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Unrepresentative Victorian swill

24 November 2022 11 views No Comment

Unrepresentative Victorian swill

Preference trading corrupts Victorian politics

by ROSS FITZGERALD

The Victorian election promises to deliver one of the most bizarre legislatures that Australia has ever seen. This is due to an electoral system in the Upper House that is so easily manipulated.

Victoria is the only state that persists with a Group Voting Ticket (GVT) – a list of written preferences that parties instruct the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) to adhere to when distributing votes. This system enables micro parties to be elected with less than a few hundred votes. At the last Western Australian election, when GVT’s still operated there, the Daylight Saving Party was elected, despite only gaining 98 primary votes.

The prevailing system in Victoria is further complicated by a record number of 23 parties contesting the election, plus pre-poll harassment of voters by so-called ‘freedom parties’ and the Victorian Socialist Party. The latter have bused in thousands of supporters from other states and, in their all-black garb, have swarmed over polling booths, hectoring voters. This forced VEC chief, Warwick Gately, to issue a media release stating that he was “extremely disappointed by instances of poor behaviour by some party workers and campaign volunteers.” Gately said that “election staff, other volunteers and nearby traders feel unsafe or intimidated.”

However, the manipulation of votes and voters is centred on Glen Druery – the ‘preference whisperer’. He is yet again being allowed to game the system by promising to get micro parties elected on miniscule primary votes, so long as they hand over their GVTs for him to manipulate. Druery has said that he could get up to 10 micro parties elected to the crossbench in the Victorian Legislative Council. With his $5000 fee to ‘play at the table’ and his $50,000 success fee, Druery could walk away from this election with up to half a million dollars. Paul Keating famously called Senators ‘unrepresentative swill.’ But, by anyone’s reckoning, the likely line-up of micro parties in Victoria’s Upper House makes Keating’s claim an understatement.

Druery has admitted to other party organisers that he tried to register the Legalise Marijuana Party in an effort to swing voters away from the Legalise Cannabis Party, which attracted over five per cent of Senate votes in Queensland at the last federal election. Druery’s plot was thwarted when the Legalise Cannabis Party secretary, Craig Ellis, checked out the registered Victorian address of the new party and found it was an abandoned house in suburban Reservoir!

By garnisheeing a sizeable part of an MP’s salary in return for getting them elected, Druery could arguably be in contempt of Parliament for unduly influencing an MP through having a financial lien on them.The Victorian Liberal Party has now said it will refer Druery’s activities to the state’s Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC).

Victorian MLCFiona Patten is the widely-known leader of the Reason Party, formerly the Australian Sex Party, for which I once stood as the lead Senate candidate in NSW. Patten is the only MP to try and stop Druery’s anti-democratic preferencing schemes. In 2020, she introduced legislation to make it illegal for a person to be paid by parties or candidates to collude in coordinating a GVT.

Druery is out to defeat Ms Patten, whose odds of being re-elected to her Northern Metro seat are 50/50. This is because Druery has directed preferences from all of his micro parties against her. He is backing the newly-anointed, anti-abortion DLP candidate – the former ALP branch-stacker, Adem Somyurek. The GVTpreference flows show that the result will come down to a Patten v Somyurek battle.

Further complicating this election have been the antics of the Animal Justice Party (AJP), which notoriously double-crossed Druery. After the AJP’s preference coordinator, Ben Shultz, had met with Druery in the foyer of the Victorian Electoral Commission and let Drury complete his GVT, Shultz pulled out another GVT he had previously filled in and, at the last minute, lodged that instead. There was nothing Druery could do. However, Shultz had also misled other minor parties, some of which were previously sympathetic to the AJP.

So, what should be done to reform the voting system of Victoria’s upper house?

First of all,a ‘citizens jury’ could investigate the issue, and take it out of the hands of politicians. This is because all the major parties will want to create a system that suits themselves and which would eliminate small parties.

It’s worth remembering that 30 per cent of Victorians voted for a small party at the last Victorian state election and probably more will have done so this time. A sizeable percentage of voters want smaller parties, but they definitely don’t want ‘one percent’ micro parties, who usually don’t even get out on the streets and campaign and who exist primarily for their manipulated preferences.

While Queensland, the ACT, and the Northern Territory have one-house parliaments, each state upper house in Australia is different. Victorians have come to appreciate a Legislative Council based on eight different regions. For example, voters don’t want politicians who live in Melbourne to represent electors in Mildura. This is unlike NSW where voters elect upper houseMPs state-wide.

A simple solution to Victoria’s current problems would be to disallow parties who get under two or three percent of the vote from distributing their preferences. This would eradicate preference harvesting. To increase the membership of a registered party from 500 to 1000 members would further limit micro parties that have no real base and, in effect, are merely a name on a ballot. It could also be mandated that in Victoria a political party should have at least two hundred registered members in each of the regions, not just in one or two.

Ross Fitzgerald is Emeritus Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University. His most recent publication are the co-authored political satire, The Lowest Depths, set in a Russia ruled by Vladimir Putrid, and My Last Drink: 32 stories of recovering alcoholics, coedited with Neal Price.

The Spectator Australia, 26 November 2022, p v.

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