Friday, November 30, 2007

Evolution: Digging up the past

The book Digging Up The Past (Paul Willis and Abbie Thomas) is a survey of Australia's chief paleontological sites, with a bit of history thrown in. For this, it is a very worthwhile book; the following thoughts emerge.

1) Digging for fossils is not an enviable occupation, despite the glorifying fiction.
Mostly, it seems to largely amount to volunteers laboriously toiling in unpleasant conditions (in Australia at least), only to have someone else identify and name the results of your ardure.

2) How did Australia get so dry? It's not what you think.
Australia once had much more forest and grassland. But it moved north, separating from Antarctica and South America. New Guinea appeared from the sea, and rose - whether through tectonics or volcanic activity. Willis/Thomas state that the very appearance of NG prevented the ameliorating monsoonal rains from the north to penetrate with the necessary strength and frequency.

3) Convergent evolution is an ongoing debate.
Although descriptive passages are probably intended to evoke rather than draw genetic equivalences, Willis/Thomas suggest quite a lot of convergent evolution of types of marsupials that have [been described as having] strong resemblances to placentals elsewhere.
a) There's pause for thought on similar environmental niches [with a macro consistency] can mould common directions. But it must be largely dependent on the stage of development of plant life (which is an environmental determinant for animals), not to say the stage of development of the planet as a whole, including (say) oxygen levels, but excluding cyclical variables such as temperature, ocean levels, etc.
b) the flourishing of mammals (and within that, placentals vs marsupials) may be seen to mirror the great diversification of dinosaurs, albeit over a shorter time.
In other words, there seems to be much pattern-forming, and similarities within those patterns.
c) Humans have fully disrupted this progression/cycle mix - for the entire length of their stay on this planet, at least. One can easily speculate that, were humans to disappear - after having caused this major extinction event - yet another life form would diversify over the planet.

4) The study of marsupials can provide some particular insights into evolution overall, particularly vis-a-vis placentals.

5) Consider the apparently ungainly tree kangaroo (p286). Its ancestor is described as being more so. But again, that is only in our eyes, and all this is part of the process of adaption. For any given environmental niche, over the time that that niche was stable, the extant species would have been ipso facto successful.

6) Herbivore size (p289): The rule of thumb given is that the sparser the food, the larger the species needs to be to eke out survival.

These are just some thoughts arising from the book; this is not intended to be a review. The value in the book lies in the collation of Australian sites of paleontological significance, and the revealing of Australia as a key destination for an understanding of the history of evolution.

Willis, Paul and Thomas, Abbie (2004): Digging Up Deep Time, ABC, Sydney.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Climate Change and the new government

Ministers in the new government have been announced today.

First, there are now two Environment ministries. Peter Garrett (ex-Midnight Oil singer) retains his lead portfolio, but Penny Wong has been given Water and Climate Change. It’s possible to read this several ways – for example, maybe Climate Change has been relegated to a junior ministry, or maybe there’s that much work to put into it. Wong is apparently from a Left faction of Labor, which might be good or bad too. Good, if she will thus be more likely to have the commitment to the issue, or bad that the Left have less power (voice) than the right in the new government. The Australian (formerly the Government Gazette, now somewhat rudderless) paints this situation as sidelining Garrett, although doesn’t specifically back up this assertion in the copy.

Wong’s off with Rudd to the Bali conference.

Another snippet of news today mentions that plans for future coal power stations are likely to be put on hold because of the government’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions. This from the National Generators Forum. Good news for investment in clean technologies. Australia has plenty of sun to spare.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Behind the puffing and blowing on IR reform

Everyone in politics seems to have something to say about the reform of Howard's unpopular industrial relations laws. For three reasons, all to do with positioning.

On the one hand, there's the same game that happens after every election: the word 'mandate' is bandied about. As Prime Minister elect, Kevin Rudd says he has a mandate, and the reform should simply be passed. Various Liberals agree with him. On the other hand, Liberals such as Nick Minchen and Wilson Tuckey are defending the shards of Howard's legacy.

