Dan’s Senate Tips

Source: ABC News

Disclaimer: Take everything I say with a grain-of-salt and remember I write from a small-l liberal perspective.

Below the line voting is a pain in the arse. Numbering around 100 candidates in parties you’ve mostly never heard of is not an easy task. An optional preferential system, where you could number up to the point you see fit, would fix this but that’s not on offer. Thus you have to make a choice – an easy ’1′ above the line or the dreaded ’1 to x’ below.

I’ll be blunt: If you vote above the line, there’s a higher chance your vote will get a fascist, socialist, nanny-state theocrat or racist (collectively – ‘the crazies’) elected.

Voting below the line allows you to employ a better strategy: vote for who you know & agree with (some hints below), then the major parties, and then everyone else.

Following this strategy, your order after the major parties is purely academic, so don’t sweat on it.

However, an above the line vote will often see your vote hit the crazies before being ‘exhausted’ by bouncing between all the major parties. This can be an issue if your preferred party gets the numbers for (say) 2 Senators, but not a 3rd – the ‘excess’ votes not consumed in electing the 2nd Senator spill over to the next preference set by the party. Parties set up some pretty weird preferences deals.

Some cases in point:

  • In QLD, a ’1′ for the ALP will flow to Katter’s Australia Party (protectionists)
  • In NSW, a ’1′ for the Liberal/National Parties will flow to the Christian Democrats (socially regressive)

So – check out the pre-arranged preference flows before you vote above the line and google the next-in-line parties. The Global Mail has an excellent preference flow visualiser (pictured below). If you don’t like what you see….vote below the line.

Example of the Global Mail preference visualiser in use

Example of the Global Mail preference visualiser in use

I’d nominate the following as worth considering above a major party (links take you to the policy sections):

  • Pirate Party – good on civil liberties, tax reform and with a great approach to internal-party democracy
  • Drug Law Reform Party – single issue, but an important one, also have a good slew of candidates
  • Future Party - sensible positions on most issues – they aren’t running in Vic though :(
  • Liberal Democrats – too libertarian on some matters for my tastes, but a better option than the Libs by a mile
  • Sex Party – good social and civil liberties positions
  • Secular Party – single issue, but again, an important one

There are possibly a few more worth pencilling in above the Greens/ALP/Coalition, but I’ll leave it here. If you follow a strategy of preferencing some of these parties, then the majors, then the rest, you’ll be able to sleep easy come Sept. 7th. Bellowtheline is a useful tool if you wish to create your own pre-filled Senate ticket to take with you on polling day to make sure you don’t confuse your order.

On a individual basis I’d take note of the following candidates to buck in the suggested party preference order. Drop in a comment if you wish to make a case for others. 

Higher up:

  • Adam Stone, Greens (QLD) – strong on civil liberties, and a moderate on economic policy (he’s open to privatisation where it’s been shown to deliver good outcomes) and even dissed his party’s overgenerous Abbott-esque Paid Paternity Leave scheme.
  • Gabriel Buckley, Liberal Democrats (QLD) – a moderate civil libertarian in a party that is probably home to a few too many ‘give us back our guns’ types.
  • Scott Ludlam, Greens (WA) – he’s at risk of losing his seat, which would be a loss as he’s the only parliamentarian who works hard against data retention, internet filtering, state surveillance etc.
  • Arthur Sinodinos, Liberal (NSW) – might dissuade Abbott from some of the lunier economic policies that have been mooted. Would be best not to have him lose his seat to One Nation’s Pauline Hanson.

Lower down:

  • Chris Ketter, ALP (QLD) – the secretary of a homophobic union that is run in a very dodgy manner. That he’s snagged the #1 spot on the ALP ticket makes a mockery of Labor’s “It’s Time” same-sex marriage campaign.

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Towards a Transparent UQU

English: UQ Union Logo

English: UQ Union Logo (Photo credit: UQ Union)

The 2013 University of Queensland Union (UQU) elections were discontinued on August 7th due to the incumbent ‘Fresh’ UQU office bearers failing to follow due process in selecting a Returning Officer to administer and adjudicate the election. This stemmed from an appeal by the ‘Lift’ group, who were prevented from running due to a small error in a nomination form.

