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Democratic dysfunction in thumping Queensland result

By Crispin Hull - posted Monday, 2 April 2012

The Red Corner boxer who has been knocked out in the first 30 seconds of the first round by the Boxer in the Blue Corner is not in much of a position to claim “we wuz robbed”.

But Labor in Queensland was robbed. It won 27 per cent of the vote and only nine per cent of the seats.

The LNP should have won, and won handsomely, but it should not have won 87 per cent of the seats with a whisker under 50 per cent of the vote. It got 38 seats more than it should.


Sure, an exact correlation between percentage of votes and percentage of seats is hard to obtain and any system that yields it has the downside of the Government having to deal with shrapnel parties and the instability of multi-party coalitions. Israel is a case in point.

But there is a happy medium somewhere.

The theoretical extremes illustrate the problem: 100 per cent of the seats with 50.1 per cent of the vote. Fifty per cent of the seats (and government) with 25 per cent of the vote.

And lots of undemocratic points in between, such as what happened in Queensland.

The democratic dysfunction in the single-member system occurs in two instances. The first is where the party with more than 50 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote did not get government while the one with less than 50 per cent did. This has happened five times federally since 1949 (one election in five), and many times at state level.

The second is where one party gets more than around 60 per cent of the vote and attains a swamp effect of capturing nearly all the seats. Or quite a lot less than 60 per cent if a lot of votes are wasted to minor parties. In this situation the second party, which is supposed to provide an Opposition, becomes a rump of just a few seats, despite getting a quarter or more of the vote. This happened in Queensland.


In a way, this is more harmful for democracy than the first form of democratic dysfunction.

A rump cannot form an effective Opposition. Its small talent pool diminishes its parliamentary performance. Its reduced staff numbers prevent it from doing to the research work needed to develop effective and credible alternative policies.

The Opposition does not have enough MPs to engage in the committee work to ensure accountability of the executive and balanced policy development.

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This article first appeared in The Canberra Times on 31 March 2012.

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About the Author

Crispin Hull is a former editor of The Canberra Times, admitted as a barrister and solicitor in the ACT and author of The High Court 1903-2003 (The Law Book Company). He teaches journalism at the University of Canberra and is chair of Barnardos Australia, the children’s charity. His website is here:

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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