Historical insights into the current Canberra mayhem

Feb 26 2012 Published by under realworld

I don’t feel the need to publicly add my opinion to the current federal ALP leadership ructions; contributions aplenty to the Prime Ministerial stoush, in theory due to culminate tomorrow, have been whirring around the Internet and traditional media at an ever increasing rate for days now.

Instead I think it is worth reflecting on some facts and historical trivia about Australian Prime Ministers:

  • In Federal lower house elections in Australia, votes are cast to elect member representing the voters electorate in the federal parliament. We do not vote directly for the Prime Minister.
  • How to Vote cards do not have to be taken or followed by voters. Lower house preferences are fully allocated at the whim of the voter. Preference deals rely on the parties hoping voters will be “sheep” and vote how they are told.
  • Many people get upset about preferential vs. first past the post voting.
    They should take solace in noting that mathematically, preferential voting is equivalent to holding multiple simultaneous ‘run-off’ elections (as found in some countries.) Concurrently running first past the post elections where each time an election is ‘held’, the candidate with the least number of votes is removed, until someone manages to make it to 50% + 1 vote.
    The difference being that our system assumes that voters who voted for a candidate would not have changed their next preference at the next run-off.
    Another way of putting it, which I prefer, is that preferential voting elects the ‘least worst candidate for the largest number of voters’.
  • There is nothing in the Australian Constitution mandating there be a Prime Minister. This is just a long-standing convention. The lack of written formalisation of various conventions contributed to the constitutional crisis of 1975.
  • At one stage in 1974, the Liberals, in opposition at the time, had three former prime ministers or leaders in their party room – John Gorton, William McMahon and Billy Snedden.
  • Both houses of parliament do not have to be elected concurrently. For example, it is possible that independent members withdrawing support from the Government may trigger an early election of the House of Representatives, but if it happened in the next while this would not be accompanied by a half-Senate election as this is not scheduled until 2013.

    The last House-only election was in 1972 and the last half-senate election was in 1970.

PS I have tried to make sure my facts are correct, but I am human and of course there may be mistakes…

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