What would it take to unseat Conroy?

The answer is: quite a lot.

It's safe to say that Senator Stephen Conroy, the federal communications minister, has upset a lot of people in the IT community with his push for mandatory Internet filtering. Although it may seem remote, the thought of him being unseated at the upcoming federal election would no doubt bring a smile to a lot of people's faces. But what would it take?

The answer, as it turns out, is quite a lot.

For those who need a refresher, a normal federal election sees half the senate seats being contested. Each state gets to send six senators to Canberra while the ACT and NT send two.

As an elector, you have two methods of voting in the senate. You can either put a single number against a party (known as voting "above the line"), or you can number all the candidates (known as voting "below the line"). Voting above the line means that your vote is allocated as chosen by the party that you have voted for. You can check how parties will apportion those votes on the AEC Web site.

Actually counting the votes is quite simple. As there are six senate seats, candidates need 1/6th of the vote to be elected. This is known as a quota. The vote counting algorithm itself is also quite simple:

If the top candidate has a quota, they are elected. The leftover votes are then redistributed according to the preferences. Here's an example. Assume the quota to be elected is 4, and the following 7 votes have been cast with candidate A as the first preference:

#1#2#3
ABC
ABC
ABC
ABC
ABC
ACB
ACB

As the quota is four, A is elected, leaving three votes to be redistributed. In this case, candidate B would receive 5/7th of the three redistributed votes, and candidate C would receive 2/7th of the three redistributed votes.

This process is repeated until there are no candidates left that have enough votes to meet a quota. At that stage, things start getting interesting. To get the process going again, the candidate with the least votes is removed, and the candidate's votes are redistributed using the same process as before. Candidates keep getting removed from the bottom of the list until someone else gets enough votes for a quota. When all 6 senators have been elected, all votes have been allocated.

What does this mean for Conroy? Judging from previous election results, he is pretty safe. He is the second candidate on the ALP ticket for Victoria, which means that his fate is entirely in the hands of Victorian votes. At the 2007 election, the ALP received enough primary votes in Victoria to fill roughly 2.5 quotas without having to resort to preferences from other parties. The ALP would need a shift of over 20 per cent against it for Conroy to not be re-elected simply from ALP preferences.

An alternative would be for a high number of Labor voters to vote below the line, and change the order in which they preference Labor candidates. This would require a large change in voting behaviour to happen. At the last election, only 2.05 per cent of Victorian voters voted below the line in the senate elections. The situation is even better for Conroy if we only look at Victorian ALP voters; only 1.07 per cent of them voted below the line three years ago.

Interestingly, while Conroy's chances are quite good at this coming election, three parties in Victoria have sent a message with their allocation of preferences. The Greens and the Sex Party of Australia have both chosen to preference Conroy after all the other ALP candidates. The Shooters and Fishers Party have taken the opposite approach. They've preferenced Conroy above the rest of the ALP list.

Tags internet filteringSenator Stephen Conroy

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Pascal Hakim

PC World

19 Comments

Hebrides

1

The reality is Pascal, that 20 times as many people want and care about the NBN than ever cared about the filter.

Sure some keyboard warriors get busy on online polls, voting myriad times each and having results that reflect no single authenticated poll, but they struggle to get 20 people to a Sydney or Melbourne protest against the filter.

The NBN though has massive majority support, except for those who have most to lose from it, being the Liberal Party ( hallo political wilderness) and Telstra, who have been pulled back into line by this very "unpopular" minister...

There are very goods reasons why the NBN enjoys such high support, and thus the speculation that Conroy could be voted out with a concerted effort from filter campaigners is a naive folly.

But hey we have a pretty good democracy here so it is their right to campaign and try. However until they come up with some rhetoric that resonates with the broader public and is widely believable, they are calling Wolf into a strong wind.

Most Australians consider predictions that an internet filter will cause us to become another China or Iran simply a joke from a fringe group, predictions of the end of free speech in a country with as many safeguards as we have is also simply considered a fantasy by most.

