At the Western Australian election held 11 March, Labor won a landslide in the lower house, winning 41 of the 59 seats. However, in the upper house Labor and the Greens combined won 18 of the 36 seats, one short of an outright majority. There were two reasons for the left’s underperformance in the upper house: malapportionment in favour of rural regions and the group voting ticket system.
There are six upper house regions, three in Perth and three in the rest of WA. Each region elects six members to the upper house, so the quota is 1/7 of the vote, or 14.3%.
I wrote here that Perth only has half the upper house seats despite having 77% of the state’s population. However, the problem is worse than this. As Antony Green wrote, a voter in the deeply conservative Agricultural region has almost 4 times the weight of a Perth voter. A voter in the Mining & Pastoral region, which is becoming more conservative, has almost six times the weight of a Perth voter.
At this election, about 49,000 formal votes were recorded in Mining & Pastoral region, 88,000 in Agricultural region and 194,000 in South West region. The three metropolitan regions had at least 334,000 formal votes each, more than the non-Perth regions combined.
Although Labor’s vote improved across the state from 2013, Labor and the Greens combined won two of the six seats in Agricultural region, and just barely three of the six in Mining & Pastoral. In all other regions, Labor and the Greens easily won at least three of the six seats per region. Here is the final upper house results table. Vote shares and changes from 2013 are from Wikipedia.
The table shows the effect of malapportionment, with the Nationals, who only contested the non-Perth regions, winning as many seats as the Greens on half the Greens’ vote. Others in the table are the Shooters in Agricultural region and the Liberal Democrats in South Metro.
If all the non-Perth regions (South West, Agricultural and Mining & Pastoral) were combined, and non-Perth representaion reduced to six, Labor would have won 2.30 quotas, the Liberals 1.44, the Nationals 1.26, One Nation 0.80, the Greens 0.44 and the Shooters 0.33.
With One Nation short of a quota, so they would soak up right wing votes, and Labor’s surplus going heavily to the Greens, the Greens would have been likely to defeat the Liberals for the final seat, resulting in Labor 2, Liberals, Nationals, One Nation and Greens one each outside Perth, rather than the actual result of Labor/Greens 8, all Others 10.
There were three cases where a candidate who did not deserve to win won through the artificial preference flows under the group voting system, which is still used in WA. In Agricultural region, the Shooters, with 0.40 quotas, defeated One Nation with 0.82. In East Metro, One Nation, with 0.56 quotas, defeated the 2nd Liberal, who had 0.75 quotas. So much for some people’s theories that One Nation would not benefit from group voting tickets.
Most disappointing for the left, in South Metro the Liberal Democrats, with 0.27 quotas, defeated the Greens with 0.65 quotas. In that region, the Liberal Democrats were to the left of the Liberals on the ballot paper, and won 3.9% of the vote mostly due to name confusion. In all other regions, the Liberal Democrats were to the right of the Liberals, and won about 1%.
The table below represents what I think would have happened had the current Senate system been used for the WA upper house, and the malapportionment removed.
This would give Labor and the Greens 14 of the 24 seats. In this scenario the Greens would win four seats, to one for One Nation. This may seem unfair on One Nation, but the Greens benefited from Labor surpluses, while the Liberals had no surpluses to spare to help One Nation. Individual “Others” did not receive many votes, and none would have won if not for the artificial preference flows that only happen when parties, not voters, direct preferences.
In the WA upper house, the President can only vote to break a tie. If Labor can persuade a non-Labor/Greens member to take the Presidency, Labor and the Greens would have 18 of the 35 votes on the floor. If a Labor member takes the Presidency, Labor will need the Greens and one vote from a right wing member to pass legislation.
Authors: Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne