RESULTS in the Victorian election last weekend will go a long way to guaranteeing that Liberal-turned-independent Julia Banks will retain Chisholm at the next Federal election, if she decides to stand.
How is that, one might ask. Chisholm will fall to Labor on a 3.4 per cent swing and Labor got a 6 per cent swing in the state election.
Well, it is all to do with Victoria’s Upper House, the Legislative Council, and the dirty deed Labor did on the Greens.
The Legislative Council has eight electorates of five members each. The election is run on the same basis as the Federal Senate before the 2016 changes. Voters voting above the line just put a 1 in one box and their preferences are determined by a pre-registered ticket by that party.
You cannot express preferences for different parties above the line, as you now can in a Federal Senate election.
So the parties, major and micro, do deals to swap preferences, usually irrespective of political philosophy.
The quota to get a seat after preferences are counted is 16.6 per cent.
Now preferences are counted from both ends in this sort of election. Preferences from excluded parties are counted but so are the preferences of the leftover vote of the major parties. For example, in one electorate Labor got 37.5 per cent of the primary vote and had 4.3 per cent leftover after using two lots of 16.6 per cent of get its first two candidates elected.
But who did Labor preference? A whole lot of micro parties and others before the Greens. The Coalition did the same thing, but that is understandable on policy grounds.
As the count progressed and micro party candidates got eliminated all their preferences went to other surviving micro parties. Eventually, the last micro party left unexcluded took the last seat in all eight electorates.
In one electorate the Transport Matters Party won with just 0.6 per cent of the primary vote.
In three other electorates micro party candidates won with less than 2 per cent; three with less 5 and one with 7.
In all eight electorates the Greens had the third-highest vote behind Labor and the Coalition yet got just one seat – losing four of its existing seats because of these diabolically undemocratic preference deals.
The Greens only seat was in the electorate where they polled 15.8 per cent of the vote, so close to a quota they hardly needed any preferences at all.
The Greens will not forget this.
Labor’s dirty deed has also back-fired on the progressive side of politics which Premier Daniel Andrews says he champions. He now has to deal with ten successful mirco-party MLCs holding the balance in the Legislative Council.
These people – Shooters, Hinches, Transport Matters, Liberal Democrat and Sustainable Australia – will be at best an unknown quantity for Andrews and a brake in his progressive legislative program.
He has shot himself in the legislative foot.
The Reason Party of former Canberran Fiona Patten refused to engage Glenn Druery, the man know as “the preference whisperer” who gets fees for advising small parties on how to preference swap. As a consequence, Patten, who was the driving force behind Victoria’s voluntary euthanasia law, lost her seat.
Money and politics beat principle.
Usually – in single member seats – the preferences of major parties do not matter because the two majors are usually the last two in the race and any left over vote does not matter. But in multi-member seats they are critical.
Labor’s refusal to preference the Greens cost the Greens probably four or five Legislative Council seats.
But there is another time when preferences of the two major parties (and those of the Greens) are crucial in single-member electorates. This is when an independent does well on the first count.
The recent successes of the three sensible women independents: Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth; Cathy McGowan in Indi; and the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie in Mayo show a voter rejection of the hard-right Liberal faction of the climate-change-denying race-dog-whistling Peter Dutton, Tony Abbott, Craig Kelly and (to a lesser extent) Prime Minister Scott Morrison).
If Julia Banks stands as an independent in Chisholm it is likely she will attract a lot of disaffected Liberals as well as a few swingers who might otherwise voter Labor.
It is better to look past the 6 per cent swing to Labor last weekend. The seat of Chisholm in eastern metropolitan Melbourne falls within the Eastern Metropolitan Region in the Legislative Council.
Last weekend in that electorate Labor got 33.4 per cent of the first-preference vote; the Coalition 35.4 and the Greens 6.6 per cent.
It is a different position from Wentworth. In Wentworth, Phelps (with 29 per cent of the primary vote) got ahead of Labor and the Greens and then got their preferences to beat the Liberal candidate who had 43 per cent of the vote.
In Chisholm, Banks, Labor and the Liberals might share fairly evenly 80 per cent of the vote. Green preferences could well determine whether Banks or Labor stays in the race against the Liberal candidate.
After last weekend, the Greens would be ill-disposed to give Labor any preferences, so the Labor candidate would drop out and Banks would win on Labor preferences.
If the Liberal candidate dropped out before the Labor candidate, Banks would still likely win on Liberal preferences. She really is in the box seat.
The fundamental point is that with the major parties’ first preference vote languishing in the low- to mid-30s in lots of places in Australia, the chance for a well-known, centrist independent to come through the middle is very high.
At present we have seven non-major-party MPs in the House of Representatives. That is 4.7 per cent of the seats, yet the non-majors are getting 25 per cent of the vote. As that vote increases in some places (where there are good independents or Greens or Centre Alliance) to around 30 per cent, expect the number of non-major MPs to increase quite sharply.
Further once non-major candidates get elected, they usually get re-elected. One reason is that voters do not feel their vote is “wasted” and the other is that public funding gives successful independents a sporting chance to compete more evenly in subsequent election campaigns.
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Fairfax Media on 1 December 2018.