Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

Archive for December, 2007

First Do No Harm – The Unattainable Luxury Part II

Posted by Possum Comitatus on December 20, 2007

The last thread was simply amazing for the quality and the depth of the contributions given by all (for that I thank you) , and it highlighted one of the biggest impediments that we face in trying to get to grips with what’s needed to finally address the national shame; there are so many problems, so many intertwined problems that a failure to deal with one area of a given problem can often result in failure migrating across into multiple areas of not only that given problem, but exacerbating other problems as well.

I mentioned the need for community security, and the parallel need for comprehensive prison reform to enable the provision of community security to be tenable in the longer term – but similarly without implementing better childhood education programs and massively reducing truancy rates, without facilitating some broader economic development, without implementing better preventative healthcare programs particularly relating to alcohol and drug abuse, there can be no long term sustainable levels of security for any remote or not so remote community. Yet policy failures in any one of these areas have impeded in the past, and will probably continue to impede in the future, progress in all of those other areas.

And this comes back to what seems to be the biggest problem of all – the complete absence of any consensus on what we all might regard as the “end game”.

The end game is the answer to a very simple question; “In 2025 – what does Australia envisage as being the ‘State of Play‘ of indigenous communities around the country?”

If we have no idea of our destination, we cant really say how we are going to get there.

I would really like to hear what your answers are to that basic question, especially since the contributions on this have been of such an incredible quality.

What might also be interesting is how some of the answers to that question will often collide with what we are doing now.

For instance, if we wish to see indigenous communities in 2025 exhibiting higher levels of living standards – that generally requires higher levels of home and business ownership and higher levels of disposable income. Yet that cannot be achieved by government payments alone. For that to come to fruition would require economically sustainable communities deriving most of their income from some tangible set of real economic activities. That means that initiatives like CDEP must be seen and treated as nothing more than transition programs between the high unemployment/high poverty rate experience of today and the real income generating jobs and businesses that will sustain these communities tomorrow.

But so often we’ve seemed to treat programs like CDEP as an ends unto itself, rather than the means to an ends it actually needs to become if we are to get anywhere close to lifting income levels. We can see it being treated today as an ends unto itself if we simply look at the large absence of initiatives aimed at making the need for programs like CDEP redundant.

Wouldn’t it be nice to achieve a point in the future where there is no CDEP scheme operating in Australia simply because it is no longer needed?

But this opens the door on the awful question of what happens if some remote communities aren’t economically sustainable? It’s all good and well to say that the economy isn’t everything – and it’s not everything, it’s half of everything. Without economic sustainability, nearly all of the communities involved would remain in poverty – bringing with it all of the baggage that poverty carries like poor health outcomes, depressed education outcomes, lower living standards and lower levels of community resources that are used to provide community services.

It’s not simply a matter of moving businesses into some community, adding a few government subsidies, watering gently and watching some economic development magically grow from the mix. Existing businesses might not want to move out there to begin with, regardless of the amount of incentives that are provided. If a community cannot generate a substantial proportion of its income by exporting community made products and services into the wider Australian marketplace – the people that live in that community will be subjected to long term poverty. But if industry won’t move there, it has to be created from within the community itself.

But sometimes that will simply not be possible. Sometimes, despite the best people doing the best things, creating something substantial out of very little resources will not always be attainable.

Yet does that mean economically unsustainable communities will need to be somehow let die – creating further dispossession in the process? Or does it simply mean that maybe we need to start looking at alternative ways to deal with communities of differing economic circumstance? Would such communities need to have a permanent population base? Is it possible to utilise the highly mobile nature of some indigenous populations as a partial solution in itself, encouraging some communities that cannot economically sustain themselves on a geographical basis, to utilise their population mobility by encouraging employment elsewhere for periods and returning ‘home’ for periods – bringing disposable income back to their communities in the process?

A mix of on and offsite community income generation will probably need to become a fairly common development model for many remote and not so remote indigenous communities – but such a thing will cause some degree of local resistance. Any change in any area of human activity brings some degree of resistance; resisting change is one thing us humans have become universally adept at.

Which leads us into another big issue – what happens when an incompatible viewpoint between local communities and government programs arise?

Sometimes a negotiated win/win result isn’t always possible. Sometimes the government will be wrong – let’s face it, governments are pretty used to being wrong, even if they fight tooth and nail to deny it most of the time.

But what happens when the local community is wrong? What happens when a circumstance arises where the tenets of self-determination that we all like to cite would knowingly lead to inferior outcomes for the community itself?

This problem might not seem that big – but when implementing far reaching, almost wholesale change of the multi-billion dollar variety, it will become a very big problem, very, very quickly, on many levels.

In the community economic development field, when people are deployed on the ground to assist a community (and this is pretty much a global phenomenon) the problem arises of where the knowledge gap opens between the people that have been brought in by the community to use their knowledge and talents to assist the community, and the community itself that lacks that knowledge – which is why they engaged the economic development people in the first place.

If Australia were to pull its finger out and start solving our national shame, every time a knowledge gap like this opens, there would be an indigenous leader fronting the press howling with outrage about how the government is telling blackfellas what to do again. A lot of this would be more about local black politics than anything else; there would be many political leaders in the indigenous community that would have the rug of their power pulled from under them as a result of any serious national initiative to provide better outcomes to indigenous people. Other times it would just be as a genuine disagreement between the government and the community over any given initiative on the ground.

If we, as a nation, are to make a serious attempt at this – we MUST have in place from the very outset, some framework, some group of respected indigenous and community leaders that would be willing to come forth and aggressively back the government when the consequences of the knowledge gap arise over those issues where it’s actually the local community that needs to adjust rather than the government program.

But this is important at a far deeper political level – it goes to the very heart of being able to take the Australian people on the journey of dealing with indigenous disadvantage and maintaining their support.