Whilst this shows that at least some check-and-balances are still operating in the UQU system, the entire situation is a product of the UQU having the power to write its own election rules and appoint the Returning Officer. This is likely to cost the UQU tens of thousands (such is the cost of handing out $5 food vouchers to voters). At other Universities, an independent body holds these powers to ensure the incumbents do not make unfair alterations to the rules and select a ‘friendly’ Returning Officer (which is exactly what Fresh did last year).

This is all rather embarrassing for Fresh. Last year they managed to get away with trying to lock out opposition parties by changing the election regulations to disadvantage legitimate opposition tickets, then following these new rules to the letter. This left the Electoral Tribunal unable to intervene – and Fresh was able to waltz in with only faux-parties filled with mates to provide competition.

This year it seems they got sloppy in their attempt to rig the election by failing to follow the rules they themselves had written. Though ‘Reform’ managed to navigate the opaque nomination system to get themselves registered in time, ‘Lift’ were not so lucky (curiously so, considering their Presidential candidate is a current Fresh UQU office-bearer).

At any rate – if this doesn’t prove that the UQU is broken, nothing will. It’s the second time an election has been marred by Fresh’s failure to run a transparent process. This problem won’t go away – regardless of who is eventually elected. It’s a problem hardwired into the UQU Constitution: the UQU incumbents have the power to write all election rules, determine who adjudicates them, and retain complete discretion as to what information is released to the public. However, Fresh has taken advantage of this flaw in an unprecedented manner, leading to a situation where the UQU has become opaque, self-absorbed and unresponsive to the needs of UQ students.

Last year, an open letter signed by over 30 past and present independent student leaders, and viewed by over 4,000, advocated UQ step-in. The resulting intervention failed to address the imperfections in the electoral system and instead focused on claims of misappropriation of funds by the UQU executive. At a cost of $35,000, UQU’s books were independently audited by the accounting firm BDO.

With little fanfare and some five months since its last public comment regarding the audit, the UQU released selective findings from the BDO report on April 12 of this year. The report provided a number of insights into the spending priorities of the Fresh executive. Merchandise branded with Fresh livery accounted for some $63,983.70, with over $51,000 suggested to have fallen outside the Union’s constitutional remit.

Essential funding was used to pay office-bearers’ parking fines, purchase tickets to a Young LNP conference, enjoy pints of ‘product testing’ beer and order 4,000 ‘Fresh’ branded condoms.

That’s a disgrace.

The reforms outlined below would put the UQU at the forefront of transparency. Given the dramatic loss of faith in the UQU’s ability to run a fair electoral system, observe council meeting requirements and manage finances responsibly – a higher standard is necessary to restore student faith in the UQU.

Tacking documents to a physical notice-board is not a reasonable form of dissemination for a $18 million dollar public organisation that has a duty to serve the 40,000 students of UQ. When we say ‘made public’ we mean publishing to the UQU website in an easily accessible form. This is the norm for most student unions – even a cursory search on the University of Melbourne Student Union website yields complete records of meeting minutes, election notices, Returning Officer appointment and contact details, election appeals and findings, full results for prior elections and copies of the UMSU Constitution and electoral regulations. To obtain these from the UQU you would need to be making near-daily visits to the UQU office complex to check if they’d been tacked onto a noticeboard.

This is what is needed:

1. Electoral Reforms

Have an impartial body write, execute and adjudicate the electoral rules – not the incumbent UQU Executive.

Why?

This year the election was discontinued as Fresh failed to select a Returning Officer in the designated manner. Having this decision in the incumbent’s hands at all is not a sound idea.

Like this year’s failing, the 2012 catastrophe was the logical culmination of giving an incumbent UQU Executive and Council full control over the election process. The UQU Constitution allows the UQU Council to write (and regularly change at the last minute) all electoral regulation, pick a Returning Officer (to run the election) and appoint an electoral tribunal (to adjudicate any disputes). As UQ Law Professor Graeme Orr (a former member of the Electoral Tribunal until Fresh booted him off without explanation) said at the height of last year’s scandal: “Student unions are a bit like local governments – we don’t let each local shire council write its own electoral rules.”