Predictions that the filter will grind the NBN into a manic slowness is also not supported by any evidence from telcos in other countries that have filtered their networks.

Claims that the filter will lull the majority of parents into a false sense of security and make them lax and careless once again is a bad strategy, as most parents are affronted by the suggestion. Not a bad judgement to make on the quality and intelligence of Australian parents, they really appreciated that...

Summed up: You need verified facts and a believable story that appeals to more than just the fringe, and you need a story that is at least not just a minnow swimming in the shadow of the successful Conroy NBN and the taming of Telstra...

Ailie

2

If the Greens get the balance of power in the Senate, Conroy won't be able to do a thing!

We dont' have to get him out, we just have to get more Greens in.

Pascal Hakim

3

@Hebrides: I'm personally not that concerned by the filter itself to be honest. I just can't imagine it working. Conversations I've had with Chinese IT professionals at conferences convince me that their filter isn't that effective for people who know what they're doing, and the Australia government will never be as effective at enforcing a filter as the Chinese one could be.

The bigger point for me here is that so few people understand how the senate works. A number of people seem to think that it is possible for one of the first two senators on a coalision or labor ticket to lose, which is something that's exceedingly unlikely.

The other thing for me is how important it is for the mainstream voters to actually vote below the line if they do not want their preferences for the 5th & 6th senate seats to go to family first/fred niles group if they are coalision voters, or to the greens if they are labor voters.

Obviously a single person's vote makes no difference, but when 98% of people can't be bothered it makes me wonder if the system is broken.

Elwood

4

Conroy will be re-elected, whichever party will govern, and the filter will go in because both Labor and the Liberals want it, as they cannot stand for the level of dynamic political dissent that the internet enables. They don't care about all the bullsh!t reasons that get touted out as justifications for it, they need control of the media, electronic and otherwise to control the information flow. The average Australian is too bovine to care about the real issues, and is happy to do what they are told as long as the TV comes on, and the VB flows. And to be kind, the average Australian really does have zero input into the political process, and each party does as it wants to their own agendas. McClelland made that pretty clear in his press conference.

Clint Rickard

5

Give Barnaby Joyce a hollar on the filter.

He's close to Abbott.

Cheers

Daniel

6

Like I said people, Voting Labor out isn't the option here, Both Major parties will do something simular to the ISP Filtering.

Voting Greens is the only option here for those Tech related issues (including keeping the NBN).

OPEN YOUR EYES.

satyr-icon

7

Unfortunately, for a so called democracy we have a pretty poorly representative senate. 12 Senators for each state, except the territories, despite their population differences. And a ballot paper that's rigged in favour of the established parties getting their senators in without much differentiating policy campaigning.

With some states having up to 80 candidates voters aren't encouraged to read up on each candidates policies, and vote below the line. Abolishment of the above the line party boxes, and voting for only 6 of those up to 80 candidates, coupled with removal/reduction of the quota should work. 12 On a full senate election. Flow on preferences will still serve their purpose of not requiring a second election.

Such a change will force senate candidates to campaign with their differentiating policy positions. So we can know who stands for what (despite their party affiliation) and vote down (or ignore) the Conroys, and vote up other Labor senate candidates who still want the NBN. That would be closer to the ideal of democracy. It will also increase the chances of other party, or non-party candidates to win a seat too. And reduce the chances of candidates who get less formal votes getting a position when other candidates who got nearly 5 times as much formal votes didn't [Senator Fielding, 2004].

Unfortunately the very relevant committee that considers such electoral reform is stacked with senators who have a vested interest to maintain the status quo.

Steve

8

Hebrides:
I care about the filter, as I'm a technical person, but I can't be bothered to go to out to protest on the streets. Your knowledge about these online votes is lacking, and your opinion is not correct about them.

To the issue;
Thanks for the heads-up. Even though I'm a citizen of australia, nobody cared to explain to me how this voting really works when I've received my citizenship 6 years ago. It's not simple, I can tell you that, it takes some effort to understand.
I'm coming from europe, and our system was much simpler.

