Sun, 31 Jul 2016 - 21:00
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Results of the 2016 election: some misleading claims, and the facts

In the past few weeks we have heard some inaccurate claims about the result of the 2016 election.  Labor has been trying to give the impression that it nearly won, and some have argued that we face instability in the lower house similar to that of the 2010-2013 period.

These claims are at odds with the facts.

The first key fact is that the Coalition holds 76 seats in the House of Representatives, giving us an absolute majority in the 150 seat House – which is why we have formed government.  Labor holds 69 seats and there are 5 cross benchers (Bandt, Katter, McGowan, Sharkie, Wilkie).

Looking at first preference votes nationally, the Coalition beat Labor decisively.  The Coalition secured 5.693 million first preference votes, Labor 4.702 million.  Labor’s share of first preference votes cast nationally was 34.73 per cent – the second lowest share Labor has ever recorded. 

The Coalition’s share at 42.04 per cent, while not the best result the Coalition has ever secured, is far from being the worst either.  In 1998 for example the Coalition won with 39.5 per cent; in 1961 election the Coalition also secured a narrow majority with 42 per cent of the first preference vote.

Another interesting measure is each party’s first preference votes in the seats it secured.  The Coalition secured 33 seats on first preferences alone, Labor just 16.  In a significant number of seats Labor’s first preference vote was only around a third of the total votes cast: Adelaide (35.93%); Batman (35.27%); Griffith (33.18%); Perth (37.36%) and Wills (37.65%).  In Melbourne Ports Labor’s first preference vote was a mere 27.00%. 

In Adelaide, Batman, Griffith, Melbourne Ports and Perth, the Labor candidate came second on first preferences – in a first past the post system Labor would have lost those seats.  In four of those five seats the Liberal candidate came first on first preferences.

Yet another indicator is the number of Senate ‘provisional quotas’ secured by the Coalition and Labor in the six states from first preference votes, as reported by the AEC.  (A quota is the number of votes to secure one seat in the Senate.)  As it stands, the Coalition comfortably beat Labor in five of the six states: NSW (4.6715 versus 4.0694), Victoria (4.3234 versus 4.0033), Queensland (4.5901 versus 3.4373) WA (5.3437 versus 3.6756) and SA (4.2358 versus 3.5515).

Of course the Coalition will be well short of a majority in the Senate and will need support from other parties if we are to get legislation passed – but that is not an unusual position for the government to face in the Senate.

Nor is there much substance to the claim that this term will reveal similar instability to the 2010-13 term of Parliament.  In this term Coalition has 76 seats in the House and Labor 69; in the 2010-13 term the Coalition and Labor were tied on 72 seats and Labor formed minority government. 

In the 2010-13 term Labor had understandings with four cross-benchers concerning ‘confidence and supply’ – essentially commitments not to vote against the government on a no-confidence motion, and to vote for the government’s budget bills.  There were no commitments to support any other legislation. 

By contrast in this term the government will have 76 votes in favour of any Bill it brings forward – recognising of course the right of any Coalition MP to cross the floor.  But the default starting point for any Bill which has gone through the Coalition Party Room will be that there is a sufficient number of votes available for it to pass the Parliament.   (The Prime Minister has additionally obtained commitments on confidence and supply from cross-benchers Bob Katter, Cathy McGowan and Andrew Wilkie.) 

Of course the speaker does not vote (except if there is a tie) so theoretically there could be 75-74 outcomes on Bills opposed by everybody else in the House. But the Coalition in fact has more breathing room than this would suggest, because if a Coalition member fails to turn up and the vote is tied 74-74, the Speaker (a Coalition MP) will have a casting vote. 

In fact, these numbers are somewhat theoretical because most times when a Bill is voted upon, not all of the 150 members are present.  The Bill will pass if it is supported by a majority of votes cast; it does not require an absolute majority.  For example, if there are 141 members present and voting on a particular Bill, it requires 71 votes in support, not 76, to pass.  (The only exceptions are Bills to alter the constitution and motions to suspend standing orders without notice.) 

Typically, if you have a majority of members you can arrange votes and proceedings so that you have a majority of those present and voting.  This will be a job for Leader of the House Christopher Pyne MP and the Government whips, and it will certainly present logistical challenges - but it is important to understand that it is not the case that the Government needs to always have all 76 Coalition MPs in the House.

There have been some highly misleading claims about the outcome of the 2016 election.  The facts are that the Coalition has won, we have a majority in the House of Representatives and the position on the floor of the House will be very different from 2010-13.