Friday, March 17, 2017

White New Labor Leader, But Who Will Take Green's Seat?

It's been a huge day in Tasmanian state politics with the resignation of Labor leader Bryan Green and his unopposed (at least within the PLP) replacement by Rebecca White.  White is the youngest ever Tasmanian Labor leader and will be the youngest Premier by a few to several months if she wins the next state election.  (She is not, however, the youngest Labor leader nationally - Chris Watson, later to be PM, was probably one day younger when he became the first federal Labor leader.  There may have been other younger Labor leaders in other states; I haven't checked.  She is also not the youngest Tasmanian major party leader - Liberal Geoff Pearsall was 32 in 1979.)

Bryan Green is the second long-term Labor leader after Neil Batt (leader 1986-88) to not contest an election.  While Green was  uncompetitive in head-to-head matchups with Will Hodgman (even after allowing for the edge to the incumbent on such measures) he oversaw a time in which the parliamentary party was almost always unified in public and bloodletting following a massive loss in 2014 was contained.

Green also oversaw a victory in the Legislative Council set of Elwick and significant rebuilding of the party's standing in state polling.  I estimate that Labor has so far recovered about six points of support since the 2014 election disaster, while the Liberals have lost about ten. His decision to quit is no surprise after questions were raised about his commitment level, and a strikingly poor preferred premier score in the recent EMRS poll.  If there is no more to it than what we know, then to stand aside now will probably be seen as a selfless decision in order to spare the party from prolonged leadership speculation or a badly compromised and easily attacked campaign.  Such speculation was seen at placing the party at risk in the event of an early election.

Rebecca White is popular - she was the standout choice of voters in a ReachTEL poll of the Labor leadership last November. Although an MP (and a Minister for a month) during the Labor-Green coalition years, she is likely to be seen as a fresh choice who is not especially tarnished by the party's past.   The attack on White will be primarily that she is inexperienced, and also perhaps that she is left-leaning and likely to work with the Greens.  However, her union connections are light on compared to other possible targets.

Identity politics is also bound to raise its head at some time, though the Liberals would be well advised to keep clear of it as a line of attack themselves. Female leadership figures are criticised for putting career before family if they have children and also criticised for the same thing if they don't.  Indeed, the change today surprised some journalists who seem to have wrongly assumed White would definitely not take the job so soon after the birth of her first child.

The change is likely to be bad news for the Greens vote.  Another young left-wing female Labor leader is likely to take a lot more votes from them than Bryan Green ever would have done.  On the other hand, if the change increases the chance of a hung parliament it may help them in the long term.

My previous Tasmania piece essentially argued, without directly saying it, that Labor needed to change leaders because of the dynamic of Hare-Clark elections.  Labor would want to be polling well enough in the campaign to at least stop the Liberals from saying that only they could form majority government.  This change removes a liability, but I do not think Green was much of a drag on the party's current primary-vote polling.

Bryan Green's decision to resign from parliament entirely, instead of retiring at the next election. creates what could be a very interesting and perhaps close Hare-Clark recount.

The stakes are major here.  Former MP Brenton Best, who narrowly lost his seat in the 2014 election, is someone Labor would desperately not want to return.  A career backbencher during eighteen years in parliament, Best was not a team player in the previous parliament and could be even less so (perhaps even moving directly to the crossbench) should he return.  Labor would even face the prospect of going into the next state election with no incumbents in Braddon, and the Liberals would have a field day with it all, while Best's potential presence on the ballot paper as an independent incumbent would be the last thing Labor needed. The other serious contender, Shane Broad, an agricultural scientist, would at the very least be a new face in parliament, and quite likely a source of new policy depth. Unusually for a countback winner (many of whom serve a year or two then lose and then are never seen again) Broad would bring an already substantial personal vote.

Who Will Take Green's Seat - If Broad and Best Contest

(Warning: this section is very numbery and wonky (about wonk factor 4/5).  If you just want a quick summary of the answer - it is very hard to say!)

In Hare-Clark recounts for casual vacancies, only the votes the elected member had when they were elected are included.  It makes no difference who polled the most primaries or who came closest to getting elected the first time round, although usually the candidates who poll more primaries also do better on preferences.

