Get Your Hand Off It: Queensland Redistribution An Embarrassment

HAD Annastacia Palaszczuk wished to signal Queensland’s resumption of its status as a laughing stock, no better way could be found than the idiotic redivision of state boundaries; not content with rigging the electoral system, Palaszczuk has now seen fit to leave a lasting, and embarrassing, mark. Her electoral commissioners should, to put it crudely, get their hands off it — and give place names to electorates, not slogans or jingoistic rubbish.

It is the end of a long week and I’m tired, and there are weightier matters than this that we will canvass over the weekend: that much I promise.

But in a break between work and a meeting I had last night, a quick scan of the Murdoch mastheads over a hurried dinner revealed a nugget of excrement from the Sunshine State that made me shake my head in disbelief.

And worst of all, it is apparently serious.

It is always a bad sign when supposedly independent electoral commissions trumpet the pending release of a redistribution of boundaries in whatever jurisdiction they are located in; for days there has been a steady stream of (what I gather was intended as) suspense-building pronouncements about a release today by the Queensland Redistribution Commission of a redraw of that state’s electorates.

The only problem? Some bastard leaked it to the Fairfax press, and in turn, it’s been published everywhere else in the past 24 hours, including in the Courier Mail, from which you can read some coverage here and here.

And as the Courier Mail bluntly noted, the Commissioners haven’t just rejigged the boundaries — they’ve smashed and reshaped the electoral map.

The addition of four new electorates to what had since 1985 been an 89-seat unicameral Parliament is, on its own, no particular cause for outrage or ridicule; provided these — called for by the LNP as a way of gently scaling down vast rural electorates that have grown in size due to population drift toward the coast and cities — adhered to the principle of “one vote, one value” enshrined after the Fitzgerald Inquiry, with a small weighting for a handful of the largest rural electorates, nobody would have cause to quibble.

But as the bill to establish them came before Parliament, Labor rammed through an amendment to discard the optional preferential voting system (again, a direct legacy of the Fitzgerald probity reforms) and instead restore compulsory preferential voting — for no other reason than to guarantee itself a much higher flow of Communist Greens preferences, and thus substantially rig the entire system in its own favour.

Happily, the growing likelihood that the emergence of One Nation will, thanks to that change, also guarantee the Queensland LNP a much higher flow of preferences too will probably negate that ill-gotten advantage altogether: this is the problem with cynical rorting of political processes — one day, it will rebound on you altogether if you are stupid enough to try it on.

Even so — and undaunted — word is going around that Palaszczuk is about to call a snap election to avoid having to fight on the new boundaries; and so, idiosyncratically, Queenslanders are likely to head to the polls on the boundaries as they stand today — but not on the existing optional preferential voting system, which Labor has trashed in the brazen interests of self-advantage without consultation or debate.

Confused? You’d have every right to be. It isn’t a good look, and with One Nation thrown into the mix for good measure, Queensland politics is about to better resemble a lottery than a serious exercise in ascertaining who is most fit to govern the state.

At the very minimum, Palaszczuk and her cohorts are merrily turning Queensland back into the national laughing stock it was lampooned as for decades during the Bjelke-Petersen years — albeit without the tangible, commensurate legacy of state development and economic growth that accompanied the former National Party strongman’s tenure during what was a rotten regime to boot.

It’s some achievement, to be sure, and a dubious one indeed.

Yet it’s often the little things that really make a bad change stink, and the thing that leapt out at me — as I perused the proposed new boundaries over a mouthful of salmon last night — was the unfathomably idiotic and in some cases downright ridiculous names the Queensland Redistribution Commission has seen fit to allocate to some of the heavily redrawn state electorates.

A new electorate of “Bonney” on the Gold Coast. Where in hell is that? Glass House being renamed “Tibrogargan” makes a crumb of sense, given the mountain there, but the change smells dangerously of some smartarse thinking a trendy and puerile idea ought to be enacted. Calling what was Mount Isa “Traegar” is laughable. An electorate centred on Taringa, St Lucia and Mount Coot-tha, called “Maigar,” is ridiculous.

Yes, Coopers Camp Road runs obliquely through what was Ashgrove, and Cooper himself is probably a minor local historical figure of mild note, but to rename the electorate after him?

