29 March 2015

How I voted 2015

I went the polling booth with my young son, who has seen documentaries about the Great Barrier Reef and had the basics of the electoral system explained to him. He is convinced that voting Green will save the Reef, and having taken the how-to-vote from the Green person at the polling booth he waved it at me and said "this one. This one, Dad". It was the first time I had been actively lobbied for my vote since I left the Liberal Party 15 years ago.

The last Liberal preselection I voted in was the one for the state seat of Manly in 1999. The seat was held by an independent - one who had conspired to bring down Nick Greiner - and it was kind of depressing as there was no stand-out candidate. Half of them were outright fools, claiming fealty to Tony Abbott and implying that he was returning the sentiment. I voted for one of my contemporaries who I thought would make a useful MP - not Mike Baird. I had heard Baird would be one of the stars of the preselection, but his speech was a patchwork that he seemed to find unconvincing. When the questions came, rightwing delegates played him like a trout and made him look rattled and defensive. I was tired of voting for losers who got chewed up by sharks in the NSW ALP and picked off by the clowns on the right. As voting went on, my preferred candidate went down and I voted for another guy who seemed nice enough, and worthy, but lacking in the colour, the vision and the mongrel to make a truly effective MP. The winner of that preselection was a boofhead who made Abbott look like a Rhodes Scholar, and who went down screaming against the independent.

That defensive Mike Baird was on display again in a radio interview on Friday. Thankfully for him it was on Radio National so nobody heard it. You will be seeing more of that Mike Baird going forward. He has charmed the press gallery individually such that they do not come after him collectively, and he faced a weakened opposition. The opposition has now been strengthened and the press gallery regards him as less of a novelty. Having no ability to question Baird on policy, and not having put him under much pressure thus far, the press gallery will act all surprise when Baird stumbles. This isn't to say he's a cream-puff - he isn't - but he just won't do that well explaining lots of complex ideas in non-technical terms under sustained pressure.

John Robertson went in hard against Barry O'Farrell and ended up looking like a prick. When O'Farrell fell it had nothing to do with Robertson, who was still a prick, and Baird only made him look worse. Luke Foley was smart not to try and rip away Baird's nice-guy persona, learned from having the blood of three Labor Premiers under his fingernails. If he goes in too hard against Baird then he too will go the way of Robertson; you can do that stuff in Labor backrooms, not in public. Is Foley a nice guy? We don't have enough information where to put him on a scale from Abbott to Baird, much less trust those judgments against policy positions.

Baird even makes Tony Abbott look like more of a prick than he already is. This effect will be enhanced when Abbott plays silly-buggers with COAG, leaving Labor Premiers do the hard yards advocating for state-delivered services. By bringing forward the rollout of NDIS while privatising disability support services, Baird is creating a whole lot of mixed messaging that will come back to bite him over this term.

Anyway, I went to the polling booth and got my two bits of paper. The Legislative Assembly (lower house) paper brought on an immediate bout of hate-voting: no representatives of the various flavours of marxism or blatantly racist parties, but Fred Nile's franchisee (increasingly racist now that homophobia is a non-starter) and No Land Tax immediately took [5] and [4].

The next choice was harder. Jerome Laxale is a young guy who wants to be a MP and he's ticked all the right boxes: joined a major party (Labor), moved into the area and got elected to the local council (a deeply dysfunctional one, which local government reform will almost certainly sweep away). He is still just a political-class muppet and I am doing him a favour by forestalling him becoming Penny Sharpe or Mark Coure.

NSW Labor just aren't ready. Their message of dump-Baird-and-Abbott-goes-too was redundant as Abbott is finished anyway. Their only real objection to the donations that have bedevilled the Libs is that none of it is going to them. Their transport policy was empty, as I said last week, politically and policy-wise. They had no education policy worth the name, they had a real lacuna in law-and-order hysteria to float some new ideas, a bit on health and a few other snippets here and there, but nothing to show for four years in the wilderness. They promised to build a new high school in the area, but they closed the last one and I have no more idea than they do where it might go. I don't believe them on power or disability services or anything else, really; the flirtation with xenophobia regarding Chinese state-owned enterprises was revolting. NSW Labor just isn't like Victorian Labor or SA Labor or Queensland Labor, no good pretending otherwise. Labor [3].

This left the Green and the Liberal. Greens talked a good talk on local issues and have started to think about policy from the ground up. They seem to link bits and pieces from different policy areas into a coherent whole, which it hadn't as a smaller fringe party, yet you can take bits of that agenda and leave others (which wasn't possible as a smaller, more intense outfit). Their third candidate for the Legislative Council was a dux of Duntroon; their other candidates are, increasingly, the sort of impressive, professional, well-educated candidate the majors used to attract.

