Today, Prime Minister Rudd called the federal election for September 7th, and I thought
that if there was any time to write something off-the-cuff for election, then it was now.
First, a bit of background for anyone who reads this who doesn’t know me that well. If you want to skip this, feel free.
I am a former member of the Australian Democrats, which was a minor political party
that had senators in the federal parliament between 1977 (with Janine Haines filling a casual vacancy due to the retirement of New Liberal Movement Senator Steele Hall) and 2008, when the last democrat senators’ terms expired. I had been a candidate for both federal and state parliament for the Democrats on multiple occasions, a former Victorian Young Australian Democrats convenor, state policy convenor, state political action committee member and state council representative, as well as holding branch and spokesperson position at times,and was a deputy registered officer for the Democrats in Victoria from 2007 until I resigned from the party in 2009.
I also did electoral analysis for the VicDems, and had at times been involved in preference negotiations for the party at a state (2002 and 2006) and federal (2007) level. I resigned from the Democrats in 2009. I took a break from party politics for a bit over a year,and after some soul searching, decided to join the Victorian Greens at the end of 2010 (after the federal election, although I did volunteer to hand out How To Vote Cards in 2010 for them). It’s safe to say I’m on the left of the political spectrum. My political views tend to fit between the Greens and the ALP on most issues, although I’m more radical on drug decriminialisation than both parties, for instance.
I tend to follow the political contest not just in the House of Representatives,
but also in the senate, and I will try to blog a bit more about issues relating to the half-senate election, and to minor parties.
In this election, there are a huge number of political parties registered, and it will be interesting to see how many decide to run for the senate, and register an above the line group. I believe one of the worst distortions of our political process is the use of the Group Voting Ticket, which means that voters forgo their preferential vote, and instead hand it over to political parties. It does reduce informal votes, and makes senate voting easier (particularly in the larger states, where there can be 50 plus candidates on the ballot paper), but it also means that voters can have their preferences elect candidates they would never have actively chosen to support. The worst example of this was when the ALP and the Democrats (parties whose voters largely identify as progressive or moderate) did a deal with the right-wing, fundamentalist party Family First in 2004 which resulted in Steve Fielding being elected for Family First on less than 2% of the vote.
Another example of parties directing senate preferences in ways that their voter base would justifiably not expect, was when the ACT Democrats preferenced the Liberal party ahead of both the Greens and the ALP, which went against the Democrats long-standing tradition of preferencing to like-minded independents and parties such as the Greens ahead of a split-ticket between the ALP and the Coalition. The Democrats rarely deviated from this position, and usually it was done on a case-by-case basis in the House of Represenatives. In this case, however, the Democrats vote had shrunk to the point of irrelevancy, so it did not affect the outcome of the election, but it would be understandable that people who still supported the Democrats would have been very upset to learn that their vote ended up going to the Liberal party.
Voters should be concerned about what all political parties will be doing with their Group Voting Ticket, and in particular, in the case of minor parties, what they really stand for, and whether that is consistent with their name and political positioning. For instance, Family First initially positioned themselves as not being very overtly religious, and just a family-friendly party, as opposed to other religious parties such as the Christian Democrats, who are much more upfront about their religious views.
When it comes to the senate contest, the group voting tickets of minor parties and independents, and even the order of the parties on the ballot paper, can have an impact on who ends up getting elected. It’s important to consider your senate vote as carefully as you consider who you want to see win government in the House of Representatives.
As this excellent article by Tim Colebatch states, there are spots in each state where it’s really hard to call who will win, and I think it will remain too hard to call throughout the campaign, although it may be a bit easier to hazard a guess once the ballot order of the parties are known on the senate ballot, and once the group voting ticket preferences are known.