This, simply because Labor doesn't have a Senate majority. The Liberals do, and will keep it until July 2008, when the new wave of Senators takes office. Thence, it's all horsetrading with the Greens, Steve Fielding, and Nick Xenophon. Nick says he's happy to work with anyone, but that's just because he's angling for wooing from Labor.

The reason the Liberals are even playing the Mandate game is because there is now a fundamental issue at stake: the future of the Liberal Party. Without control of any State governments, there is no great claim to leadership left. It's not (just) about leadership of the Federal parliamentarians, it's about future philosophical direction. This matters particularly because the Liberals are a sometimes ragtag agglomeration of conservatives, right wingers, and "small-L liberals". In recent years, Howard's conservatism has dominated, although factionally the right (who are frequently, but not always, conservative) has dominated.

The inclusion of genuine liberals in a right-of-centre party is rather a peculiarity of Australia's history, not often repeated around the world. It could be said that this provides one of the strengths of Australian politics - maybe even a bastion of the Australian national character. That is, that aspects of tolerance - akin to social progressiveness - pervade both sides of politics, to one degree or another. (And then there's the right wing of the Labor Party...)

That is, if you go with the paradigm of western liberalism... there's not much else on tap anyway.

So various Liberals, in jockeying for position, are running up their banners for ideological leadership at the same time. And in the main it's the Liberal wets that are ready to shuck WorkChoices: Malcolm Turnbull, Chris Pyne, etc. Even Abbott the conservative is jumping off the WorkChoices bandwagon, although one has to wonder whether this is opportunistic or quixotic, as he is definitely no departure from Howard.

Nor is Minchen, who has clearly raised his flag. He and Abbott would single-handedly hold up the hard right of the party.

So when a Liberal talks about the merits of defending WorkChoices or not, the motivation could be to do with their nature, their leadership aspirations, or their ideological aspirations.

For many, there is strong temptation to repudiate Howardism, since the public just did. Whether they do or not depends on who ends up leading, and whether they can counter the traditional strength of the party's right.

Unfortunately, politics in Australia is not fully mirror-imaged. For a long time, the right wing of both sides has been the strongest.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Kevin Rudd comes from a diplomat background, so it's no surprise he said that he talked to the US President, the UK Prime Minister, and the Indonesian President in his first 24 hours as Prime Minister. It's an unequivocal call of direction, which clarity of engagement - the message good or bad aside - bodes well for Australia's international reputation.

Peter Costello was haunted by Keating's ghost, which gave him a lesson on the seizing of power from the backbench, after an agreement reneged: Don't do it. Unfortunately, there's a greater message in those who do it, and ignore prophesy.

The presidential trend in campaigning may not get any better. I suspect it's related to the trend I mentioned a few days ago, to a less partisan electorate over the past 40 years.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ten post-election thoughts

1.We are fortunate to see the end of a government that was mean-spirited, divisive, and dishonest.

2. Contrary to earlier signs, the green vote rather collapsed. Third-party votes tend to suffer at a change in government, simply because part of the electorate wants the change, and another part tries to shore up their end.

3. Australia will now sign Kyoto. It's symbolic, but an important symbolism.

4. I saw no portentiously statesmanlike speeches on the night. That's a shame. Paul Keating will be missed, in this respect.

5. The first reason John Howard lost was because of the reviled industrial relations laws - the so-called WorkChoices. After the 1994 election, he was surprised to find himself with a Senate majority, so didn't need to negotiate legislation through. He got cocky, and brought a raft of unfair laws. Early this year, when he smelled doom, he ameliorated some of the excesses - but it was too late, and the whole pile stank by then. Surprise, surprise, employers had had a field day, and there was a monstrous backlog of complaints that came nowhere close to clearing.

6. The second reason John Howard lost was because he dragged out the election campaign, and inevitably the Reserve Bank raised interest rates. The signs were clear; he could have had the campaign over with by then. The decision on campaign timing was a surprising mistake for such a wily politician.

7. The third reason Howard lost was because he didn't retire from the prime ministership earlier. This was NOT surprising: his sole desire had always been to be Prime Minister, and he wasn't going to give up without a fight.