The old saw that the majors will put together all the governments from now until the end of time is not, as it were, sustainable. They continue attracting impressive candidates who rethink what it is to govern from the ground up (which attracts impressive candidates - an upward spiral opposite to that facing the majors). They deserve the benefit of the doubt, Labor doesn't: Green [2]. My son was disappointed with that but more disappointed that he didn't wish a Green government into being.

The local MP, Victor Dominello, takes his constituency responsibilities seriously and seems to like people, unlike Federal MP John Alexander. He represents a government that has quite good education and transport policies, adequate ones in other areas, and some terrible ones (e.g. disability services, women's refuges) which may be turned around by strategic voting. This isn't the best government can get, but it is the best one on offer at this time, which is why I voted Liberal [1].

In the Legislative Council (the upper house - I wish journos would stop referring to it as the Senate), I voted below the line for a whole lot of candidates who may push to ameliorate the very issues nominated above as weak issues for this government. This is called tactical voting and it beats the hell out of voting the party line and having that line shift without reference or recourse to you. In the Coalition candidate list there are some who will do well at negotiating policy through the Council (but mostly they are just making up the numbers, put to most effective use shutting up and doing as they're told): they can earn their money dealing with a multiplicity of views.

Across safe Liberal seats the Greens came in second. Wealthy areas are described in media cliche as 'leafy', and however much it bemuses Labor die-hards from industrial suburbs it is no surprise that Green activists come from sylvan glades and are well-educated and articulate. It isn't true to describe Greens as the new moderate liberals but it's less of a stretch that it was when the party was dominated by watermelons. Now that you can vote Green without sending the entire economy and social services into perdition, they are the real alternative to Liberals - far easier to imagine a Green as your local MP than Labor.

Only when you understand that can you clarify the hysteria behind this:
Many commentators have seen the Greens' victory in Balmain and Newtown as a sign of the progressive shift to the left in the inner city seats.

But Dr Burgmann says it's actually a sign of a conservative shift away from working class Labor politics that will eventually see those seats held by the Liberals.

"It's a demographic change of the inner city," she said. "It's the very wealthy, well-educated who will never need the services of the state but who can't quite bring themselves to vote Liberal.

"But eventually they will be Liberal seats."

It's worth noting, however, that the Liberal primary vote in Balmain was down by 6.7 per cent at this election, back to roughly what it was in 2007. The Liberal primary vote was also down by 4.4 per cent in Newtown.
Old woman shouts at cloud. A Green voter is someone who "can't quite bring themselves to vote Liberal" in the same way that Dr Burgmann can't. The Greens Political Party offer a starker contrast with the Liberal Political Party policies than the Labor Political Party (all right, I'll stop it now). In inner-city communities Greens are committed users of public transport and education, more so than old-school Labor people who have long since left education (public or private) behind and who accepted ALP blandishments that a dollar spent on public transport should be spent anywhere but in the inner-city. The idea that Dr Burgmann's niece was defeated by a proto-Liberal is bullshit, but if it helps her sleep at night the theory may have some value yet.

Quite why inner-city Sydney turned away from Labor, while inner-city Newcastle and inner-city Wollongong turned toward them, is unclear. Expensive flats may yet create a Liberal constituency that does not exist today, but this would imply the Liberals will develop sophisticated appeal mechanisms that, frankly, does not exist either. We are not yet in speculative fiction territory but you can see it from here.

It seems a shame that the traffic can run only one way: Labor-to-Green-to-Liberal. Why Labor cannot use Green preferences to turn Liberal seats into Labor ones over time, or imagine a Green incumbency that lasts only until Labor can wait it out, is unclear - and probably a failure of imagination on Labor's part.

Why the north coast turned toward the Greens is clearer, and CSG is only part of the answer. Over time the Greens have put themselves in a position to take the advantages that Lismore and Ballina presented them this time.

North coast communities were dominated by rural conservatives who got wealthy selling tract housing to people on lower incomes than they. That new housing became urban communities not very different to sub-urban communities in the cities, but without the infrastructure of those communities. Labor were the first to twig to this demographic shift and what it meant politically; Liberals wrung their hands over invading National turf, leaving it to hayseeds who defined themselves against urban communities to try and represent them.

The Green base thought about government and community and environment from the ground up; people who move to an area are more likely to do this than those who unquestioningly accept it from childhood. Greens started with dessicated old hippies but moved out beyond them as communities changed. Nationals found validation in fossils like Thomas George. Labor's incrementalism worked against them as the Greens offered the more substantial alternative than Labor (without being scary or politically unrealistic).