The votes that will determine Green's replacement are the 10716 votes he held after crossing the line and being reduced to a quota.  These are each thrown to the highest placed candidate on them who is contesting the recount.  If someone gets more than 50% that person wins, otherwise whoever is last is excluded and their preferences then thrown, and so on, like a single member election.  Because Green was not elected on primaries, these votes come from a wide range of sources and in some cases we know things about where they will go in the recount.  The breakdown of Green's votes is:

6606 (61.7%) Bryan Green (ALP) primaries
1602 (14.9%) preferences from Shane Broad (ALP)
721 (6.7%) preferences from other Labor candidates Justine Keay and Darryl Bessell
637 (5.9%) preferences from Palmer United, mostly Kevin Morgan
614 (5.7%) preferences from the Greens, mostly Paul O'Halloran
245 (2.3%) preferences from the short-lived "Tasmanian Nationals"
232 (2.2%) preferences from Liberals, including the surpluses of Adam Brooks and Jeremy Rockliff
36 (0.3%) preferences from ungrouped independents
23 (0.2%) preferences from Australian Christians

Here a feature of Hare-Clark recounts that I call the Hare-Clark recount bug rears its head.  Because Shane Broad was excluded before Bryan Green was elected in the original election, votes that went from him to Bryan Green (including those that are, say, 1 Broad 2 Green) then return to him in the recount.  However Brenton Best never had his preferences distributed in 2014 (let alone while Green was still shy of quota) and so a vote that is 1 Best 2 Green will never be seen in this recount.

This means that Best is disadvantaged by lasting too long in the original election while Broad is advantaged by having been excluded early.  This is, of course, silly and unfair, but no sound solution to this problem has ever been found.  Holding a full recount of every vote cast with the retiring member removed from that count could have the impact of unelecting some other MP, or of a seat being lost to another party, both of which are problems likely to stop an MP retiring when they otherwise should.

How big is the problem for Best?  Well, at least 1602 votes, because all the votes that came from Broad to Green have Broad higher placed than Best, and will therefore pool with Broad if Best is his only remaining opposition.  So that's 14.9% Broad gets for free in the race to 50%.  Actually, because of exhausting votes, to a little bit less than 50%.

But there's actually more than that, because the 538 votes from Kevin Morgan (PUP) and the 569 votes from Paul O'Halloran (Greens) would have included some votes that would have flowed to Broad ahead of Bryan Green had Broad still been in the count, but would not have included any votes that would have flowed to Best ahead of Green.  That might advantage Broad by another, say, 200 votes, perhaps more.

In general we would expect Best to do better on preferences than Broad because Best was a high-profile incumbent whose independent streak would have given him some cross-ticket appeal.  And indeed, of preferences distributed directly to them from other parties in the original count while both were still in the race, Best received 697 to Broad's 366.  On this basis, Best should recover some votes from that portion of Green's vote that came from other parties.

However,  Justine Keay's votes from the original count flowed very strongly to Broad compared to Best (635-315) and presumably the votes that went from Keay to Green will do much the same thing.  On the other hand, Darryl Bessell's votes from the original count strongly favoured Best over Broad (217-93).

My suspicion is that Best would have to make up something like the 1600 votes mentioned above, with the rest about cancelling out, from Bryan Green's primaries alone.  Assuming almost none of those exhaust without reaching either Best or Broad, that would leave him needing a roughly 63:37 split of the Bryan Green votes over Broad (the split of Labor's primary votes between the two being 58:42).  The question then is whether Bryan Green's voters would have preferenced against Best, as Keay's did (in which case Broad will easily win) or whether they would have gone largely from one incumbent to the next (in which case Best could just get enough.) Or if they just break as per the other primary votes then I have Best falling short.  (A reader who wishes to be anonymous has sent me detailed modeling showing that if various preferences are assumed to break like the primaries or like the known preference distributions, Broad wins comfortably - though these are medium-sized "ifs".)

