Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A conversation about the Australian election with a reader from Down Under

Bukko Boomeranger and I had quite the conversation about the Australian election in the comments to John Oliver explains trade.  I found it so engrossing that I first responded "Just for you, I might cover it [the Australian election] next week," and finished with "I'll respond to the rest of your comment when I feature it in a post about the Australian elections."  Here are his comments with my responses about ranked-choice voting, mandatory voting, and the outcome of the election.

Here's Bukko's first comment, which he posted before the voting began.
Ah well -- soon off to accost voters (national Parliamentary election today.) It's good fun. Citizens expect to pass through a line of people waving flyers telling them what various parties recommend in Australia's ranked multiple-choice voting system. I try to make it funny, with quips like "If you're sick of the big parties!" or "Who's leaning Green today?" And when the polls close, I'll be "scrutineering." That means watching the Australian Election Commission's paid workers when they unseal the ballot boxes, dump the paper ballots onto a table, sort them by which candidate got the voter's #1 choice, then eliminating the piles with the fewest votes. THOSE ballots are shuffled onto the candidates that each voter marked as their #2 choice, so the person's vote is not entirely ignored. From then, it goes to the top 2 vote-getters, and the winner at that polling station is determined. Combine the results from polling places across the electorate, and bingo! we have a winner. It's pretty quick -- less than 2 hours -- and honest, with observers from Labor, us Greenies, sometimes the Liberals (the conservative party), Socialists or other minor parties looking on. Much better than black box electronic voting. It's one of the reasons I have a bit of faith in this country, because everyone has to vote (or face a small fine) and the counting is done transparently, so who's in Parliament can be said to represent the will of the people.
I knew that Australia had mandatory voting, but I didn't know that the country also had ranked-choice voting.  While I'm not a fan of mandatory voting with fines for not voting, I am in favor of other ways of increasing turnout, particularly by reducing barriers to access.  That's why I was thrilled when Proposal 3 passed here in Michigan allowing same-day registration and no-reason absentee voting.  On the other hand, I am definitely a fan of ranked-choice voting, which I mentioned as an election reform before.  I am so glad to see that it works so smoothly in a major country like Australia.

On the gripping hand (yes, a Motie reference), I'm not sure I'd like to walk through a throng of volunteers trying to get me to vote for their party or candidate on the way to the polling station.  It's bad enough seeing all the lawn signs on the way in, and I'm a fan of lawn signs and have placed them myself the night before an election.

That was about the process.  Follow over the jump for the outcome, which came as a bit of surprise.

I'm interrupting the conversation with a news report from DW News: Australia election 2019: How did Scott Morrison defy the poll predictions?

Scott Morrison's Liberal Party conservative coalition has won reelection, despite having trailed in the polls before the country's general election. Morrison's challenger, opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten, has conceded defeat. Morrison originally won power less than a year ago, becoming the third conservative prime minister since 2013. He ran a campaign centered on his personality and on the risks posed to the middle class by the opposition Labor Party's tax policies. It's still unclear if Morrison will win majority government or have to rely on the support of conservative independents.
I'll let Bukko react to the results.
As for the election, faaaark... The Greens member of parliament for Melbourne, the one I've been campaigning for, was re-elected to his seat. He's a decent guy, honest, down-to-earth, deals well with constituents who come up to him at events, local punters seem to love him. Inner-city Melbourne is super progressive, which is one of many reasons I like living here. But the Greens didn't pick up any more seats in the lower house in Canberra, despite a lot of ground-game effort by volunteers like me. They can't afford media ad blitzes, so it's old-school door-knocking, setting up stalls at community events, handing out leaflets... Not the big-money carpet-bombing that American R's and D's use.

Greens held their own in the Aussie Senate, whose role is mainly to put a check on acts of the lower house. It forces The System to have bipartisan compromise, because the ranked-choice voting system means lots of minor parties get a few reps in the Senate, not a duopoly like the U.S. It takes a long time to count all the Senate votes; distribute the preferences of peoples' first, second, third choice, and/or what deals the parties cut amongst themselves for people who voted a straight ticket instead of ranking their one-to-six top candidates. Aussies are accustomed to not knowing THE VERY SAME NIGHT who's going to be in the Leg. Part of the laid-back "No worries; she'll be right" vibe.

The reason I'm bummed is that Labor (they spell the party's name the American way here) did NOT turf out the conservative Liberal Party (as in Adam Smith-style economic free-trading liberalism) as was widely expected. Lefties here are in as much shock as Dems were in 2016. The Libs and their coalition partners in the National (i.e. "country folk") Party aren't as venal as Rethugs, but they're getting there. In the pocket of the coal industry, doing nothing about climate change, giving tax breaks to "the top end of town" and austerity for the "battlers" (people who are "doing it hard.") It says something bad about Australia that enough of the citizenry (especially in Queensland, the state that approximates the Amerikkkan South) are willing to support such a selfish mob. Fits right in with Trump and Brexit. And Orban in Hungary, reich-wing populists in Italy, Poland, the rising AfD in Germany, etc.