Fresh’s only action to-date has been releasing a draft ‘Elections & Campaigns Charter’ that, while running to two pages, can be summarised as “please play nice”. The charter has no enforceable provisions, neither solving the problems created by the incumbent-designed UQU electoral regulations, or injecting any requirement for transparency. Beyond that, giving 72 hours for students to make submission to a document that is going to govern an election’s conduct is just woeful.

How?

Hold a referendum to alter the UQU constitution to empower an independent Electoral Tribunal to make regulations regarding elections, appoint an experienced Returning Officer, and be a final adjudicator over electoral disputes. The suitability of a Returning Officer should also be prescribed in the Constitution to prevent appointees with no prior experience from filling the role, as has frequently occurred. Ideally, the Australian Electoral Commission, or a private election operating company with a proven track record, will be appointed. This would prevent the situation that has resulted in the 2013 election being discontinued.

The powers and membership of the Electoral Tribunal should be specified in the Constitution, not left for the UQU Council to determine at their leisure. This would prevent the inevitable temptation that all UQU executives will face each election – by taking this specific power out of their hands.

Specific suggestions for changes to the constitution are set out here.

2. Financial Reforms

Why?

The BDO audit identified numerous record keeping flaws, instances of personal spending being billed to the UQU and over $50,000 in unconstitutional spending. It’s unlikely any of this would have ever come to light had the election scandal not occurred. That is not acceptable.

How?

Adopt the disclosure suggestions made in the BDO auditor’s report. Commit to publishing a full account of UQU finances is to be released within 4 weeks of the financial year ending. This should include significant detail in spending and all grants to clubs, societies and other non-UQU groups (i.e. the National Union of Students if affiliation occurs). It should be independently audited and be available on the UQU website.

3. Procedural Reforms

A transparent and fair clubs and societies system.

Why?

There are too many tales of clubs not being formed at UQ as they lack a friendly connection inside Fresh. Last year it took the UQ Republican Club months of repeated requests, re-filing of papers and appeals to UQ to achieve recognition. Some clubs, like the proposed libertarian ‘Friedman Club’, never even received notification as to why their request was denied (despite it meeting all stated requirements). All the while, clubs like the ‘GPS Old Boys Club’ received lavish funding  to throw drinking parties due members’ connections with Fresh. Just as registering a club has been dependent with having a friend in the UQU, so has securing additional funding.

Moving towards a  transparent model would also remove the leverage that Fresh has used over the years to threaten clubs with disaffiliation or funding cuts should their members run on non-Fresh tickets, or print publications that question Fresh’s electoral tactics (as the UQ Law Society found out in 2011).

How?

Full transparency. Clear instructions for what conditions have to be met to register a club, with all relevant forms available online. A register of applications should be public that shows all applications, and their status (pending, approved, denied) and the rationale of any final decision. When office bearers have to make their reasoning public, it limits arbitrary decision making.

A similar process for requesting (and a register showing application status) for all extraordinary grants to clubs (those not apportioned based on membership size or another automatic calculation) should also be employed.

Examples of a running disclosure registry in operation can be found at:

Australian Electoral Commission – Registration decisions

UK government data – request register

A Stronger UQU Council

Why?

The UQ ordered audit of UQU found that “As monthly meetings were not held between February and November inclusive, it would appear that the Union has not complied with this section of the Constitution.” As the governing body of the UQU, it has failed to hold the executive officers to account over the last few years, facilitating the irregular spending highlighted in the audit, and failing to properly vet changes to UQU Regulations.

How?

Require that all UQU Council meetings be held on set dates specified at the beginning of each year and at a set location (e.g. every 3rd Thursday of the month at 4pm in the Innes Room). Meetings should be open to the public. Meeting agendas should be posted on the UQU website, alongside any proposed changes of the UQU Regulations. Accurate meeting minutes should be released within one week and made available on the UQU website.