The Liberals couldn't tell the difference and couldn't afford the aggro with their "Coalition partners". If they are to replace newly-elected Greens in Ballina and Lismore (and, going forward, in Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour) they will have to start from scratch, today, and somehow persuade their "Coalition partners" that their future lies west of the Dividing Range. Again, this requires Liberals to be bold and innovative and ... you can see the problem here.

I have no idea what Indigenous people want from the NSW government, or what anyone was offering them, if anything.

How do you plan cities in a real estate market like this, and for whom? None of that is clear. The traditional media weren't asking, and the Political Parties can only avoid questions that nobody else asks.

We have in NSW a state government that wants to sell electricity distribution networks at the very time their value is collapsing, and which won't get the political support necessary to do so. It may go into debt to fund big-ticket infrastructure but they won't be around when it comes on line. It will come under pressure on health at the very time that their resident expert, Jillian Skinner, has had her best shot at reform and no-one else steps up to show what the next steps look like (the most likely alternatives being niggardly, self-defeating budget cuts that create more problems than they solve, much like the 'reforms' coming from the federal government). Its mixed messages on disability services, and small-scale donations, will wear it down without a clear way forward.

Foley seems disciplined but will make mistakes. He's already gone further than his Young Labor antagonists Reba Meagher and Joe Tripodi, but that will count for less and less over time. He didn't get where he is by entrusting policy development, electoral tactics or anything else to the wider ALP membership, so forget that. It will be interesting to see the extent to which education and health bureaucracies start leaking to Labor, and of course once the police do so it is all over. I trust Labor to make political capital from prison facilities that are both increasingly decrepit and overcrowded, but not to do much about it.

Still, where else would you be, etc.


  1. I wonder if any government anywhere has ever had so many MPs done for corruption, and then fought an election campaign in which the opposition never once dared to mention the word "corruption"? Seems a staggering dose of good luck.

    1. It sure is - considering that one of those seats vacated by an accused Liberal returned a Liberal yesterday.

  2. Funny isn't it, where our base loyalties lie. They are LARGELY buried for me these days. As a Mosman girl/ ex- investment banker, I am proud to say that I have never voted Liberal.

    I see state governments as, largely administrators, and voted Green on one issue alone: mining approvals. I voted 2. ALP on critical issues like TAFE funding. Like you, I cherry picked in the upper house and voted below the line. But I am damned if I will vote for a party of economic hard liners like the Libs, who spent a lot of time in this campaign trying to take credit for ALP achievements like the NDIS.

    What gets me is "rusted on" voters. There is a difference between being loyal and rusted on. Hey, I joined young ALP at 14 (North Sydney Branch...how is that for a laugh!!) , was a member for 40 years, but have not voted ALP for the last 4 elections in NSW, was just not possible. Nonetheless, loyalty did come in to play with my second choice. I think that your past also came in to play Andrew.

    My heart is ALP, but like hell will I stick with that seeing the party as it is. The Greens, and that party's refusal to compromise and negotiate annoys me too. Many of the Greens actions have bothered me , in recent years.

    I think I am just over all of the major parties, and prefer Independent thought. I really do understand the merit of being in a party, of trying to be a part of internal change. It is a hard thing, as that, and "politically homeless" both have merit. But at this stage I have to go with the latter. That said, I won't be voting Liberal or National in my life time as things stand.

    1. I don't owe them anything and nor they me, and the Libs have gotten worse since I left. I voted on education and transport, but would have voted on health had there been a compelling reason to do so. That's where my base loyalties lie. Administrators are administrators and pollies can choose to make their lives hard or easy.

    2. Can't disagree with any of that, except to say that I do not see the Libs as better administrators...they tend to out source that role....and my maths tells me that that just subtracts (profit) from the available funds.

      BUT, hey, I think we should lose state governments altogether, that there are too many governments in this country and too much duplication.

    3. States are the one level that actually delivers services! Real services - councils do libraries and a few piecemeal programs, Canberra does the armed forces - but think about why you pay taxes (schools, hospitals, roads, laura norder) and they tend to be state services.

  3. OK I read the article, a question occurred to me so I checked the article again and the question became more demanding.

    I saw this:
    "Greens talked a good talk on ...and have started to think about policy from the ground up ....They continue attracting impressive candidates who rethink what it is to govern ... [more]"

    OK you rejected the ALP and gave sound reasons for doing so but I would suggest that if you look at the 'others' [Libs that is] they seemed from your account to be little better...."a government that has quite good education and transport policies, adequate ones in other areas, and some terrible ones (e.g. disability services, women's refuges) which may be turned around by strategic voting. This isn't the best government can get ...We have in NSW a state government that wants to sell electricity distribution networks at the very time their value is collapsing... ."
    And so on.

