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Is Melbourne Ports Going To Be The Surprise Result In The Election?

As counting continues to determine whether the re-elected Turnbull government will have a majority in its own right, attention has turned to an unusual situation in Melbourne Ports.

DanbyThe inner Melbourne electorate includes Port Melbourne, Southbank, South Melbourne, Albert Park, St. Kilda, Elwood, Balaclava and Caulfield, and has been held by the ALP since 1906. In that 110-year period, it has had just 5 members.

Michael Danby has held Melbourne Ports since 1998. He is seeking a seventh term at this year’s election. A member of the ALP’s right-wing faction, Danby is well-known for his defence of Israel and his hostility to the Greens.

At recent elections, Danby’s primary vote has steadily declined and he has been dependent on Greens preferences since 2001.

This morning, Michael Kroger, the President of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, said that his party hasn’t given up hope of winning Melbourne Ports. Speaking on Sky News, Kroger pointed out that Danby has only polled 27.39% of the primary vote. Such a low primary vote requires a strong flow of preferences from minor parties and independents to get him to 50%+1.

Melbourne Ports – counting as of 10am, July 11, 2016
Candidate Party Votes Vote % Swing
Peter HOLLAND Independent 1,096
Owen GUEST Liberal 27,158
Henry VON DOUSSA Marriage Equality 928
Michael DANBY ALP 17,912
John MYERS Independent 308
Robert SMYTH Animal Justice Party 1,231
Steph HODGINS-MAY The Greens 15,818
Levi McKENZIE-KIRKBRIGHT Drug Law Reform 936

On current counting, the Greens are just behind Danby on 24.19%. Danby is ahead of the Greens by 2,094 votes. There are 5 other candidates who have polled a total of 4,499 votes. If 73.28% of preferences from these candidate flowed to the Greens, they would be one vote ahead of the ALP (19,115 to 19,114). The election would then become a contest between the Liberals (currently on 41.53%) and the Greens, with the outcome depending on the flow of ALP preferences.

Current counting, as shown on the AEC website, as of 10am today, has the ALP ahead of the Liberals by 52.17% to 47.83% of the two-party-preferred vote. The seat is being counted as a Labor win.

How Can This Be?

At each election, the Australian Electoral Commission makes a judgment as to which two candidates are likely to finish first and second in each seat. This is usually Labor vs Coalition. On this basis, a count is made of which candidate each voter has placed higher on their ballot paper. In other words, whether they prefer the Liberals or the ALP.

This method works well for most electorates. But for around a dozen seats, the final contest comes down to ALP vs Greens (as in Melbourne) ALP vs Independent (as in Denison) Liberal vs Independent (as in Indi), Liberal vs Xenophon (as in Mayo) or some other combination.

Three seats in South Australia at this election were initially being counted as Labor vs Liberal but this had to be reconfigured as Liberal vs Xenophon.

The AEC calls this the two-candidate-preferred vote. In Melbourne Ports, the counting has proceeded on the basis of two-party-preferred, but the distribution of preferences may turn it into two-candidate-preferred.

How Are Preferences Distributed?

All primary votes have to be counted before the Electoral Commission is able to conduct a preference distribution. The winning candidate needs 50% plus 1 of all primary and preference votes, otherwise known as an absolute majority. The process begins with the elimination of the candidate with the lowest primary vote and the allocation of his or her second preferences to the remaining candidates.

In Melbourne Ports, the first candidate to be eliminated will be John Myers, an Independent. His 308 votes (0.47%) will all be distributed in accordance with their 2nd preference. They will make little difference to the overall numbers.

Then the AEC will distribute the preferences from Henry Von Doussa, of Marriage Equality. His 928 votes (1.42%) will be distributed in accordance with their 2nd preference. It is hard to imagine that many of these will go to the Liberal Party. If anyone has given their number 2 to Myers, who was eliminated, the 3rd preference will be used instead. Von Doussa’s overall vote will also not be enough to guarantee 50%+1 to any candidate.

Then Levi McKenzie-Kirkbright, the Drug Law Reform candidate will be eliminated. Currently, he is just ahead of Marriage Equality with 936 votes (1.43%). By this stage, it is possible that some of his voters’ second or third preferences may go to the two candidates who have already been eliminated. In these cases, the 4th preference would be used. Again, it is hard to see these preferences ending up with the Liberal Party.

The next candidate to be eliminated will be Peter Holland, the second Independent, who has 1,096 votes (1.68%). By this stage, some votes may be counted from their 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th preference. Holland came into conflict with the ALP in 2013 over his involvement in a local group called unChain that was formed to fight development plans in St. Kilda. At the time, unChain recommended preferencing the Liberals ahead of Danby.

The Animal Justice Party candidate, Robert Smyth, will be eliminated next. His 1,231 votes (1.88%) will determine whether the Greens have received enough preferences to leapfrog the ALP into second place.