8. It's likely Kevin Rudd will have at least two terms as Prime Minister. Australia doesn't turf out a government unless it makes mistakes. He's not likely to. His perceived faults are autocracy and brittleness, but these are not present in such measure as to strongly tip the balance. One can only hope all of the front bench grows in the job.

9. The Liberal party will improve in some respects. The two prime leadership aspirants, Costello and Turnbull, are far more progressive than Howard ever was. However, both Costello and Turnbull are not widely liked - at this point. Turnbull is far, far more autocratic than Rudd - not to mention arrogant - so if he succeeds, he could easily doom the Liberals to even longer in the wilderness.

10. Let it never be said that there's no difference between the two sides of politics. Although they have drifted closer together in recent years, there is an important humanity in the left that is lacking in the right, and those who couldn't see it coming in 1996 will have a better appreciation of that now.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Election: The people speak

From the Poll Bludger web site :

NOT SO MAD MAX Says: November 24th, 2007 at 4:00 am...We can regain our soul, our heart and our Country’s self respect.

Follow the Preferences Says: November 24th, 2007 at 6:30 am ...The new issue is of course climate change and The Greens Have total Credibility in this issue, They are being swamped by thousands of highly committed intelligent and educated people and will continue to improve. Their vote in this election will be the second story and will force the ALP to take Global Warming more seriously.

Mad Professor Says: November 24th, 2007 at 8:47 am This is the election to right all the wrongs.
To right the wrongs done to those workers who have had any hope of a fair deal in the workplace totally undermined by the Orwellian ‘Work Choices’.
To right the wrongs done to those poor, wretched people seeking asylum on our shores only to end up in a stinking desert prisons for years.
To right the wrongs done to this planet by an odious and ignorant government sitting on its hands and doing nothing about climate change.
To right the wrongs done to our public education system which has been systematically under-funded, under-mined and vilified.
To right the wrongs done to public health by shifting funding to the private health system, leaving those who are not truly wealthy having to put up with what can only be described as a 3rd world system.
To right the wrongs done to higher education which has seen through years of reduced funding, universities become little more than degree factories peddling their wares to Asian students.
To right the wrongs done to those who dare question an authoritarian regime, who have been subsequently branded as being ‘politically correct’ for asking ‘where is the justice?’, ‘where is the compassion?’ where is the fair go?’.
To right the wrongs to our indigenous citizens who, yet again, have had their lands taken from them, their traditional lives threatened and their life span incrementally reduced to where they are now some of the lowest in the world. Where are their schools, hospitals, opportunities for work? Where are their houses and clean drinking water? WHERE IS THEIR APOLOGY?
I could go on (and usually do!), but for those who have peddled the myths of ’superior economic managers’ leading to Australians ‘never being better off’ then I am afraid we live in separate Australias. Comrades, fellow Australians, this is our chance for a change to right some of the wrongs. All power to the pencil.

scout Says: November 24th, 2007 at 8:54 am ...let us have a more ethical government not based only on fear

Lefty E Says: November 24th, 2007 at 9:34 am ... The Australian people will today demonstrate [they] are more decent than the moral dwarfs they’ve had as a government
...Expect a wave of resignations from the Liberal party over the next fortnight.

(my predictions: Landslide victory for ALP, 95 seats of 150; Howard to lose his own seat; Turnbull to keep his; Greens to get 8 Senate seats.)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Election: What will happen and why?

Professor Brian Costar busts some myths about Australian elections.

The core concepts are that polling in Australia is reasonably accurate - particularly because Australia has compulsory voting.

Further: those that haven't yet made up their mind - two days before the election. In the current context, it can't be said the undecided will all fall the same way. In fact, there's every reason to expect those people will split 50-50 (plus or minus) when they mark the ballot paper.

Some final words from Paul Keating (full text here):

"The principal reason the public should take the opportunity to kill off the Howard Government has less to do with broken promises on interest rates or even its draconian Work Choices industrial laws, and everything to do with restoring a moral basis to our public life.

