Spurious math: 480,000 bribes elect next Federal Government

So government could be won or lost on the basis of adequate bribes to fewer than half a million people?


In an election unlikely to reveal a tangible difference in economic policies or capacity for large-scale taxation bribery, it appears that symbolic issues might become more important, and so might local personalities.

However, judging from the uninspiring personality contests hinted at in the analysis of Queensland marginal seats below, and the disingenuously disputed fact that even on social  or cultural policies (cultural policies?  What would those be?) the major parties hardly disagree, the end result might be no more complicated to predict than some really spurious claims about statistics.

Looking at the seats below as a national mean, which they are not, 28 per cent of seats may determine the outcome of the federal election.  That’s 42 of the 150 single-member divisions.  Should we just limit the lies and pork barreling to suit the constituents in those electorates?  Tell me after the election whether that ‘was’ as foolhardy an idea as it sounds right now.

The same nonsensical math gives you 14 per cent of parliamentarians worth anything at all in terms of responsibilities and expected performance (spuriously so judged by me), which is not to say that those 14 per cent actually pass any tests of positive achievements or competence (my spurious judgement of the Federal Treasurer’s performance).  That makes 21 lower house MPs who actually count for anything in terms of carrying out nationally important responsibilities instead of impersonating garden gnomes at junkets, functions and other booze-ups.  If we made the other 129 unemployed, how much in terms of savings on salaries and perks could that generate?

If that sounds facetious or just contrary, do a back-of-the-envelope calculation of exactly who you know right now doing anything at all worthwhile in the Federal House of Reps.  I suspect that this does not sound silly now, and won’t sound any less silly in September if you are honest about and don’t need to go Googling to come up with just five names, let alone 21, or 150.

Back to the spurious math.  If a swing of just under four per cent against either party (who would actually vote for any of the Muppets on offer?) is needed to settle the matter of who governs, does that mean that of roughly 12 million votes to be cast (a spurious estimate), only 480,000 will actually count for anything?  So government could be won or lost on the basis of adequate bribes to fewer than half a million people?

This, then, is the future of democracy as delivered to us by an unimaginative technocracy of party machine bureaucrats who determine such things in the absence of competent or charismatic leadership in the House itself.  Don’t like that analysis?  At least I fessed up to call my statistical analysis ‘spurious’.  What are the ‘serious’ people calling theirs?

The Queensland marginals

Brisbane metropolitan electoral divisions.

Being a Queenslander, I thought it was worth looking at the most marginal seats in the State.

The parties will be strategising for anything with a margin of around five per cent or less, [1] but I was more interested in the really marginal: less than four per cent.

There are seven such seats in Queensland that are worth watching in the coming months, particularly after as yet uncertain candidacies are resolved.  At least two of them appear to be bellwether constituencies, mirroring national trends since 1996: long Liberal ascendancies until 2007, and dramatically slashed Labor margins in 2010.

Brisbane 1.1%. Incumbent: Teresa Gambaro (LNP).  ALP candidate: Fiona McNamara.

Teresa Gambaro, who held Petrie (see below) between Keating’s defeat in 1996 and Howard’s defeat in 2007, took this seat in 2010 from Labor’s Arch Bevis, who was an invisible backbencher for the entirety of his incumbency (1990-2010).  Gambaro has been no more visible, holding a string of ‘secretary to’ and ‘assistant’ positions under the Howard administrations.  None of these suggest a record of significant competence or achievement.  Her rival, Fiona McNamara, is a teacher’s union rep who contested the seat of Dickson unsuccessfully at the last Federal election.  Presentable and energetic, if relatively unknown, she may well be a Labor fixture for meeting all the right criteria.

Gambaro is my MP, and I claim slightly higher insights into local electorate politics than for some others.  Labor’s gift to Gambaro is an inexplicable opposition to gay marriage, which is a major issue around the inner city.  On the other hand, the generally affluent residents of the inner city suburbs are not interested only in the same old rhetoric of fiscal rectitude.  They are cosmopolitan and want quality of life issues addressed and dealt with.  The Coalition has been traditionally very bad at translating support for the big end of town into benefits for non-corporate city dwellers.

Moreton 1.1%. Incumbent: Graham Perrett (ALP).  LNP candidate: Malcolm Cole.

Perrett is the author of a notionally ‘explicit’ novel about a Catholic school teacher’s amorous adventures, which has seen him referred to as the ‘Member for Porn’ in that snickering, high school puritanism that pervades the political confraternity.  It seems, though, that Perrett has done little else but write a sequel to his first novel since winning Morton from ex-journalist Gary Hardgrave in the 2007 Rudd landslide.

His opponent is another former journalist and Howard Government spin doctor.  As such Cole is similar in many ways to Hardgrave (and to me), but suffers from almost no profile.

