Sunday, September 07, 2008

A nail-biter in Western Australia

I spent too much time last night following the Western Australia state election on ABC and the Poll Bludger. An election where Labour looked to be in trouble has turned into a serious nail biter, with a hung Parliament looking likely. How hung is still in question - there are key electorates where the margin is just a few hundred votes, and which could change in the final count - but whichever way they go, the support of independents will be needed to govern.

One of the most interesting races was the seat of Freemantle, where it looked like the Greens would win their first ever lower house seat. It wasn't to be - they fell behind the Liberals, meaning they're first out in the preference distribution - but it was exciting watching it swing back and forth. It also shows up the essential brokenness of Western (and by extension, the whole of) Australia's voting system: a party gets 11.5% of the vote and no seats? This isn't fair - it's a gerrymander!

(Though actually Western Australia has an explicit Gerrymander, with the Perth metropolitan region, home to 74% of the state's population, explicitly receiving only 60% of the seats. This has the effect of making a rural electorate half the size, in population terms, of an urban one, the sort of blatant unfairness which has no place in a modern democratic system. But then, as the result above shows, Australia pretty clearly isn't democratic, except in its upper houses, which use STV).

It will probably take a while for the final results to shake themselves out. But the election has nicely illustrated the essential flaws in the Australian electoral system. I wonder how long it will take them to do something about it?