It's in your hands, Victorians

Tuesday 18 November 2014

A low angle photograph of Swinburne University of Technology signage on the Advanced Technologies Centre building in Hawthorn.

Victorian voters can lock micro parties out of parliament and counter the tricks of ‘preference whisperers’ by taking advantage of the state’s optional preferential voting system in the parliament’s upper house.

The number of political parties contesting this month’s Victorian state election has jumped to 21 – nearly double the number in 2010 – so the scene is set for a repeat of the federal deal-making that resulted in several micro parties, such as the Motoring Enthusiasts, gaining seats in the Senate at last year’s federal election.

Many of the parties in the Victorian election have never been heard of before, and once again ‘preference whisperers’ are reported to be arranging complex agreements.

In federal elections for the Senate, 95 per cent of voters choose to vote ‘above the line’ rather than trying to correctly rank dozens of candidates ‘below the line’ and risk an informal vote. What these voters need to know is that by just voting 1 above the line they are accepting that party’s full allocation of preferences, which means they might help elect someone they heartily disapprove of.

In other words, voters aren’t allocating their preferences, party managers are doing it for them.

Victoria’s Legislative Council is elected on essentially the same system as the Senate, but with one major variation. Those who vote below the line only need to correctly rank five candidates – that is, the number of places to be filled. If they wish, they can rank more, but five is enough to record a formal vote.

By doing this voters retain control of where their preferences go. And if enough of them choose this option it will end the gaming of the system we saw at the last federal Senate elections.
Why then do only five per cent of Victorian voters venture below the line? While the Victorian Electoral commission explains this ‘optional preferential’ method on its webpage (www.vec.vic.gov.au), the political parties refuse to promote it.

I received a pre-poll How to Vote card this morning telling me to ‘just place the number 1 in the Liberals box. There is no need to number any other box’. All the other parties give the same advice.

Parties don’t want people to vote below the line because they want to retain tight control over preference flows, and they want to do that in order to do deals. But Victorian voters don’t have to play their games.

The 2013 Senate election was remarkable in producing a number of winners who polled only paltry parcels of votes in their own right. What got them over the line were the preferences they received from other candidates. And to gain those preferences, they entered into deals that sometimes seemed bizarre.

In the case of the Sex Party, for example, that meant preferencing Pauline Hanson over the Greens and in the Victorian election. In this election, the Greens are placing the Palmer United (sic) Party – hardly their natural bedfellows – ahead of Labor in four upper house regions.