Without this, the nation has no standard to rely upon, no claim that can be believed, not even when the grave step of going to war is being considered. When truth is up for grabs, everything is up for grabs.

Cynicism and deceitfulness have been the defining characteristics of John Howard and his Government. They were even brazen enough to oversee the corruption of a United Nations welfare program. And when they were found out, not one of them accepted ministerial responsibility. Not Alexander Downer, not Mark Vaile and certainly not Howard. What they were doing was letting the cockies get their wheat sold through the AWB, while turning a blind eye to the AWB's unscrupulous behaviour - illegally funding a regime Howard was arguing was so bad it had to be changed by force.

Howard took us into the disastrous Gulf War on the back of two lies. One, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, capable of threatening the Middle East and Western Europe; the other, that Howard was judiciously weighing whether to commit Australian forces against an evolving situation. We now know he had committed our forces to the Americans all along.

If the Prime Minister cannot be believed, who in the political system is to be believed?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Evolution: Selection for Stability

I'll say it yet again: evolution is a very subtle and nuanced subject. An intellectual challenge with some easy misconceptions that are fostered by a careless turn of phrase.

Just last Friday, I was talking to someone who I should expect to know better. He had quite a good knowledge of paleontology, but he was caught up in the most basic Lamarckian thinking. He still misperceived that traits acquired in a lifetime (such as beefy muscles) could be passed on.

Perhaps it's too easy to think the obvious; like a lot of quantum physics, there's a converse, perverse actuality that's counterintuitive. It's plausible that a good specimen breeds good stock, but then that's only by virtue of its genetic material formed before it was born.

With this in mind, it's worth stating the obvious. Perhaps not often and loud, but with enough nuance that the thought sticks.

I've been reading a book called Plan And Purpose In Nature (George C Williams, reference below). It has its controversies, but one lucid point in particular is straightforward:

Natural selection has a core role to play in stability, not just in evolutionary change. Most of the time, selection results in a culling of mutations from a population's optimum.

Williams reports on William Bumpus, who in 1899 observed sparrows killed in a storm. Specifically, he measured their wingspans, and found that among those killed, a higher percentage (than in the general population) had wingspans that were markedly different from the norm. The suggestion is that the sparrow was sufficiently adapted to its environment that at the optimum wingspan it was better equipped to survive storms. At the margins, the wingspans were unhelpful in the environment of the time. Williams: "The process proposed by Darwin is now thought to operate mainly to prevent evolution".

This is the differential action of natural selection: optimisation within a physical range for a stable environment. Outliers are more likely to be culled.

This is the beauty of the process of random mutation coupled with natural selection for a specific environmental niche. That mechanism carries with it the ability to propel a population to adapt to a changing environment. With an important caveat: the population is carried forward (evolves) IF and WHEN environmental changes and mutational changes happen to be sufficiently optimised. As (and if) an environment changes, some outliers will be favoured, and the erstwhile optimum will be out of favour. If the environmental change is too abrupt, the outliers can't propagate quickly enough, and the population dies out.

Continued optimisation for a stable environment is undoubtedly behind the concept of punctuated equilibrium. Stable environments make for stable populations, and it's only when the environment changes that evolution is forced. Anything else is random genetic drift, which doesn't of itself have significant evolutionary outcome, and is certainly not a factor in large populations.

So is this concept of stability sound too obvious? It's still worth holding on to it. Never know when you'll need it, as Gould would undoubtedly have attested.

Williams, George C (1996): Plan And Purpose In Nature, Science Masters, Great Britain.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sculptures by the Sea - Pt II

The People's Choice award for Scuptures By The Sea was won by the Gravity-defying Lift, Plonk, featured in my previous entry on Sculptures. It was my favourite, too, especially for its impossible aspect and its vibrancy.

Here's some more.

Carcutter - Dillon McEwan

This one was my kids' favourite. This is the ant that got away. Up the hill were a few other ants, still at work on a car.