I can imagine people who don't like to use their brains - and there are lots of those! - won't understand this system. Ever.

So, yeah, in my opinion the system is broken (the 2% voting below the line proves it) and some straight voting system would be better.

JJ

9

yeah... here's Greens policy...
Policies -> Media & Communications

40. ensure independent and transparent review of the ACMA website blacklist.
...
52. ensure that regulation of the internet is transparent, accountable and protects freedom of speech, expression and access to information.

not against filter.... not at all...

Peter

10

Perference Conroy last? No problem

Terry Clayton

11

@herbidies - I certainly support the NBN but I am dead against the filter. Do the two policies have to go hand in hand? I will not agree to an improved network if it means someone else can decide what I can or cannot access without visibility / accountability.

I believe you're right that there isn't widespread community concern on the filter issue - not because there is general agreement - but because the community don't understand or care about it. There was no strong demand for an internet filter in the first place.

I don't share your trust in our "pretty good democracy" to stay that way if we blindly allow these concessions to possibly effect our personal freedoms.

Agreed "keyboard warriors" aren't that effective in raising awareness, but a majority of people in the IT field that I have spoken to are fervently against the filter. I have attended rallies, contacted my MP and raised my concern. A life long Labor voter I will be voting for the Greens for the first time on polling day.

It won't stop what it is intended to stop. The money could be spent more effectively on education and policing existing laws.
Bad policy is bad policy.

chris

12

I have ask my local member and his has in writing responded that the Liberal party does NOT support the filter. Also if you have been sold the NBN wait til the Liberal announce their plan. It will be much nicer and cost A LOT less to implement and competition will be the focus not be side lined like the current government wants.

Scion

13

It isn't a question of if the filter will be effective or not, because it won't be, but rather what sort of society we want to live in. I don't want to live in a society that believes the government should be the final arbiter on what is and is not appropriate for me to know about. The filter may not stop me but it will mean there is a legal framework in place for censorship and it will be abused by those in power. That is an inevitability. It may not happen this year or in the next twenty but it will happen.
As it stands currently there are plenty of cases where public servants have accessed information inappropriately or used their position to influence matters to further their own agenda whether that be getting out of a speeding ticket or snooping on their neighbours. Imagine if the government could silently block news networks that report unfavourable news? Or if a religious person with little concern for those not of their religion got in power? Or if a wealthy pharmaceutical corporation bribed someone to filter negative test results / comments?
Lets spend money on useful things like education, health, infrastructure and the like instead of blowing cash on something that won't work, will degrade our society and allow future abuse of power.

James

14

Simply vote Green for freedom.

richconnor

15

Don't vote, it only encourages them.

satyr-icon

16

richconnor I hope you are joking about not voting.

Just think, if everybody didn't vote, we wouldn't have a democracy.

More likely we'll get a nation like the USA, which on average gets around 40% turnout to federal elections. The last one they had a bit more, but previously that was what their average was around.

What does this mean? It means those with the biggest bucks can buy senate and presidential candidates (and their loyalties). And that usually means conglomerates of large corporations (eg private health insurers), and other powerful lobby groups such as church organisations, and organisations like AIPAC.

And even though the 40% or so of those of voting age votes, the winners have to pay the pipers that got them in, and will get them in again, if they continue to respond favourably to their lobbying.

If you want a government that is even less out of touch with the majority of the publics wishes than ours is, then by all means continue to withhold your vote.

Sean

17

Satyr-icon,

I'm pretty sure it was sarcasm.

However, while the pros and cons of mandatory vs voluntary voting is way off topic I would argue that our current system has failed to guarantee representative government to much the same degree as the US system you're deriding.

twig

18

If we can't unseat him, we can still feel better after punching him in the head a few times... http://tinyurl.com/32aadu6

voter

19

I voted beow the line for the first time just so I could give Conroy no. 60!

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