If most of what the public sees about any serious national indigenous project is one local indigenous political leader after another complaining about what the government is doing (and as far as the political sustainability of any program goes, whether the local leader is right or not would sadly be completely irrelevant) – the public support for what would be a multi, multi billion dollar program would quickly start to evaporate.

The moment that any large indigenous project became partisan political fodder that could be positioned as a race issue rather than a development issue, the whole thing would be in danger of collapsing; especially in the first decade of its operation before the fruits of its success alone could drive continued public support.

The management of dissent within the indigenous communities, especially over local black politics and the consequences of the knowledge gap opening up on occasion would need to be one of the most well managed parts of the entire program and one of the first, if not the very first thing to be done. If the issue management failed, any big attempt to finally solve indigenous disadvantage would be put in jeopardy from the very outset.

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Posted in general politics, policy | 91 Comments »

First Do No Harm – The Unattainable Luxury

Posted by Possum Comitatus on December 14, 2007

Can anyone say with any honesty that there is a social and economic policy issue that is more important to finally deal with than the plight of aboriginal communities, particularly remote aboriginal communities?

This is surely our national disgrace. We might not do some things as well as we ought to, we probably should pay a little more attention to other things than we tend to – but there is no other single issue that detracts from the health of our nation, than the state of too many of our remote indigenous communities.

But it’s been this way for so long that we’ve all seemed to become sick of it, or we’ve all learned to ignore it, or we’ve just simply come to terms with the embarrassment it causes.

We all too often and all too easily find ourselves treating the issue as if it were simply a piece of unfortunate national human furniture; a part of the national lounge room that we’ve accepted is awful, but our solution is to simply throw a rug over it when the neighbours come round for a cup of tea lest we have to deal with it in front of others.

Every so often an outrage finds its way from the remote indigenous communities into the national media and captures the nation’s very short attention span. So we all get outraged, we all ask the same old questions over and over again, we all start squabbling about who caused what, when and why – sometimes we find a quick scapegoat, sometimes we don’t, but the one thing we always do is nothing.

Three fifths, of five eights of sweet fuck alls worth of nothing to be precise.

We’ve all become addicted to our policy failure because we don’t like the answers to the questions.

A particular answer we don’t like is the need for the reinstatement of basic community security in aboriginal communities. When this is called Law and Order, it’s an invitation for well meaning people to go ballistic – and often understandably so. “Law and Order” is the first rhetorical weapon of choice used by simplistic polemicists, usually of the radio broadcast variety that reckon the problem is just blackfellas not getting their shit together like white fellas, and if only they did then all would be right in the world.

But lets ignore those buffoons – this is a sophisticated audience, everyone reading this knows full well that in all of these dysfunctional communities, both the perpetrators of crime and the victims of crime are themselves the heart breaking casualties of 200 years of criminal negligence, a negligence that was at times more malicious than benign, and recently more benign than malicious.

But this cannot be an excuse for inaction. Suggesting that aboriginal people should be denied the level of security within their own communities, a level of security that is an intrinsic right expected by the rest of the country, is to perpetuate the criminal negligence of the last 200 years into the next.

Aboriginal children deserve to be protected from sexual abuse even if the perpetrators are themselves victims. Aboriginal women deserve to be protected from domestic violence in their communities as much as any well educated, middle class white women in a nice house, in a nice suburb that happens to have a prick as a husband.

We have achieved a widespread consensus that if a bloke beats the seven shades of shit out of his wife in suburbia, then he should go to prison; no ifs, no buts – even if only to protect the victim and the community from his totally unacceptable behaviour. Yet we refuse to provide the same guarantee of security to aboriginal people in remote communities, simply on the basis of various interpretations of the perpetrators being victims too.

To deny innocent victims safety from their abusers makes us all complicit in the further destruction of aboriginal society, and the continuation of the benign neglect that has proven so cancerous in the past.

For those that say “It’s not fair that victims should be punished”, is the wrong answer to the wrong question. We don’t have the luxury of there being a neat little world where there are victims and perpetrators. We have the dirty reality of there being victims of circumstance and victims of violence.

We cannot continue to sacrifice the protection of the latter, simply because the origins and consequences of the former stain out hearts and our history.

“It’s not fair” – no it’s not, it is not fair at all. None of our options are fair, and unfortunately we face the deplorable situation of none of our options being completely just, only some being more just than others. That’s what taking national responsibility for an extremely difficult problem involves, it’s what it means, and it’s why we are continuing to avoid it.

We just don’t like the answers.

If it was easy, if we had that ideal world and a set of ideal circumstances – we wouldn’t be having this conversation, as the problem would have been solved long ago.

But that’s not to say that enforcing community security is the be all and end all – far from it, it’s just where we need to draw the starting line. The flip side of the provision of a basic security guarantee requires dealing with the consequences of those that are removed as part of the guarantee itself, dealing with the consequences of incarceration.

We effectively have a revolving door between large sections of the male aboriginal population and the prison system, and as a result the aboriginal community continues to become infected by the brutalisation and deviant behaviour born in the prison system and transferred to become way too normalised on the outside.

Ideally we’d like to stop that revolving door – but we need to stop kidding ourselves that it’s going to be achieved by simply refusing to send aboriginal people to prison for committing crimes. Again, we just don’t like the answers.

It would be far better over the longer term to solve the revolving door problem by actually having fewer people committing crimes in the first place. On this everyone agrees, even if we just don’t know how to get there.

But reducing incarceration rates by simply not sending people to prison is effectively using an accounting trick to make ourselves feel better about the state of affairs, while aboriginal communities get to pick up the tab for the damage as violent offenders get released back into the community to continue to offend again.

We need to seriously reform the prison system to eradicate the brutal culture that ends up infecting the wider community, particularly the wider aboriginal community through inmates when they are released. That would definitely involve greater surveillance of prisoners, more isolation between some prisoners, and separation between violent and sex offenders and those found guilty of non-violent crimes. It would also involve the curtailing of prisoners rights as well as greater funding pumped in to effective rehabilitation programs. But here, we don’t like the answers because there are no votes to be gained in prison reform regardless of how beneficial it would be to everyone involved. Any politician that attempted prison reform would be hounded by the shallow end of the “tough on crime” crowd, a crowd that can thank its lucky stars that stupidity has never been criminalised.

But this is jumping the gun to some extent – one of the first things that must be looked at is whether many remote aboriginal communities are actually sustainable, or whether their lack of sustainability is a root cause of their dysfunction.

This a very touchy subject by any yardstick and undoubtedly accusations of further dispossession will arise, but what if some of these communities are unsustainable? What if their lack of sustainability actually is a root cause of community dysfunction to a significant degree?

It’s a taboo question that no one dares think about, because its answers may be so awful.

The most awful answer of all would be if some of these remote aboriginal communities had to make a choice between the dispossession of their land and the continued dispossession of their humanity. Unfortunately it’s probably a choice that at least some of the communities will need to deal with, sometime, maybe… in the future, if we ever can be bothered to address the questions that have answers we don’t like.

So how long will the country continue to go through the process of having these small bouts of temporary outrage?

This time will we do what we usually do and have a bit of a national hissyfit, find a quick scapegoat like some Qld government Minister, before reverting to our usual inertia because some of the answers are a little awkward? Or will we actually get the balls to stop treating some of our indigenous communities like shit and realise that our practicable choices unfortunately don’t include the one marked “First Do No Harm”, simply as the complexity and enormity of the problem makes the thing we wish for most an unattainable luxury.

More importantly, will we ever realise that our inaction in choosing from the unpalatable, imperfect choices available is actually causing the most harm of all?

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Posted in general politics, policy | 96 Comments »

Polling Analysis and Carr-ying on

Posted by Possum Comitatus on December 12, 2007

A long time ago in a poll far, far away – the September quarterly Newspoll breakdown to be precise, some people got a bee in their bonnet about such outrageous overanalysing of the polling data.

The key problem, despite many a clarification to the contrary both here, Poll Bludger and just about everywhere else in the known pollyjunkie universe, was a simple one where critics refused to listen to what was actually being said, preferring to make up their own interpretations of what the key figures produced actually meant. Explanations became pointless and the only way to address their particular problem was to simply wait for the election results and demonstrate the point with real world data.

So today we can use actual electoral data to repeat the exercise to achieve two things, firstly to test how this method stacks up against using the usual national pendulum approach when it comes to estimating the number of seats to fall from a given swing, and secondly to highlight using real world data why some critics completely missed the point.

The Newspoll quarterly breakdowns give us 2 sets of figures as ammunition for polling analysis, firstly they give us the State swings for NSW, Vic, Qld, WA and SA. Secondly they give us the swings in safe Coalition held seats, safe ALP held seats and marginal seats – where safe seats are defined as being held on a margin greater than 6%. So what we will use here is what we used last time, 139 seats in the 5 states that Newspoll measures (we’ll remove the two Independent seats from the mix).

So if go over to the AEC and extract just that data for the election result (simulating Newspoll quarterly data), we end up with the following:

  NSW Vic Qld SA WA Swing
Marginal           5.1
Safe Coalition           6.08
Safe ALP           4.79
Total Swing 5.98 5.26 7.81 6.76 2.13 5.6

Next we need to take the ratio of the Marginal Seat swing to the National Swing, which in this case is 5.1/5.6 = 0.91, then do the same for Safe Coalition Seats 6.08/5.6=1.09 and again for Safe ALP seats 4.79/5.6= 0.86

What we will do here is make the assumption that the ratio of the swing types will hold between States – meaning that in every state the average swing in the marginal seats for that state will be 0.91 multiplied by the State swing for that State. So the swing in NSW marginal seats will be 0.91*5.98 = 5.45. We then do that for every State and we end up with a populated swing matrix of:

swings NSW Vic Qld SA WA Swing ratio
marginal 5.446071 4.790357 7.112679 6.156429 1.939821 5.10 0.910714
safecoal 6.492571 5.710857 8.479429 7.339429 2.312571 6.08 1.085714
safe alp 5.115036 4.499179 6.680339 5.782214 1.821911 4.79 0.855357
Swing 5.98 5.26 7.81 6.76 2.13 5.60 1

This assumption may not hold exactly – but that’s OK, the differences should come out in the wash at the end, the point here is to estimate the number of seats to fall given the data that Newspoll quarterly breakdowns provide us with. It’s a pendulum within pendulums approach.

Next up we need to remove any over or under cooked feedback effects within states, between the movements in their 3 seat categories and their total state swing – so let me introduce to you a thing called a swing unit. A swing unit is simply the number of seats multiplied by a swing. If we have 10 seats, and applied a 5% swing, we would have 50 swing units.

So the number of seats and their type can be represented as:

seats NSW Vic Qld SA WA Total
marginal 11 13 7 6 5 42
safecoal 20 14 19 4 8 65
safe alp 17 10 2 1 2 32
Total 48 37 28 11 15 139

To get the swing units for each seat type, we simply multiple, for example, the marginal NSW seat number (11) by the marginal NSW seat swing (5.45) to get 59.9 swing units for that type. If we do that for all seat types (and where we also multiple the totals of the State seats by their respective State swing) we get:

swingunits NSW Vic Qld SA WA
marginal 59.90679 62.27464 49.78875 36.93857 9.699107
safecoal 129.8514 79.952 161.1091 29.35771 18.50057
safe alp 86.95561 44.99179 13.36068 5.782214 3.643821
Total swing units 276.7138 187.2184 224.2586 72.0785 31.8435
State swing units 287.04 194.62 218.68 74.36 31.95

As we can see, the total swing units for NSW using the sum of the marginal and safe seats is 276.7, but the total number of NSW seats multiplied by the NSW swing produced 287 swing units. So what we want to do is adjust these swings by the ratio of those two numbers for all estimated swings.

