Thank
God all this isn’t being written down. Another quarter of Tasmania
would need to be logged to provide the paper. Here’s not one – but two
– missives from Victorian Greens about the Labor preference strategy
that got Family First’s up in the state at the federal election.

David Risstrom, Victorian Greens Senate candidate, writes
:

I
would like to thank Nathan Lambert for his compliment that the ALP
thought my election to the fifth Victorian Senate spot was a certainty
and that the final Senate seat was a two way contest between the
Liberal Party and ALP, but I simply don’t believe what he says.
Election to the Senate in 2004 required a vote of 14.3%. Polls showed
the Greens Senate vote climbing to 8-12%; enough to be elected with
good preferences. When the group voting tickets were released, it was
clear the ALP had given Family First the political oxygen to win a
Senate seat. As so they did, electing Labor’s first Family First
Senator with a primary vote of 1.9%.

With a Liberal Party document making false claims about Green policy and a Herald Sun
media attack echoing them (and, according to the Press Council,
seriously misleading readers and damaging the Greens) it is highly
likely our 8.8% Senate vote could have been higher. But to suggest that
ahead of those attacks the ALP wasn’t knowingly taking a risk in
preferencing religious right parties ahead of the Greens is a furphy.

With
Family First preferencing the Greens last, their preferences would
always flow to the ALP ahead of the Greens. The ALP machine offered
their supporters’ votes for little return. Many ALP voters who
unknowingly had their vote elect Family First will not risk voting ALP
again. For those who do, they would probably feel more secure if the
ALP acknowledged it made a mistake they will not make again. That is
not what I am hearing.

If the ALP thought it better to risk
electing Family First then they should be straight about it. Voters can
take that into account at the next election.

A related and
unanswered question is whether the ALP will now back Andrew Robb’s plan
to raise the quota to 33% by dividing each State into six Senate
divisions in a thinly disguised move to exclude anyone except the
current two major parties? The Nationals, Greens, Democrats and Family
First parties and independents could be wiped out from the next
election, but Liberal and Labor combined could do it overnight.

Most
of us have been eating our Weeties long enough to know there were once
Labor and Liberal parties that stood strongly for the ideals associated
with their names. With the conservative controlled Senate installed in
July and a convergence of the major parties, Australia could face a
future of a two party system choreographed by two-dimensional policies
with differences that are increasingly paper thin. The only thing
certain about the next three years is that, in whatever guise it takes,
the conservatives of whatever party they belong will radically change
Australia.

Stephen Luntz, Victorian Greens electoral analyst and sometime preference negotiator, writes:

The anonymous correspondent quoted by Christian Kerr on Friday
has (probably deliberately) misunderstood the Greens’ position on
preferences. The Greens have no objection to parties losing with higher
primary votes – if we did we would be arguing against the preferential
system, something we have long supported. What we are opposed to is
preferences being determined by party machine men (and alas they still
are usually men) rather than the voters themselves.

In the
Cunningham by-election the voters themselves chose to preference the
Greens ahead of the ALP and that is why we won. True, most of the
candidates encouraged their supporters to preference the Greens before
the ALP, and this certainly helped, but ultimately the voters filled in
their own ballots and knowingly gave us a lower number than Labor.

David
Risstrom lost because a slew of parties chose to preference Family
First ahead of the Greens. They didn’t tell their voters this was what
they were doing. Even those who tried to find out mostly couldn’t
because of shocking incompetence by the AEC where most polling booths
did not make copies of the preference book available. In some cases (eg
Christian Democrats) most of the voters for a party would have
preferred Family First to the Greens and we accept that. But
overwhelmingly ALP and Democrat voters would have preferenced the
Greens not Family First if they had made the choice. Those parties knew
that, but chose to ignore the wishes of their supporters and do a
sleazy deal. That is what makes us angry. We didn’t object when One
Nation were limited to one seat because we suspected (although could
not be sure) that most voters for other parties agreed with the
decision to put them last.

The system has to change. It is
appalling that a few individuals in a party can determine how hundreds
of thousands of preferences are distributed, without most voters even
knowing what has been done. I’ve helped determine the Senate
preferences for the Greens on occasion, and while I try to consider
what our voters would want, I don’t want that power/responsibility. The
ALP and Liberals have no such qualms.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.