Should Socialists sell their souls to the Preference Whisperer?

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So another election and another upper house where ‘micro parties’ have the balance of power.  The Victorian Legislative Council seems will be controlled by representatives of parties such as the Shooters and Fishers Party, the Australian Country Alliance, Family First, and the Sex Party.

This replicates the situation in the Senate.  Where someone like Ricky Muir, of the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, was elected with half of 1 per cent of first preferences; a record low primary vote.  Muir was a vital vote for passing the Temporary Protection Visa legislation.

The reason why these parties with tiny votes get elected is because of wheeling and dealing on preference swaps.  Calls are being made to reform the system that vote the upper houses.

On election night in Victoria, ABC analyst Antony Green stated that  any government moved to another election under the current electoral system, they deserved “to be taken outside and flogged”  The Victorian Legislative Council result, he said, was last year’s Senate election “writ large”. It was “a national joke” that elections were still run in this manner.

These preference deals can be quite complicated.  However it seems that the way micro parties are able to do this is by seeking the help of  people such as Glenn Druery dubbed the “preference whisperer” who advised the micro parties on how to make best use of their preferences through “preference harvesting”.

The problem for me with this is not only that it is inherently undemocratic, but that it seems to elect right wing people.  Have a look at the Shooters and Fishers Party which is an political party based on gun rights, global warming skepticism and nationalism. Or The Country Alliance, anti Greens at heart, that wants to ‘restore the timber industry’ including thinning in catchment areas and mandatory sentencing.  The views of Family First and the DLP on issues such as same sex marriage and abortion are well known (they are against it).  At least the Sex Party seems to have progressive social policies.  Although some have questioned its origin as as an exercise in political entrepreneurship by members of the adult industry lobby group the Eros Foundation and as such they are businesspeople whose interests are not necessarily those of their employees and in the past it has championed small business and has been critical of Green taxation policies.

So if we can get fringe groups parties, who are mostly conservative and right wing, elected with a miniscule vote – why can’t a real left wing party like a Socialist one do the same?  Not that I necessarily agree with all the policies of a Socialist party, but if we have people in parliaments that have what can be described as off centre right wing views, then we should have also parliamentarians with off centre left wing ones.  Such as overthrowing the capitalist system and replacing it with one where elements of the economy are socially owned.

The question is whether a Socialist party would be prepared to do preference deals with parties that may be an anathema to them to get a quota. We have seen the bickering back and forward between the Greens and the ALP about preferences.

As Socialist parties, such as Socialist Alliance, have been very critical of the ALP and even The Greens in the past, they would be open to accusations of hypocrisy if they were to engage someone such as the preference whisperer and do preference deals with parties such as Family First or the Shooters and Fishers Party.  But also it seems that these right wing type micro parties are quite happy to exchange deals with each other.  Whether the ALP or the Greens would be happy to be seen to exchange preferences to a Socialist party, considering the reaction of a fairly conservative media is also another consideration.

Unfortunately this is the system that we are dealing with.  Small parties have to do deals with the devil to get a chance to do get a quota and get elected.  So I guess we are stuck with the right wing loonies.


Filed under Politics and Current Affairs

3 responses to “Should Socialists sell their souls to the Preference Whisperer?

  1. Glenn Druery

    Interesting read.

  2. Alex

    Hi Guido,

    Interesting article, but I think there is a different dynamic between what happens in the left and the right. In Australia, it seems people will generally vote Lib or ALP unless there is a good reason not to. Both parties supply lots of good reasons not to far too often.
    The Greens currently soak up a lot of the disaffected left/centre-left vote, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for one of the other minor parties. While there are reasons not to vote Greens either, generally your choice after preferences will end up as Greens, ALP or right.
    On the right, there isn’t a big minor party (although PUP tried, just like One Nation did a few years back) to soak up the “I’m not voting Lib” right wing vote. Consequently, the vote could go to a number of parties, all of which are “Right wing but not Lib/Nat”. In one sense, it doesn’t matter where they go – they are just a successful vote for the non-Lib right. That is what many people are voting for, and whether it Motorists or Shooters or Christians doesn’t matter a huge amount – either in terms of what they will do in parliament or in terms of reducing the disenfranchisement of those voters.
    And don’t think preference deals matter as much as people think. IIRC, below the line votes got PUP up over Sex Party in Tas. It isn’t that they are unimportant, just that they will often (although not always – see Democrat prefs flowing to Fielding in ’04) reflect what the voters generally want to a reasonable approximation.

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