So for NSW marginal seats, the swing becomes the original estimated marginal seat swing in NSW (5.45) multiplied by the ratio of total swing units for NSW (276.7) to State swing units for NSW (287.4).

Hence adjusted NSW Marginal Seat Swing becomes 5.45*(287.04/276.7)= 5.65

Doing that for all seat types gets us the following swing matrix:

Adjusted swings NSW Vic Qld SA WA
Marginal 5.649303 4.979741 6.935746 6.351298 1.946309
Safe coal 6.734856 5.936633 8.268498 7.571743 2.320306
safe alp 5.305914 4.677051 6.514162 5.965239 1.828004

Now it’s simply a matter of applying these swings to the relevant seats. The easiest way to do it is to simply list all 139 seats we are talking about and their pre-election margins – where positive margins represent ALP seats and negative margins represent Coalition seats. Then we just add these swings to the seat margins according to the type of seat e.g. NSW marginal seats all have 5.64 added to their margin, QLD safe Coalition seats all have 8.27 added to their margins and safe WA ALP seats all have 1.83 added to their margin.

The purpose of the end result is to try and get an accurate estimate of how many seats would fall given the data that Newspoll quarterly breakdowns provide us with. What isn’t important is the actual projected margin on any of the seats – that is entirely unimportant – and it’s where earlier critics lost the plot despite having it told to them repeatedly.

What is important is how many seats would be projected to fall using those numbers, not any given number itself.

This methodology is effectively a large number of pendulums all put together, pendulums within pendulums, so seats with a given projected margin will more than likely end up having either a greater or lesser actual margin than what was projected – but for every seat that ends up with a higher margin, another seat will end up with a smaller margin simply because swings tend to be normally distributed around a given mean swing. To give an example of this, if we look at the 148 seats where major parties were the victor, and show the size of the swings to the ALP as a histogram – we get a very normal looking distribution, a bell curve:


So armed with all that, and applying those swings to the relevant seat types we end up with the following projected number of ALP seats:

ALP seats Division Proj margin Coal seats Coalition Seats Proj margin
1 Grayndler 26.61 1 Mallee -18.86
2 Batman 26.08 2 Murray -18.16
3 Melbourne 25.88 3 O’Connor -18.08
4 Sydney 22.61 4 Mitchell -13.97
5 Wills 21.68 5 Riverina -13.97
6 Blaxland 20.61 6 Maranoa -12.73
7 Watson 19.91 7 Curtin -12.38
8 Gellibrand 19.68 8 Barker -12.33
9 Gorton 19.58 9 Parkes -12.07
10 Scullin 19.48 10 Moncrieff -11.63
11 Throsby 19.21 11 Bradfield -10.77
12 PortAdelaide 18.97 12 Groom -10.73
13 Fowler 18.81 13 Pearce -10.68
14 Chifley 17.41 14 Indi -10.36
15 Reid 17.31 15 Tangney -9.48
16 Cunningham 17.01 16 Mackellar -8.77
17 Hunter 16.51 17 Farrer -8.67
18 Griffith 15.01 18 Moore -8.58
19 Shortland 14.61 19 Forrest -8.18
20 Maribyrnong 14.18 20 Lyne -7.37
21 Newcastle 14.01 21 Canning -7.28
22 KingsfordSmith 13.91 22 Aston -7.26
23 Oxley 13.71 23 Fadden -7.03
24 Charlton 13.71 24 Cook -6.97
25 Lalor 13.48 25 Wannon -6.46
26 Barton 12.91 26 Berowra -6.37
27 Calwell 12.88 27 Grey -6.33
28 Werriwa 12.41 28 Hume -6.17
29 Lilley 12.34 29 Mayo -6.03
30 Prospect 12.21 30 McPherson -5.73
31 Hotham 12.18 31 Casey -5.46
32 Brisbane 10.94 32 Flinders -5.26
33 Capricornia 10.74 33 Fairfax -5.03
34 Corio 10.68 34 Menzies -4.76
35 Rankin 9.94 35 Forde -4.73
36 Fremantle 9.63 36 Fisher -4.73
37 Jagajaga 9.48 37 Warringah -4.57
38 Banks 8.95 38 Macarthur -4.37
39 Lowe 8.75 39 Greenway -4.27
40 MelbournePorts 8.68 40 Goldstein -4.16
41 Perth 8.63 41 Kalgoorlie -4.08
42 Bruce 8.48 42 WideBay -3.93
43 Adelaide 7.75 43 Kooyong -3.66
44 Chisholm 7.68 44 Dunkley -3.46
45 Ballarat 7.28 45 NorthSydney -3.37
46 Richmond 7.15 46 Higgins -2.86
47 Brand 6.65 47 Gilmore -2.77
48 Holt 6.58 48 Ryan -2.23
49 Isaacs 6.48 49 Hughes -2.07
50 Hindmarsh 6.45 50 Leichhardt -2.03
51 Bonner 6.34 51 Dawson -1.93
52 Kingston 6.25 52 Gippsland -1.86
53 Macquarie 6.15 53 Calare -1.17
54 Bendigo 5.98 54 LaTrobe -0.92
55 Wakefield 5.65 55 Dickson -0.83
56 Makin 5.35 56 Bowman -0.63
57 Parramatta 4.55 57 McEwen -0.56
58 Moreton 4.14 58 Hinkler -0.53
59 Wentworth 3.05 59 Corangamite -0.42
60 Lindsay 2.75 60 Robertson -0.17
61 Cowan 2.75 61 Stirling -0.15
62 Eden-Monaro 2.35 62 Paterson -0.07
63 Herbert 2.17 63 McMillan -0.02
64 Swan 2.05 64 Deakin -0.02
65 Longman 1.67      
66 Bennelong 1.65      
67 Blair 1.24      
68 Boothby 0.95      
69 Dobell 0.85      
70 Sturt 0.77      
71 Flynn 0.47      
72 Petrie 0.37      
73 Page 0.15      
74 Cowper 0.13      
75 Hasluck 0.05      

Out of the 139 seats analysed, we have the ALP winning 75 of them. Then using the national swing to project to the ALP the seats in the states and territories that Newspoll doesn’t use in the quarterly breakdown we get: Tasmanian seats (5), ACT seats (2) and NT seats (2).