Brisbane Central — which does exactly what it says on the packet — is going to be far less obvious to the outsider and the local alike once it becomes “McConnell.”

And in the silly politician-speak phrase that begins “The people of…,” what subterranean point is there in having an electorate called “Hill” south of Cairns?

Some of these electorate names appear to have an indirect link to roads and topographical features they contain; some seem to be a tokenistic sop to Aboriginal culture, as has become all too fashionable these days; and some are just impermeable in terms of any rational person being likely to be able to ascertain just what the hell the Commissioners were thinking.

The practice of naming electorates after people of note has never sat all that well with me; it is hokey and jingoistic. “The people of Burt,” an electorate created in WA at the last federal redistribution was, I thought, the ultimate piece of electoral crassness, but I think “the people of Hill” have them covered now, or at least soon will.

Even if it takes another electoral cycle for “Hill” to exist at all, if only as a dumb name for a state seat.

Now, Queensland is set to have a state littered with such monuments to the stupidity of people too busy trying to look important and far less deserving of their salaries than their job titles would otherwise suggest.

Bancroft. Oodgeroo. Jordan. Ninderry. Miller. Toohey. I’m pretty sure the last two aren’t describing beer brands, but who in hell would know?

Seriously, these electorates — and the massive changes they inflict on the political landscape in Queensland — will have profound ramifications for all parties to coming electoral contests, with the radically redrawn boundaries likely to unleash a colossal degree of brawling and internal warfare across the political divide, as factions and vested interests set out to seize and protect as much turf as they can, and to protect MPs at high risk of defeat in seats some retain little connection to on their reformed configurations.

But taken in aggregate with the Palaszczuk’s rigging of the electoral system, the opacity of whether the next election will be fought on the old boundaries or the new, and the cringeworthy (and frankly imbecilic) names some of these seats have been given, it isn’t unfair to say that Palaszczuk has directly and indirectly turned Queensland into a joke — and not the kind run out of illicit brothels and casinos in Fortitude Valley under the benign gaze of corrupt Police during the Bjelke-Petersen era, who in any case were far shrewder and more astute than anyone sitting in the ALP party room today, even if they did deploy those attributes toward such improper ends.

Irrespective of who wins the next election in Queensland — whenever that is, and whichever boundaries it is conducted on — the new boundaries themselves have been created through a process that is entirely proper and in accordance with the legislative framework set out in Tony Fitzgerald’s recommendations: that much we do not dispute.

They will not be redrawn again until three elections, or eight years (whichever comes first) have been held or passed: this, too, is entirely appropriate.

But the minute Palaszczuk is thrown out of office and forcibly ejected from the Premier’s suite — hopefully, the day her cynical snap election is held in the near future — the LNP should rename all of the “interesting” electorates the process has created, and resume the system that has always applied in Queensland, whereby electorate names actually describe the places they cover and in terms normal people recognise and understand.

And in the meantime — not to put too fine a point on it — the Queensland Redistribution Commission should get its collective hand off it.

For a state that pompously declares itself to be the “smart” state, this is just dumb, dumb, dumb. And a bit too smart by half.

Rigged: ALP Fights Fair Electoral Boundaries In SA

SINCE 1982, SA Liberals have won the two-party vote at 8 of 10 state elections, but won two; many observers — me included — have long felt SA boundaries are rigged. SA is the Liberals’ biggest failure; now, the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission has produced a redraw notionally giving the Liberals office on 2014 votes. Like a toddler in meltdown, Labor is off to the SA Supreme Court. The rort offers national insight into the rotten ALP mentality.

In any discussion of “gerrymanders” in South Australia, what many casual observers (and even some seasoned ones) overlook is the fact that it was a Liberal state government which, in 1968, abolished electoral malapportionment in SA and in so doing, redistributed itself out of office; even so, what Labor has perpetuated in the Croweater State in the name of being “fair” over the past 40 years has been anything but, and now the rort is ending, the ALP is screaming blue murder.

I am including articles today from The Australian and Adelaide’s Advertiser newspaper — the latter including more links to other relevant coverage — that readers can access here and here; but first, a little history.