At this stage, the numbers will show the Liberals still in first place, with either the ALP or Greens second. If the ALP remains in second place, it will win re-election on Greens preferences. We already know this from the two-party-preferred count, where the ALP currently leads on 52.17%.

Can the Greens Make It Into Second Place?

The short answer is Yes. On the current figures, the Greens need to receive 73.28% of the 4,499 preferences from the 5 eliminated candidates. This percentage will give them 3,297 votes to 1,202 for the ALP and put the Greens in second place with 19,115 votes to 19,114 for the ALP.

PortsThis is where it is impossible to know what will happen. The preferences of the minor candidates are difficult to judge.

However, it is possible to make an informed judgment about preference flows from the Marriage Equality, Animal Justice and Drug Law Reform parties. Their preferences are unlikely to favour the Liberals.

The Animal Justice Party, for instance, issued a how-to-vote card, shown here, which places the Greens second and the Liberals last.

However, I have been unable to find any preference recommendations for the other two parties. It seems logical, though, that they would most likely end up with the Greens.

It is important to understand that the counting of outstanding votes may widen or narrow the gap between the Greens and the ALP. My calculations here are based on today’s figures only. There are many unknowns.

Is There A Precedent For This Kind Of Result?

Yes. In the 2014 Victorian state election, the seat of Prahran resulted in the election of a Greens member from a starting point startlingly similar to Melbourne Ports now.

It can be seen in the graphic below that the Greens were 1.16% behind the ALP on primary votes. Preferences favoured the Greens, pushing them into second place, from which they were elected on ALP preferences.

Moreover, sections of the Prahran electorate overlap with Melbourne Ports, mainly parts of St.Kilda. The voting patterns are similar.

Victorian Electoral Commission results for Prahran 2014.


Other MPs have been elected off low primary votes. In 2010, Andrew Wilkie won the Tasmanian seat of Denison from the ALP off a primary vote of 21.26% and third place. See the full preference distribution here.

In the 2010 federal election, Cathy McGowan won Indi from 31.18% of the primary vote. Clive Palmer won Fairfax from 26.49%. Bob Katter won Kennedy from 29.36%.

Can The Greens Really Win?

This is where it gets tricky. If we assume that it is possible for the Greens to make it into second place, they will then need around 71% or more of ALP preferences to take the seat.

On the face of it, this seems do-able. The official ALP how-to-vote card placed the Greens above the Liberals. However, Danby issued an alternative card that placed the Liberals above the Greens. Reports say he distributed this card in areas of the electorate with high proportions of Jewish voters.

The official ALP how-to-vote card:


Michael Danby’s alternative how-to-vote card:


We have no idea how many voters followed the official ALP how-to-vote card or used Danby’s. We cannot know how many did not follow either. ALP scrutineers will no doubt have more information on this.

The question is whether around a third of ALP voters would be prepared to give their significant second preference to the Liberal Party ahead of the Greens. How many would be aware that they could be contributing to the election of a Liberal? If the ALP can’t win, could they live with the Greens? The implications are delicious.

So What Will Happen?

Who knows? I’m not a clairvoyant.

However, there are 15,264 declaration votes still to be counted. This includes 7,627 postal votes, 4,445 absent votes, 1,609 provisionals and 1,583 pre-poll declarations.

The counting so far shows that the Liberal Party is winning 55.53% of the postal votes. There are no figures available for the other types of votes. In 2013, the ALP won 53.44% of absent votes, 60.92% of provisional votes and 52.63% of the pre-poll declaration votes.

My best guess is that the Greens have a chance of making it into second place. Winning nearly 75% of preferences from micro parties and independents is possible but also a hard ask. It seems unlikely, however, that enough ALP voters would preference the Liberals to enable them to win.

However, a Greens victory in Melbourne Ports would be a disastrous result for the ALP. For a six-term member to lose the seat with a primary vote of just 27.39% would be an ignominious end to his political career. The factional ructions inside the ALP would be a wonder to behold and the war with the Greens would intensify.

Post-Counting Footnote:

In the end, the ALP won Melbourne Ports with 51.38% of the two-party-preferred vote. The Liberals were second with 48.62%.

The Liberals topped the primary vote with 41.90%, with the ALP coming second with 27.00%. The Greens achieved a primary vote of 23.79%.

The Greens never beat the ALP into second place, although they did make up ground. Before the Greens were eliminated, their vote had risen to 27.58%, compared to 28.70% for the ALP.

Of the Greens preferences, 16.17% went to the Liberals. Some of these would have flowed through from other candidates. Overall, 60.81% of the preferences of the other candidates flowed to the Liberal candidate, with Danby gathering 39.19%. The final swing to the Liberal Party was 2.18%.

Danby won by 2,337 votes. Closer, but not close enough.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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