The total estimated number of seats using just the data of the type that the Newspoll quarterly provides is 75+5+2+2= 84

Which just so happens to be the actual number of seats that the ALP won.

If we used the national pendulum approach instead, and projected a 5.62% swing – we end up with only 81 seats being projected to fall.

This is why I use this methodology for the Newspoll Quarterly breakdown. I’ll say it again, it’s not about any given projected margin – for it’s simply a set of pendulums, it’s about the total number of seats that those projected margins estimate will fall.

So those that criticised the methodology on the basis of not understanding it in the first instance, refusing to allow it to be explained to them in the second instance, and simply making shit up about it in the third by projecting onto it meaning it does not contain (which tends to happen when one doesn’t understand something and refuses to listen to explanations of it) – well the proof is in the pudding. 84 seats projected to fall using this methodology (and only the type of data that Newspoll provides in its quarterly breakdown) vs. 84 seats actually falling.

Over to you Dr Adam Carr.


Adam gave a reply you can see over here.
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Posted in Election Forecasting, Polling | 45 Comments »

Morgan in the Age of Rudd – and a few oddities.

Posted by Possum Comitatus on December 10, 2007

We have our first poll out after the election that measures voting intention, and it’s of the Morgan phone poll variety.

The first post-election Morgan Poll since the Rudd Government’s victory shows the inevitable boost in ALP primary support, now 49% (up 5.6% since the election), with L-NP support at 36.5%, Greens 7%, Family First 1.5%, and Others 6%. On a two-party preferred basis, ALP support is 58.5%, L-NP 41.5%.

However, I do have it on good authority that the result is expected to narrow between now and the next election :mrgreen:

I was looking forward to seeing the results of the “heading in the right direction” question so we could all have a giggle about the soft Coalition vote – but alas, Gary of Morgan fame has treated us like the naughty children we are and taken away our fun. With a “heading in the right direction” percentage recording its second highest level since May on 60%, one would imagine Spanky Nelson would have a vote softer than a poached egg using the old methodology.

So we bid farewell to the legendary Morgan soft vote question, and usher in a new dawn with a brand new measure; a measure so important it even has its own acronym.

Yes, we now have (insert orchestral fanfare) “The Roy Morgan Government Confidence Rating” – the GCR.

Currently the GCR, which Gary tells us is calculated as “100 plus the difference between the percentage of Australians who say the country is ‘going in the right direction’ and the percentage who say the country is ‘going in seriously the wrong direction’ “, is sitting on a record breaking 144.5

I’m not exactly sure what that means – but it’s a big number! 😉

I’m currently going over the election results seat by seat and hunting down relationships between the swings in electorates and various bits of Census data and whatnot. In the lead up to the election we heard a lot about how single parents with dependent children could be the big swingers and determine a number of seats, simply as a backlash to Howard’s welfare to work programs.

While there was certainly a relationship between the proportions of single parents with dependent children in an electorate and the size of the swing to the ALP, it actually had a greater effect of consolidating the relationship between the ALP two party preferred vote and the single parent with dependent children population.

The following two diagrams are scatter plots on the proportion of single parents with dependent children in an electorate and both the swing to the ALP by electorate, and the TPP vote by electorate.

decswingsp1.jpg decalptppsp1.jpg

The R-sq on the swing regression is 3.2%, on the TPP regressions it’s 30.5% (this is cross sectional data, so we expect the fit to be pretty low- I was surprised at how strong it was for the TPP)

So single parents did what some were suggesting they might, but have now really consolidated themselves as a key Labor demographic.

On something completely different, one of the things I found while rummaging around the data was the correlation between the size of the mortgage burden in an electorate (defined as the proportion of median household income used to make the median mortgage repayment) and the proportion of GP visits in the electorate that are bulk billed (using 2006 non-census data for the latter). Running a scatter plot and a simple regression line for the two we get:


R-sq =42%

If anyone has any theories as to why bulk billing rates would be higher in electorates with a higher mortgage burden, I’d love to hear them? That’s a pretty interesting result.


I thought I’d also throw in the bulk billing vs the proportion of couples with dependent children by electorate as well.



It seems to suggest that while dependent children play a role, there’s something else going on as well.


I’ve found a few more correlations, some are interesting while others are just unusual.

First up, atheists and the housing market:


The higher the proportion of people in an electorate that ticked the “No Religion” box in the census, generally the lower the mortgage burden of that electorate (which is the percentage of the median household income in that electorate it takes to make the median mortage repayment for that electorate).  The ‘no religion’ electorates also tended to have experienced the greatest increase in median house prices over the past 12 months.

Atheists make the best property investors? :mrgreen:

Also on the religion thing I found this interesting:


It charts electorates by the proportion of people in them over 15 that have a year 10 education of less, against the proportion of the electorate that were of christian religion. There’s a big age and location driver here with older people and regional/rural electorates tending to have overall lower levels of education as well as being christians, but I was surprised at how strong the pattern held in metropolitan electorates that contained only average levels of the 55+ age group.

The next interesting bit was how the proportion of private school enrollments in an electorate played out against median household income ($ p/w) and the proportion of the electorate with a year 10 education or less:


I thought that the income vs private school relationship would have had less variance than the education level vs private school , but it is actually the other way around.

Finally, total child support case numbers by elecorate vs income and education:


The income relationship was as expected for all the obvious reasons, but I was expecting the education result to show a fair bit more variance than it did.