The 2010 election might provide some useful insight here.  At that election Green made a quota, and his surplus split 219-94 (70:30) to Best over Broad of votes that went to the two of them.  However, at that election Best polled 7087 votes to Broad's 3303, while at this election Broad was much more competitive with Best on primaries (3648 for Best to 2654 for Broad).  It stands to reason Best's share of Green's preferences relative to Broad must fall substantially - but by how much?

My suspicion is probably "enough" and on that basis I consider Broad a slight favourite to win this recount. 

(Update: as of 21 March, Broad is contesting. Best's decision is unknown.)

If Broad and Best don't both contest

If only one of Broad and Best contests, that one will easily beat anybody else.  (Just about certainly - there is an outside chance the third Labor candidate, Darryl Bessell, might beat Best if Best was really on the nose with Green's voters.) If neither contests, Bessell will win if he contests - enough preferences will stay in the Labor ticket that nobody else has a chance.  In theory if none contested, Labor could invoke a never yet used provision that allows for a single-seat by-election, but this won't happen; someone from the three will stand.   There is no  prospect of anyone from outside Labor winning Green's recount.

Best's Party Status

The fact that Best may now not choose to sit as a Labor MP is irrelevant.  He is still entitled to contest the recount and if successful be elected.  He does not require any permission from the party to do so or to make any decision on his party status when he nominates.  He can even decide to contest the recount and make a decision on his party status later if he wins.  His right to contest the recount exists as a candidate of the previous election.  See Section 228.

Some Further Reflections

As the recount saga has unfolded, it has looked more and more like Green's decision to quit his seat as well as just the leadership has been a personal one and not a party tactic.  It would have made sense as a party tactic if it was likely Broad would win the recount, but it is not clear that he will and not clear that he wants it.  The situation with Green brings greater focus to the recent calls for Lara Giddings and David Llewellyn to also resign their seats.  If both retire at the next election, Labor may go into the election with as few as four incumbents, a parlous situation especially considering the Liberals have stated that all fifteen members will recontest.

With the leadership change Labor would be very keen to press to take votes from the Greens and push to increase their polling towards around 40%, at which (given the variety of minor parties likely to split and waste votes between them) majority government might be distantly plausible.  We've seen swings on a similar massive scale in enough other state elections recently.  But I'm wondering why the existing government's polling isn't better.  Federal factors are not helping, and the government does have a few dud performers, but the state's economy appears strong; are things really so bad?  Perhaps some of the polls are simply wrong.


  1. Ok, I read your description of the bug and after thinking about it for 2 minutes I have the following naive solution:

    Step 1: Hold a recount that only includes the still serving members first. Keep the original quota. So if the quota was originally 1/6 for a 5 member electorate, keep it as 1/6.

    Step 2: When all those members have been elected take whatever is left and use that (and only that) to determine the replacement member. This will include some partial votes which have already elected one of the existing members. The new quota is 0.5, obviously. Where only the candidates running for re-election need be considered for step 2.

    Ok, so what have I failed to consider? There must be something. This seems too easy.


    1. Apologies for being slow to respond to this comment - I was considering one line of reply then thought of another.

      This method would certainly avoid the problem of unelecting already elected members and it seems to also solve the disadvantage for the candidate who lost late in the count. However, at the very least, there could still be a situation in which the last elected member at the original election wins narrowly and then resigns. Rather than the recount electing another member of the same party, it could then elect a member of the opposition party. This would create a disincentive for a member to resign in a case in which it might be the most appropriate thing for them to do.

      Apart from the problem above (and I'm not sure there will be a solution that solves all the major issues fairly), I think it's an interesting idea. It might be a suitable approach for full recounts to replace ineligible candidates if one wanted to be certain the recount did not end up unelecting others (as per the Michael Caiafa situation on Melbourne Council).

      If I have the mechanics of it right all the original votes are first sent to the highest numbered candidate of the remaining winners at value 1. This divides six quotas between four candidates who probably all get elected with quota either off the primaries or off the distribution of surpluses of those elected at count 1. The end product after four candidates are elected is two quotas of "exhaust" at varying values, then at this point throw this again to all the recontesting candidates who were originally unsuccessful. Even if there is massive exhaust in the original count and you end up with more than two quotas exhausting (which seems incredibly unlikely in practice) that could be fixed by just requiring the winner to reach half of whatever's available.