Musings of a morbid mind

The general ravings of Scott Baldwin

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Last time Labor Preference Deal, this time Labor Lies

The 2004 Federal Election saw a pitched battle for the final Victorian Senate seat go down to the wire as the Greens battled it out for what should have been a 5th seat in the Senate. The deciding factor between the Greens candidate David Ristrom (who scored around 12% of the primary vote) and the Family First candidate Steven Fielding (who scored just under 2% of the primary vote) was an unholy preference deal made between Family First and The ALP that saw ALP Preferences going to Family First ahead of the Greens. OK, yes, I am still bitter and twisted about this, maybe I should seek therapy.

In this years state election Labor did their predictable tactic of making out that the election was going to be close, in the attempt to get people who were thinking about registering a protest vote for one of the minor parties to vote for Labor just to ensure that Labor get over the line. This is a fair enough tactic, and I'd hope that the electorate are smart enough to see right through it. What is worse though is that the Greens were polling fairly well (around 13% state wide), a few weeks prior to the election, and Labor were seriously concerned about loosing a few key seats in inner city Melbourne, where locals are fed up with the amount of inactivity on issues like public transport and feel that Labor has stopped listening. So rather than attempt the hard road of re-connecting to the electorate and engaging in a meaningful dialogue around policies that may address some of the reasons the Greens were polling so well, the Labor party machine kicked into action with a tactic of lies and deceptions aimed at eroding the base of the Greens.
About a week before the election the Secretary of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor party, made the statement that "The Greens had done a grubby preferrence deal with the Liberals", and claimed that if people voted for the Greens this may in turn mean a Liberal government. The fact that this was not true did not matter in the least. Once said, the damage was done, people who would otherwise have voted for the Greens believing (rightly) that the Greens are a party based on Principles, not career politicians and strategists with a meglomatic drive for votes, were now angry with the percieved betrayal.

The Labor party went even further, by seconding their only MP who until this election actually had some environmental credentials, Peter Garrett to write letters to all victorians in certain inner city electorates that they were concerned about, attempting to spread this lie about Greens Preferences. He also appeared in the Melbourne electorate with the Labor candidate Bronwyn Pike, and the premier Steve Bracks, trying to talk up these fictitious preference deals. Once a personal hero of mine for standing up for the environment, and social justice issues, I have now lost all respect for him as he has become merely a highly prized cog in the Labor party machine. They will now continue to trot him out at any point where they feel threatened by The Greens, but hopefully his reputation as an environmentalist and activist will be so damaged by this episode that the electorate will eventally stop listenning and instead lament the fall of a once great campaigner. He is nothing but a sell out and no longer deserves the title of activist.

The truth about Greens Preferences and the Peter Garrett sell out can be found not only at The Greens website (naturally) but also exposed on

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Monday, November 20, 2006

The Problem of Preferences

Every election there seems to be a huge debarcle over how parties distribute their preferences. I personally think that it should not be as big an issue. The basics of the preference system is that the individual on polling day can themselves decide which candidates they would prefer in which order, so it is completely up to the individual to appropriately decide their own personal preferences, not the parties who are putting forward candidates. So where is the problem, if the responsibility falls on the individual to determine their own preferences, then why the big fuss over the parties preferences.

If only it were that simple. The issue arises because of the humble How To Vote cards that get handed out at poling booths. These How To Vote cards are handed out by all major parties contesting an election, the reason being is that without these how to vote cards, many well intentioned people attempting to vote for a particular party if they don't have a How To Vote card that could render their vote invalid. This is a very real concern, and the parties are quite right to worry about this. So they will issue How To Vote Cards, but because if they don't actually fill in the How To Vote cards completely, there is a significant risk that the people who want to vote for them will do the exact same thing as what's on their How To Vote card, again rendering the vote invalid. So the issue remains, parties need to present a completed valid How To Vote card just in case people follow them to the letter. The issue is that the majority of people do follow the How To Vote cards to the letter. The case is even worse for the senate (or upper house) representatives where in Australia you are offered the choice of voting in 2 seperate ways, a single number "above the line" for the party you want to vote for directly, or numbering up to 60 or 70 individual candidates "below the line". The average voter will vote above the line saving them an enormous amount of time and concern attempting to decide who you really prefer the least, the "shooters for greener forests party", or the "peoples rights for bowel movements party". The question is, if you vote above the line, what happens if the party you vote for does not make it to the senate position? Well, if you vote above the line, the party gets to determine where your preferences go. This information has to be registered with the electoral commision a few weeks before an election, but the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of people have no idea where their preferences will go after they vote in this way.

Given that most people follow the How To Vote cards blindly, the way the parties lay out their How To Vote cards for the lower house, how who they give their preferences to in the upper house, becomes vitally important as elections can be won/lost all on these preferences. Their have been numerous cases where parties have sprung up simply to divert preferences to some other party. Liberals for the forest are a classic example of this, a party that had absolutely no hope of winning a senate seat, but were in fact there simply to capture the votes from people who voted above the line. This starts to become extremely un-democratic. The classic case of this happened at the last federal election here in Victoria where a releatiely inknown party called "Family First" did a preference swap with the Labor party. The Labor party increasingly worried about the Greens becomming a third political force in Australian politics, decided to preference the Family First candidate Steven Fielding above The Greens. Assuming that Family First had enough of a support base to get Labor across the line over The Greens, but not enough to get themselves across the line, they thought this was a safe bet. The Labor party mis-calculated hugely, and the result is that with just under 2% of the primary vote, Steven Fielding Managed to narrowly beat the Greens candidate David Ristrom (who incidently got 12% of the primary vote) purely on labors preferences. The Labor voters I know were horrified when they realised that they'd helped get Steven Fielding into the senate, and I know all of them would have "preferred" David Ristrom from The Greens, who would have been much more in line with labors ideals than a right wing, conservative politician like Steven Fielding.

The real problem of preferences is that for parties it often boils down to "How can we structure our How To Vote card to give us the best chance of winning a seat". which is distinctly at odds with the imperative of the voter which is "Who would I prefer to win this seat".

I think that the solution to this dilema is that people actually need to become more aware of the political process, not just follow blindly the How To Vote cards. You still need to be careful enough to ensure your vote counts as a valid vote, and there needs to be more education on this as part of any election campaign. but if people start to actually vote the way they genuinely prefer, and they stop voting above the line in upper house elections, then there won't be as much emphasis placed on the preference swaps and dealings that go on before the election, and parties will be more likely to use the How To Vote cards as a true indication of who they prefer rather than what deal will win me the seat. If you do insist on voting above the line or following the How To Vote cards exactly, make sure you look at the preferences before you get to the polling both. This information is usually available on the various electoral commision web sites, so for the Victorian election next week, see the VEC, for Australian Federal elections see The AEC.

Tags : Australian Politics, Politics, Elections