I reckon humanity is doomed. The masses are not wanting to be progressive when they have a choice. Fear and greed win. That is what our species of monkeys with machine guns IS. Kunstler's yeast people saying "More sugar in our bottle! We're gonna keep dividing like there's no tomorrow!" And there won't be. Probably within your lifetime and mine; definitely within my daughter's. Our species had a chance but we voted for extinction.
To be fair to the voters, I am sure they don't think they are voting for extinction.  They are voting for life as they know it to go on as long as possible.  That it might likely result in untold environmental damage and eventual collapse of their economies and societies many, if not most, of them don't realize or accept.  That's why I began this blog with the Motie metaphor and why I continue to be a Crazy Eddie who thinks that people can be educated and persuaded to avoid the worst outcomes.

Also, Australia under the Liberals will still be better off than the U.S. under Trump, at least when it comes to climate.  Morrison has pledged to fulfill Australia's obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement.  Trump has pulled the U.S. out.  At least Australia's conservative government recognizes the reality of climate change and has decided to so something, even if it's as little as possible.  The U.S., the second largest producer of greenhouse gases after China, isn't even doing that much!

Finally, thank you, Bukko, for your report, as depressing as it turned out to be after such an optimistic beginning.  I welcome your comments.  Keep them coming.


  1. The leaflet gauntlet isn't too bad: they're only trying to hand you bits of paper with suggested preference-rankings on them. You can say "No thanks, no thanks" and head on paper-free, or take everybody's and keep going, or just take the one for the people you plan to vote for. No-one stops you and tries to tell you why you should vote for their favoured party, or anything like that. You just either take their paper or you don't.

    1. Thanks for sharing that. I makes me less worried about an Australian-style election.

    2. Arian's right -- people aren't too fussed by the "how-to-vote" mob because politics is regarded more like sport Down Undahere, not as a core personal identity.

      Imagine going to some athletic event with multiple competitors, maybe Olympic-type games, where cheer squads in team colours were handing out papers with what fight songs to bellow when their side was waiting for the starter's gun. No one on the cheer squad is gonna bash you if you decide to take the fight song for Ruritania instead of the one for the Grand Duchy of Fenwick. And Fenwickians don't detest those Ruritania-types so much that they'll spit on their hands as they walk by.

      Aussies generally like each other, at least the light-skinned ones. The electorates where I'm active are mostly Caucasian, so I haven't caught much of a sense of ethnic conflict. In the Muslim-heavy northern suburbs of Melbourne, or the very Vietnamese section of Richmond (where I was supposed to leaflet on election day before getting pulled to a somewhat Jewish area named Elsternwick at the last minute) there might have been more tension.

      OTOH, maybe not. One of the things about Australia that reminds me of America in the 1970s is that the societal ideology is like the Rodney King (of L.A. riot fame) statement: "Can we all get along?" At least in public. The U.S. seemed to be trying for that before Reagan came along and racism became popular again. (Not that it ever disappeared, but people felt pressure to PRETEND they weren't full of hate.)

      It wasn't racism that motivated the conservative voters here. The racist parties, even in Queensland (Oz's equivalent to the Amerikkkan South) got stomped. As you sussed, Pinku, it was status-quo'ism. Like West Virginians, they think that new coal mines will bring them jobs. Humans are not good at looking past the immediate, though, such as how the water that coal mines suck from the aquifer will destroy more farming jobs than the pits create. And when polluted runoff, damage from collier ships and the effects of climate change finish the ruin of the Great Barrier Reef, that's going to mean fewer jobs serving tourists that used to want to snorkel in the coral forests. Only ghouls dive on the bleached bones of a carked natural wonder.

    3. Thanks for seconding that the leaflet brigade isn't as bad as I imagined as well as explaining why my fears were misplaced. Also, Grand Fenwick vs. Ruritania. As a fan of "The Mouse That Roared," I found that a hilarious reference.

      Yeah, all kinds of things changed for the worse after Reagan, even though it appeared most Americans approved of him and what he brought at the time. Not me. I was a registered Republican at the time and could never bring myself to vote for the man.

      Heh, I used to be a tour guide and had a group of Australians. I made a Texas joke then asked them who in Australian they made fun of. No surprise, it was Queensland.

      I just watched a PBS Hot Mess video which made the point that climate change is a hyper-object that is too big for humans to comprehend. That's depressing.

      Well, ghouls and scientists. At least the latter showed how depressed it made them in "Chasing Coral."