Antony Green

Antony Green - Election Analyst

Update on looming elections, by-elections and redistributions

March will be a big month for elections. It’s keeping me very busy.

The biggest election in terms of voter numbers is Brisbane City Council, followed by the Tasmanian state election.

There is also a Federal by-election in Dunkley, two Queensland state by-elections and one South Australian state by-election.

Over the horizon beyond Easter are the Cook federal by-election, and now an announcement on the start to the Northern Territory federal redistribution.

I have ABC websites and blog posts being updated on all these electoral events. This post is an opportunity to highlight the on-going work I’m doing on each of these events, as well as pointing out some of the most recent updates.Read More »Update on looming elections, by-elections and redistributions

Dunkley By-election – Tracking the Early Vote

In this post I will track the rate of pre-poll voting, postal vote application and postal vote return rates for the Dunkley by-election. Polling day is Saturday 2 March.

I’ll put headline figures here at the top of the post each day and graph daily voting rates inside the post.

Saturday 24 February

  • Pre-poll numbers turned around on Friday, more than doubling the previous day’s numbers with 2,529 votes taken. After five days a total of 8,461 pre-poll votes have been taken representing 7.5% of enrolment. This compares to an estimated 9,791 votes or 8.8% of enrolment in 2022. The 2022 figure has been adjusted to exclude out-of-district pre-polls. The 2,529 pre-polls taken on Friday compared to 2,086 on day 5 in 2022.
  • (Figures yet to be updated.) 20,0021 applications for a postal vote have been received representing 17.6% of enrolment. So far 8,398 postal votes have been returned representing 7.4% of enrolment or 41.9% of applications.

The total figures for Dunkley at the 2022 election were –

  • Adjusting for out-of-district pre-polls, there were 30,395 pre-poll votes taken in Dunkley at the 2022 election, representing 27.2% of enrolment or 30.2% of total votes.
  • There were 22,221 applications for postal votes representing 19.9% of enrolment. 16,625 postal votes had returned by polling day, a return rate of 74.8%. By the closing date for receipt of postal votes, 18,430 had been received, a return rate of 82.9%.
  • Returned postal votes represented 16.5% of enrolment. Postal votes admitted to the count represented 18.3% of the total vote in 2022.

Read More »Dunkley By-election – Tracking the Early Vote

Obstacles in the way of Independents at the ACT Election

Australian jurisdictions that elect upper houses by proportional representation, and allow the grouping of candidates on the ballot paper, have a two step process for nomination.

First a candidate nominates. Then candidates can lodge a separate form requesting they be grouped on the ballot paper. Candidate that don’t lodge a grouping request will be placed in the ‘Ungrouped’ column on the far right of the ballot paper.

When requesting grouping, candidates also specify the order in which their names will be listed in the column. Where the candidates are from a registered party or parties, their party name or names will be printed at the top of the column.

The rules are different for Tasmania and the ACT, the two jurisdictions that use variants of the Hare-Clark electoral system. Request for grouping are allowed, but parties and candidates cannot determine the order names are listed. Hare-Clark ballot papers randomise the order of candidate names printed in each column.

In Tasmania there are differences in the grouping rules for party candidates versus independent candidates. Parties simply request their candidates, or even a single candidate, be listed in one column. An Independent or Independents can make the same request, but as explained in this post, they must supply more nominator names.

In contrast the ACT does not allow grouped Independents. Independents will be placed in the Ungrouped column unless the Independents go through the process of registering a party name. For slightly different reasons, David Pocock registered a party called David Pocock to contest the 2022 Senate election, making it easier for voters to identify him on the ballot paper.

This rule on Independents will be a major impediment for the talk of Independents contesting the ACT election in October. Unless they register some sort of party name to nominate under, ACT Independents will be placed in the Ungrouped column.

The first blog post I ever published was in 2008 and concerned changes to the ACT Electoral Act restricting ballot paper columns to registered parties.

That old blog is no longer publicly available. With Tasmanian and ACT elections looming, and talk of high profile Independents contesting both, I thought it worth resurrecting the old post. In short, Tasmania provides a mechanism allowing Independents access to a column on the ballot paper, but the ACT does not.

The unaltered post below was first published on 28 March 2008.Read More »Obstacles in the way of Independents at the ACT Election

Redistribution begins for Northern Territory Federal Boundaries

Today marks seven years since the Northern Territory’s current federal electoral boundaries were first gazetted. Under the ‘seven-year rule’ in Section 59 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, a redistribution of the NT’s federal boundaries must commence within 30 days.

