Sunday, December 09, 2007


Hector has always been a ‘what if?’ fan. Not in this instance the excellent travel website that in these days of serial misspelling calls itself Wotif – although as an inveterate seeker of the sybaritic life, he studies that with interest and envy too.

The ‘what if’ that currently fixates his beady eye is the Australian election, held on November 24 and from which at the date of writing counting is still not complete (although the outcome is clear).

He understands too that the detail and detritus of something as peripheral to the world as an Australian election is not of much interest to many. But then, as he reasonably says, this is his blog, so there!

So, he muses, what if Australia used the first past the post voting method instead of the complex multi-preference system it invented in the late 19th century to mute the mewling of minority interests and begin the grand tradition of Aussies making things far more complicated than they need to be?

Well, for a start we’d have known the outcome of the election on election night, and saved everyone a lot of unnecessary angst. An election’s a race, right? And in a race, it’s the first past the post that wins. As in the Melbourne Cup, where the Neighs always win; as in the Stawell Gift, started as an annual dash for practitioners of the arcane arts of Aussie Rules football, a code in which today’s players run around very quickly wearing very small, tight shorts. The Stawell Gift is often won by the narrowest of squeaks.

Ahem, back to the point. Hec’s done some crunching – of numbers, as well as his extra seed ration for being nice and quiet and keeping out of the way of Mrs Hec for many hours – and says that on a first-past-the-post basis, the 11-year-old government would have been narrowly returned (for a historic fifth term) and the veteran prime minister, John Howard, would have been spared the ignominy of becoming only the second sitting Australian PM to be de-bagged by his own electors.

Howard and his Liberal-National coalition government would have had a near-death experience. That’s never a bad thing in a democracy. It’s like hanging the occasional admiral. It reinvigorates one’s leaders so.

But they would have hung on, with their previously comfortable majority in the 150-seat House of Representatives cut to two seats.

Of course, that would have meant Labor would have failed (again) to interest the electors in voting them into office.

It would have a deprived the world of the opportunity to deal with a new administration in Canberra celebrated for having a former pop star as its (apparently newly gelded) environment minister and a prime minister and a treasurer who not only represent adjoining electorates but who actually hail from the same hamlet in regional Australia, in this instance Queensland, a part of Australia rather far removed from the cultured domain of those who are accustomed to acquiring executive power.

But it might have been appropriate. It was after all a recently retired and inveterately self-promoting Labor premier of Queensland, Peter Beattie, who showed his commitment to the historic balance allegedly offered by his country’s preferential voting system by telling electors in successive state elections to ‘just vote one’.

It worked for him. It eliminated the influence of minor parties and nuisance candidates: and Speedy Pete was the first nag past the post.

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