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Posted in General Economics, Polling | 49 Comments »

The Telstra Problem

Posted by Possum Comitatus on December 7, 2007

John Howard, not content with his political legacy of turning the Liberal Party into a dysfunctional zoo, also left a charming little economic legacy in the telecommunications sector – it may not be quite as bad as feral tenants leaving raw prawns in the curtain rods upon their departure, but it’s not far from it either.

We are, of course, talking about that giant monopolist sloth Telstra.

Over at LP, they’re having a nice chat with a cup of tea and a few Iced VoVo’s (suddenly the biscuit de jour in political circles) over Telstra’s chest thumping demands regarding Labor’s proposed new Fibre-to-the-Node broadband network. Rather than clogging up their comments section with a vast monologue (and eating all their biscuits) I thought I’d blurt my contempt for this policy mess out over here instead – but I encourage all to go and have a squiz at the LP post.

It’s not like Telstra is asking for much really – they merely want to keep their existing monopoly, they want the ACCC to take a hike so they can extract even greater monopoly rents out of their infrastructure, they wish to make it as difficult as possible for any of their competitors to compete on price, and they have told the Rudd government that they will effectively do everything possible to thwart the building of a new broadband network unless its built, owned and run on Telstra’s terms.

Mind you, this isn’t the only economic policy nugget left in the slippers on the front porch by Howard; we’ll be finding more of these charming little economic legacies of the Howard era over the next few years to be sure.

The Telstra Problem was always going to happen – it’s the great “told you so” issue of national infrastructure over the last decade. Every man and his dog told the Howard government that privatising a public monopoly on an “as is” basis will simply result in a more aggressive private monopoly that will screw consumers six ways to Sunday and basically hamper not only telecommunications development, but economic growth opportunities for those industry sectors heavily reliant on telecommunications price and speed.

Lo and behold, that’s basically what has occurred – and it’s time for Rudd to sort out the mess.

Unfortunately, there is no easy, cheap fix here – such is the size of the pile of policy shit the Howard government left behind over this. To ignore Telstra in building the new broadband network requires duplicating much of the existing infrastructure which significantly blows out the costs of constructing the new network – possibly to the point of making it economically unviable from the outset. To haggle with Telstra effectively means handing over to Telstra some level of monopoly rent and removing a large amount of competition from the system…. forever. Nationalising the so called ‘last mile’ of Telstra – the local exchange to the house, would be enormously expensive.

Regardless of which option is eventually pursued, the public will get screwed – either through nine zeros worth of taxpayer dollars being spent upfront on fixing the mess, or through permanently higher telecommunications charges.

Do you want to be rogered smooth and slow, or hard and fast?”, becomes the key question. There is no escaping the rogering – the question is just how we’d all like it to be done.

Remember – this need not have been the case, a simple split of the Telstra sloth before it was sold, and flogging the retail and mobile phone components off as one company, and bringing new players into joint ownership of the infrastructure side would have prevented all this nonsense from ever needing to be done in the first place.

However, the nationalisation of the last mile might end up being the only way forward if things really turn sour. But the big problem, and it would become the really big problem, would be determining the actual value of the just terms compensation to be provided. Telstra would undoubtedly have the audacity to argue that the compensation would need to be significantly higher than what would be offered because the government would be effectively removing their capability to extract monopoly rents!

If the government acquired the last mile, it could then on sell a large chunk of it into whatever new public/private consortium would be used to build and manage the proposed FTTN network – that would at least partially offset the large total public costs of nationalising the last mile. The beauty of the government being able to bring the last mile to the table for the proposed network would be that there would become no shortage of willing participants in transforming the network into FTTN and later, perhaps, FTTH as the demand required – from existing telcos like Optus and Internode etc through to infrastructure units of companies like Macquarie, especially since the Labor policy is to run the proposed new network as an open-access regime. The more companies you can get in the tent with a stake in the new network, the more likely it would be that the network would continue to develop technologically at the speed of its fastest members, rather than the speed that guarantees the greatest monopoly returns which is the current case.

It would also have the benefit of removing at least some of the monopoly effects that currently plague the system, even if it doesn’t actually remove the monopoly proper. It’s arguable that even though such a network would still be a monopoly, there would actually be some level of competition in terms of competitive effects, but within the organisation between its separate stakeholders rather than between networks as we’ve all become used to analysing.

Whatever option eventually plays out and becomes our telecommunications reality, and whatever the costs will be in fixing this mess – all of the drama and the telecommunications retardation we’ve been experiencing as users over the last decade has been entirely unnecessary. It has been the consequence of gross political and economic policy negligence by the Howard government, a government that seemed to believe that fast, cheap and accessible broadband speeds were all about downloading porn and pirated movies rather than the modern drivers of productivity growth, business development and high paying new economy employment growth – not to mention its potential for enhancing public service delivery.

I’d be interested in your thoughts about this, and the possible ways forward on the Telstra Problem?


Via a heads-up from Tassieannie, fibre optics via sewer ducts in the UK.


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Posted in policy, telecommunications | 112 Comments »

Words fail me

Posted by Possum Comitatus on December 5, 2007

For those among you not living in Qld, it is really hard to describe just how absolutely useless the Queensland Liberal Party is. The problem is such that no amount of words can adequately convey the enormity of their dysfunction, nor the magnitude of their really unique brand of defectiveness.

They are inutile in every respect.

Nowhere else in Australia has a political party experiencing anything like what is happening to the Queensland Libs (I’d be surprised if anywhere in Australia ever has) – unless you actually live here or follow it closely from afar, it’s just hard to fully grasp.

Normally when a party starts approaching the hopeless state the Qld Libs are in, they implode and become permanently erased from the electoral map – think One Nation and the Democrats. But the Libs are in the situation where they have a certain critical mass of popular support (albeit rather small these days) that will simply continue to vote for them regardless of what they do.