Reference Documents:

UQU Constitution

UQU Regulations

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Vote early, vote often.

As anticipation and hyperbole surrounding the naming of the Federal election date reaches dizzy new heights, the perennial proving ground for wannabe politicos and hacks rolls around again: student union election season.

In August of last year students of the University of Queensland witnessed farcical scenes as the incumbent LNP backed ‘Fresh’ party manipulated electoral regulations to prevent opposition groups running in student union elections. Twelve months later and election fever is once again in the air, all while the University sits and whistles in the breeze.

Having passed changes to electoral regulations in the month prior, Fresh secured themselves an uncontested victory in 2012 as opposition groups were prevented from registering rival tickets and the independent electoral tribunal was left toothless by alternations to the electoral rules. Most glaringly, despite months of protests, damaging news coverage and exhortations by student leaders, the University administration failed to intervene in yet another scandal engulfing the campus.

After a week of demonstrations and protests from the student body, last year UQ’s administration announced its intention to take a series of actions as part of the Funding and Services Agreement between the University and the UQ Union. The resulting intervention failed to address the imperfections in the electoral system and instead focused on claims of corruption and misappropriation of funds by UQU executives.

At a cost of $35,000, UQU’s books were independently audited by the accounting firm BDO. After four months of silence, Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic Mick McManus told the Courier Mail in December 2012 that the audit was now at the “detailed review” stage and that the audit had been completed to schedule in mid-November.  McManus’s comments came as the then outgoing UQU Fresh Vice President Nathan Flett spoke out at the union’s Annual General Meeting, condemning the unsavoury practices of the incumbents. This AGM was ruled later ruled void, as quorum was not reached. No evidence of a subsequent AGM has been forthcoming, despite the Union’s pledge to “[ratify] minutes published within 7 days of a General Meeting occurring.”

With little fanfare and some five months since its last public comment regarding the audit, UQU released selective findings from the BDO report on April 12 of this year. Far from confirming President Rohan Watt’s assertions that UQU was the “best-run and most student-focused student union in the country”, the report provided a number of insights into the spending priorities of the Fresh executive. Merchandise branded with Fresh livery accounted for some $63,983.70, with over $51,000 suggested to have fallen outside the Union’s constitutional remit.

Essential funding was used on a number of pieces of critical infrastructure including parking fines ($100), tickets to the Young LNP conference ($25.30), pints of ‘product testing’ beer ($78.95) and 4,000 Fresh branded condoms ($326.14). If ever the phrase of getting ones “license out of a Cornflakes box” could be applied, it would be to the UQU’s slapdash collective of aspiring apparatchiks determined to set a course for politics early. 

On the electoral front, UQ’s only action was to insist on a draft ‘Elections & Campaigns Charter’ that, while running to two pages, can be summarised as “please play nice”. The charter has no enforceable provisions, neither solving the problems created by the incumbent-designed UQU Electoral Regulations, or injecting any requirement for transparency. It has now emerged that during a meeting of UQ’s governing Senate earlier this year, post-graduate representative John Humphreys raised serious doubts about any proposed charter’s efficacy, only to be dismissed.

The past 12 months have highlighted Fresh’s contempt for students. 2012 President Colin Finke dismissed over 3,000 students who signed a petition for a new election as mere ‘disaffected student politicians’ and never released the results of the 2012 UQU election. The University’s contentedness in allowing a publically funded student union that manages $18m per annum to not hold free and fair elections, or disclose basic information, is a poor reflection on its commitment to a “culture of integrity”. UQ has remained unmoved as the UQU President collects $36,000 a year for hosting parties, subleasing University property and developing “campus culture”.

With the 2013 UQU election now in motion, UQ has missed the opportunity to guarantee students a transparent student union. It’s now up to the opposition tickets, and if they are successful at the ballot box next week, they will have their work cut out for them.

Ending the culture of back scratching in the UQU that saw a ‘GPS Old Boys Club’ funded lavishly to indulge the drinking habits of former private school boys, while a number of less-well connected clubs like the Libertarian ‘Friedman Society’ were prevented from affiliating for no clear reason, will take a concerted approach to developing a transparent clubs and societies registration and funding process. A transparent model would also remove the leverage that Fresh has used over the years to threaten clubs with disaffiliation or funding cuts should their members run on non-Fresh tickets, or print publications that question Fresh’s electoral tactics (as the UQ Law Society found out in 2011). 

