Tumultuous Thursday

Just as footballers around the country celebrated Mad Monday a fortnight ago, drinking plenty, singing karaoke and just generally making a nuisance of themselves once the season was ancient history, political parties have a similar version, except this one is Tumultuous Thursday (yep, okay, it sounds a little desperate, but work with me). Midday Thursday (16 September, this time around) is the close of nomination for every seat around the country, and more crucially in the Senate. This is the latest that anyone can nominate themselves, and is usually the time that a few surprises emerge; did anyone mention Pauline?

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-A. said…
The reason why it’s a rather hectic day on the election calendar is not because of what happens before the clock strikes twelve, but because of what happens afterwards. Within just 24 hours, before midday Friday, parties must lodge their Senate preferences with the electoral commission, and can’t change them once they’re locked in.

A bit of background on just how the Senate works helps to understand this crazy preference game. Each state will be electing six Senators, and each territory two. Because of the electoral system used, the quota (or percentage of votes needed to get elected) is 1/7, which is about 14.3%, and 1/3 or 33.3% in the territories. The Senate ballot paper, though, isn’t just a whole lot of individuals fighting for themselves; instead parties have a ticket of candidates, trying to score multiple Senate seats for their party (realistically up to three). Since 1984, the electoral commission designed a system where voters would have two ways to cast their vote; either number the boxes for all the candidates and therefore decide your own preferences; or alternatively just mark the box of your party of choice, and let them decide your preferences for you. That second part, allowing the party to direct preferences for you, is what is being determined with the wheeling and dealing until noon on Friday.

This would be challenging enough if it was just the half dozen or so parties which made the news that needed to be factored in, but is neigh on impossible when you think of all the tiny fringe parties which occupy space on the ballot paper in this grand democracy of ours.

But, one might argue, those minor parties are so insignificant, why does anyone want their preferences anyway? On their own, it is true that most of them are so minor that a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers is required to spot the vote on a bar graph, but in the race for the Senate groups of these preferences are often crucial to the outcome.

Also, this is one of the few times that the preferences of the major parties are just as important as the preferences of the minor parties. In the House of Reps, the major parties are (usually) the last two standing, and so their preferences aren’t distributed. In the Senate, however, often the major parties will get, say, two Senators safely elected, and then find that their third candidate is behind the first Greens or Democrats candidate, and so its preferences will be distributed.

All this means that there is a flurry of phone calls left, right and centre before the preference deadline on Friday. Low and behold, the nutty independents, the yogic fliers, the modern day communists, the crackpot farmers, the neo-fascists all get themselves a courteous phone call from the major parties just itching to woo their preferences. Most of the time the majors can safely ignore them, but on Tumultuous Thursday, every vote matters.

The race for the Senate is going to be especially interesting this time around… well, interesting at least… okay, maybe just mildly attention grabbing… alright, worth a look then. If the polls are correct, there will be a changing of the guard in the balance-of-power position, with the Democrats likely to give up their role and the Greens take it over. After the question of who forms government, the balance of power is perhaps the most important question answered in the election. Without the support of the Senate, the government cannot get its legislation through the parliament, and so it is desperately keen to have a good relationship with the B-o-P Senators.

In the past the Liberals have got on well with the Democrats, and have had some success at pushing it’s agenda through – note GST, Industrial Relations, Superannuation. And the Government has also worked with some independent Senators: Lees, Harradine, Murphy and the late Mal Colston. Could the government do the same if the Greens were there? Can’t tell for certain just yet, but it seems unlikely. History says the Greens will take a hard-line stance, and if the two existing Green Senators are any guide, there won’t be much common ground with the Liberals. If the ALP get into government, though, then there might be a better working relationship. Take a look at Tasmania in the early 1990s, where the Greens and the ALP had a strong relationship when the Greens were in the B-o-P role.

So with so much at stake, is it any wonder than preferences are so crucial, and that parties are so desperately keen to win them from one another? It’s worth thinking about it like the playground at lunchtime, with “I think we can come to some sort of preference arrangement,” being the rough equivalent of “I’ll be ya best frieeeeeend,” and with just as much sincerity as well.
Polly said…
Antony Green has a really good
analysis
of what preferences in the senate could do to who
ends up getting elected. I think I might need to revise
my predictions about who gets what. It's really, really annoying that none of the pollsters are bothering with a senate poll, because the outcome in the senate will depend a lot on how
the Democrats and Family First are polling in the senate.

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