Something has gone horribly wrong…

It’s just gone four in the morning as I type this, and in my home state of Victoria, there’s still ten seats left to call in the election – which doesn’t really matter because even if they won all ten of those seats (and that seems unlikely), the Coalition would still be another ten seats short of winning the election.

If you’re a member of the Liberal or National Parties, or a voter for either of them, it’s hard to disagree with the assessment of now-former Shadow Attorney-General John Pesutto, that “something has gone horribly wrong” for the party. Because it truly has. This is one of the worst defeats that the Coalition has ever suffered in Victoria. Hell, it’s one of the worst defeats any party has suffered since Victoria became a state in 1901.

And yet…
Continue reading “Something has gone horribly wrong…”

Why a “No” vote isn’t even a “No” vote

I understand that you might want to vote No in Australia’s rapidly-approaching postal survey about whether or not we should stop treating our gay and lesbian fellows as second-class citizens. I disagree with you, but it’s your right to do it. I won’t stop you.

I will, however, point out that your No vote isn’t really a No vote.

It won’t settle this issue once and for all, and if you believe it will, you’ve read too much propaganda about the namby-pamby Lefties. If the result of this vote in No, it won’t change a thing for the Left. We won’t stop fighting until we win this fight, and a decade after we’ve won, even you will wonder what all the fuss was about. The fuss you made – but I digress.

This survey is not really a question of if. It’s a question of when.

Your No vote is, at most, a Not Yet vote. That’s all.

That’s as much as you can hope to achieve by voting No.

Not an end to homosexuality, not a guarantee of the primacy of the Christian churches, not an end to the ever-growing societal acceptance of homosexuality – simply a delay in the recognition that we are all human and all deserve the same rights. Just a delay.

The ALP is already on record as saying that they will legislate for Marriage Equality in the first hundred days after they’re elected, and you know that the Greens will vote with them on this, so it will sail through both houses – which means that, at most, it’s about two years away (unless the LNP starts to perform markedly better than they have since winning office in 2013, and really, what are the chances of that?).

You can delay it, but you can’t stop it. And really, what does the additional delay gain you? Seriously. I want to know. What measurable, concrete benefit do you derive from it? Because I can’t think of anything, and I’ve tried. I’ve also read a lot of the No side’s arguments, and it’s pretty obvious that no one much on that side can list any either.

So vote Yes. Vote to bring the future into the present. Vote to recognise and celebrate our common humanity:

Vote Yes

Australia Federal Election 2016: What Happens Next?

The short answer is “counting continues”. The long answer is that “counting continues, and it’s a much more complicated process than you might think”. But before I go into how votes are counted, it’s worth taking a look at how they’re cast, because understanding that is important to understanding why counting takes as long as it does.

Starting at the Start:
Voting actually commences before polling day, in several different ways.

There are pre-polling centres across Australia (and the world, but I’ll come back to them) where you can vote ahead of time for whatever reason (say, if you have to work on polling day). Many, but not all, of these are also polling booths on election day. In the cases of those that are also polling day booths, these pre-poll votes will have begun being counted by now, after the polling day votes are counted on election night. In the cases of those which are not, these votes will have been sent to the divisional office to await counting.

There are also mobile pre-polling booths, which primarily exist to serve people in hospital who cannot physically attend a polling booth otherwise. These booths operate throughout the pre-polling period and also on polling day, finally reporting back to their respective divisional offices. (If you look at the results for nearly any division across the country right now (that is, on this Sunday after election day), you’ll see that the majority of votes from these mobile booths have not yet been counted.

There are postal votes, for people who can’t get to a polling booth. These are individually addressed: for each division, postal votes go back to the divisional office for their division. Postal votes are allowed two full weeks – up until the second Friday following polling day – to arrive at their divisional office.

Finally, there are international votes, which are chiefly held at Australian embassies and consulates across the world. Most of these operate pre-polling and polling day services. These votes will be sent back to Australia, and then separated out to their respective divisional offices.

The Big Day
Polling day is when the majority of the country votes and eats sausages (or the local and/or dietary equivalent). According to surveys, it’s also when the majority of voters decide who to vote for, which implies that the gut rather than the mind drives a lot of our electoral results. After the business of voting finishes – it runs from 8AM to 6PM in most locations (and if you go too early in some of them, you’ll be there before the sausages are ready) – the business of counting the votes begins.

Spare a thought for the poor bastards doing the counting on election day, because they are the unsung heroes of this story. The AEC hasn’t updated its staffing practices in a long time – and unfortunately, what we have doesn’t scale well. FT employees on election day start at 7am, and work until they’re allowed to go. They do get some breaks, but they’re not allowed to leave the premises during their entire shift. (They also get paid a fixed amount, irrespective of how many hours they work – this year’s crew got ripped off there.) It’s a pretty shit job, no matter how many sausages you eat.

