Now that the Tasmanian Greens have retained all their seats, most of the
commentators rushing to announce the recent election a disaster for
the party look a little foolish. However, I thought one thing Christian Kerr
said was worth exploring in more detail.

Kerr suggested: “If you want yardsticks of minor party success, you know
you have to look at the Queensland election before last, where One
Nation captured 22.7% of the vote.”

Now the thing is, I don’t consider One Nation in Queensland an
outstanding electoral success (success at getting the government to
adopt one’s policies is a different matter). Sure they managed the
highest score by a party other than Labor, Liberal or National for over
40 years, but look at the follow-up. In 2001, their vote dropped to 8.7%, in 2004 it was 4.9%.
They’re one and a bit hit wonders.

The Tasmanian Greens have had six successive results over 10%, with three
of them over 16%. OK, I’m a Green, perhaps I’m just biased. But try
this comparison. In 1957 the Queensland Labor Party, later to become
the DLP, scored 23.4%, the highest vote ever by a “minor” party. The
equivalent launch of the Anti-Communist Labor Party (similarly later
to become the DLP) in Victoria was 9.5% and they never got above 17%.
Yet overall the Victorian branch was the more successful – they broke
10% five times against their northern cousin’s two, even if their best
result was six points lower.

So if highest score isn’t the true measure of success, what is? One
could try looking at how many times a party broke 10%, or some other arbitrary
figure, but that doesn’t take into account the really high results.
Looking at the batting average might be more meaningful, but surely
there are points for longevity. The best method, I’d argue, is to look
at the cumulative percentage a party has racked up.

The question of how to count parties that merge, change their names or
split complicates things, but to avoid the suggestion that I’m stacking
the deck, I’ve used Antony Green’s assessments in his historical guides
to state elections. I’ve also stuck to lower house performance, mainly
because it’s hard to find detailed records for old upper house results.

On this basis, 18 March saw the Tasmanian Greens become the most
successful party in state elections after Labor, Liberal and National.
Their cumulative score is now 99.5%, as against the Victorian DLP’s
94.7%. In third place are the South Australian Democrats, at 69.4%.
Fourth is the Qld Labor Party/DLP at 66%.

The most surprising thing to me was the size of the gap after that. The
next party I can find is the ACT Greens at 36.5%, closely followed by
Qld One Nation at 36.3%. If one looks at federal results, the standout
successes are the Vic DLP and the South Australian Democrats. The DLP
scored roughly 109% (some data is a little vague) in the House and 129
in the Senate, while the South Australian Democrats have 98.4% and
126.5% respectively.

It’s interesting to note that in state elections, minor parties have
much higher one-off scores than federally, but have shown less staying
power, so the top ten cumulative totals are much higher at national
elections. Of course, all this is a bit like winning the second division
premiership while being miles behind the first division champions. But
I don’t think that makes it irrelevant.

Given the gap in money, membership and media attention between Labor,
Liberal and the rest, any new party is probably going to have to
demonstrate they are the leading player at the lower level before they
can take the next step. Looks like the Tasmanian Greens are the ones
who have done that, not just recently but historically.

Peter Fray

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