Step back 50 years, and most Australian states had electoral boundaries that incorporated some kind of malapportionment; the thinking at the time — before reliable air travel and fast, safe road transport was as prevalent as it is today — was that rural MPs should be accommodated with smaller electorates to service than their city cousins, and this guiding principle meant that state elections (by their nature) gave the man on the land a vote that was more heavily weighted than the man about town.

It is also one of the reasons why some of the long-term state Premiers of the past — Tom Playford, Frank Nicklin, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Henry Bolte — were conservatives representing country electorates; but the impact of this philosophy was not universal and was not consistent, as 24 years of ALP rule in more urban NSW between 1941 and 1965 shows by way of example.

As the state “gerrymanders” (which they were commonly called, despite more correctly being termed malapportionments) went, the SA boundaries were the heaviest in Australia, believed to weight country votes against city votes by a 6:1 margin; the example most commonly railed against by Labor (and which the ALP itself introduced, its latter-day declamations notwithstanding) and the one fine-tuned by Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland was also the least distorting, giving weight to rural votes at about 3:1.

The Queensland “zonal” boundaries also meant any party winning 50% of the vote after preferences would win power, which is exactly what Labor did when it won a majority of the two-party vote in 1989 for the first time since 1956.

It goes without saying that fair elections, conducted on the principle of “one vote, one value,” are absolutely imperative; I am no apologist for boundaries that are rigged in favour of conservatives, and have railed in this column against attempts to gain electoral advantage through fiddling with electoral apparatus by either side ever since I started it.

But after Steele Hall committed electoral suicide by redistributing himself out of office in South Australia in 1968, Labor — under the guise of “fairness” — legislated a special commission that would review that state’s boundaries after every election, and “adjust” them based on the most recent results to ensure that as closely as practicable, the party which won a majority of two-party votes at the next poll would win office.

In practice, this has meant that the Liberal Party — despite itself, and we’ll get back to that — has been almost completely locked out of office in SA since David Tonkin was beaten by John Bannon (with Labor scoring a minority of the vote) in 1982, save for the 1993 boilover in the wake of Labor’s State Bank disaster and a narrowly acquired second term four years later.

The effect of this has become more pronounced in recent years, with SA Liberals losing elections in 2010 and 2014 with well over 50% of the statewide vote: in 2014, the Liberal Party under Steven Marshall won more than 53%, and didn’t just lose, but lost convincingly.

Now — in a breath of fresh air — the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission has finalised its redraw of boundaries ahead of the 2018 state election, which moves five seats on paper into the Liberals’ column and with them, makes an end to the most recent long-term Labor government in SA look likelier in 18 months’ time.

And Labor, having benefited from rigged boundaries for decades, is trying to raise merry hell about it.

In its “appraisal” of the latest redistribution, the ALP makes much of the fact that almost 400,000 voters (or almost one in three) are shifted into different electorates: hardly much of a surprise, given the distortions that have existed to this point, and which most recently gave Labor a majority win with a tick over 46% of the statewide vote.

It somehow seeks to claim that because the usually safe Liberal seat of Waite — held by turncoat and general piece of shit Martin Hamilton-Smith — returns to the Liberal column on paper, this is more evidence of a “biased” redraw. But Waite voters were sold down the river by Hamilton-Smith, who tossed principle overboard to jump into bed with the ALP and pocket a fat ministerial salary, and there is no obligation on the Commission’s part to somehow sanction this piece of bastardry just because it suits the Labor Party.

And the outrage Labor types seem to profess at the fact that some seats have been “flipped” on paper to the Liberals is fatuous, given the whole point of redistributions is to more equably apportion electorates based on the most recent electoral results, and if Labor now suggests that “notional” electorates should never emerge from a redistribution process it’s an indictment on its power-crazed entitlement mentality and an insight into the anti-democratic instincts that now underpin Australia’s oldest party.

The ALP has also made a lot of noise about the variable enrolments in the new seats, as good as declaring the new boundaries are rigged. But the Commission’s report clearly shows no electorate is above the 10% tolerance that is standard in Australia these days at all state and federal redistributions, and Labor’s bleating is no more than an attempt to smear and defame those who refuse to do its bidding: in this case a statutory government authority, which for once appears to have produced a fair outcome.

