New South Wales wraps up

Counting from the New South Wales state election, held nearly four weeks ago on 25 March, finally concluded yesterday. The lower house, the Legislative Assembly, had been clear for some time: as foreshadowed in my last update, the Liberals won Ryde, the last remaining doubtful seat, by just 54 votes, leaving the new Labor government with 45 of the 93 seats.

Although it is two seats short of a majority, Labor is unlikely to be much troubled in the Assembly. An independent, Greg Piper, has agreed to be Speaker, and another two independents have promised to guarantee confidence and supply. The opposition is well back on 36 seats (25 Liberals and 11 Nationals), but the Greens (three seats) and independents may be able to extract a few concessions from the government in return for their support.

The government’s bigger problem is the upper house, the Legislative Council. It’s been clear all along that the broadly left-of-centre parties – Labor, Greens, Animal Justice and Legalise Cannabis – would win enough for half of the 42 seats, with their ten seats elected last time to be joined by at least another 11: eight Labor, two Greens and one Legalise Cannabis. The question was whether they could pick up a twelfth seat to produce a broad left majority.

The answer, it turned out, was no. The seventh Coalition candidate, Liberal Rachel Merton, won the final seat ahead of Animal Justice by a fairly comfortable 10,628 votes, or about 0.05 of a quota. So the Council will be evenly balanced between 21 left members (15 Labor, four Greens, one Animal Justice and one Legalise Cannabis) and 21 right (ten Liberals, five Nationals, three One Nation, two Shooters and one Liberal Democrat).

So in order to get legislation through the government will need to either pick off one of the opposing parties (of which the Shooters are probably the most likely to prove amenable), or else induce someone from one of those parties to become president: the president has a casting vote but no deliberative vote. But since it seems unlikely to be a government of great reforming legislation in any case, it’s not clear that this will be a major handicap.

Did we really need to wait three and a half weeks for this? Most of the time is taken in data entry of the voters’ preferences, a huge and expensive task since there were 290 candidates on the ballot paper. But the preferences made no difference at all. The 21 elected were exactly those that would have won based on a straight Sainte-Laguë calculation on the primary votes.

That’s not always the case; last time, Animal Justice got ahead of both the Christian Democrats and Liberal Democrats on preferences, and preferences also determined the last seat in 2011 and 2015. So in six elections since group voting tickets were abolished, 123 out of the 126 members elected have been the same as a system without preferences would have produced.

It’s not at all clear that the very large cost in complexity is worth it. Instead of having to fill in a tablecloth, voters could be given a single A5 sheet of paper with the names of a dozen or so parties on it and asked to just tick one. As I asked last time, “Would it really be a net loss for democracy to get rid of the preferences and make it easier for people to vote, as well as to understand the results?”

Mention should also be made of the fate of the Liberal Democrats, Australia’s “libertarian” party, who dropped out of the Council in 2019 but returned this time, filling the 19th spot. Back then I said that “This would be a good opportunity for the remaining libertarians to go away and have a good long think about what they are really trying to achieve.”

They have done that, but not in a good way. During the Covid era the LDP became a favored haunt of anti-vaxers, Covid-denialists and general fruticakes. Any actual libertarians left in the party have evidently been marginalised; its lead candidate in NSW, now installed for an eight-year term in the upper house, was John Ruddick, a renegade from the hard right of the state’s Liberal Party, previously known for his strong support of Tony Abbott and other enemies of freedom.


13 thoughts on “New South Wales wraps up

  1. Interesting article. Marred, however, by your concluding sentence where you assert that Tony Abbot is/was “an enemy of freedom”. Your evidence ??


    1. If your position is that Tony Abbott is a champion of freedom, or at worst neutral on the issue, but in any case not an enemy of freedom, then you are free to present your evidence for your position. You have chosen not to, just as Charles Richardson chose not to present evidence for the contrary position, so as far as that goes the two of you are on a par with each other at this stage.


    2. Thanks Colin! Evidence? Well, just his whole career, which I’ve been observing for more than 40 years. He’s a disciple of Bob Santamaria, who was a lifelong opponent of liberal democracy.


      1. I found the contrast between Vic (where I am) and NSW interesting and your detailed analysis was appropriately dispassionate.  In this context your ad hominem attack on Abbott, which did not contribute anything significant to the analysis, struck me as inappropriate.  Substitute, say, Dan Andrews or Bob Brown for “Abbott” and my comment would still apply  – although I will admit that for those examples I may not have particularly noticed, since it would have seemed to me that you were simply stating the obvious!
        The question at end of my comment was intended to be rhetorical, tinged perhaps with a little sarcasm.  I certainly had no intention of starting a political discussion.  We are, as you may remember, far apart on the left/right spectrum and the ensuing argument would be pointless.