This absolute rusted on level of political support allows the Qld Liberal Party to descend way beyond the level of dysfunction that would normally result in political death. As a result of never really having to face complete political oblivion, they have become paralysed in a state of permanent political palliative care. They are essentially confined to nursing the end days before their political death, but a political death that will never arrive.

It really is a unique situation.

We have the 8 members consisting of two rough groupings and representing anything up to about 14 different micro-factions all being locked in a room over the last few days trying to figure out who gets to lead this fiasco.

Dysfunction turned to theatre, theatre turned to farce, farce quickly turned to comedy and now it would seem that comedy has descended into slapstick.

News Ltd today reports that:

Gold Coast MP Ray Stevens said today MPs last night agreed to elect a new leader by “lucky dip” if there was no decision by noon (AEST) tomorrow.”

WTF? Lucky dip?

The winner gets the Qld Liberal Party leadership. What’s second place get – two Qld Liberal Party leaderships?

Someone please put these idiots to the sword.


And the winner loser is Mark McArdle with Toss-Up Tim Nicholls as deputy.

That wasn’t so hard now, was it kids.

Posted in general politics | 137 Comments »

Why Labor Won

Posted by Possum Comitatus on December 4, 2007

Just when we thought it was safe to open up The Oz on a Tuesday, the first Newspoll of the New Order is released.

First up, the fun stuff.

Unfortunately there wasn’t any voting intention question, which is a bit of a pity as these first post-election voting polls are always good for a bit of a laugh, but we do have a question on “Which of the following do you think would be best to lead the Liberal Party“.


Aquaman (so called via the comment of David R – Turnbull is a little bit green, a little bit blue and one would add a little bit wet to boot) defeated Uncommitted as preferred leader and was nearly twice as popular as the Doormat-in-Chief, Spanky Nelson.

The canonical couplet of Abbott and Bishop rounded out the ‘top’ contenders.

Do you get the feeling that Nelson is in for a long, hard slog?

A more interesting question that actually gets to the point of the post, was on whether people voted for a party or against a party as their primary motivation in the election.


This goes to the very heart of the cliché that ‘Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them’. Clearly in this election, that cliché has marginal relevance.

This result suggests that the electorate voted for Labor on the basis of merit rather than against the Coalition because they were fed up with them. Yet this Newspoll isn’t some weird survey result thrown up in isolation; if we remember back to the internal Liberal Party Crosby Textor research and look at the issue positioning overall, and which specific issues were driving the vote of the major parties, Labor was winning vote share on the issues that mattered to the electorate.

This is further reinforced if we look at the Newspoll question also published today on which issues the electorate believed were important in terms of deciding their vote.


Just as that Crosby Textor research showed back in June, the dominant issues in driving the vote were nearly all Labor issues.

So we have a majority of respondents saying they voted for Labor rather than against the Coalition, the major issues that were driving the vote were nearly all owned by Labor at the end of the election campaign, and that ownership was not a new phenomenon, but something which occurred way back in December 2006 after Rudd gained the ALP leadership – it was consistent over nearly a 12 month period.

This is important because it gives us the empirical data we need to determine the observable reality of why the Howard government was defeated – and this observable reality is running completely contrary to an awful lot of political commentary out there at the moment.

The government didn’t lose the election, their failed campaign strategy didn’t result in an ALP government by accident, the electorate didn’t say “it’s time to give the other side a go“.

However, nor was it a rejection of the Howard government either. The dislike of the Howard government didn’t drive the election result – far from it.

The election was won by Labor on the merit of the arguments and political positions Labor produced. It was a vote FOR a party, but more importantly a vote FOR the policy positions and stated directions that the ALP had produced. It was a vote for change, substantially on the basis of the issues.

This is a complete empirical slap in the face to those in the commentariat that have been rabbiting on with superficial twaddle over Rudds “Me-Tooism”. That was always a shallow, vacuous substitute for what was actually occurring in the campaign.

Far from simply copying the Howard government as some nonsensical small target strategy, Rudd embarked on a process of agreeing with Howard on those issues that could lose him net votes were he not to do so, and disagreed with Howard on those issues where to do so would win him net votes. This strategy effectively neutralised and/or minimised any remaining Coalition strengths, and highlighted the differences between Labor and the Coalition on all of the issues that were actually driving the vote – it crystalised out the differences that would deliver for the ALP.

And deliver it did – the strategy that so confused most of the commentariat delivered government for the ALP, and it delivered government on the basis of issue dominance.

There were a couple of Journo’s out there that got a little shirty about this article in Crikey that I wrote during the campaign, an article that effectively said exactly what I’ve said here.

Well the data is in – suck it up fellas :mrgreen:

Moving right along from that small moment of self-indulgence, there was also an amusing little piece in The Oz today – another addition to the growing family of “Oh yes, we’re all sorry now”.

In a piece headlined “APOLOGY TO GEORGE NEWHOUSE“, The Oz states:

Apology to George Newhouse

On Saturday morning November 24, 2007, I (Caroline Overington) had an encounter with the Labor candidate for Wentworth, Mr George Newhouse, in circumstances that I sincerely regret. I hope that Mr Newhouse and I can put this incident behind us and I wish him all the best.

The Australian regrets any embarrassment Mr Newhouse has endured and also wishes him well.

I hope that The Australian also regrets the embarrassment Overington caused to their not insubstantial brand.

That’s what inevitably happens when journalists confuse their roles and attempt to become a player in the political process rather than the intermediary between political events and the publics’ interest in them.

While this whole fiasco was a disgrace from its deplorable start to its pathetic finish, what hasn’t received enough attention is the thuggish behaviour that Overington carried on with, to a small political blogger who had the audacity to poke fun at her stupidity.

There were plenty of things said about Overingtons behaviour on the big political blogs that can easily defend themselves and wouldn’t be intimidated by that kind of bullying windbaggery – but none of them to my knowledge heard a whimper out of her. For whatever reason – she chose to pick on the small guy.

Thankfully the small guy wasn’t taking any of that crap.