No priority is higher than putting in place a fair electoral process with independent adjudication. Combined with a move to transparent publishing of documents online, and ensuring the UQU Council tasked with monitoring the executive actually meets and releases minutes, the next UQU team will have a real chance to deliver reforms that will for once make a positive difference in student politics.

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New Year

We started Rooftop Review in July of this year as way of motivating the pair of us to write more. Alas, dear reader, finding the time to sit down and write 600-odd words has turned into something of struggle. When we first started talking abut RR, we promised ourselves to try and escape the general blogosphere hivemind. There’d be no leadership speculation, no carbon tax banter and most of all, no Newspoll coverage. Somewhere amongst all this greenhorn dreaming, I forgot that proper analysis takes both time and effort. In my final year of undergraduate study, I had neither of these.

Any time I sat down to pen a new post, I couldn’t help but feel that I was regurgitating the same lines that had already been churned out by the talking heads. Unfortunately, timing meant that I normally sat down to write a RR piece on a Sunday afternoon – normally resting a sore head after a very tired and emotional evening the night before. Given the three or four days that normally passed between an event of note and my chance to write, any value that could have been added had already been chipped in by the Twittersphere and various other platforms.  This isn’t a complaint, more so proof that my old school ideals of writing a thoughtful and considered piece over a number of days have now been replaced by the need for brevity and immediacy.

This year, I intend to change the way I approach RR. Instead of aspiring to be something we’re not, I want to take things back to basics. More stats and graphs and less speculation. I want to practice basic journalistic skills rather than idle chit-chat. We also hope to open RR up to more contributors, and with it readers.

And with that, a very happy new year to you all.

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Quizzing Hockey on liberalism (via OurSay)

Here’s my clip asking Joe Hockey about how the Liberal Party can still be considered ‘liberal’. From Mr Hockey’s answer it’s clearly time for a new party based on trusting people to make their own decisions in life and having a compassionate position on asylum seekers.

Despite what Mr. Hockey and his party may think, compassion is not resorting to whatever punitive means possible to ‘stop the boats’; an issue like Marriage Equality should never be ‘difficult’ for a liberal party; and liberalism is not about showering middle-class folks with welfare and opposing market based reforms like an ETS.

View from 16:18 for a rather disappointing response.

More to come. 

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by | December 10, 2012 · 12:02 pm

RATE SHOCK! Media Coverage of RBA Monetary Policy Decisions 2008-2010

After four and a half years of undergraduate study I’d had just about enough of coursework. As an obvious candidate for academic masochism, I opted to complete my studies with a research paper analysing media reporting of RBA monetary policy decisions. For the sake of ego massaging, I’m posting an abridged version (half the size, same great value) of my final report. I’ll post a de-jargoned version soon.

With one of the highest rates of variable home loans in the developed world (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012) and the highest level of household debt (Roxburgh et al., 2012, p. 13), shifts in Australian monetary policy and the Reserve Bank of Australia’s (RBA) overnight cash rate are now widely anticipated announcements. Publications supply an assortment of analysis and commentary that attempt to both pre-empt and interpret the RBA’s monthly board meeting. Given the recent fluctuations in the global economy it is now more critical than ever that the media be able to unpack and decipher these issues for consumers (Tambini, 2008).

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What’s up with the complete lack of activity?

The euphoria felt when we began this blog has slowly wilted away, leading to ever fewer posts. But I can (non-core)  promise, that  there will be more to come soon now that our study/work commitments have dropped off. In the meantime I’ve been blogging about my experiences as a Teach for Australia associate here, angrily writing to The Age about the Vic Court decision to continue religious instruction in schools here and most recently putting a question to Joe Hockey about the illiberal nature of the modern Australian Liberal Party via OurSay. Vote for it here!

We’ll be back with something substantively resembling an article soon ;)

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