Formal Rags - Joachim van Den Hurk

Someone reading a discarded UN Climate Change convention.

i-sea - Tim Kyle

Monday, November 19, 2007

Election: The final straight

The odds have shortened for a Labor victory this Saturday. The punter's markets are usually better predictors than polls, and they've been short on Labor for some time. A nail in the coffin was one recent bet for $160,000 for a Labor victory, and at 1.2, they're only going to get back $192,000. Still, not bad for anyone with a spare 160k.

I had predicted the sort of form that would come at this time in the electoral cycle. The papers all swing away from blanket support for Howard, the columnists stake their claims for (at least) not being on the wrong side of the public groundswell, and the Liberals start eating each other up.

Moir in today's Herald

True to form, the Terror (Sydney's only remaining tabloid - a Murdoch) screamed out today "Libs at War". It detailed a (largely old hat) litany of Liberal dissent, from the likes of Malcolm Turnbull (only loyal to his own career) and Barnaby Joyce (making all the complaints). Not to mention ex-NSW Liberal leader Peter Debnam saying elsewhere that the Liberals should have ratified Kyoto.

I had made one more prediction: Howard would make one final recant, to seal his abrogation of principle: a watering down of his much-reviled industrial relations laws. Hardly the time for major new policy, but for Howard, this is not about decorum so much as saving his one dream: to remain Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, I recommend the Poll Bludger website. The comments are becoming particularly lively, whilst heavily weighted to poll-analysis types. And Antony Green often hangs out there at the moment. Look out for him on ABC on election night: there is nobody more reliable in the election game.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Scuptures By The Sea 2007 - Pt I

A couple of pieces from this year's Sculptures, on the walk from Bondi to Tamarama. Ended today.

Lift Plonk - Chi Phan

The Obelisk - Keld Moseholm

No, it's not really been taken over by little fat creatures.

More to come.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Election: Media rollovers

The latest poll shows... nothing. The same as ever, in fact: 54 - 46 in Labor's favour. This from the Herald's AC Nielson, to be published tomorrow. The poll ran directly after Monday's Liberal campaign 'launch', but was mostly finished before Labor's [widely-lauded] Wednesday Launch. So either the polls will move further in Labor's favour, or the figures are solidly entrenched.

And most polls do agree with the 54-46 figure; any movements over the four-and-a-half campaign weeks have been within margins of error. The Australian's Newspoll has been significantly more erratic, and the newspaper has been consequentially quite prickly about it.

The Sky News Channel, meanwhile, conducts its own polls by asking its audience for SMS responses. Either there's a fair bit of stacking going on, or Sky News has an audience that is significantly more right wing than any other - including the Murdoch Australian, whose online polls have substantially favoured Labor in recent weeks. Sky's poll results give pretty much reverse figures to everyone else.

And Sky had to take the biscuit recently. The poll question was: "Do you think the Liberals' spending promises may be inflationary?" - and over 50% thought not! A brave call, and quite contrary to both professional consensus and the current popular tide.

Still, Sky calls on commentators who have a spectrum of views, some of which (viz Herald's Mark West) have proven quite perspicacious.

You wouldn't think 'spectrum' describes the Australian's columnists. That newspaper has been pretty solid on election coverage - three pages per day - and much of that gives reign to opinion pieces. Interestingly enough, most of them have toned their rhetoric right down over the campaign period, as if their jobs were on the line if they didn't reflect the election result. Or at least move in that direction. Which they have, to a fair extent. There are few conservative or rightwing columnists left who are willing to stick their neck out for their views at the moment.

Enter the usual suspects: Miranda Devine (Herald), Janet Albrectsen (sp?) and Piers Akkerman - both Murdochs. Even Gerard Henderson finds himself at a bit of a loose end at the moment, and is starting to resort to 'giving advice' to the putative incoming Labor government.

What would you be as a conservative commentator at the moment? Stuck on a limb with a few remaining loonies? Or recanting?

Choices, choices.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A sly dig?