It should be emphasised that the SA Liberals — despite their lack of success at elections, which is in turn at least a partial consequence of past outcomes of the Commission — have in other respects been their own worst enemies, with bitter faction fighting and other divisive, self-destructive behaviour more entrenched and rampant in that division than anywhere else in the country; there is no guarantee at all the party will win the state election that is now less than 18 months away.

The Liberals retain a leader in Steven Marshall whose electoral appeal and ability to govern remain unclear, and they retain inside Parliament and out powerful factional players (such as Bragg MP Vicky Chapman, a perpetual target of this column) without whom they would well and truly be better off.

And the rising presence of Nick Xenophon’s NXT team, on its home turf, might well derail any prospect of a Liberal win altogether, as this left-leaning influence has at the federal level siphoned votes off the Liberal pile and disproportionately sent them on preferences to Labor.

But for all that, the changes in SA should be welcome: and are at least a decade overdue.

I don’t propose to discuss any issues that particularly apply to SA politics today, for the focus is the electoral system: it would, however, be remiss not to note the statewide blackouts that occurred there recently, and to note that for a party in office for 14 years (and for 25 of the past 34) Labor has nobody to blame but itself for anything SA voters are motivated to take up baseball bats over.

But the disturbing thing about these changes, and Labor’s reaction to them, is the pattern of anti-democratic thuggery it continues where the ALP’s approach to elections and government is concerned.

Federally, it is unable to accept it is in opposition, and uses the Senate not as an instrument of review, but as a battering ram to try to destroy the government.

In Queensland, it stealthily fiddled the electoral system, abolishing optional preferential voting (supported by at least the 60-70% of voters who no longer allocate preferences there) to give itself the best chance of harvesting Greens’ votes. In so doing, it abolished its own electoral fix, introduced when it ended the gerrymander in 1992.

In Victoria and Queensland, Labor sends out union officials at state elections masquerading as essential services workers, and in Victoria in 2014 even had “nurses” ring old and sick people to lie to them about what a Liberal state government would do if re-elected.

And where outright lying is concerned, the so-called “Mediscare” fracas during the recent federal election continues the theme of an ALP prepared to literally say anything to barge its way into the corridors of power, where patronage and influence can be handed out to union thugs and other filth that resides in the Labor tent.

In this sense, the ALP’s recourse to the South Australian Supreme Court should surprise nobody; it is the action of a sore loser, and one whose profit from a shabby rort has been allowed to go on for too long as it is.

My bet is that the Court will dismiss any challenge the ALP brings, although I don’t wish to pre-empt such a finding: it just seems so cut and dry as to be a frivolous and vexatious attempt to maintain advantage by legal intimidation and brutality.

And in this sense, there is a message for voters in every other state, and federally.

Next time you hear Bill Shorten, or any of the other parrot puppets the ALP sends out to address the media, talking about “fairness” and “equity,” what they are really talking about is their own self-interest and unfair advantage.

Labor is so concerned with fairness that it seeks to rig and rort the mechanics of elections to either keep itself in power forever, or destroy any government by someone else that voters have the nerve to install in its place.

Once again, what is going on in SA merely shows Labor is rotten to the core, and frankly, if SA voters needed an extra reason to throw the ALP out in 2018, Labor itself is handing it to them.

But even this is no guarantee, for the SA Liberals have repeatedly demonstrated the capacity to make themselves unelectable. For its trouble and its lack of real principle, SA Labor may yet prevail if the Liberals, once again, prove unable to get their shit together ahead of a state election at which they should be a lay-down misere.

 

Bjelke-Echo: Qld Labor’s One-Fingered Salute To Democracy

IN THE CONTEXT of post-Fitzgerald Queensland politics — emphasising clean and transparent government — Queensland Labor has committed a brazen act of electoral self-interest that would make Russ Hinze and Joh Bjelke-Petersen blush; the abolition of optional preferential voting at 15 minutes’ notice is a shameful act that merits retribution from voters, but the poorly led LNP has made itself implicit in an outrageously indecent event.

When I first heard on Thursday (appropriately enough, whilst wandering around in Brisbane) that Queensland had abolished optional preferential voting (OPV), I thought there must have been some kind of belated April Fools’ prank played on news services, but regrettably, the news was no joke.

