Wednesday, 27 April 2011

6 out of 10 Australians?

After having explained that Australia uses AV the "No" leaflet claims, that : "in Australia, 6 out of 10 people want to go back to the system we use in the UK."

I Emailed a friend in Australia and asked what substance there is in this claim. His reply cam yesterday:

Re your question, I've never heard of any statistic about ditching preferential voting in favour of FPTP, nor has Liz (his wife) and it's not something that's discussed at all as far as I know. I'll ask around my colleagues, but I think it's a complete non-issue! The only time I heard it being discussed was after the UK election, when there were press reports here of `unfairly' ditched MP's, and some Aussie pride in the Brits considering adopting `our superior system' (rather than the other way round).

My contact goes on to say that what Australians do beef about are compulsory voting (and fines for forgetting to vote) and the necessity in some elections (rules differ from state to state and upper and lower house elections) to put all the candidates in order, not just the top two or three preferred ones. This, he says, can lead to an invalid vote if you accidentally put, say, two number 12s in a rather long list.

Neither of these problems arise, of course, with the current AV proposal in Britain. Voting will remain optional (and rightly so, in my view) and voters are quite at liberty to rank as many preferences as they wish, and if they only want to indicate one preference, that's fine.

So it appears that here is another piece of misinformation from the "No" campaign. I can fully understand why leaders of the "Yes" campaign, and leading Liberal Democrats, including the normally astute Simon Hughes, are waxing indignant about the "No" campaign's tactics, but I still feel that abuse and threats of legal action are counter-productive. The electorate has little sympathy for those who cry "Foul!" Quiet calm deliberation remains the answer.


  1. As someone relatively firmly in the 'No' camp, I feel both sides have conducted themselves poorly; though I suspect the 'Yes' side, being composed of a few more wily old hands, is rather more used to dishing it out than taking it. Either way, they truly are both as bad as each other.

    You are completely correct on the frantic whining and bleating that is going on and how cunter-productive it is. It's interesting that the last fortnight has devolved into "metacampaigning" where advocates are campaigning about the campaigning. Chris Huhne in particular has shown himself to be entirely self-interested, shriekingly hysterical, treacherously ambitious and unfit for cabinet govenrment all in one fell stroke. I feel it's time for his departure, and I gather there are many in the Yes campaign who think much the same thing.

  2. As an Australian, I have been really surprised by what I have seen in this UK debate. I read David Cameron's piece in the Daily Mail today 05.05.2011 ( ). There is so much wrong with this argument that I don’t know where to start... (The politicians would love to spend more money on “schools, hospitals and police” but can’t because someone is always stopping them. We get that one in Australia too!) I am only replying because of the misrepresentation of Australia I am seeing in the British press.
    Australia is country half the size of South America, with a population 1/3 that of the UK. We regularly have over 90% turnout at the polls (NB: the UK gets less than Bulgaria; 95.1% of voters turned out in Australia for our last national referendum in 1999 – can the UK beat that?), and with so many people voting, if there was an issue in Australia with the Preferential system, where is the evidence? If it was really that complicated, how is it that everywhere I look on the internet in Australia I can find just a few paragraphs to explain it?
    Yes, there is a debate in Australia about compulsory voting - I won't go into it here, but that is controversial. But when it comes to Preferential voting, the only debate had in the media here is in the weeks before an election as the political parties do some 'horse trading' in preferences - that is, the parties must create 'How to vote' advertising and need to lock down preferences for their advertising leaflets in advance of the election. The media concentrate on the horse trading as it is a straight forward easy story to print (the air is full of Press Statements from candidates), and involves a bit of controversy because big parties do deals with small parties (NB: most of the deals amount to nothing at all after the election). However, when you/I get into the polling station no one has to vote according to what the parties want - I choose my own preferences. Apart from that discussion (which lasts about a fortnight once every three years), and one of my relatives mentioning to me in passing, about 30 years ago, that he was unsure about preferential voting but had decided in the end that it was good because it meant he had a greater say in who was elected, I can honestly tell you that I have never heard anyone discuss preferential voting in Australia... It just is not an issue. All I can tell you is that in Australia there is absolutely no movement to have first past the post (certainly not 60% of the nation!!!), and FPTP is regularly ridiculed in the media here, and in ‘water cooler conversations’, when the UK and USA have elections.
    There is much more I can say about this (about democracy being about the evolution of the individual being involved in the decisions which effect their lives, and how preferential voting is an evolutionary step in the right direction for the UK), but I will end with this thought, which I am sure 99% of Aussies would agree with:

    If this referendum were suggested in Australia, there would be stunned silence.

    Some links (I hope you don't mind me adding them):
    Phillip Adams interviews former Federal Minister Barry Jones and pollster Antony Green about the UK Referendum (well worth a listen):
    Voter turn-out comparisons (Australia wins!):
    Explanations of Preferential voting (it really is very straight forward, what is all the fuss?): ;
    Antony Green discusses how preferences affect minor parties:

    Paul Norden

  3. Thanks for that comment, Paul, which confirms in useful detail all my own contact has said. An article in the Guardian by the Antony Green you mention said much the same thing, but not until the day after the referendum.

    Whereas I felt it was counter-productive for "Yes" campaigners to threaten legal action before the referendum I think there should be some sort of redress now to discourage similar misrepresentations - no, downright lies - in the future.