Some brief insights into the horrid mess caused by our system of mandatory Senate preference dealings.
In a spirit of providing a new post every day during the campaign over and above things like the Senate of the Day entries, today I offer the following scattered assortment of bits-and-pieces relating to contentious preference deals.
• The biggest headline-generator has been the Wikileaks Party, whose most contentious choices have involved a New South Wales ticket which places the Greens behind both the quasi-fascist Australia First and, more consequentially, Shooters & Fishers, and a Western Australian ticket which has the Greens behind the Nationals. Responding to an immediate backlash on social media, the decisions were put down to “administrative errors”, which appeared to involve paperwork being lodged by activists with different ideas about strategy from the party executive. Three of the most noteworthy critics of the arrangement have been Julian Assange’s Senate running mate in Victoria, academic and ethicist Leslie Cannold, who resigned complaining that the party’s democratic processes had been bypassed (albeit that this happened too late to affect her inclusion on the ballot paper); Julian Assange’s mother, Christine Assange, who said that if she lived in Western Australian she would vote for Scott Ludlam of the Greens, who has been the strongest parliamentary supporters of her son’s cause; and Julian Assange himself, who apologised for having “over-delegated” such matters to persons evidently less capable than himself. For all that, the preference arrangements have conferred tactical advantage on the party in some cases, such as in Western Australia where it will be fed preferences from Family First, the Katter and Palmer parties, and a lengthy list of smaller concerns.
• Four parties in Victoria remarkably failed to lodge preference tickets, which among other things offered a potent insight into the closeness of the relationship between them. This was further delved into by Andrew Crook at Crikey, who noted the same personages at work behind the Liberal Democratic Party, Stop the Greens, the Smokers Rights Party and the Republican Party. A source quoted by Christian Kerr of The Australian put the non-lodgement of the tickets down to matters having been “thrown into chaos as it became clear Labor would do a deal with the Greens”. This came as bad news to the Sex Party, which had dealt its way into a national arrangement with the parties concerned that also involved One Nation. To those angered to discover that the party had done Pauline Hanson a good turn in her bid for a New South Wales seat, the party weakly responded that “you have to put these lunatic parties somewhere”, while failing to acknowledge that in Hanson’s case “somewhere” was number 10 out of 110, ahead of Labor, the Coalition and the Greens.
• The complex of preference harvesters and opportunists willing to make deals with them has gifted Pauline Hanson with what occasional psephologist Polly Morgan describes as “an incredibly favourable preference flow”. However, Hanson faces the stumbling block that the Coalition have her placed last, so unlike other parties to the arrangement she does not stand to benefit from the surplus after the election of their third Senator, which in the context of the current election could be substantial. Indeed, Hanson’s candidacy may end up doing the left a good turn, as other right-wing candidates with the potential to be elected with help from Coalition preferences could instead get excluded at an earlier stage of the count by virtue of their failure to overtake Hanson. Should Hanson not poll quite so well as that, there are a range of potential scenarios for a seat to go to a micro-party. The most likely contender could be the Liberal Democrats, who have had a lucky break in being drawn as “Group A” on the enormous Senate ballot paper. Experience suggests this will substantially boost the number of votes they get from those confusing them with the Liberal Party, the Coalition ticket being a lot harder to locate (“Group Y” out of a listing the continues all the way out to “Group AR”).
• Labor has made the highly unusual decision to place the Liberals ahead of Andrew Wilkie in Denison. It presumably did so in the expectation that its preferences would not be distributed, the weakness of the Liberals in the electorate meaning the final count will most likely be between Wilkie and the Labor candidate, Jane Austin. However, the weekend’s ReachTEL poll of 563 respondents cast at least some doubt on this, showing the Liberal candidate leading Austin 23.1% to 18.0%. Wilkie’s position nonetheless appears strong enough to ensure his re-election regardless of how preferences are directed.
• Labor has entered a preference arrangement with Katter’s Australian Party in Queensland in which the latter will receive the former’s preferences for the Senate ahead of the Greens, in exchange for which the latter will direct preferences to Labor ahead of the Liberal National Party in Hinkler, Herbert, Flynn, Capricornia, Forde and Petrie. This could well entail the high price of having KAP Senate candidate James Blundell elected ahead of the Greens, a prospect that would be pleasing to an incoming Abbott government. As Steven Scott of the Courier-Mail reports, it has also caused some not unpredictable dissent in the KAP.