This is also a good lesson out there for political bloggers generally – only converse with people that have grievances or people that you don’t necessarily trust, via email. When people know that there will be a record of their correspondence, they are more likely to keep it in their pants.

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Posted in strategy, Voting behaviour | 55 Comments »

Crimes Against Psephology the sequel – Christopher Pearson, historical revisionist

Posted by Possum Comitatus on December 2, 2007

Over at The Oz, Christopher Pearson rewrites some history and says:

Months ago I argued that the Coalition government could win with 49 per cent of the two-party vote and was violently attacked for my pains in left-wing blogs. By the end of the campaign the conventional wisdom had put the bar lower, at 48 per cent or a touch under. In the event, at week’s end The Australian reported the outgoing government as having won 47 per cent of the vote.”

I don’t know if he was violently attacked by left wing blogs, I don’t know if one can actually be violently attacked by a blog at all; it’s got a bit of a whiff of the drama queens about it.

But this blog certainly nicked him for his gross misunderstanding of the very basics of electoral reality. It had nothing to do with his claim of the government being able to win with 49% of the vote, that’s an argument that far smarter people than Christopher Pearson have made, and an argument with which I totally concurred.

No, the reason he was nicked, violently or otherwise, was simply because he was talking out of his arse.

Apart from the problem of Pearson not knowing what a swing is, and his strange fantasies about State based TPP majorities, the key reason he was clobbered was for this nonsense where he wrote:

If the Coalition were to wage a dogged campaign concentrating on holding its marginal seats, it could win by maintaining its present primary vote if it also managed to cut Labor’s two-party preferred margin to about two points, as in 1998 when Labor led with 51 points to the Coalition’s 49 and still lost.

At the time the Coalition primary vote was 39 and the ALP 48.5. If the results ended up as Pearson speculated, with a Coalition primary on 39 and the ALP getting a primary of 46.5, the end result would have been a 100+ seat ALP parliament with a TPP of over 55%! [bit of a misread there] If the TPP results ended up as Pearson speculated, that reduction in the   ALP TPP vote would have had to have moved to the minor parties, with the combined minors vote preferencing the Coalition to the value of about 10 points. Just where that was going to come from was never mentioned – it would never have been the Greens, Family First received next to nothing and the rest of the minors put together didnt amount to a hill of beans.

There were a large number of reasons why his so called analysis was complete twaddle, the main one being that the result of the 1998 election was built upon a large minor party vote coming from the right (One Nation) and delivering preferences back to the Coalition. It was One Nation that allowed the Coalition primary vote to be low and still win an election. With no strong minor party vote from the right, there is no strong preference flow back to the Coalition to make up for that low primary in TPP terms – that’s why the 1998 experience could not be repeated in 2007, and why the Coalition needed a higher primary vote than the ALP to even think about winning.

The beauty of the intertubes is that this type of thing can be easily and instantly recalled (and in Pearsons case, dismissed). Pearson’s original article can be found HERE and the demolition of it can be found HERE. That demolition contains a fairly large amount of info including how many seats One Nation preferences delivered and why Pearson was, and still appears to be, a complete dill.

This bloke seems like he will be a very busy boy over the next few years; trying to rewrite the history of the Howard governments defeat would be a fairly time consuming endeavor in itself, but trying to rewrite the history of his own journalistic output to boot…… well, there’s only 24 hours in a day Christopher.

Posted in Take downs | 78 Comments »

A Jump in the Wayback Machine

Posted by Possum Comitatus on December 2, 2007

Way back in the annals of history, when the blog first started in May 2007, one of the first things I did was build a very rough election prediction model – and it’s probably worth going back to have a quick squiz at it because we’ll be dealing with it here. What was interesting about that model was that it was more explanatory rather than predictive and it looked at relationships between variables over the entire 11 year period of the Howard government.

As a result it turned up some pretty interesting results, the most interesting being that the standard variable mortgage rate over the first 6 years of the Howard government actually had a positive statistical relationship with the government’s primary vote, meaning that as the standard variable mortgage rate increased, so did the government’s primary vote. It wasn’t until the second half of the Howard government’s reign that the relationship reversed itself, whereby the relationship between the cash rate and the ALP vote became positive. Yet, over the entire period of the Howard government up to May, the relationship between the mortgage rate and the government primary vote was still positive, albeit getting weaker with every rate rise (because, as we know – for the previous couple of years the actual relationship between rates and votes had reversed itself)

Back in that very first election model, we forecast ahead using some assumptions about the variables involved. We assumed that the satisfaction ratings of the two leaders would remain the same (which they basically did) , and assumed that the interest rate to disposable income ratio would continue on its medium term growth path (which it basically did too).

I just went over the model again, but this time feeding in the changing values of the variables as they occurred. So as the satisfaction ratings changed each month, those new values were fed into the model, but I maintained the internally generated vote estimates as the lagged values.

As a result, if we compare the original May forecast, with the updating forecast and the actual Newspoll monthly average results over the period of May to the election we get firstly on the ALP primary vote:


And secondly on the two party preferred forecast:


Currently, the AEC has the ALP two party preferred election result on 52.9% and the ALP primary on 43.7%

What I find amazing here is that this very early explanatory model projected forward produced far more accurate prediction results than the last model I did just before the election. Both the updating model and the original model in May that used the assumptions about satisfaction ratings, both ended up being close to the actual election result with the May model predicting 53.7 and the updating model predicting 52.8. The Newspoll monthly average for November ended up at 53.5

On the primaries, the May model ended up with 45.6, the updating model with 44.5 and Newspoll at 46.2. The updating model ended up being only 0.1% out on TPP terms, and 0.8% out on primary vote terms. The May model with the assumptions was only out by 0.8% on TPP terms and 1.6% on primary vote terms.

I’m actually quite amazed that it worked so well, considering it forecast out 6 months into the future.

Posted in Election Forecasting, Voting behaviour | 6 Comments »