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Win or lose, Assange’s Senate tilt will cause a stir

Assuming Julian Assange can overcome the difficulties involved in registering a party and nominating as a Senate candidate, he could significantly affect the next parliament.

Julian Assange

Julian Assange’s intention to establish a political party and run for the Senate could have momentous consequences for the next parliament, regardless of whether he wins or loses.

Assuming he can overcome the procedural and practical difficulties involved in registering a party and nominating as a candidate, Assange proposes to run personally in either New South Wales, where he would face a relatively low hurdle in overcoming the Greens, or Victoria, the state that seems to offer the most promising constituency for a radical candidate.

As with any other candidate in a half-Senate election, the task facing Assange would be to garner 14.3% of the statewide vote, either directly from primary votes or with the aid of preferences.

Victory off the primary vote alone has been achieved three times by Greens candidates (Richard Di Natale and Christine Milne in 2010 and Bob Brown in 2007) and once by Nick Xenophon (in 2007), but it would be an unprecedented feat for a single-issue candidate like Assange.

The Greens achieved the requisite level of support after two decades of coalition-building among varied Left interests, while Xenophon had handled a full gamut of political issues over his 10 years as an independent swing vote in South Australia’s upper house.

Should Assange’s star power not prove a match for that, the question would arise as to whose preferences might boost him to a quota.

An ALP led by Julia Gillard would have a hard time explaining any decision to favour Assange, while a Coalition that seems likely to place the Greens behind Labor in its preference order would have to decide whether he should be extended the same courtesy.

Unless Assange could poach votes directly from the major parties in surprisingly large quantities, his most likely source of preferences in large numbers would be the Greens, whom he would first need to outpoll.

In this he could hope to be boosted by preferences from radical Left parties along with Left-libertarians like the Australian S-x Party and the newly emergent Pirate Party, who can expect to be assiduously courted by both the Greens and Assange. Under the most favourable of circumstances, these sources could perhaps boost Assange in his struggle with the Greens by 2% or more.

The other side of the coin is the destination of WikiLeaks party preferences should Assange, or indeed any of his colleagues in other states, fall short.

Of great significance here is the rule which allows parties to lodge up to three preference tickets and have their votes divide equally between them, which is often used by minor parties to avoid favouring one major party over the other. This would presumably sound inviting to Assange, given the state of his relations with the present government.

Under this scenario, a substantial chunk of left-of-centre Senate votes that would normally go to Labor ahead of the Coalition would instead divide evenly between the two (remembering always that this only applies to those who vote above-the-line).

Where the Coalition does especially strongly, that would lower the hurdle for them in achieving a result of four Coalition to two Labor, as opposed to the more common outcome of three-all. It could equally prove decisive in a more complicated scenario such as SA’s, where the likelihood of Xenophon’s re-election could leave Labor and the Coalition grappling over the sixth and final seat.

To take the speculation a stage further, Assange’s entry into the electoral fray has the potential to allow an incoming Coalition government to secure legislative aims that would otherwise be beyond it, up to and including the repeal of the carbon tax.

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  • 1
    wilful
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    As a Victorian, I’d vote for him. He’d probably be a really crap politician, not willing to do the boring mundane stuff, but he’s a shit-stirrer, and he has beliefs that I understand better than I understand most on the Senate ticket, and frankly I don’t think we’d do worse than we currently do.

    Kim Carr and Stephen Conroy we all know, but who knows anything at all about Bridget McKenzie or Gavin Marshall?

  • 2
    Bo Gainsbourg
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like one of the most likely results is he could split part of the soft left/progressive vote and risk making the senate more conservative? Possibly also doom any chance the Greens have of taking a senate seat off the Libs in the ACT if he runs a broad wikileaks ticket.

  • 3
    notmensa
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Interesting idea …. though at present he can’t leave London so couldn’t physically assume his Senate seat during votes. How would the coalition benefit if his vote cannot be counted?

  • 4
    BSA Bob
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    In other words, Australians have the option of taking a hatchet to the cannon’s securing ropes.

  • 5
    Chess C
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Assange should run as a Pirate Party senate candidate. They already have the policies which are aligned to Wikileaks. Assange would lift the party’s profile (and vote) nationwide.

  • 6
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I’m another Victorian who would vote for a Wikileaks party, but after the Greens.

    @ notmensa
    I think Bowe’s point is that a Wikileaks party could take some votes from Labor, fail to win a seat, but direct enough preferences to the Coalition for a Coalition senator to be elected ahead of a Labor candidate.

    But this depends on Wikileaks having a split how to vote ticket. While Assange would be correct to be very pissed off at the Labor Government, Wikileaks may consider the Coalition to be materially worse.

  • 7
    FelineCyclist
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    On the other hand, could the increase in left choices on the ballot increase the left vote generally? The presence of so many conservative minor parties on the ballot for the NSW Upper House was attributed as part of the reason for the decline in the Greens’ vote at the last NSW election.

  • 8
    James Pinnell
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    I find it comical that WikiLeaks would provide *any* preferences to the coalition at all. Most likely, the Greens and Wikileaks would preference each other.

    Assange and Gillard aren’t great fans of each other but I doubt Abbott is even remotely likely to get anything from him.

  • 9
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    James, the Greens and Wikileaks may very well preference each other, but if the Greens failed to win a seat and Labor and Coalition candidates were left fighting it out for the final spot, Wikileaks preferences would have to go to one or the other or both.