On election night, the only votes counted are those cast at the physical polling booths on that day for the division the booth is in. (Some few polling booths serve more than one division – counting is particularly slow at those booths, because the staff have to split up and each of them works on only one division’s votes). Very few divisional offices are also polling booths (they mostly lack the space for it), so votes that are sitting at the divisional office do not get counted on election night. This year, with a very high pre-poll vote, that means there’s a good chunk of votes still to be counted – 25-30% in most divisions – so this election is still, potentially, anyone’s game.

Also, on election night, Senate votes are barely looked at. This year, we have a count only of first preferences of above the line polling day votes only counted on election night. I’ll come back to this.

They don’t work the Sunday, never have. No idea why not.

You Keep Talking About Divisional Offices
I do, and it’s because they’re very important.

Divisional offices are where all votes are centralised for counting. So not a lot of counting gets done on Monday, because the Monday is largely taken up by logistics. Monday is when all the polling booths return their votes to the divisional offices, and they each need to be checked to make sure that the numbers match. (A counting of ballots, rather than votes, if you follow me.) From these, the absentee votes (votes cast in one division that belong to another division) have to be separated out, and sent on to where they should be. In most divisions, this means nearby and intra-state votes get sent directly to their divisional offices, while votes for divisions in other states are bundled separately, but sent to their respective state head office to be dispatched to their divisions (which usually means an extra day for the travel and sorting).

From Tuesday onward (sometimes late Monday for the smaller urban electorates), divisions start receiving their own absentee votes, which must also be checked off and then added to the counts.

Throughout this period, postal votes will continue to filter in – the AEC allows until the second Friday following the election for all of them to arrive – they are also each checked off and added to the count.

International votes, like other absentee votes, go to state head offices first, then out to divisional offices. They usually take longer to arrive due to the vagaries of travel times and international freight schedules – some of them will take more than a week to arrive, and the AEC cannot declare a count completed (which is different from declaring a result) until they are all counted.

Plus, all of this is complicated by human error – which is less about votes miscounted than mislaid. It’s not uncommon for a division to receive votes intended to go to another division with a similar name, and these need to be redirected to their correct location.

What About the Senate?
The Senate votes take much longer to count than the lower house votes, for a number of very good reasons:

  1. Before you can even begin counting Senate votes, you need to separate the above and below the line votes, because these two groups are counted apart from each other (and totalled at the end of each count). Currently, all Senate votes go into the same ballot box on polling day – the AEC could save quite a bit of time and money just by putting them in separate boxes.
  2. There are a lot more candidates. Even the simpler above the line vote usually has twice as many candidates as a lower house vote, and below the line there can be more than a hundred candidates.
  3. More candidates mean more eliminations, and thus, more rounds of counting. A lower house seat might have a dozen candidates – at most, it gets counted 11 times. A Senate vote, with over a hundred candidates, is likely to get counted more than twice that.

And because the Senate does not determine who forms the government in our system, it is also generally given a lower priority in counting than the lower house. Each day at each divisional office, there will be at least one count for each house, but the lower house will inevitably be counted before the Senate – although towards the end of the count, the pace picks up, and the Senate votes will be counted multiple times each day as candidates are eliminated.

But Wait, There’s More!
And all of this does not take into consideration the possibility of recounts, which are certainly going to be demanded by a variety of parties in some of the seats with narrow margins (Batman and Cowan, for example, are both very likely to go to recounts based on what we’ve seen so far in the count). There is no set number at which the AEC must have a recount, but generally any result with a margin under a hundred is going to be recounted.

And then, of course, there’s still the possibility – at this point, the likelihood – of a hung parliament when all the counting’s completed in any case. In which case it will be up to the crossbenchers – projected to be at least six of them right now, with possibly more to come – to decide who they want to back. If anyone.

Which means we might go back to the polls yet again, and who knows how that will come out. Probably an even closer result.

Oh, and after all this, the joint sitting of both houses that’s required to try to pass the bills that served as the trigger for the double dissolution in the first place will still need to be held, and will quite likely result in those bills being defeated anyway, because on current numbers, there’s no way that the LNC – even if it wins the election – has the combined numbers in both houses to get it through.

Dunning-Kruger Club

The first rule of Dunning-Kruger Club is: you’ll never know you’re a member of Dunning-Kruger Club

I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you don’t need me to tell you what the Dunning-Kruger Effect is. (If you don’t, click on the words.) And while much has been made of it as an explanation of why so many people vote against their own interests based on gut feelings and such, less attention has been paid to its effect within politics, and particularly, within political parties.

There are many ways that the Dunning-Kruger Effect can manifest within a political party, quite aside from the behaviour of individual politicians. (If the words ‘Captain’s Call’ or ‘Pig Fucker’ make you shudder, you know what I mean.) But increasingly, the most common is an insistence on ideological purity over competence to govern.

For decades, this insistence was considered the dividing line between professional and amateur politicians: it was the extremists at each end of the political spectrum who made that error, whether it was the ever-schisming-over-arcane-points-of-doctrine Left or the holier-than-thou Right. If you were too hung up on being pure (however it was you defined ‘pure’), you were never going to make it as a serious politician. But over the last few decades, as the definition of a professional politician has become ‘a politician who’s never had a job outside of politics’, this mode of thought has migrated to the centre of poltitics. I don’t believe for a second that this is merely coincidence.

