UPDATE 4 (02/08/2010 11.38AM) Darren Churchill has emailed me a correction/clarification to his original statement that the Greens broke a national deal in 2007. I have added his response as a comment to this post. I was only involved in national preference negotiations and state preference negotiations for Victoria for the Democrats in 2007, so I can’t definitively comment on what may have been agreed to between the ACT Democrats and the ACT Greens in 2007. Either way, any further debate on issues relating to this topic should go in the comments.
UPDATE 3 (02/08/2010 12.31AM) Darren Churchill made a demonstrably false claim in his email below that the Greens broke a preference deal with the Democrats negotiated at a national level to do a 2 for 2 preferences swap in the ACT in 2007. There was no national deal requiring a 2 for 2 swap in 2007, and you can see for yourself by looking at this media release from the Democrats own website. I also have an email copy of this media release in my archives from the 2007 campaign.
See the comments from Andrew Bartlett and me for more discussion of this at the end of the post.
UPDATE 2 (01/08/2010 7.42PM) Darren Churchill has agreed to me publishing his email denying a deal, so I have done so below, in the section where I wrote about the Greens beliefs on the preference deal).
UPDATE (01/08/2010 7.08PM) – I have received an email from Darren Churchill, ACT Democrats lead candidate and National Campaign Director denying the Democrats and Greens had a formal deal to preference each other ahead of both major parties. I’ve asked permission from him to publish the complete and exact text of his email to me on this post, and if he agrees I will add this to the relevant paragraph below.
Senate Group Voting tickets for the 2010 Federal Election have been published today. I plan to write some more detailed posts about the parties who have nominated for the senate, and what their senate Group Voting tickets could mean over the next week.
The first party and Senate Group Voting ticket (GVT) I am going to write about is the ACT Democrats, whose GVT can be downloaded here.
First a declaration. I am a former member of the Australian Democrats, and have held various positions at a state and branch level in the Victorian Democrats, as well as being a federal and state candidate in the 1998 Federal election, the 1999 Victorian state election, the 1999 Holt by-election, the 2001 Federal election and the 2002 state election. I have also done extensive election analysis for the party at both a state and national level.
I’m extremely disappointed by the ACT Democrats decision to preference the Liberals ahead of the Greens and the ALP in the ACT senate.
I think it is wrong as it goes against the Democrats’ principles, values and objectives. It is also monumentally stupid.
Historically, the Australian Democrats have had a directive for preference negotiators that applied across the whole party:
Preferences in the Senate had to be allocated to like-minded parties and independents first, followed by the Greens, and then split-tickets where preferences were allocated evenly between the major parties (the ALP and the Coalition).
The split-ticket was not to be deviated from unless there was a compelling reason to preference one major party over the other party. Finally, after the major parties, parties with values and polices that were against the Democrats core values and policies were put last. I know this is the case because I have done preference negotiations for the party at a state (2002 and 2006) and federal (2007) level, and operated under this directive. The party has been undergoing restructuring and change, so this directive may have been dropped, however it seems reasonable to expect the current Democrats to still value this principle when it comes to preference negotiations as being a sound starting place for basing their preferencing decisions.
On the face of it, the ACT Democrats decision to direct their preferences straight to the Liberals in the ACT goes against the principles that the Australian Democrats have historically espoused, such as the one I have outlined above, and is wrong according to their core values and beliefs. The ACT Greens candidate is Lin Hatfield-Dodds, a former ACT Australian of the Year Award winner, National Director of UnitingCare Australia and former President of the Australian Council of Social Services. Lin Hatfield-Dodds has an outstanding record as a humanitarian and a person standing up for human rights and social justice. Her record on these issues is exemplary, and in line with core Democrats beliefs and objectives. It’s difficult to think of a candidate from any other party whose values are as close to Democrats values. If you take values, policy and record as mattering when it comes to preference decisions, then surely the Democrats should have directed their preferences straight to Lin Hatfield-Dodds? Given the way the Coalition abused their senate majority from 2004-2007, and are currently opposing a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme, as well as having regressive policies against refugees and asylum seekers – both key issues that the Democrats have previously strongly campaigned on – how can they possibly justify preferencing the Liberals in the senate, particularly against an outstanding candidate like Lin Hatfield-Dodds? It makes no policy sense and is clearly against the Democrats’ founding principles and objectives.
However, perhaps the current Australian Democrats have decided that principles and values are no longer the primary factor in how they make preferencing decisions. They may have decided that tactically and strategically they need to try to do preference deals that give their candidates the best chance of getting elected, even if it comes at the expense of their principles and objectives.