This is a reference to the Tran case, yet another wrongful detention by the immigration department which, under the Howard government, had been markedly over-zealous in its treatment of those they percieved as undesirable.
Those seated, from left to right, would be Vivian Solon, Cornelia Rau, Dr Haneef, and Tony Tran.
This cartoon was published in the Australian today. A rather cutting commentary, and surprising the Australian published it, for two reasons:
1) The Australian - a Murdoch paper - is traditionally a supporter of the Howard government;
2) The Australian has been running a consistent commentary on its electoral polling that the Howard government is seen by the public as better able to manage the economy. As in the above cartoon, touting those perceived economics credentials is rather a clumsy attempt at sleight of hand, whereas all the rest of the Australian's polling shows that:
a) the ALP is significantly further ahead anyway; and
b) the electorate sees other issues - such as climate change - as more vote-changing.

Election quote of the day: Julian Burnside

"I think the Labor leader is a more principled, ethical person than the leader of the Coalition... But I am not completely insane. I think if Labor gets in it would still involve a lot of hard work to get them to implement a really respectable human rights policy" - Julian Burnside QC

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Walk Against Warming 2007

The Walk Against Warming was held around the country today, a chance for Australians to demonstrate their level of concern for the government to get realistic about climate change.
Around 30,000 people made it to the Sydney event (and set at 150,000 people around the country). There was quite a large number of families (lots of children) on the walk, as well as the usual suspects (Greens, Greenpeace, and various environmental and left groups). Not to mention a very large white elephant.

There were also some rather cryptic characters and messages. There was one bloke who carried a... figure... with the message "Don't forget who we fight for". I asked him what it was, and established it was a white devil, but he pretty much ran away from me when I tried to find out what it was about. Maybe he was miffed because my first guess was a white sheep. (Devil was my second.)

There were also several organisations promoting various climate change solutions, including abatement schemes, solar panels, and one who had an unusual offer to install solar equipment in your home (which they would own), at about $78 per quarter. When I pressed for info on the economics of the scheme (too good to be true?), they hedged unfortunately, so I never did manage to work it out. They said they got the solar panels for half price [in bulk], which supplied 80% of a (presumaby average) household's hot water.

It was a pleasant spring day, a festive atmosphere, and good to see so many people. of all types, in common cause.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Election: Preferences even weirder!

Further to yesterday's post, I took a closer look at how the parties are directing preferences in NSW, and came up with a couple of surprises.

For parties to specify where their preference goes, it only matters if one votes above the line - for a single party. Few have the patience to number all [79] candidates in preference order. It takes some time, and you can get it wrong and invalidate your vote. I did that once, and had to ask for a repeat ballot paper.

And those ballots which number all candidates are in practice likely to get counted last, as they are harder to distribute preferences for.

Interestingly enough, I talk to a number of people who number all candidates. I wouldn't say it's because I gravitate towards pedantic people (!), rather I would say it's because I talk to people who choose to take firm control of what little opportunity they have to exercise a voice.

And the surprises?

My understanding of the current times of the NSW electorate is that they are likely to vote for two Coalition candidates, two ALP, one Green, with the last position being up for grabs. In this case, the only two candidates that matter are the third on the ticket for each of the Coalition (Marise Payne) and ALP (Ursula Stevens). I checked the preference tickets for each party, and found two parties that vote against their ideological bent - ie their preferred third candidate between ALP/Coalition does not equate to the sides I assigned them to in yesterday's post.

The first is the Democratic Labor Party - the ultraconservatives that broke away from Labor in the 1950s. They're probably not fond of either side, but they ultimately give their last preference to Labor.

And the other one is... Pauline Hanson's party, which also directs the last one to Labor. Yes, she's not very bright, is she?

In fact, it looks more deliberate than that, as Hanson's party put Marise Payne second to last. Maybe it's another case of preference by snub. Because their last place goes to the top candidate of the Democrat's list. And you'd think the Democrats are relatively harmless. Well, they're really unlikely to get anywhere this time around anyway, since the mood of the electorate has turned substantially greener, and most Australians consider the Democrats not worth thinking about, since they committed political hari kiri a few years back.

I could be wrong about that sixth seat, although I don't think so. If I'm wrong, then the true situation would be that the two main parties get two quotas (senate seats) each, and the last two quotas are a three-way battle between the Payne, Stevens, and the top Green, Kerry Nettle. But Nettle's a Green and an incumbent, and I reckon she's a shoo-in.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Preference deals in NSW for the election

The preference tickets for all parties have been lodged for the Australian Federal Election.

