Victorian election preference deals
Animal Justice party president Bruce Poon protests jumps racing in 2011.

Nominations for party candidates ahead of the November 24 Victorian election closed at noon today and independents have another 24 hours before we’ll see the full list of participants on Friday evening.

The Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) has been publishing nominations as they come in, and it looks like we’ll have a record number of candidates courtesy of group voting tickets (yes, the old Senate system) in the upper house, sparking a record number of micro-parties playing the preference-harvesting game.

Senator Derryn Hinch’s chief of staff, preference whisperer Glenn Druery, is running his usual business model of encouraging micro-parties to forget about ideology and instead preference each other first in order to maximise the number of minor party MPs in the upper house.

However, as Reason Party MP Fiona Patten revealed to The Age following a complaint to the VEC, Druery is seeking both an up-front payment of $5000 from each micro-party, plus a success fee of $50,000 for each MP elected. The VEC has now referred the Patten complaint to Victoria Police, as The Age reported today.

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Hinch has dismissed these concerns about Druery, and one of Hinch’s candidates in South Eastern Metropolitan region, Kerri Guy, told a candidates’ forum hosted by the City of Greater Dandenong last night that Druery is running the same business he has always run.

Druery is a New South Wales-based figure who has had most success getting Shooters Party types and several other anti-Greens operatives elected to various upper houses.

Indeed, one of his most famous creations, former Motoring Enthusiast Party senator Ricky Muir, is contesting the lower house seat of Morwell at this election for the Fishers, Shooters and Farmers Party.

The “little guys stick together” mantra is great for getting unrepresentative representation, but it also relies on party bosses with an ambition to serve. Druery can then manipulate that to influence who wins and that is often driven by who pays or who he likes the least.

With eight different upper house regions each electing five MPs, the Druery model works best to have eight different micro-parties in the field, all of which are focused on winning a different one of those regions. For instance, the Eastern Metropolitan region is the toughest territory because the three big parties all have primary votes or surpluses of around 8% when the eliminations begin. This region has been allocated to the little-known pop-up party registered as Health Australia, whose lead candidate, Andrew Hicks, is already listed among the 43 registered candidates.

Where it gets difficult is when you have competing interests in particular regions; that is what is happening in the Northern Metropolitan region, where former Sex Party founder Fiona Patten is seeking re-election under her new political brand of Reason.

Northern Metro is the only region where the Greens have historically achieved a quota in their own right and therefore have a small surplus to offer other micro-parties. They certainly assisted getting Patten elected in 2014.

However, there are two other very determined progressive micro-parties that are also fixated on winning the fifth spot in Northern Metro, knocking off Fiona Patten who has, by any measure, chalked up an impressive range of achievements (a safe injecting facility in North Richmond, voluntary euthanasia legislation and exclusion zones around abortion clinics) in her first term.

The first is Victoria’s most prominent Socialist, City of Yarra councillor Stephen Jolly, who seems to have finally united the various socialist factions behind the single goal of getting him elected on Greens preferences in Northern Metropolitan. There is a Socialist army swarming Northern Metropolitan at the moment.

The Greens have not particularly enjoyed Fiona Patten’s success on various progressive issues and traditionally preferenced the Socialists, so that is an arrangement you would expect to see in Northern Metro when the group voting tickets are lodged on Sunday.

However, IT entrepreneur Bruce Poon, Victorian president and founder of the Animal Justice Party, also has his heart set on replacing Fiona Patten as the micro-party representative for Northern Metropolitan.

Animal Justice has a membership that ideologically lines up with the Greens, but if Poon has any chance of winning, he might need preferences from the micro-parties on the right.

The Liberal Democrats have identified South Eastern Metropolitan and Western Metropolitan as two seats they could win, and the Shooters are trying to hang onto their existing seats in Northern Victoria and Eastern Victoria.

Animal Justice is standing more than 50 candidates across both houses, but if they suddenly discover they have been used as part of a preference pact that could appoint gun nuts and libertarians to the Victorian upper house, Poon might find himself under extreme pressure internally.

As for the Greens, and Socialist Stephen Jolly, they also have important decisions to make on Sunday about who they preference first out of Reason and Animal Justice. The same goes for the two major parties.

If you see all the right-wing micro-parties piling in behind Poon in Northern Metropolitan, you’ll know that a dirty backroom deal has been done that will not go down well in progressive Victoria.

Druery is particularly motivated to knock-off Patten after her complaint to the VEC — and Leyonhjelm is also no supporter, after he was blamed for failing to lodge some group voting tickets at the 2013 federal election that would have seen Patten elected ahead of Ricky Muir.

Perhaps the simplest way to summarise this situation is a bunch of ambitious, scheming men all trying to run a good independent woman out of the Victorian Parliament.

Clarification: Bruce Poon has assured Crikey that Animal Justice will preference all progressive micro-parties before the Shooters and the LDP in all eight upper house regions:

With few exceptions, we put the shooters last. In the last few years, we haven’t spoken to them, emailed them, texted them, been in the same room as them or accidentally met them on the street. We haven’t used any intermediary to communicate to them. We will put them last again as usual, and as expected. Moreover, we have told anybody who asks, exactly that. We would certainly have told your correspondent had he asked. Who on earth starts these rumours?

Bruce Poon

You can read Poon’s full response here.

For a response from the Victorian Socialists on preference deals, see here.

*Stephen Mayne has twice contested the Victorian upper house and has until noon tomorrow to decide whether to do it again.