Are there any @WikileaksParty voters left? And did @aussexparty betray its base? #auspol

English: Leslie Cannold at the 2010 Global Ath...
English: Leslie Cannold at the 2010 Global Atheist Convention (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m usually the first to tut-tut when Twitter bursts into manic glee over political gaffes and stuff ups. It’s unseemly and undignified. We should endeavour to analyse policies and not occupy ourselves with the trivial nonsense of the sideshow.

But — I’ll admit it — when the Senate Group Voting Tickets were released, I was all too happy to join the scrum. Talk about own goals…

Australia’s Senate system blows chunks. I wrote in New Matilda that:

I am, despite being a staunch conservative, not a fan of the Senate, the House of Party Hacks. Party officials and MP staffers are bequeathed plump spots on senate tickets in recognition for not stuffing up so hideously that the media noticed. I’m hard pressed to spot a single senator that I’d trust with sharp scissors.

But while most of them are merely mediocre in their quasi-harmless crankery and kookery, few cultivate their inner bonsai of malevolent mendaciloquence like South Australia’s Cory Bernardi.

Although I went hammer and tongs after Senator Bernardi (and his support for the notoriously racist Geert Wilders), I could easily have turned my invective towards the entire system. Senate ballots use a form of proportional voting with a single transferable vote. Candidates require a quota of votes (rather than a majority) in order to be elected. As a result, preferences become hideously important. The ballot uses block voting, meaning an elector can either choose to number each candidate individually or — far more commonly — an elector can simply nominate which party it trusts with its vote. The Senate Group Voting Ticket indicates how the party will allocate that vote if (more usually when) the party fails to secure enough votes to reach the next round of selection.

This becomes important down in the minor party end of the system. There aren’t enough people drinking paint thinners to cause, for example, the Socialist Alliance Party to enter parliament. When they come last in the first round, their votes are redistributed amongst the existing parties. The party who then holds the fewest votes is eliminated and so on and so forth. The GVT shows the pathway that the votes take through the system. If your party is eliminated, the votes you received will go to their second preference. If the second preference has already been eliminated, it will go to the third. And so on and so on.

In effect, the votes usually end up back with the major parties for seats 1 through 5. The sixth seat is usually the most interesting, often causing unusual results as a result of preference flow (for example, the Family First candidate, Steven Fielding, who entered parliament due to a preference deal to exclude the Greens).

Today’s drama all started when we discovered that the Wikileaks Party (founded by Julian Assange) had decided to preference lunar right parties over the mainstream parties, including the Greens. This browser-destroying picture covers the main ideas:



Kellie Tranter (Wikileak’s NSW Senate candidate shown above) claims that an administrative error caused this ordering. The party released the following announcement:

In allocating preferences between 53 other parties or groups in NSW some administrative errors occurred, as has been the case with some other parties. The overall decision as to preferences was a democratically made decision of the full National Council of the party. According to the National Coucil decision The Shooters & Fishers and the Australia First party should have been below Greens, Labor, Liberal. As we said, we aren’t aligned with anyone and the only policies we promote are our own. We will support and oppose the policies of other parties or groups according to our stated principles. [Source]

So while that might account for two of them, it doesn’t account for the rest.

While Julian Assange has the first preference in Victoria, Leslie Cannold (Award-winning columnist, ICMI exclusive & Tedx speaker. Noted among Oz’s top thinkers, Humanist of the Year 2011 — and contributor to the Australian Book of Atheism) is really the de facto first preference in Victoria. Cannold has a habit of considering any disagreement with her to be trolling. I was blocked after making the following comment:

When she was asked about NSW’s preferencing of crazy parties ahead of the Greens, she claimed that it was a matter for Tranter and the NSW branch. Naturally, she didn’t answer questions about Victoria’s preferencing:


Don’t expect Leslie Cannold to answer any questions about that…

But the biggest upset was the Western Australian branch preferencing the National Party ahead of the Greens. The primary Greens candidate, Scott Ludlam, has been a passionate supporter of Wikileaks and Julian Assange. (At the time of writing this, the WA GVT document had gone offline).

Wikileaks’ GVT tickets fit in well with the political suicide letters of the past year. In Western Australia, the primary candidate has been trying to downplay the relevance of preferences. Their lead candidate, Gerry Georgatos, tried to argue that the Greens were the ‘effective’ first preference of Wikileaks because minor parties — like the National Party — were not plausible candidates.

Which, of course, means that he doesn’t understand how preferential voting works. It is unlikely that the National Party won’t put in a good performance in the WA senate ballot. If it should happen that there are three candidates left for the sixth Senate position, National Party, Greens, and Wikileaks, and if Wikileaks has the fewest number of votes, the National Party will get the sixth position. Wikileaks knows that it’s going to split the Greens’ vote, so directing votes back to them via the National Party is just straight up ignorant (This is all said by somebody who rather hopes that the Greens Party will be mostly washed out after this election).