It's not always easy to tell who's on what side, for all those obscure micro-parties that nobody really knows. There's obviously been some arcane horsetrading between some of them, and in a few cases it's clear that one micro-party has been offended by another, and has put them last on the ticket for no better reason.

Of course, you don't have to vote for just the one party. Most people do, because it's easier. But then your preferences get distributed in ways you cannot possibly imagine. It's tedious to number every box from 1 to 79 - but that's democracy, and you have full control of your vote.

It's usually possible to identify each party as fundamentally conservative or progressive, depending on which major part comes before the other. Interestingly enough, many conservatives are more scared of the Greens than the ALP.

For what it's worth, here's the map:

Citizen's Electoral Council
Family First
Pauline [Hanson]
LDP [Liberty and Democracy Party; with tricky preference directing]
Conservatives for Climate and Environment
DLP [Democratic Labor Party, making a Quixotic comeback]
The Fishing Party
Christian Democratic Party [Fred Nile's mob]
One Nation [now without Pauline Hanson]
Non-Custodial Parent's Party [they hate the Greens]
Shooters/Fishing&Lifestyle Party
Group V
Carers Alliance [via a thoroughly cryptic double ticket that ultimately focuses on getting the Liberals' number 3 up]

Climate Change Coalition
Socialist Alliance
The Greens
Group J
Hear Our Voice [with a Quixotic tick for Helen Coonan]
Group P [although they play it quite tricky]
Senator On-Line
What Women Want
Socialist Equality Party [this bizarre party lodged THREE preference tickets, one of which flowed conservative!]

By my count that's 14-11 to the conservatives. And it illustrates some of the truly odd machinations that go on. Prize for sneakiest attempt to disguise allegiance goes to the Carers Alliance. Cutting-off-nose prize goes to Socialist Equality Party, which are directing a third of their preferences in the opposite direction.

You have been warned!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Who are the margins that decide Elections?

An article in the Herald a few days ago had some good insight into the voters who will decide the outcome of the election on November 24.

Mark Davis starts off by saying "If you are reading this article, then..."
a) you are interested in politics
b) you care about the outcome of this year's federal election; and
c) you will have little impact on the outcome...

...because, of course, the outcome will be decided by those who don't know and don't care.

Davis then reports on and analyses some research by Professor Russell Dalton: the Australian Electoral Study.

Voters are divided into four categories:
- Ritual Partisans - identify with one of the two major parties, but doesn't follow politics;
- Cognitive Partisans - identify with one side, and follows politics;
- Disengaged apartisans - no strong affiliation and don't follow politics;
- Engaged apartisans - no strong affiliation and follow politics.

In 1967, most voters were partisan but didn't follow politics. The figures for the above groupings were, respectively: 78%, 17%, 1%, 4%. Hardly anyone was fully disengaged, but few paid attention.

By 2004, there was a substantial change, and far fewer people were fully committed to one side. The respective figures were: 50.5%, 26%, 17%, 6.5%. On the plus side, 32.5% were now engaged, versus 21% in 1967.

In conclusion, electoral volatility had increased from 5% to 23.5%. The downside of this is that a larger number of people will now be swaying in the breeze, susceptible to the most venal electoral bribes.

Anecdotally, I do see a much greater number of people are now saying "what's in it for me?" in formulating their vote. Guaranteed sub-optimal outcomes.

Ideally our political system would encourage people to pay attention to the issues, rather than vote on the basis of who had made the biggest scare campaign, gaffe, or bribe. A tough challenge.

I had advocated Australia's compulsory voting system on the basis that it obliged a larger number of people to [vote and thus] pay attention to political issues, issues that affect their future. Now I'm less sure. Compulsory voting is great for conferring strong legitimacy on the outcome, but it also forces a vote on people who don't really want one, and won't pay attention anyway.

A challenge for which I have no ready answer.

The original article is here, and definitely worth a read.