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What Queensland tells us about the future

Peter Brent writes in Inside Story (27.11.17) that a shift in voting patterns interacted with compulsory preferences to produce a dramatic election count in Queensland. The author wonders, is this what we should expect in future federal elections?

‘Saturday’s election in Queensland, still days away from a full reckoning, produced an outcome rather like the status quo, at least at the micro level. Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor government went into the contest with a notional (post-redistribution) tally of forty-seven out of ninety-three seats — the barest of majorities — and it looks like that’s what it will emerge with. The LNP opposition started with forty-one and is predicted to finish with (around) forty-one.

‘On paper, there’s a statewide two-party-preferred swing to Labor of around 1.5 per cent (putting them at 52.5 per cent compared to the Coalition’s 47.5). But the recent change from optional preferential voting to full, compulsory preferential, or CPV, makes that figure a bit misleading. Had the 2015 election been held under CPV, Labor’s after-preferences vote that year would have been a percentage point or two higher, which implies a swing of approximately zero on Saturday. Around five seats will change hands, give or take several.

‘But below the surface there was drama aplenty, much of it driven, as Tim Colebatch noted yesterday, by a 10 per cent drop in major party first-preference support. Combined with CPV, this made preferences crucial — arguably more important than ever before. At time of writing, counting in several electorates is still volatile, with candidates dropping in and out of the two-candidate-preferred tallies.

‘… Until now, Australia has only used CPV in the context of high major party support. Over recent decades that support has declined, and if the trend continues we can expect to see the multiple three- or four-way contests that Queensland exhibited — with candidates slipping in and out of the two-candidate-preferred counts, the commission recasting preference allocations, and recasting again, over the course of long counts — become an increasingly common feature of national elections.’

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