-way mark - compared to the informal left-of-centre Labor-Greens alliance's 47.77 per cent.

Doesn't that conclusively show that the so-called Barnett landslide was nowhere near as gargantuan as we're being led to believe by the media and conservative spin doctors?

These statistical measures, more than Mr Carpenter's silly decision to call an unnecessarily early election, are what election 2008 should be remembered for.


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