Faced with the fact that his party has done something spectacularly stupid, Gergatos treated the rest of us to a wonderful meltdown:

Everything’s a criiiiiiiiiime!

Wikileaks’ Director of Communications also demonstrated that they just don’t get it:

If Wikileaks can’t be trusted to get it’s GVT in order, it can’t be trusted with influence in the Senate. It’s as simple as that. With today’s revelations that Assange thinks the only hope for electoral politics is the libertarian end of the Republican Party and that the principle of non-violence should extend to abortions (whatever that means), the Wikileaks Party has shown that it’s a lunatic fringe party. That Cannold remains a strong supporter of Assange after those comments is just beyond disgusting.

Wikileaks wasn’t the only minor party in trouble today. Back in 2010, I was sort of impressed with the way the Australian Sex Party handled themselves. It’s a party with its fair share of rabid loons and its link with the erotica industry is problematic, but I didn’t come to the conclusion that they were outright stupid (unlike the Greens).

The Sex Party’s GVTs released today, on the other hand, do raise questions about whether they’ve actually got their heads screwed on.

In Victoria, the Labor Party was preferenced 60th; Greens 66th. Before the Sex Party’s votes make it that far, it will pass through Australian Voice (22nd), Stable Population Party (36th), the No Carbon Tax (Climate Sceptics) Party (44th), Australian Fishers and Lifestyle Party (48th), Shooters and Fishers Party (50th), One Nation (52nd), and the Katter Party (58th).

Preferencing One Nation (bozo racist party) ahead of the Greens and ALP is what has pissed off most of their supporters.

A similar thing happened in NSW. This time, the Sex Party preferenced Greens (60th) over the ALP (66th), but the same weirdo parties appear:

Stable Population Party (10th), Australian Voice (22nd), Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party (35th), One Nation (39th), Non-Custodial Parents Party (44th), No Carbon Tax Party (46th), Australian Fishers and Lifestyle Party (50th).

In response to the criticism, the Sex Party released an update on their website:

We preferenced One Nation at #39, #40 and #41 on the ballot paper in NSW. In Victoria we put them at #52 and #53, in SA at #28. None of these positions can realistically get One Nation elected. It’s the ‘symbolism’ of putting them ahead of this party or that party, that is making the headline here.

For anyone who has ever watched the film Sophie’s Choice, they will understand the dilemma that libertarian parties face in elections these days. You have to put these lunatic parties somewhere! There is no option. If you want to run for the Senate, you have to number all the parties. The number of religious right parties has greatly increased in this election. There are about 10 of them. the Sex Party has a policy to preference these parties last and that’s what we did in all states. After that, it gets tough. I mean really…One Nation’s immigration policies are almost the same as Liberal and Labor parties these days! There’s hardly any difference in the lack of compassion to refugees between the two major parties and One Nation. They are a micro party, that are similar to the major parties on most social issues and they preferenced the Sex Party way, way down the list in all states, so there’s no love lost there.

But the system is the problem. I don’t want to have to put One Nation or Rise Up Australia or the Christian Democrats or Family First anywhere on our Group Voting Ticket! But I have to. Who is more worthy of our #42 spot….Family First or Australian Christians? Or One Nation?
Go figure. [Source]

Think what you like about the claim that One Nation’s immigration policies are almost the same as the Liberal and Labor parties, the focus of the question is: ‘For the Sex Party, how would supporters expect their vote to be handled?’ From the backlash, it appears that supporters do not feel that preferencing One Nation ahead of the Greens or Labor parties is appropriate. Effectively, the Sex Party has forced its supporters to vote below the line in order to get an appropriate outcome.

But the final point is more interesting: ‘Who is more worthy of our #42 spot’? The Sex Party — for some unknown reason — suggests that their only options were One Nation or a religious right party. It turns out they had two other options: Greens or ALP.

When confronted, the Sex Party made similar noises to the WA Wikileaks crew. They’ve done their ‘homework’ and don’t think One Nation will be able to benefit from the preference:

Homework or not (if I weren’t against gambling — seriously, I’m a super prude — I’d take that wager just so I had some comfort when One Nation got the preferences), the better way to make sure One Nation doesn’t benefit from your preferences is not to preference them ahead of the Greens (which I say despite not being a fan of the Greens).

Smaller parties usually don’t have the resources to have a sensible crack at policies or strategy, but completely stuffing up the strategy takes a particular level of incompetence. Both the Sex Party and Wikileaks rather showed how amateurish the ‘micro parties’ can be. Perhaps more damning is that their spokespeople couldn’t come out and say: ‘We goofed up. It’s too late to fix, but we encourage supporters to vote below the line. We promise not to stuff up next time.’

In the meantime, spare a thought for me in the ACT where we have the worst candidates in Australia. I’d spoil my Senate vote (I’m likely to spoil my lower house vote; sorry, Andrew Leigh), but that just makes it easier for the dinguses. Seriously, we have Simon Sheikh of GetUp! fame running as the Greens’ candidate. We clearly need to abolish the Senate and replace it with Lords.

Or, better yet, random selection.


Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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