Sex and the Senate
THE election of a number of small party representatives in last week’s Senate election is both good and bad for Australian democracy.
A record number of registered parties and candidates ran for both houses of Parliament. As expected, the ALP, the Coalition and the Greens ran candidates in all lower house seats and in all jurisdictions for the Senate. They receive millions of dollars in public funding.
What was amazing was that for the first time we saw a new player contesting all seats – the Palmer United Party. Mr. Palmer, a self-made millionaire mining magnate, made no secret of the fact that he spent upwards of $20 million to contest the September 7 election.
After the major parties and the well-heeled one, matters got even more interesting. The next four largest parties were religious parties. Family First ran 93 lower house candidates, Rise Up Australia ran 77, The Christian Democratic Party and their allies the Australian Christians ran in a total of 79 seats. Katter’s Australian Party came next running 63 candidates and the Sex Party ran 36.
Of all of these minor parties, the Sex Party achieved the best result without winning a seat. They got the fifth highest primary vote for the Senate in Victoria, the fourth highest in the ACT, the sixth highest in Tasmania, Queensland and the Northern Territory, and in the top 10 in all other states. They polled way ahead of any of the Christian parties. Indeed there is still a chance that Robbie Swan of the Eros Foundation might be elected a Sex Party Senator in Tasmania.
In Victoria, Sex Party President Fiona Patten will just miss out on winning the sixth Senate seat behind the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party.
However details are emerging of a broken preference agreement that has serious implications for the make-up of the new Senate and the future of the entire preferencing system. I am informed that the Sex Party had an agreement with David Leyonheljm, the registered officer of the Liberal Democratic Party, to swap preferences between the two parties in NSW and Victoria. The Sex Party kept their end of the agreement and Mr. Leyonheljm was elected on Sex Party preferences in NSW. However it appears that Mr Leyonheljm (who was also the registered officer of the Outdoor Recreation Party) did not honour his agreement with the Sex Party in Victoria, causing Ms Patten to narrowly miss out on getting elected. He later blamed a malfunctioning fax machine.
The circumstances of this agreement and the breaking of it, as well as Lyeonhelm’s election need to be investigated.
There is ample evidence that Leyonheljm’s party, the Liberal Democratic Party, attracted much of its primary vote in Senate elections for NSW because people were confused by the name into thinking they were voting for the Liberal Party.
His very visible No.1 position on the ballot paper also attracted a donkey vote.
It raises serious questions as to how and why the Australian Electoral Commission ever allowed someone to use this name.
The LDP did hardly any promotion or advertising and very little public promotion of its policies. There is plenty of evidence that Mr. Leyonheljm used the three other parties that he had control of to harvest votes and to channel them to his main party, the LDP. This is surely not what the people of Australia want to see in their Senate voting system?
So what will come out of the Parliamentary enquiry called for by Tony Abbott? Victorian Premier, Denis Napthine’s call for a party to achieve five per cent of the vote before being eligible for election is extremely anti-democratic. It would make it virtually impossible for a minor party (except one controlled by a millionaire) to make it into the Senate. Using his state of Victoria as an example, the Sex Party polled the fifth highest primary vote on 2% of the vote. If primary votes were to be the sole factor in determining who gets elected to the Senate, they would have picked up the fifth seat. Under this scenario, left-over votes from the major parties after they make their quota allocations would die. This may not be a bad suggestion. But to set a threshold percentage of the vote would see any new grass roots parties consigned to the rubbish bin of history.
As a vibrant democracy, Australia needs to continually accept new political ideas and allow the parties that form around them to move into parliament under a voting scheme that is not unduly complicated and is representative of their support in the community.
Professor Ross Fitzgerald’s memoir, ‘My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’, is now available as an e-book and a Talking Book read by Ross himself.
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH,SEPTEMBER 17, 2013, P 21