    So the question.
    Why didn't you vote Greens?

    Because you seem to have presented a pretty good case for them and a mixed bag at best for the others.

    Nice article tho' in case you think I'm criticising, I'm not, just curious.


    1. Same reason I didn't vote Labor, Fred - I didn't believe they would or could come through.

    2. So - were you just backing the winner?

    3. No, I don't vote on that basis and there's nothing in it for me if I did. They were, as I said, the least worst option.

  4. As a Victorian, I watch NSW from a very long and bemused distance, as I regard American politics.

    I saw Baird for the first time yesterday as he shouted his acceptance speech like a football coach at half-time. "This is Mr Popular?" was my only meaningful thought.

    - Joe

    1. Yes...and that's why Mr Abbott will never understand Victoria let alone Melbourne. .

      Liberals are very different here than those in N.S.W...they're on another planet.

      Thank goodness I live in Melbourne as well Anon...there's still a sense of decency to some degree..ahem ahem

  5. Jon Stewart Mill30/3/15 8:26 am

    "This isn't the best government can get, but it is the best one on offer at this time, which is why I voted Liberal [1]." That statement could speak for the whole of NSW.

  6. Andrew, you are the only person to write about the privatisation of disability services.

    As we transition to a service economy we need to have more specialist speech pathologists, occupational therapists and social workers. A state disability service provider can stimulate a private market and set high standards. Alas we will not have this after 2018.

    We are in for a train wreck in disability services in a couple of years time when the Feds tinker with the funding of the NDIS under the guise of a budget emergency. A large cohort of people will be exposed with little or no direct service provision. Standards of service delivery will be low particularly in areas of high complexity.

    Labor may have many failings but John Della Bosca was a success as the Minister for Disability Services and Stronger Together One and Two are high points in disability service delivery.

    I do not share your view that strategic voting in the Legislative Council will address this terrible outcome for some of the state's most vulnerable people.

    1. I for one don't intend that Abbott and Co. will still be in power in 2018. WIth a bit of luck the architect of the NDIS will be PM by then. That might mean more solid funding for disability services, at least at the federal level. My worry is the negotiations that are happening right now between the Feds (Lib) and NSW (also Lib) over the future of the NDIS.

  7. The ALP should have used corruption as an issue.. the crime on their side was garden variety greed in cahoots with the top end.. The LNP's was a direct attack on the system itself via diverted electoral funding which is far worse in the overall scheme of things..does anyone believe that the O'farrell grange wasn't the tip of the iceberg ..?

    1. No, their side produced the CSG licences which drove north coast voters into the arms of the Greens, and their party has spent all the donations they got as a result.

  8. Alex Greenwich won with a very high percentage .

    This guy has charismatic qualities in droves and a lot of the gay community as his support base as well.

    Thoughts Andrew?

    My local Greens electoral officer lives in South Yarra so your analysis is correct about a highly educated demographic.

    Posh liberals with a heart of Gold!

    1. Yes he did, and the Greens seem to have scuppered their own candidate in the process. Funny how things turn out really

  9. I voted in a similar manner, although ultimately I saw the Labor candidate (Verity Firth) as more worth my time than the Green (Jamie Parker). Because my preference might actually elect a candidate for another party, I had to think carefully. I also deemed the No Land Tax Party worse than Fred Nile's.

    In the Upper House, as always I voted below the line, carefully excluding those I didn't like, but when I got to about 155, I couldn't be bothered numbering those I disliked, and I wanted to get to a movie (Big Eyes, not particularly recommended, a bit long, but a good insight into the suppression of women etc etc).

    The interesting part of this is the Reachtel phone calls I received before, and after election day. I had two phone calls before about how I intended to vote, but to my surprise, I got one the other night which was how I had voted. Which I thought anyone could work out by going to the NSW electoral commission site. However, when they finally got through the preliminaries, they asked me the reason why I voted they way I did. Clearly the script was written for Green and or Labor voters, because my choices were 1) Overdevelopment 2) Environment 3) Education and excuse me if I don't remember the rest, but none of them articulated why I voted (which was that I wasn't going to vote for a party which is opposed to everything, even if I do agree with some of the things they oppose - I wanted a party who were willing to build something).

    I think Labor can gain votes in Green seats form Liberal voters in these safe "left-wing" seats, and they need to make part of the campaign a pitch to those voters. I'm not quite sure how they should do it, but as a uni friend of mine is intending to run for the ALP against a Green, I've been thinking of sharing a few thoughts with him on it.

  10. These would have been an article of interest if it hadn't ended with a "And then I voted tribally because I'm still a scared middle class boy from Sydney at heart and will always return to the Liberals"