When cyclists form a political party aiming to get into Parliament at all costs, where else should they draw inspiration but the greatest bike race, the Tour de France? Australian Cyclists Party strategist Richard Bowen says the principle is the same in politics — you can’t win Le Tour in the first stages but you can lose it early on. Bowen, who is the Cyclists’ lead candidate for one of five upper house seats in the Southern Metropolitan region for the November 29 Victorian election, says if they don’t get their preferences right, it could all go wrong.

The Victorian Electoral Commission deadline for group voting tickets came down at noon yesterday, and a few hours later the results of weeks of wheeling and dealing between first-timer cyclists and veterans in the major parties were revealed. This election has a record 21 parties running 351 candidates for 40 seats in Victoria’s Legislative Council — 133 group voting tickets were lodged with the VEC. Early voting opens tomorrow, and ballots have been released ahead of the election, officially held on November 29 — 12 days away.

The Cyclists have focused on their attempt to snag the fifth seat in the Southern Metropolitan district from the Greens’ Sue Pennicuik. To get it they made a deal with the Animal Justice Party, People Power Victoria and the Greens to put cyclists second, and for Labor and the Liberals to put the Cyclists ahead of their rival major party — in the case of Labor the Cyclists were put ahead of the Greens as well. Bowen said the group had the most connections with communities in the affluent Southern Metropolitan region, where many members also live, so it was a good place to start. “We’re a startup party … but at the end of the day we just had to go with a gut feeling,” Bowen said.

To pay for these favours the Cyclists have run candidates in all eight regions where they will funnel preferences to their partners. In the other cycle-friendly region, Northern Metro, they have given People Power Victoria their second place followed by AJP and the Sex Party and followed through with preferences to left-wing parties, then religiously aligned Democratic Labour Party and Family First before any major party is preferenced, Labor then Liberal.

Family First and the Sex Party are battling it out for the fifth seat in the Northern Metropolitan region, so despite it being a sympathetic seat for the Cyclists they sacrificed the contest for Southern Metro. “We want to give everyone a chance to vote for a Cyclist party,” Bowen said. “In order for us to succeed we need something to offer other parties.”

Other parties have struck supply deals with the two armies of the north. Vote 1 Local Jobs, which despite the catchy name only really wants jobs in Western Victoria, is running founder and Moyne Shire mayor James Purcell’s son Nathan in the district, with Nathan’s preferences going to Ashley Fenn of Family First in exchange for FF’s preferences in Western Victoria. Vote 1 is also getting second preference from the DLP and giving the DLP second in Western Victoria.

Fenn has been busy stitching together a network of preferences including the Liberals and Palmer United Party in Northern Metro. “I’ve got every party but three coming to Family First,” he said. He has diverted his preferences to the Liberals elsewhere — “I think you’ll find our voting card is pretty traditional,” he said. None of the right-wing or religious parties could preference the Sex Party, the Greens or Labor on ideological grounds, so Family First was the one.

Also in the Northern race is the Basics Rock ‘N’ Roll Party, which is in danger of becoming just somebody that we used to know if they don’t start campaigning and mobilising their many fans — nearly 14,000 likes on Facebook — to boost their preferred left-wing parties, the Sex Party and the Greens.

The big talk this election is the four-four arrangement, in which Palmer United gives the Greens their preferences in four regions and Palmer gets Green preferences in four. Twitter was bombed with vex from the official ALP account, which has highlighted Palmer’s coal interests. Labor has also put the Greens ahead of the Liberals in all regions, despite tough talk from Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews last week. Andrews said “no deal will be offered and no deal will be done” with the Greens. Greens Leader Greg Barber is sitting pretty “for the upper house  — we’ve got very good preferences coming to us,” he said.

The ALP was livid, taking to Twitter to voice its dismay:

A deal with consequences that are difficult to quantify at this stage is predicted to give the Shooters and Fishers Party up to three seats in the upper house. SFP and the Australian Country Alliance were meant to be in a deal to deliver preferences in Eastern Victoria to SFP in exchange for their preferences in Northern Victoria. But the Shooters have nailed a deal to get Liberal preferences in Northern Victoria, leaving ACA flapping in the breeze in the region where the party was just under quota to be elected in 2010.

The Shooters have PUP and the Liberals’ first preference in three regions, so could hold the balance of power under the right circumstances.

Vote svengali Glenn Druery, whose influence in the 2013 federal election drove Motoring Enthusiast Ricky Muir into the Senate, has been advising at least five parties; he celebrated the end of his involvement in the Victorian election with a bike ride this morning. His passion for cycling nearly ended up with a link to the Cyclists Party, but it fell apart early in the negotiations.

“Because of the political interference from the Cyclists executive it has dramatically reduced their chances,” he said while riding through Sydney streets to get a coffee this morning.

Amid all the crafty dealing going on, there have been a few misfires. The Liberal Democratic Party, which might an inattentive Liberal voter’s first preference because of its similar name, has preferenced the major party in Western Metro second, effectively squandering its position in the third column of the ballot by funneling its expected stolen votes back to the Libs.

The intrigue around preferences has led many on Twitter to remind voters that under the optional preferential voting system in Victoria electors need only number one to five below the line to make a valid vote, thereby avoiding group voting tickets designed by the parties.

Peter Fray

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