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Abbott's election referendum

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If the election was a referendum on the Government then the Coalition has lost, writes David Donovan.

(This story was published in The Punch on Tuesday, August 24, 2010.)

OPPOSITION LEADER Tony Abbott may have fond referendum memories from 1999, but his statement at 1.56 am on election night that the 2010 Federal "...election has been a referendum on the political execution of a Prime Minister" could come back to bite him. If the Independents take his advice here on how to choose the Government he'll probably remain in Opposition for the foreseeable future.
Independent MP Tony Windsor

Currently, the ones needing to make a decision are the Independents. Abbott's notion that the election was a referendum on the current Government might be a way for them to adjudge the mood of the nation. In fact, statements made by Independent Tony Windsor before the election appear to confirm that they will look at these sorts of factors:
"Considerations that I’d take into account was who won the most seats? Who got the greatest vote? What would people in this electorate want? What are some of the significant issues in terms of regional Australia? And, most importantly, [who would provide] stability of governance for the rest of Australia."

So, if this election was a referendum on whether the current Government should continue, then what was the result?

The template for referenda is set out in the Australian Constitution. There, the basic formula is that a 'yes' or 'no' proposition would require the assent of a majority of voters in total and in a majority of the states (not territories).

Since our system enforces compulsory preferential voting, so that the final count in each electorate is usually between the two major parties, it is quite simple to use the two-party preferred (2PP) vote nationally, and in each state, to apply this to Abbott's idea.

Using Abbott’s words, the proposal might be "Do you want to oust the current Government because of the way it treated ex-PM Kevin Rudd”. A vote for the Coalition would be a 'Yes', a vote for the Government a 'No'.

Bearing in mind that vote-counting is still continuing, I am going to use the figures on the AEC website as of 10.40am Monday morning, after almost 75% of the total votes had been counted, to work out a provisional result:

  Votes %
  Labor Coalition Labor Coalition
NSW 1,605,915 1,628,477 49.65 50.35
VIC 1,404,653 1,145,516 55.08 44.92
QLD 865,444 1,040,523 45.41 54.59
WA 409,855 500,423 45.03 54.97
SA 437,037 379,431 53.53 46.47
TAS 169,452 108,728 60.91 39.09
ACT 108,299 66,772 61.86 38.14
NT 42,557 41,588 50.58 49.42
Total 5,043,212 4,911,458 50.66 49.34
Opposition leader, Tony Abbott

As you can see, a Coalition referendum to throw out the Government would fail on both counts.

Firstly, it didn't win the national vote, gaining only just over 49% of the total. Despite curious media reporting, even on the ABC, that the Coalition had won the popular vote, reference to the AEC website even on election night showed the Labor Party ahead on this measure.

The Coalition also would not achieve a majority of the voters in a majority of states. It would end up with 3 for Labor, 3 for the Coalition. If the territories were included, which is strictly unconstitutional, although indicative, then the result favours Labor by a resounding 5-3.

Only in Queensland and WA is Labor relatively unpopular. In NSW, it is just below parity and in NT slightly better than par. Labor is strongly popular in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT.

Frankly, it is hard to see the argument for the Coalition to take Government based on these figures. If the Independents decide to use this methodology, Abbott may rue an indiscriminate comment after about three days without sleep.

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