The NT’s redistribution will differ from those currently underway in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. The other state redistributions have been triggered by a change in seat entitlements under Section 24 of the Constitution. New South Wales and Victoria will both lose a seat, Western Australia gain a seat. The seat numbers will be unchanged at two for the NT redistribution.

Seven-year rule redistributions can be deferred if they commence within twelve months of the expiry date for the House of Representatives. The deferral deadline in 2024 is May, meaning seven-year rule redistributions due for Tasmania in November and Queensland in March 2025 will be deferred until after the next election.

But the Northern Territory redistribution will go ahead. With only two seats involved, the process of drawing boundaries will be easily completed before the next election is due. Unlike with change of seat number redistributions, there are no complications if an early election is called because the existing NT divisions would remain in place.

While unlikely to have major political implications, it is worth looking at the NT redistribution to examine how the NT briefly lost its second seat in 2020, and also to observe how the Australian Electoral Commission’s Indigenous enrolment drive before the 2023 referendum has increased remote enrolment.
Read More »Redistribution begins for Northern Territory Federal Boundaries

Victorian Federal Redistribution using Updated Enrolment Data

Last October, eagle eyed observers spotted that there was something wrong with enrolment projection data for Victoria released by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). The projections were released as base data for the looming federal redistribution to remove one of Victoria’s 39 seats in the House of Representatives.

A 2023 decision by the Australian Electoral Commissioner under Section 24 of the Constitution had determined that NSW and Victoria would lose House seats and Western Australia gain a seat. The size of the House of Representatives for the next election will be reduced from 151 to 150 seats. I wrote a post at the time explaining the decision.

Victoria had gained an extra seat at each of the two previous elections. Both had been created in western Melbourne, Fraser before the 2019 election and Hawke ahead of 2022. The redistribution creating Hawke had been based on population data from before the 2020 arrival of Covid. With overseas immigration halted for two years, and internal migration to the outer states continuing, Victoria’s population declined relative to other states over the three intervening years.

But removing a seat won’t simply be a matter of abolishing Hawke or Fraser. As the projected enrolment data released last week shows, population growth in Melbourne’s north and west is faster than in Melbourne’ east and south-east. A seat must be abolished in Victoria and the corrected projected enrolment data indicates strongly that a seat will be abolished in Melbourne’s east.

The first projected enrolment data released last October had been prepared by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). The data was flawed in applying a uniform growth rate across the state. The corrected enrolment projections released by the AEC last week now have growth rates that vary across the state.

(Happy to post comments with people’s suggestions on where the changes will occur.)
Read More »Victorian Federal Redistribution using Updated Enrolment Data

WA Federal Redistribution Prospects using Updated Enrolment Data

Last October, eagle eyed observers spotted that there was something wrong with enrolment projection data released by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC). The data had been released as base data for redistributions in Victoria and Western Australia. Data for the NSW redistribution was not affected.

The same enrolment growth rate had been applied across both states down to local statistical area level. This was a ridiculous assumption. It turned out the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) had provided the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) with the wrong data.

In the last few days the has AEC released corrected enrolment projections with growth rates that vary across both states. This post examines how this new data will influence the redistribution in Western Australia. A second post, hopefully tomorrow, will run through a similar analysis for Victoria.

In a previous post I explained why the seat numbers by state are changing. Another post, now superseded by the post you are reading, looked at boundary change implications from last October’s initial release of incorrect enrolment projections.

What doesn’t change is that Western Australia is gaining a seat in the current redistribution, restoring the 16th seat removed three years ago. Population trends mean the new seat will be created in a different part of Perth than the previously abolished seat of Stirling.

In short, the projected enrolment data makes even clearer that WA’s new seat will be created in Perth’s east. The other 12 Perth seats will shuffle west towards the Indian Ocean. Current enrolment data, and last October’s incorrect projected enrolments, indicated that a Perth seat would need to cross the metropolitan boundary. The new projections remove this prospect meaning the redistribution will be largely confined to metropolitan Perth.Read More »WA Federal Redistribution Prospects using Updated Enrolment Data

Background on Federal By-election Swings

Federal politics will soon kick into gear for 2024 with campaigning for the Dunkley by-election, likely to be held in late February or early March.

The by-election has been caused by the sad death of former Labor MP Peta Murphy, who succumbed to breast cancer at the end of 2023. It will be the third by-election since the election of the Albanese government in May 2022.

You can find more on the seat of Dunkley and the by-election in my seat profile on the ABC Elections site.

The by-election will be a test for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the Labor Party, keen to retain what is a marginal seat despite its on-paper electoral buffer of 6.3%.

It will also be a challenge for the Liberal Party and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton. After the Liberal Party’s historic loss at last April’s Aston by-election, the opposition needs a good result in Dunkley to confirm recent improvement in opinion polls.