  • 10
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    James Pinnell, on the ballot paper for the Senate, if Assange has a position above the line, wouldn’t he be grouped with others? In any case, if he has an above-the-line spot doesn’t that automatically require him to tell the Electoral Commission how his above-the-line votes are to be distributed? He has to publicly reveal beforehand, in the event of a distribution of his preferences, whether Labor comes ahead of Coalition. Or whether Green comes ahead of Labor. If he really is angry, vengeful and irrational (which I strongly doubt), he might just try to mess with their heads; a gainful experience in a politically fraught electoral situation, I imagine.

  • 11
    PaulM
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Wilful seems happy to vote for Julian Assange simply on the basis that he is a sh1t stirrer. Fair enough. But remember, too, that he is wanted for questioning on s_xual assault charges in another country. His extradition from a third has been ordered so that he may face that questioning, and he has sought asylum in the Embassy of a fourth. Until he is actually free to, and deigns to, be present in Victoria, I won’t be following Wilful’s advice on voting in the next Victorian Senate election.

  • 12
    G19Johnny
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    sounds like the only way home is with his own “Diplomatic-Ammunity”

  • 13
    mattsui
    Posted Friday, 14 December 2012 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    If Assange is able to register a party (something even One Nation struggled to do), he may be able to do some damage on election day. I think it unlikely, however that he’ll poll higher than 6th on whichever ticket he choses. So unless the “Wikileaks party” is able to field candidates in more than one state and market itself outside the stereotype of nerd/hacker/s**t stirrer, they probably won’t influence the future make-up of the Senate greatly.
    Would be Ironic, though, if William is right, and Assange’s tilt leads to a right-leaning Senate.
    That still leaves the question of how, from a foreign embassy in a country that wants him for contempt, he could posibly be considered an electable alternative. (just between you and me - I think Assange is suffering from cabin fever….

  • 14
    Posted Saturday, 15 December 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    @ Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Reread this part of Bowe’s piece:

    Of great significance here is the rule which allows parties to lodge up to three preference tickets and have their votes divide equally between them, which is often used by minor parties to avoid favouring one major party over the other.’

    Bowe states this as a real possibility because Asange rightly must be very annoyed with Labor and possibly believes that it is indistinguishable from the Coalition in most important respects. Others of us believe that Wikileaks would decide that even as illiberal as Labor is, it is distinctly preferable to the Coalition.

  • 15
    Debra Silva
    Posted Saturday, 15 December 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    William there always is one person who points out he is wanted for questioning for sexual crimes?? do you not read the background to this and at least he is not wanted for lying to his country or the government and hes not wanted for killing innocent families by drone attack, seems people will focus on what they like to suit heir own preference, I personally WILL vote for him , it will be nice to see an honest person with values in Australian government for a change.

  • 16
    Debra Silva
    Posted Saturday, 15 December 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    My apologies William , my comment was meant for Paul M.

  • 17
    ellas ilios
    Posted Sunday, 16 December 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Please help support freedom of the press and freedom of information by sponsoring Julian Assange for the Nobel prize for freedom of the press: Google: Avaaz.org Julian Assange for Nobel prize “Freedom of the Press” and vote!

  • 18
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Sunday, 16 December 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Gavin Moodie, aware of that preference possibility but it raises the stakes for both major parties because in the event of all the minor parties and candidates failing the last spot will be up for grabs. Julian Assange would not be doing this for the pleasure of participating in the democratic process. He’ll be out to cut a deal with someone and he’ll be in an excellent position to make them pay if he looks like doing half well. Both majors have done desperate deals before (hello Family First in Victoria) so who knows? Maybe we’ll see Tony Abbott’s sensitive side after all.

  • 19
    pritu
    Posted Monday, 17 December 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    My initial reaction was, “Yes, I’d vote for him because he’s not been dealt with fairly by the Australian government.” Then, on learning that he plans to run on the principles of Libertarianism, I made a sharp U-turn. Once Greens voters realise this, I suspect, most of them will do the same. And Greens voters tend to be more aware of what they are doing instead of doing stuff by reflex. Sure, there are many who will vote for him simply because he prods an “agin the guvmin” reflex. Libertarianism is the kind of thinking that’s given us the gun lobby in the USA etc.

  • 20
    anon anon
    Posted Monday, 17 December 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Why doesn’t he just join the Greens since the Greens are the only party that openly supports Julian and Wikileaks?

  • 21
    warwick fry
    Posted Monday, 17 December 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Anon - is it likely that he and his platform will be embraced wholesale with open arms? And how comfortable would Julian be with endorsing, wholesale, the Green platform? It’s an interesting thought, though, and it would be nice to see talks of some kind between Julian and the Greens happen.

  • 22
    mattsui
    Posted Monday, 17 December 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Anon, warwick. No and No. Greens Senate ticket is determined by free ballot of all members of the relevant state party. In order to get on a Green Senate ticket, Assange would need to be a member of a local group in the relevant state which would require attendance at one or more meetings (then, of course he would nominate, be accepted and compete with other nominees in state-wide ballot). The Greens are a democracy, s**t stirrers are welcomed by them - but they rarely make it past the nomination stage.
    Of course, IF Assange was elected to the Senate, The Greens would treat him with due respect (and, no doubt nominate him for a bunch of committees).

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