  2. Abbott’s own actions validate Charles’s statement. Modern conservatism – generally, 1979 onwards, harms a lot of people.

    During the Jeff Kennett era, Because Kennett had changed the Act and we could have been financially ruined, two high schools escaped consequences for implying my left hemiparesis meant such things as “Can he go to the toilet?” (John Gardiner/Hawthorn Secondary College) – as Mum told them, i have been toilet trained since i was two – and “Paul looks different and he would not make friends if he came to this school” (Highvale Secondary College).


  3. One of the theoretical arguments advanced for the current Legislative Council electoral system, as against a list system of PR, is that it gives the voters more influence over which individuals are elected. In practice, however, given how people actually vote, the benefit is nugatory. It’s possible that in practice there would be more voter influence over which individuals are elected under some possible systems of open-list PR: of course, that could be a reason why political parties don’t want to move in that direction.


    1. Yes, an open-list PR system would be another option, but with 21 vacancies to be filled that would also require a fairly large ballot paper, thus forfeiting some of the advantage of simplicity.


  4. Wrong. See Russell’s teapot.

    What? Teapots have nothing to do with evaluations of Tony Abbott’s political positions.

    In this context your ad hominem attack on Abbott, which did not contribute anything significant to the analysis, struck me as inappropriate.

    If it is in fact the case, as Charles Richardson tells us–I have no reason to doubt it, but I haven’t actually checked for myself–that the Liberal Democrats’ lead candidate in the election has a record as a strong supporter of the political positions of Tony Abbott, then evaluation of those political positions is relevant in a discussion of that lead candidate’s election to the Legislative Council.


      1. Bertrand Russell wrote:

        Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them.

        But Charles Richardson did not suggest that it is your business (or anybody’s) to disprove anything. Bertrand Russell wrote:

        If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes.

        In this instance, Bertrand Russell constructed a hypothetical assertion in such a way that it would be impossible to produce evidence against it. But Charles Richardson’s assertion not constructed in such a way as to make it impossible to produce evidence against it: if Tony Abbott is not an enemy of freedom, then it will be possible to produce evidence that he is not an enemy of freedom. Bertrand Russell wrote:

        But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.

        Charles Richardson did not suggest that it would an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt that Tony Abbott is an enemy of freedom. Bertrand Russell wrote:

        If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

        There are no ancient books which affirm that Tony Abbott is an enemy of freedom, and it is not taught as the sacred truth on Sundays or instilled into the minds of children at school.

        What Bertrand Russell did not say is ‘It is always wrong for people to make assertions without producing evidence for them’ and if he had said that he would have been wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. J-D
    Your “What? Teapots have nothing to do with—–etc” inadvertently amused me. However you are now starting to bore me.

    I follow a number of political/news blogs, both left and right of centre. (Also several philosophy oriented blogs). I come to this blog for the cover which CR provides on elections globally. In this regard it is quite possibly unique! What’s not to like and admire about that! I have, however, explained in my response to CR (which you have read; but appear to be ignoring) that I do not want to indulge in a political argument/discussion here. Accordingly, I have not at any time said that I disagree with CR’s assessment of Abbott. That would invite a political debate.

    Two issues now appear to be exercising your mind. Firstly, exploring Russell’s analogy and assessing whether it is applicable to the particular circumstance where I used it. That is a debate suitable for a logic module in Phil 101. Secondly, whether, if a certain John Ruddick (described by CR as hard right and who is surely a nonentity outside of NSW) supported Abbot’s policies it follows that Abbott can logically be described as “an enemy of freedom”. I think not, but frankly I’m not interested in debating either of those issues here.

    Enough already.


    1. I acknowledge the effort you have put into crafting a response to explain that you do not want to put the effort into crafting a response.

      However you are now starting to bore me.

      If you find my comments boring, I would have thought the obvious solution was not to read them. When find somebody’s comments boring, I generally avoid reading them, and if I do find myself reading a boring comment, I don’t respond just to say that I’m being bored.

      …I do not want to indulge in a political argument/discussion here.

      Then you don’t have to. I couldn’t compel you to do so even if I wanted to, but in point of fact I never suggested that you should. I observed that, as a matter of fact, you have not made a case against what Charles Richardson wrote, and also, which is also true, that you could if you wanted to: but I also observed that it’s up to you to choose.

      If you now don’t reply to this comment, it will be clear that you have no desire to pursue the matter further; if you do reply, that won’t be clear.


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