A few weeks back, Crikey published a two-part guide on how to become a federal MP for the ALP and the Liberals. Today, it’s the turn of the minor parties. Just what does it take to ascend to the lofty heights of federal parliament with little chance of ever getting your hands on the real levers of legislative power? It seems that compared to the factionally obsessed behemoths, the process is a reasonably democratic one.

The Senate, of course, is the major focus for the minnows, with Steve Fielding’s 2004 election with 56,372 Victorian first preference votes giving hope to every bit-player they might someday strike it lucky on the red leather.

In the House of Representatives, minor parties are so keen to get candidates up they will sometimes take (almost) anyone who puts their hand up. The Greens, the (new) Democrats and the Nationals (yes, they count as a minor party) are currently all in the process of finalising candidates for the Senate and winnable seats in the lower house.

However, it’s not all peaches and cream. According to one leading minor party player, pre-selection disputes in the minor parties seem to be almost mandatory:

“It’s often some rank outsider who doesn’t understand the process, then runs afoul of it, and then ignores the proper procedures for making a complaint or appeal and instead proceeds straight to spitting the dummy, quitting the party and making a pile of allegations of dodgy behaviour against the party that up until a month previously they were loudly pronouncing to be the all-perfect solution to all the world’s problems.”

Still, when compared to the NSW ALP’s notorious “N-40” rule, which allows power-drunk acolytes to run roughshod over the local branches, the various mechanisms appear positively Athenian.

The Greens: The party, in line with its putative commitment to grassroots democracy, allows any member to nominate for seats, provided they can find current financial members to back them. In NSW you need six, with at least three months’ membership, although this varies from state to state.

All mainland states use postal ballots for the House of Representatives and the Senate, with votes from members who live in the relevant area. Local branches preselect for the lower house and the preselection of unwinnable positions is also up to the local groups, who may conduct a ballot to negotiate the process.

The WA Greens’ recent decision to re-open nominations for the Willagee by-election gives a good indication of the strong role played by local branches.

Clive Hamilton, who was recently preselected for the federal seat of Higgins, said he was asked by local Greens to throw his hat into the ring, and then fronted a selection panel, comprised of the state branch and members of the local Stonnington Greens. He was then interviewed for one hour and 15 minutes and the next day was told he was preselected.

Other candidates said to be running in Higgins could include One Nation, the Australian Skeptics, the Australian Sex Party, and potentially, according to a report in today’s Manningham Leader, Crikey founder Stephen Mayne. Nominations for Higgins close on November 12.

The Nationals: The preselection process varies widely across the country, ranging from a central panel (Western Australia) to an exhaustive grassroots vote (Victoria and New South Wales). In Victoria, the Nats’ management committee signs off on a call for nominations from financial members of the party, with a 2-3 week window before they close. Due diligence and background checks are conducted before an approval committee recommends the final candidates for preselection.

Candidates for federal lower house seats are then voted on by every member in the electorate via an exhaustive re-ballot.

While the party is prohibited from standing against sitting Liberals in Murray or Indi, they appear keen to stand a candidate in Wannon. Bridget McKenzie has been selected as the National’s candidate in the No.3 spot for the Senate in Victoria, under a joint-ticket deal with the Liberals that alternates from one election to another.

In Western Australia, the party opens nominations for 30 days and a central vote is taken by the 10-member state executive, 10 MPs, three ordinary delegates, a young national delegate and representatives from state electorates, which vary in number depending on the number of local members.

In NSW, any member in an electorate can nominate with a preselection vote taken by all members in the electorate. The party hopes to finalise all 2010 lower house candidates before the end of March. Candidates for the NSW Senate are decided by a 90-member central council. In 2010, it is likely that the party will run a joint ticket, with Fiona Nash at No.3 and Joe Dennis at No.6.

Interestingly, at state level, the party has recently launched a “community preselection model” process with all local residents in a pilot electorate able to vote, regardless of whether they are a party member. However, the idea of a primary poll doesn’t appear to be very popular with locals, with the Dubbo branch rejecting the pilot two weeks ago.

In Queensland and the Northern Territory, National pre-selections are run by the Liberal National Party and the Country Liberals respectively.

Australian Democrats: In the Democrats’ glory days, every financial member in the state or electorate up for grabs got a vote in the pre-selection — normally after candidates were vetted by a Candidate Assessment Committee.

According to one former prominent party member: “I’m not involved any more, but given the Democrats’ parlous state and shrunken membership, I’d be surprised if things like Candidates Assessment Committees exist in most states.”

However, Democrats spokesperson Kathryn Crosby said that the new incarnation of the party still vets nominations via a state-based 4-member selection committee, followed by a member ballot. Between 30-40 candidate applications have been received for next year’s federal poll, Crosby said.

Despite two federal election wipeouts in a row, the process remained broadly the same, and mirrored, for the most part, that of the Greens.

Family First: According to the party’s federal secretariat, wannabe Fieldings can register their interest via a prominently displayed “become a candidate” link on the FF website, with the application then passed on to former party chairman-cum preselection kingmaker Andrew Evans. The successful candidate than gets hand-picked by the party’s executive. According to the party, the membership database is “too big” to conduct a grassroots vote.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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