A record number of candidates and parties will contest senate seats on September 7.
However, voters should approach the plethora of so-called ‘micro-parties’ with caution: many are false entities devised by the hard right to game the election, and some are naïve outfits that have been manipulated into giving preferences to the right.
So if you wish to avoid supporting reactionary parties, only the Greens and the ALP can be trusted with an above-the-line vote.
The 110 candidates vying for the six NSW senate places available are divided into 44 groups. This is a lot of columns to squeeze across a ballot paper, no matter how wide, so the booths will be equipped with magnifying glasses for the tiny type.
You can vote with a number 1 above the line or numbers 1–110 below the line (and if you choose this method you must number all 110 boxes). Voting above the line with a single 1 (and it must be just 1 and no further numbers) obviously saves serious writer’s cramp, and the Australian Electoral Commission confirms that over 95 per cent of people vote this way.
This means that the preferences of 95 per cent of votes for the senate will be determined by the parties, not the individual voter.
When a ballot paper shows a 1 above the line for a particular party, the vote is distributed according to the preferences lodged by that party with the AEC. Most of the time those preferences would be roughly in line with the voter’s own. If you vote above the line for a left-wing party, for example, you will expect that party to preference other left-wing groups. Similarly with a vote for a right-wing party.
However, the need to keep one’s candidates in play and avoid having them eliminated in the early stages of counting often leads party managers to make preference deals with groups promoting utterly incompatible policies. Ends justify the means, they say: if teaming up with the Nazis helps keep us in the running, well the bleeding hearts can sod off, this is realpolitik.
Events last week within the new WikiLeaks party show this attitude clearly. Against the wishes of the rank and file, and indeed against the decision of the party’s own council, a little core group secretly changed the official preferences so that in most states hard-right parties, like the Shooters and Fishers and even the Nazi-style Australia First, were placed above the Greens – faithful supporters of Assange and WikiLeaks. In WA the National Party candidates appear on the WikiLeaks preference list above the Greens candidate Scott Ludlam, making him unlikely to retain his seat.
Apart from the question of principle – not the first consideration of a party apparatchik – there are two practical reasons why striking complicated preference deals with the enemy is not a good idea.
In the first place a preferential election with 110 candidates is extremely difficult to model. Knowing when the various candidates will be eliminated and hence when their preferences will come into play is the essence of this strategy. It can very easily be miscalculated.
In the second place, not everything is as it seems. There are hard-right political operators who have personally registered several parties essentially as fronts for syphoning votes away from progressive groups. They approach other micro-parties with preference-exchanging proposals which they say will be mutually beneficial, but whose only purpose is to open a serpentine voting path for, say, the Shooters and Fishers Party to get a candidate elected.
There is evidence to believe that the WikiLeaks core group who fatally damaged their party last week were acting under the influence of one such manipulator. But it’s not just WikiLeaks. Look at the preference lists of Stop CSG and HEMP, groups with admirable objectives. They both place right-wing shonks above genuinely progressive parties. There are only six NSW seats to be decided in the senate; five will go to some combination of Labor and coalition and the sixth will most probably go to either the Greens or the Shooters and Fishers. Which is why it is disastrous that Stop CSG and HEMP have preferenced the Greens so low: if you vote above the line for either of them your vote will finish up on the pile of the gun-worshipping cretins.
If the official preferences of your otherwise favourite group are suspect, why not vote below the line so you can give them the number one spot without accepting their choice of preferences?
The difficulty is knowing what all the groups stand for. Apart from the mainstream parties and one or two single-issue mobs, there’s no telling from the names who they are. There’s a lot of Google time ahead of you if you take this route. Start with the helpful lists at www.gov.au and good luck. At least you’ll explore some very dark places in the Australian political psyche. Having done the research for this article myself, I’m voting below the line, putting the Pirate Party first and the Shooters and Fishers last.
But if you haven’t got the time, vote 1 above the line, either Greens or ALP. Each party preferences the other (the Greens after a short detour through some harmless micro-groups) and with each you know what you are going to get.
See the Echo’s full election coverage on the page Election 2013