It’s going to be election number eight for Pauline Hanson, who earlier this week nominated as the head of an independent ticket for the upper house in this month’s New South Wales election.
Her last six efforts (across four different houses of parliament) have all been unsuccessful. But for a serial candidate, the NSW legislative council is almost certainly the best bet, since it has (as I said before the last election “probably the most democratic electoral system anywhere in Australia.”
Antony Green explained it in more detail yesterday, but briefly the whole state votes as one electorate, electing 21 members every four years for eight-year terms, with a quota for election of 4.5%. The quota doesn’t drop as votes exhaust, but the last few vacancies can be filled with less than the quota if there are no more candidates left to be eliminated.
This is important, because a lot of votes exhaust: there is no obligation to allocate preferences beyond your ticket of first choice, and most voters don’t. There is no automatic preferencing – “above-the-line” votes only flow on if the voter numbers more than one box – so for practical purposes the primary votes are all that matter.
In effect the system reduces to a “largest remainder” method of proportional representation.
That means that despite the 4.5% quota, a party with 3% of the vote is pretty much guaranteed a seat, and would be unlucky to miss out with 2.5%. In 2003 the Shooters Party got up with only 2%.
In that election, Hanson attracted 1.9% of the vote, just ahead of the official One Nation ticket with 1.5%. With Senate-style ticket voting, the preferences of one would probably have elected the other, but without it they both missed out.
So what of her chances this time? The far-right vote in New South Wales is reasonably constant, between about 10% and 12% (a shockingly high figure that no-one seems to talk about), but its composition varies depending on who’s running. In 1999, with One Nation still in its heyday, it scored 6.3% and easily elected David Oldfield (who, like Hanson, later left the party).
By 2007, One Nation had disappeared and the far right was represented by the Christian Democrats (4.4%), Shooters (2.8%), Australians Against Further Immigration (1.6%), the Fishing Party (1.5%) and Horse Riders/Outdoor Recreation (0.6%), of whom the first two won a seat each.
This year, not only will Hanson be in the mix, but Family First will be trying to re-elect Gordon Moyes, who was elected as a Christian Democrat in 2003 but subsequently split with CDP patriarch Fred Nile. The Shooters, now called the Shooters and Fishers Party, also have a sitting member, Robert Brown, seeking re-election.
It’s possible that three assorted right-wingers could all be elected if the votes split fairly evenly between them. More likely, however, there will again be only two – but just which two is a lottery. Since Hanson and the official One Nation had 3.4% between them last time they ran, it’s not at all impossible that she could get something like 2.5% this time and be well in the running for a seat.
Although not many voters allocate preferences, in a close election there could be enough to make a difference. The major parties have made it clear Hanson will not be getting any from them, but it would be nice if the Coalition was equally averse to preferencing the bigots in Nile’s CDP.
There’s also, unavoidably, the question of Hanson’s reasons for standing — particularly given that in the past she has pocketed handsome sums of money from public funding in Queensland senate elections. In New South Wales, however, public funding only repays actual campaign expenditure, and while of course that could potentially be rorted it’s unlikely to be at the forefront of her mind.
Peter Chen in this morning’s Age describes her motivation as “either a deep-seated call to public service, or an admission that her co-dependent relationship with the media can’t be broken” — before, not surprisingly, plumping for the latter.
But whatever her reason, Hanson seems determined to try to win herself a seat — and this time she’s in with a serious chance.