The electorate is solidly middle class, with younger families driving out an aging demographic as house prices rise (I had a Howard white picket fence life mortgage in that electorate in the 1990s).  My sense is that this electorate will vote for whoever promises the most stability and predictability, but not necessarily on those catch-all but ultimately meaningless ‘family values’ platitudes all politicians are so fond of.

Forde 1.6%. Incumbent: Bert van Manen (LNP).  ALP candidate: Des Hardman.

A solidly Liberal seat from 1996 (Keating’s defeat by Howard) to 2007 (Howard’s defeat by Rudd), flip-flopping the last couple of elections.  Held by a nobody and contested by a nobody.  I’d expect this seat to go with the national trend, regardless of local issues.

Longman 1.9%. Incumbent: Wyatt Roy (LNP).  ALP candidate: Michael Caisley.

The liberal party’s youngest MP (born 1990), with a huge ‘cute’ factor attached to that charmingly homely Justin Bieber public image, but not attached to any real impact, opposed by a solidly working class union organiser with less of the cute factor, but still no profile.

The electorate voting record is nearly identical to that of Forde, and my suspicions are ‘ditto’, though the Boy Band factor could save Roy.

Petrie 2.5% Incumbent: Yvette D’Ath (ALP). LNP candidate: Luke Howarth.

D’Ath was part of the Rudd ascendancy in 2007, displacing Tersea Gambaro, who had held the seat since 1996, and who is now the Member for the even more marginal seat of Brisbane (see above).

D’Ath is a ‘Labor Lawyer’ with a background in industrial relations advocacy, including for the Australian Workers Union, and she has kept herself busy since 2007 in an impressive range of parliamentary committees.  However, she has not had time yet to build a profile that includes anything at all impressive from a Queensland perspective.  Canberra can be such a seductive place for making bureaucrat bullshit bingo seem like actual achievement.

D’Ath’s biggest asset is her opponent, Luke Howarth, whose Facebook Page can’t be evaluated without signing in, which is not something I would do just to get to know the man.  Worse, the LNP page announcing his pre-selection errors out;[2] not even his own party knows, or wants to know, who he is?  At this stage my money would have to be on D’Ath to retain the seat, if only by virtue of the ineptitude of her opponent.

Lilley 3.2%. Incumbent: Wayne Swan (ALP).  LNP candidate: Rod McGarvie.

Swan has the second highest political profile in the country, and appears likely to be able to access significant support in fighting to retain this seat.

His opponent, McGarvie, is a former soldier, UN Peacekeeper and now executive director of a ‘translation and linguistics’ agency boasting 200 international staff.  He menaced Swan in 2010, and is a risk to the Treasurer, but I’m tipping that Swan will retain his seat if only because he knows for sure this time how perilously intangible his hold on it really is, and he might spend some ‘quality time’ charming the locals there. If he doesn’t he deserves to lose.

Capricornia 3.7%. Incumbent retiring: Kirsten Livermore (ALP).  LNP candidate: Michelle Landry.

This is likely to be an interesting contest.  A country Queensland seat adjoining Bob Katter’s electorate of Kennedy (see comment here for my take on the Katter dynamic), and almost certain to be contested by a Katter’s Australia Party candidate, as well as a fresh face from the ALP (as yet not pre-selected), and the grotesquely Americano-fundamentalist Family First Party.  There is just no way of calling this one without knowing the full field of candidates, but the locals are betting $1.90 each way on Labor or Liberals at the TAB.[3]

Queensland regional divisions.

More spurious conclusions

It is unavoidable to take seriously the prospect of a further emergence or entrenchment of Greens, independents, and nutcases parties like Family First or Katter’s Australia Party, even if only to withhold votes from the dross on offer by the majors.

The outcome might be what the major deserve, but hardly what the country deserves in terms of the weak governments that ensue from uneasy alliances, driven by the grotesque demands from political pygmies that we have already seen under Gillard’s minority government.

Is it at all realistic to hope for the replacement of one or more of the incumbent leaders, accompanied by at least a semblance of alternative policy positions?

I suspect we will get exactly what we deserve by way of a reflection of our own national political attitudes: never mind the national interest, what’s in it for me?


[1] Scott, Steven (2013).  ‘Queensland’s marginal seats gear up for tough poll pitch’.  Courier Mail, 31 January, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/queenslands-marginal-seats-gear-up-for-tough-poll-pitch/story-e6frg6n6-1226565449885, accessed 31 January 2013.

[2] http://lnp.org.au/news/lnp-news/lnp-endorses-luke-howarth-for-petrie, ‘Error 404 – Page not found!  The page you trying to reach does not exist, or has been moved. Please use the menus or the search box to find what you are looking for.’ accessed 31 January 2013. He is not the only endorsed candidate whose endorsement announcement has disappeared since being listed in Google.

[3] Schwarten, Chris (2013).  ‘Capricornia candidates happy about Federal election call’.  News Mail, 31 January, http://www.news-mail.com.au/news/candidates-happy-with-election-date/1737261/, accessed 31 January 2013.


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