If so, their decision to preference the Liberals in the ACT is both tactically and strategically stupid. The Liberals will poll much higher on primary votes than the Democrats in the ACT election and the Democrats have no chance of winning a seat. As the ACT has only 2 senators, any candidate needs to achieve a quota of 33.3%+1 of the votes. The ALP will easily be elected to the first spot on primary votes, with the second spot that has previously been won by the Liberals under threat, as there is a risk for them that their primary vote could drop below the 33.3% threshold needed to guarantee them a spot. The ABC’s psephologist Antony Green has an excellent analysis on the ACT Senate contest, which goes through the contest in great detail. In summary, the only candidates with a chance of winning the senate spot are the Liberals or the Greens (who will benefit from the ALP’s excess quota if the Liberal’s primary vote is low enough to put them into contention for the second spot). The Australian Democrats polled a woeful 1.84% in the ACT senate in 2007, so although they may increase on this slightly because there are fewer groups running for the ACT senate in this election, and therefore they have less competition, they are extremely unlikely to have a high-enough primary vote to pull ahead of the Greens.
Also, although the Liberals are directing their preferences to the ACT Democrats, given that the only other parties that are running in the ACT are the ALP and the Greens, the Liberals would have followed their past practice and directed to the Democrats anyway. Not to mention that there is no way that the Democrats will exceed the Liberals’ primary vote in the ACT, so they will not be in a position to benefit from Liberal preferences.
Perhaps the Democrats thought that by helping the Liberals protect their senate spot in the ACT, the Liberals would reciprocate by going straight to the Democrats in the senate in other states, where there may be an extremely unlikely chance the Liberals will have an excess quota that could benefit the Democrats and help them in their Don Quixote-style tilt at winning a senate spot in other states? However, looking at the Liberal GVTs one can see that if this was the Democrats’ strategy, then it has failed miserably, as the Liberals have preferenced Family First ahead of the Democrats in all the states. This is exactly what the Liberals did in 2007, and although the Democrats are ahead of both the ALP and the Greens on the Liberal GVTs, the Liberals have historically done this in federal elections, and would have done this anyway, even if the Democrats had directed preferences to the Greens in the ACT. The Democrats have gotten no strategic or tactical benefit from this decision.
By preferencing the Liberals in the ACT senate, the Democrats have potentially stopped the Greens from being able to immediately wrest the balance of power away from Steve Fielding and Family First. State Senators have 6 year fixed terms (unless there is a double dissolution), and the senators currently up for re-election have terms that expire at the end of June 2011. However senators for the territories are elected for non-fixed terms aligned with the House of Representatives and take their spots immediately upon their election. If the Greens win an ACT senate spot, the balance of power in the Senate will change and Mr Fielding and Family First will no longer be able to obstruct the government of the day.
Finally, it seems that the ACT Democrats actually broke a preference deal* –< UPDATE – see the text of an email denying a deal from Darren Churchill, below (I confirmed with the Greens national campaign coordinator Ebony Bennett that the Greens and the Democrats had agreed to a deal, see the relevant tweet here ) they had undertaken with the Greens to preference each other ahead of the major parties. Breaking preference deals made with other parties is extremely unethical and backfires in the long-term as other parties realise that the party breaking a deal cannot be trusted to keep their word. Preference negotiators in parties have long memories, and if the Democrats continue to try to campaign in the future, this decision will haunt them as other parties will be reluctant to trust them in the future. They have not only ignored their principles and values and trashed their reputation, they have also potentially handed Steve Fielding and Family First the keys to the senate for almost an extra year.
UPDATE (01/08/2010 – 7.45PM), the Australian Democrats lead candidate in the ACT and National Campaign Director, Darren Churchill has denied there was a formal deal with the Greens to exchange preferences ahead of the majors in the ACT. He has given me permission to publish his denial here. Here is the exact text:
Please be careful spreading the following sort of information around:
“Finally, it seems that the ACT Democrats actually broke a preference deal (I confirmed with the Greens national campaign coordinator Ebony Bennett that the Greens and the Democrats had agreed to a deal) they had undertaken with the Greens to preference each other ahead of the major parties.”
It is totally false! There was no agreement with the Greens.
We had national discussions on two occasions but they had gone nowhere, although seeming initially promising. The Greens had a list of parties they wanted to be higher than and could offer us the same. But they refused to negotiate when we asked for certain other parties to be included. It was all about what the Greens wanted – a complete one-way street.
Of course, the Greens will lie and claim things were otherwise. Just like they lied their way out of a two-for-two swap in the ACT (as part of a national deal) in 2007.
Darren has also directed me to a post on his blog, which explains his reasons for the decision to preference the Liberals in the ACT.
I personally find this reasoning extemely unconvincing, as The Liberals have been pursuing more regressive polices, such as moving further to the right on climate change (the Howard Government actually went to the 2007 Election proposing an ETS of their own), and back to advocating their past extremely harsh policies towards asylum seekers, so I wonder how much of a modifying influence Senator Humphries really has with Tony Abbott. I still strongly disagree with this decision from the ACT democrats, and believe that it doesn’t fit with Democrats’ values and principles, and that it is also a big tactical and strategic mistake.
That said, I am no longer a member of the Democrats, and as I live in Victoria, I of course, can’t vote in the ACT, and it will now be up to potential ACT Democrats voters to decide whether they accept the ACT Democrats’ arguments for this decision or not.