OPV — introduced by Labor in 1991 by the Goss Labor government as part of sweeping Fitzgerald reforms to clean up the rotten state of governance in Queensland after the Bjelke-Petersen era — has long since become a headache for the ALP, as the effects of its left flank being hived off by the Communist Party Greens was compounded by the merger of the Liberal and National Parties north of the Tweed in 2008 as a response to the impact of OPV on traditional three-cornered contests in seats featuring both Liberal and National candidates.

Even so, Labor has prospered in Queensland over the quarter of a century since OPV was introduced; so much so that it has held office for all but five years since 1989, and so much so that Queensland’s only rival for the mantle of Labor’s best mainland state* is Victoria: and in Victoria, the Liberal Party has governed over the same period for more than twice as long as its northern counterparts.

At every turn, Queensland Labor has paraded itself as an unimpeachable beacon of post-Fitzgerald integrity and virtue, so much so that it has had little reticence or compunction in falsely labelling its opponents as corrupt on the most spurious grounds ever since, with an endless stream of referrals of conservative identities to the state’s anti-corruption watchdog that have invariably been found baseless, and even to the point of smearing former Premier Campbell Newman as “little Bjelke.”

Bjelke-Petersen — and the stench of corruption that forever stains his legacy — indeed lives on, it seems, through an act of wanton electoral fixing that would make even Bjelke-henchmen Russ Hinze and Don “Shady” Lane blush, with the wildcat abolition of OPV on Thursday afternoon in an unforgiveable attempt to entrench the ALP in office in the Sunshine State.

First things first: readers can peruse some additional coverage from the Courier-Mail here and here; that paper’s characterisation of this distasteful episode as a “dark chapter” in Queensland politics is absolutely correct, and anyone remotely interested in standards in public life is entitled to be outraged.

The indecently subterranean manner in which this disgrace has been foisted on unsuspecting Queenslanders and on an unsuspecting Parliament is one of the more insidious aspects of the sordid affair; confronted by the knowledge that the LNP-sponsored bill to enlarge the Legislative Assembly from 89 to 93 seats had secured crossbench support, the Palaszczuk government did a secret deal of its own with the crossbench to pass an amendment to restore compulsory preferential voting (CPV).

(For those in the southern states who don’t know, the LNP wanted the parliament enlarged slightly: not to rig it — by the party’s own admission, it knew the extra seats would appear in and around Brisbane — but in the hope the “ripple effect” on boundaries pushed outwards would result in slightly smaller rural electorates, geographically, for its MPs to need to travel across to cover. “One vote, one-value” was never at risk in this scenario).

There was no warning, no debate, and no public discussion whatsoever; there has been no groundswell of support in Queensland for the restoration of CPV either. Quite the contrary, for the “exhaust” rate at Queensland elections now averages 50%, which is solid evidence that Queensland voters increasingly do not wish to allocate a preference to candidates other than the one they opt to vote for.

This, in turn, destroys the argument used by Labor hacks that CPV is the “most democratic” option: yet forcing people to express preferences for candidates they have no interest in voting for is not at all democratic. Clearly, those who wish to do so under OPV can, but the rest aptly exercise their democratic right by choosing not to. In my own case, I vote Liberal. The rest of the candidates on the ballot paper can go to hell. There are millions of voters in this country who take a similar approach to the voting process. Forcing them is simply not on in my view.

But the introduction of OPV was the direct result of the reform process overseen by Tony Fitzgerald QC at the end of the 1980s, and OPV was an explicit recommendation of the Electoral and Administrative Review Committee (EARC) charged with the abolition of the zonal electoral system (the gerrymander) and its replacement with an open, transparent system that was most democratic and which sought to most accurately produce results that reflected the “one vote, one value” principle.

The Queensland ALP has now thoroughly trashed that principle. CPV, had it applied at last year’s state election, would have netted Labor nine extra seats and a solid majority. It’s not difficult to ascertain the motivation for this change.

Even so, any measure of public policy that becomes known just 15 minutes before it’s dropped like a bombshell in Parliament — and the bill presented as a fait accompli — is inherently malodorous, to say the least.