When ideological purity is substituted for intellectual rigour and practical competence, you wind up with the kinds of situations that are currently rife in the democracies of the West. The Tea Party Movement of the United States is among the more prominent exemplars, and indeed, the problem often seems worse on the Right than on the Left, but it’s hardly the only example. (If the problem is more widespread on the Right – and this appearance may be simply confirmation bias – it is likely because the Right has a more authoritarian style than the Left, making it even harder to question the arrant stupidity that so many politicians display.) In Australian politics, the imprudence of Tony Abbott and the intransigence of Cory Bernardi on the Right are matched on the Left by the occasionally baffling decisions of the Greens about when it is and isn’t alright to compromise. Its defining feature is a preference for absolutism over incrementalism.

It’s not hard to find examples: every time someone decries the solution of whatever problem for not being a perfect solution, it’s there. Every time a single incident or utterance is held to be representative of the entire person, it’s there. Every time bullying is used instead of reasoned argument, it’s there.

What the ALP absolutely will not do next

Actually, that’s really quite simple. Anything that takes integrity. And anything that takes courage. This is a political party that is now so dependent on opinion polls and focus groups that it doesn’t cross the fucking street without market-testing whether it should look left or right for traffic first.

Continue reading “What the ALP absolutely will not do next”

Where Ya Gonna Run To?

It would be nice to think that today, this bright new 28th of February, that we could finally put this whole ALP leadership challenge thing behind us. It would be nice to think that now, perhaps, just perhaps our government could get on with the business of actually governing. (Well, after the inevitable Cabinet re-shuffle, at least.)

Or that the media would actually report it if they did.
Continue reading “Where Ya Gonna Run To?”

The Job-Creator Fallacy

The latest fashion amongst the Republican front-runners – and let’s be honest, if these are the best that the party has to offer, the world is in serious trouble – is to refer to the very rich as “Job Creators”.

In a sense, this is actually accurate. In a sense. As the heads of major corporations, they are ultimately responsible for the jobs those companies create. But conversely, that means they’re also the ones responsible for the jobs lost to redundancies, offshoring, and all the other cost-cutting measures so beloved of the corporate mind.

In this, as in all other things, the power to create is also the power to destroy. Just ask the Old Testament God so beloved of the Republicans.

Not that you’ll hear Gingrich, Santorum, Romney or anyone else admitting to this. That would require honesty and integrity. (In fairness, it’s unlikely you’ll hear any Democrats referring to this, either. Both teams know better than to bite the hand that feeds.)

But the real nub of the Republican “Job Creator” fabulation is that increasing taxes on these people will stop them from creating jobs. Even when official treasury statistics show that unemployment in the USA is approximately double what it what when these tax cuts were first introduced. (See for yourself.)

This is an argument that I expect that Obama will bash whoever the Republicans finally decide on over the head with come the debates later this year…

…just as I confidently expect that the Republican response will be to complain that referring to the facts is cheating.

No, Really?

Tony Abbott was in the news again yesterday. And this time, I’m going to take the lying, scheming, opportunistic, arrogrant little toerag at his word. I’m going to assume that he was actually being as honest as Andrew Bolt would like us all to believe that he was.

I’m going to assume that he really does glory in the sobriquet of “Dr No.”
Continue reading “No, Really?”

Here we go again

This week’s outrages – and by that I mean outrages particular to this week – were two in number for me:

Baillieu plans to go after nurses:
Not only does the Victorian Liberal government plan to slash nursing numbers and replace them with less well-trained and (crucially) less well-paid “health assistants”. There would still be nurses, but fewer of them, doing more work for the same pay (which would, of course, be a decline in real wages). That would be disgusting enough by itself.

Now we learn that the group representing the employers in the negotiations – presumably a law firm, although I have yet to see them identified anywhere – seems to be colluding with the government to try to provoke the nurses into industrial action that will allow the government to force a solution – and we’ve already seen how short-sighted that solution is. Welcome to Victoria, home of Crown Casino, and soon, a shiny new range of hospital casinos where you bet your life…

Doyle still a dick:
The Lord-Mayor of Melbourne, or as he now prefers to be known, Generalissimo Roberto Doyle shut down efforts to force the council to be accountable for the eviction of the Occupy Melbourne protest from City Square. Legal action is pending, however, and I can’t be the only one who wants to see the big bully blubbering like a spolit child who’s just been told “No” for the first time ever. Again. (He still holds the record for sulkist concession speech in Victorian politics from his record-setting failed attempt to become Premier back in 2002 – largest loss by the Libs ever. Those were the days).

We have a Carbon Price:
It’s a start. It is not, however, any of the things that hyperbolic Opposition members and the even more hyperbolic people who vote them have described it as. Well done, at last, Julia.