Debate on preferences,
the Greens, Labor, Family First and last year’s Victorian Senate result
has raged in Crikey over the past week. Now Antony Green has entered
the fray.

As he succinctly puts it, Senate ticket voting has a major weakness:

“Group ticket voting produces the ridiculous situation where voters are
forced to choose between voting above the line for a party ticket they
don’t know, can’t find out about, and probably wouldn’t understand if
they could, or to vote below the line giving preferences to a vast
array of candidates they don’t know and don’t care about just to have
their vote count for the smaller number of candidates they do know.”

In relation to the situation in Victoria, Green adds grunt – analytical grunt – into the last week’s blame game:

Parties have two major strategic objectives under PR-STV.

1. A party is more interested in electing one of its own candidates than candidates of any other party.

2.
If a party cannot elect one of its own candidates, it has an interest
in controlling its preferences to elect candidates and parties it
prefers to be elected.

If you have no knowledge of the order
candidates will finish, and cannot guarantee preferences, then the only
strategy to meet these twin goals is to list candidates and parties in
the preferred order you would like to see them elected.

But
group ticket voting introduces an element of game theory. It allows
preferences to be controlled, so parties can trade off the two
objectives listed above. A party can gamble its preference list in an
attempt to improve its chances of electing more of its own candidates.
This is exactly what occurred at the 2004 election. Parties traded off
chances to elect like-minded candidates and parties for improved
chances of electing one of your their own.

Consider the objectives of parties contesting the 2004 Senate election in Victoria.

1.
The Labor Party was more interested in re-electing its third candidate,
Senator Jacinta Collins, than conceding a Senate seat to the Greens.

2.
The Australian Democrats were more interested in staying in the count
long enough to collect Coalition preferences and elect themselves than
they were in helping to elect a Greens Senator.

3. Family First,
the Christian Democrats and the DLP were always attracted to helping to
elect Labor’s Jacinta Collins to stop the Greens winning a seat. All
three groups chose to direct preferences to Collins ahead of the
Coalition, improving her chances of holding off a Green challenge.

4.
The Coalition was happy to help all the small Christian parties and the
Australian Democrats at the expense of Labor and the Greens.

This
confluence of interests explains how Family First came to win the final
Senate place on Labor preferences. Labor did the deal in an attempt to
elect one of its own Senators at the expense of the Greens. Had Labor
not done deals and simply directed preferences to the Greens, it might
have kissed goodbye to any chance of electing Jacinta Collins. The
strategic preference swap with Family First was a gamble to elect a
third Labor Senator. It was a gamble that failed, electing a Family
First Senator when the preferred choice of the majority of Labor voters
would have been a Greens Senator. It is fair to say that the will of
the electorate was subverted by the wheeling and dealing created by
ticket voting.

“The deals that resulted in Labor winning a third
seat in both South Australia and New South Wales at the expense of the
Greens were essentially the same as the one that saw Family First
elected in Victoria. At the final count in all three states, a
Christian Party led the race for the final vacancy, Family First in
South Australia and Victoria the Christian Democrats in NSW. In NSW and
South Australia, the Greens failed to pass Labor, so Green preferences
elected Labor senators. In Victoria, it was Labor that failed to catch
the Greens, at which point Labor’s preference deal backfired and
elected Family First.

So that’s settled then? Before you email us, read more from Antony here
.

A
subscriber, meanwhile, makes this useful suggestion: “You wanna avoid
voting? Move house and don’t re-register. On election days, sleep
late.” Got to say it’s worked well for me.

Peter Fray

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