How people elect parliaments
Tasmanians, voting with their century-old single transferable vote (STV) voting system, have returned the incumbent Liberal party to majority government.
Since the southern-most Australian state started using the voter-proportional election system in 1909, two-thirds of Tasmanian governments have been one-party majority governments.
Tasmania is divided into 5 electoral divisions, each electing 5 members to the House. These divisions have existed for over a century, giving the system a remarkable local stability and consistency.
The boundaries of the electoral divisions – also used for electing federal representatives – are carefully reviewed and adjusted at least every seven years. The enrolled populations in each electoral division vary by at most 2% from their average.
Tasmanian political history has been dominated by two major political parties, the Labor and Liberal parties (the latter undergoing some name changes in the early 20th century).
The state’s electoral system ensures that the government and opposition party rooms (or caucuses) have respective numbers relative to their support in the electorate.
Each party room also includes diverse representation from across the island state, rather than only representing localities where their support is strongest.
The STV system has also provided for the representation of voters supporting the Greens party since the 1980s.
At the last elections in 2014 the Liberals won a relative landslide with 52% of the vote, compared to Labor’s 27%, the Greens 14% and a minor party taking 5%. The Liberals held 15 of the 25 seats during the parliamentary term just ended.
On last night’s results – with the votes of about 84% of the enrolled electorate counted – the Liberals have eased back just slightly to 50% voter support, while Labor is up significantly to 33%. The Greens have done relatively poorly at 10% of the vote, one of their lowest votes in three decades.
Final postal votes and votes cast outside of resident electoral divisions will continue to be added to the count over the next week or so. Only then will the transfer of preferences under the STV system determine exactly which candidates have won seats, and the final party totals.
But most results – party and individual candidate – are already pretty clear. The projected Liberal majority is narrower than the last term, with the party winning 13 of the 25 seats, and perhaps 1 more.
Labor will rise from 7 seats to probably 10. The Greens formerly held 3 seats, but after their vote drop only 1 seat is safe; they will probably end up with 2 seats.
All Tasmanians are required to enrol to vote – and to actually vote – in state and national elections, as happens in all Australian elections. Final voter valid-vote participation rates across Australia are typically around 90% of the eligible electorate.
After the past two elections (2010 and 2014) around 89% of the Tasmania’s enrolled voters have had a member in the House to whom they either gave their ‘first preference vote’ (that is, their “1” vote in the candidate rankings which they marked on their ballot), or at least an alternative from within the same party to whom they also gave a lower ranking.
After Saturday’s election results this outcome will ease down slightly, with all Green voters in the three regional electoral divisions north of the state capital Hobart (Bass, Braddon and Lyons) now likely to join the relatively small number of voters without representation. The result is still likely to be that well above 80% of all voters are represented in the House of Assembly.
In plurality (first-past-the-post) voting systems such as those used in the UK, US and Canada, this ‘representation’ outcome usually stands at around 30-35% of all voters.
The Tasmanian election campaign and the issue of poker machines
After a successful, scandal-free first term under a popular premier, the Liberals were heavily favoured to remain in office by pundits. Most polling signs indicated that the Tasmanian electorate was comfortable with re-electing the incumbent.
However some polls late in 2017 indicated that new Labor leader Rebecca White had led her party back to near-parity with the Liberals.
This touched off the usual Tasmanian political debate about what each major party would do if the Greens won a balance of power in the House of Assembly. Both major party leaders insisted they would govern alone or not at all.
Tasmanian politics is significantly impacted by the role of the Greens, which poll stronger in the island state than anywhere else in Australia. Despite this support, the role of the Greens in forming governments, especially by joining or supporting the Labor party, is controversial to many Tasmanians (including many Labor and Green voters).
This year’s campaign also featured a vigorous dispute over poker machine licences in pubs and hotels.
Australian has the highest number of poker machines per capita of any nation in the world, and they are particularly prominent in Tasmania. Issues surrounding gambling addiction and the impacts on low-income families have led around 70% of Tasmanians to agree that the licences should not be renewed in the next few years, removing the machines from the community (other than in two casinos).
Labor, the Greens and most minor parties and independents campaigned to end the state’s poker machine licences. But the Liberals, with large (but undisclosed) financial backing from the sole owner of the licences, planned to renew them.
Had the Liberals lost one more seat at yesterday’s election, taking only 12 out of 25, the House of Assembly might well have gone on to keep the Liberal government they preferred, but forced on the government the poker machine policy most favoured by the community.