But Labor doesn’t seem to care, and indeed is jubilant about the rort it has just implemented; Transport minister Stirling Hinchcliffe — the so-called architect of the plot — dismissed the Fitzgerald reforms as “something that happened 25 years ago,” to which I can only respond, as someone who grew up in Brisbane in the 1970s and 1980s and witnessed the worst excesses of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s junta first hand during my formative years, is that those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

In deference to the late Lane, perhaps Hinchcliffe should, in future, simply be referred to as “Shady.” After all, if the shoe fits…

It is not the place of the electoral system to do the bidding of any particular party (although an earthy view compels me to note that the evolution of Australia’s voting systems has mostly been driven solely by self-interest); Labor — with the three-cornered contests once fought out by the Liberals and Nationals a thing of the past, now finds itself bleeding on account of the quarter of its vote that has been annexed by the Greens over the past 20 years and the increasingly unreliable flows of preferences that have derived from them under OPV.

The Liberals and Nationals found a solution that involved adaptation on their own part rather than rorting the system: amalgamation, whether you’re a fan of it or not.

Labor’s solution? Rig the electoral system.

It comes as no surprise that critics and sometime allies alike have condemned the Palaszczuk government over the past 48 hours; even Fitzgerald — who over the years has done nothing to actively dispel public perceptions of passive support for the ALP — has indicated he is disgusted, stating that he “has found refuge in a zone of indifference.”

But probity and decency have never meant much to the ALP in Queensland; the party that rigged the electoral boundaries in 1947 in the first place only became indignant about it once it discovered someone else — Bjelke-Petersen and his Country Party — was even better at “fixing” things than Labor was. The fact Labor was the beneficiary of the fallout at the 1989 election had more to do with being in the right place at the right time than with any particular standards of principle or decency.

It is to be hoped Queensland voters respond with a violent lurch against the ALP when next it goes to the polls; to say Labor is now thoroughly unfit to govern Queensland is an understatement, but unless it is hit by a massive backlash — and quickly — it will be entrenched in office for the foreseeable future, stitched up with a rock-solid flow of Greens preferences in marginal seats, and shutting the door on the LNP for another generation.

This is, of course, precisely the desired outcome.

In closing, I ask readers (and especially those floating around the LNP, telling themselves how brilliant and politically astute they are) to spare a thought for embattled LNP leader Lawrence Springborg.

Once it became obvious what Labor’s game was, neither Springborg nor his minions made any attempt to withdraw their bill; hurried “negotiations” on the sidelines with the pivotal Katter MPs, yes, but no attempt to kill the whole thing off.

As a consequence, Springborg got his four extra seats in the state Parliament: but his bill, violated and exploited to permanently advantage the ALP, was allowed to sail through passage unmolested. Yes, any attempt to withdraw it might well have failed, but Springborg didn’t even try to stop it.

It speaks to the truly shocking lack of political judgement that characterises his leadership of the LNP, and underscores in graphic detail the reasons this column has called for him to be replaced (or preferably, to never have been restored to his post at all after the defeat of the Newman government).

Labor has engineered a ruthless and ethically bankrupt coup in an area that should have been off-limits in a state with such a protracted history of institutionalised corruption, and should have been beneath it to even contemplate had its hot air and bullshit about standards been based on conviction rather than expediency.

Springborg, for his part, has the four extra seats he wanted added to the chamber as part of the upcoming state redistribution: but he is also the sponsor, and now the proud owner, of a tarnished set of electoral laws that will put future elections beyond his party’s reach.

That’s a hell of a price to pay for enlarging the size of Parliament.

My final thought is that with such a fatally flawed and chronically defective leader, the LNP simply doesn’t have the mettle to fight the fight over this issue at a state election: the only way to reverse the travesty sprung on Queensland by Labor is to so turn public opinion against the government that it loses — and loses so badly the ALP will never attempt this sort of stunt again.

Springborg can’t convince voters in Brisbane to vote against Labor at the best of times, as has been shown at all three elections he has previously contested as leader. If he couldn’t prevail at any of those — two of which should have been unloseable — there is no reason to believe he could make a decent fist of trying to capitalise on a political gift like this either.

 

*I’m not counting South Australia, with its rigged boundaries and the supposedly “fair” process that contrives to entrench the ALP in office: little better than an actual gerrymander, nobody can seriously claim South Australian politics — despite the ineptitude of that state’s Liberal Party — operates on anything less than an institutionalised stitch-up.