Daniel Andrews Victorian election
Premier Daniel Andrews (Image: AAP/Daniel Pockett)

The results for Victoria’s upper house, the legislative council, are in — and it’s a measure of how dire the system is that waiting for the final placements was not unlike clutching your lotto ticket on a Saturday night, and seeing if your numbers came up.

As Poll Bludger William Bowe outlines, the “one-above-the-line” group ticket voting system has delivered a doozy. Eighteen out of the 40 members are Labor, 10 are Liberal, one National — and a crossbench comprised of one Green, three for Derryn Hinch Justice Party, two Liberal Democrats, one for Transport Matters, one for Sustainable Australia, one for Animal Justice, one for Eats Roots and Leaves (sorry, we mean Shooters, Fishers and Farmers) and Fiona Patten of the Reason Party clawing her way back in, in Northern Metro.

Glenn Druery’s micro-party carousel has thus delivered for those who contracted for his “information evenings”, and by an incredible coincidence, the greatest beneficiary was the Justice party, whose god-like figurehead Derryn Hinch is advised by… Glenn Druery.

That might have given the Justice Party a substantial degree of power had the chips fallen differently. But Labor’s vote was so high (going from 14 to 18 seats) and the Liberals so low (going from 14 to 10) that Labor only needs three of the 11 crossbenchers to get a majority on any legislation.

There’s half a dozen articles in The Age at the moment arguing that Labor will have a nightmare task managing the crossbench, etc. Do people even stop to think before they write such articles, or is it just control-v “crossbench spells chaos” all the way?

To some extent, one could say there’s a “reactionary” social conservative direction to a lot of these parties. Derryn Hinch’s Justice, Shooters, Sustainable Australia, Liberal Democrats, and Transport Matters (cab drivers!) have different issues — paedos, immigrants, greenies, etc — but they all share a politics of outsiderism and resentment, moving to the outer edges of paranoia. If they added Animal Justice on some issues, they’d have a bloc of nine, enough to fight Labor to a draw on a range of progressive legislation.

But, of course, such a coalition isn’t remotely stable. At the level of beliefs alone, you can’t read off an attitude to environment, planning, education etc from the sex-crime/victimhood obsessive Justice party, and the Lib Dems would or should break ranks on a whole range of social issues. The Shooters are against big government, save, one suspects, for rural development packages and so on.

So if Labor wants to go in a law ‘n’ order direction, it’s got the votes easily. And if it wants to get progressive legislation through, it should be able to add to the Greens and Reason, some combination of all or part of the Lib Dems, Justice, and Animal Justice.

Should that prove difficult at the level of ideology, well, there are three “interest” parties — Hinch’s Justice, Transport Matters and Animal Justice — they can offer deals to. If that fails, Labor can pour the pork or Quorn for whatever region they represent.

Of course, the counter-argument to that is that the idea that these parties are somehow separate is something of a fiction. Justice/Sustainable/Shooters/Transport, and potentially the Liberal Democrats are full of back channels and could be directed as a de facto right-wing unit, of six to eight votes. That would give the Animal Justice Party quite a lot of power. (It also puts the lie to Van Badham’s thesis that it’s better for progressives to keep group voting tickets; One Nation would not get six seats in an optional preferential multi-member system. Badham’s argument manages to be both cynical and counter-productive.)

But there’s a working social-progressive coalition available for Labor, using Justice, the Greens and Reason (who, having started as the libertarian Sex Party, are now wittering on about “nanny-state”/nudge measures such as a “Ministry of Loneliness”) for more stuff in the gender-neutral traffic light line. And there’s a liberal-progressive coalition available of Greens-Reason-Liberal Democrats on things like drug policy, women’s health, LGBTQI stuff — presuming that the Lib Dems are actual social libertarians and not flat-tax tinfoil comb-overs.

So if anyone is going to try and direct the reactionary/single-issue parties as a unit — and I wonder who that would be — they’re going to have to keep them all together, all the time. Once one peels off for a special deal, it’ll be all for themselves. Labor will be the one having the Shooters party, picking them off. Drink your creamy soda, mate. You’re going to need the sugar rush.

The system remains utterly anti-democratic, with voters’ preferences directed to places they would never consciously go, and everyone playing the game — except, as noted by Antony Green and Kevin Bonham, the Victorian Socialists (which, disclaimer, I am associated with) whose preferences flowed with political consistency, and who, on 4.5%, outpolled Reason in Northern Metro. But in the brave new era, Labor has less incentive than ever to change the system.

Peter Fray

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