But there are arguments for and against whether Dunkley will be a good test of the national electoral mood.

Being fought in Victoria, currently Labor’s strongest state, can Dunkley be viewed as representative of the national electorate? The 2022 federal election reduced the Liberal Party to just eight of 39 Victorian seats, since cut to seven seats by the Aston loss. Only two of those seats, Deakin and Menzies, are entirely suburban.

The Liberal Party has also performed badly in Victorian state politics, losing six of the last seven state elections. There was a swing to the Coalition at the November 2022 state election but the Liberal Party lost seats and has since been dealing with internal party recriminations.

Arguing for the by-election’s importance, Dunkley is the sort of outer-suburban seat the Liberal Party needs to start winning if it hopes to overcome the loss of once blue ribbon Liberal seats to Independents.

Dunkley includes some newer housing estates where interest rate rises have bitten. Across the electorate there are families who are feeling the effects of inflation.

Based on national opinion polls, there is not enough movement to predict the Liberal Party will win Dunkley.

But by-elections are an opportunity for voters to send a message when the government’s fate is not in play. Will the anti-government swing common at by-elections be large enough to deliver victory to the Liberal Party?

The swing needed is 6.3%, and Labor achieved a 6.4% swing the other way to win Aston. Covering the full period since Federation, the average anti-government swing is a little under 4%.

More recently there have been 52 by-elections since the election of the Hawke government in 1983. Of those, 28 were traditional two-party contests between Labor and the Coalition, the type of contest we will see in Dunkley.

Across the 28 two-party by-elections, the average anti-government two-party preferred swing was 3.5%. It was 4.7% against Labor governments in 17 contests, and 2.3% against Coalition governments in another 11.

Of the 28 by-elections, 15 were in government held seats and 13 in seats held by an opposition party. The average swing against government in government held seats was 5.4% compared to only 1.2% in Opposition held seats.

At the eight by-elections in Labor seats during Labor governments, the average swing was 8.2% compared to 2.3% in seven similar contests during Coalition governments.

The Labor Party had an astonishingly good result in Aston, in contrast to poor first term by-election results for Labor governments led by Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd. Under both Hawke and Rudd, Labor was further ahead in polls than the Albanese government at the time of its Aston victory.

Not that average swings are a useful measure given the wide variety of swings at by-elections. Swings are more about the time specific circumstances of a by-election and are not always comparable with an average calculated over several decades.

Larger swings than required in Dunkley afflicted the Hawke government at third term by-elections in 1988. The Adelaide and Port Adelaide by-elections, fought on the now forgotten issue of timed local calls for home phones, cost the government Adelaide and produced a double digit swing in Port Adelaide. Another double digit swing struck at the Oxley by-election later the same year. Labor’s position in all three seats was restored at the 1990 election when the Hawke government was narrowly re-elected.

Not so with the 16.2% swing that delivered a rare Liberal win in the ACT at the 1995 Canberra by-election. Labor recovered Canberra at the 1996 election, but it was a pallid highlight amidst the wreckage of the Keating government’s defeat.

Going further back in time to June 1975, the famous Bass by-election produced a Liberal gain after a 14.3% swing, accurately predicting the Labor Party’s fate under Gough Whitlam later in the year.

The biggest anti-government swing under a Coalition government was in the Brisbane seat of Ryan in March 2001. Labor won the seat after a 9.7% swing. John Howard famously described the result as not a repeat of Bass and Canberra, and the Howard government recovered Ryan and was re-elected to office at the 2001 election.

So will the by-election produce an average anti-government swing and see Labor retain Dunkley, or will we see larger swing that delivers victory to the Liberal Party?

Either way, the Dunkley by-election will set the frame for politics in the first half of 2024.

For more on the Dunkley by-election, see my profile of the electorate and candidates at the ABC website.

And for more on by-elections and results, read on in this post.
Read More »Background on Federal By-election Swings

Brisbane City Council Election Guide Launched

The federal by-election in the south-east Melbourne seat of Dunkley is set to be the big electoral event of February 2024. You can find my by-election guide here.

After that, the biggest election in the first half of 2024 will be the Brisbane City Council election on 16 March, one of the 77 local government elections held across Queensland that day. I’ve just published my ABC election guide for the election here.

The results of the Brisbane Lord Mayoral and City Council elections will attract more national attention than usual. With a Queensland state election set for 26 October, and a federal election due by May 2025, the Brisbane results will be dissected for their state and federal implications. Will the Greens’ breakthrough to win three Brisbane seats at the 2022 Federal election be repeated at the council election, and could this be a portent for the state election?Read More »Brisbane City Council Election Guide Launched