Nothing underhanded about Labor-Greens deal

18 Comments

 

The Australian GreensThe preferential voting system produces, or at least encourages, preference deals. It is that simple. The deal is played out in party how-to-vote cards which advise voters how to fill out their ballot papers. They are as old as the preferential system itself, especially at local electorate and state level. Relatively new though are the highly disciplined national deals, in line with the general tenor of modern Australian politics.

The term deals suggests something underhand, but these are generally fairly benign arrangements between like-minded parties on both sides of politics. This means that the majority of the supporters of the parties involved are already inclined to vote that way anyway. If a party leadership attempted to direct preferences against the general disposition of their followers then a grassroots revolt might occur. Leaders have to be careful what they do.

The how-to-vote card merely attempts to firm up the situation, perhaps adding another 10 per cent of second preferences to what would have occurred anyway without any guidance at all from above. So the impact of these deals should not be exaggerated. They probably matter most when there is a genuine market for preferences, as between competing minor parties such as the Greens and the Democrats.

Examples of preference arrangements include those long-established between the Liberals and the Nationals when they compete with one another in what are called three cornered contests. This arrangement attempts to avoid second preference votes drifting away from the Coalition towards Labor.

Other past examples range from the Liberals and the Democratic Labor Party through to the Liberal Party and Family First in the 2004 election, a deal initiated by then Liberal Prime Minister John Howard himself. The Greens and the Democrats have each entered preference arrangements with Labor on a number of occasions.

At first, however, the Democrats refused to enter preference arrangements or even to distribute preferences in individual seats on the grounds that such a practice was against the participatory ethos of the party and besmirched its independent image. They issued double-sided how-to-vote cards to avoid taking sides.

What is in it for the parties concerned? Overwhelmingly the reason is electoral benefit. The relationship has to be a win-win situation. In the House of Representatives the benefits are almost all with the major parties as usually only the preferences of the minor parties are distributed. Rarely does the minor party have any chance to win in the House of Representatives.

In these cases the support of the minor party must be bought in some way. This is often simplified as 'support in return for concessions'. The concession made by the major party may be a promise to introduce a policy dear to the heart of the minor party.

There is a special type of preference deal called cross-house trading. The major party mainly gains electoral benefits in the House of Representatives; the minor party gains benefits in the Senate where they have a real chance of winning a seat. Here the preference deal can mean life or death for the minor party. When the Democrats and the Greens were neck-and-neck, as in Western Australia on several occasions, the deal effectively decided the result of the final Senate seat.

Naturally those who feel jilted cast scorn on the deals and imply the worst. That has been one reaction to the Labor-Greens deal in this election.

But deals rarely signify private policy deals. They are about win-win electoral benefits. Nevertheless they do leave the parties open to legitimate criticism that they are in a closer than usual relationship that muddies their independent images and restricts their freedom to move. They also can be seen as another step towards a centralisation of politics that neglects local circumstances, such as the qualifications of individual candidates and the wishes of local party members.

But when they feel uneasy about what headquarters has agreed to, local party members at polling booths tend to undermine the national deal in any way they can. After all voters can quite easily throw the how-to-vote card in the bin. Many do.


John WarhurstJohn Warhurst is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science with the Australian National University and Flinders University and a columnist with the Canberra Times. On Wednesday 4 August at 8:00pm, he will be speaking about religion and politics in Australian federal election campaigns, with special reference to 2010 and to social issues. The event is organised by Social Policy Connections, and the location is the Study Centre, Yarra Theological Union via 34 Bedford Street, Box Hill, in Melbourne.

Topic tags: John Warhurst, Labor, Green, preference deal


 

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Existing comments

When people object to preference deals, they need to remember that preference deals generally reflect "least bad" choices, rather than "best" choices.

After all, if Greens are so enamoured of the ALP that they want ALP to triumph in all circumstances over all others, then they'd be ALP members.

The same holds for all previous minor parties.
David Arthur | 27 July 2010


John says finally: "Nevertheless they do leave the parties open to legitimate criticism that they are in a closer than usual relationship ... another step towards a centralisation of politics that neglects local circumstances, such as the qualifications of individual candidates and the wishes of local party members."

The ire felt by grassrooters in the Green Party [and in the broader green movement] relates significantly to this last point. Preference swaps that are truly flexible can be a way of weilding MORE power over local issues. Or of showing true principal in relation to particular local issues that the local [sitting] member has not stood for. In Christian speak: principal gains authority - authority gains following. Power is nothing.

Only the middle class, who are involved in the centralised deals, gain power from the centralised deals. Working class [and supportive grassroots] elements of the party are further relegated to donations and handing out how to vote cards. It's no wonder the Greens can't find good candidates in [some]regional centres; and therefore struggle to gain the extra associated votes for a Sentate seat in Qld. All the major parties struggle with principal yet principal and authority builds movements.
Margaret Pestorius | 27 July 2010


John says finally: "Nevertheless they do leave the parties open to legitimate criticism that they are in a closer than usual relationship ... another step towards a centralisation of politics that neglects local circumstances, such as the qualifications of individual candidates and the wishes of local party members."
The ire felt by grassrooters in the Green Party [and in the broader green movement] relates significantly to this last point. Preference swaps that are truly flexible can be a way of weilding MORE power over local issues. Or of showing true principal in relation to particular local issues that the local [sitting] member has not stood for. In Christian speak: principal gains authority - authority gains following. Power is nothing.

Only the middle class, who are involved in the centralised deals, gain power from the centralised deals. Working class [and supportive grassroots] elements of the party are further relegated to donations and handing out how to vote cards. It's no wonder the Greens can't find good candidates in [some]regional centres; and therefore struggle to gain the extra associated votes for a Senate seat in Qld. All the major parties struggle with principal yet principal and authority builds movements.
Margaret Pestorius | 27 July 2010


One negative effect of preference arrangements is that a major party may be obliged to accept, in exchange for preferences, a policy position to which the majority of the electorate in the major parties do not subscribe.
Robert Longstaff | 27 July 2010


John says finally: "Nevertheless they do leave the parties open to legitimate criticism that they are in a closer than usual relationship ... another step towards a centralisation of politics that neglects local circumstances, such as the qualifications of individual candidates and the wishes of local party members."
The ire felt by grassrooters in the Green Party [and in the broader green movement] relates significantly to this last point. Preference swaps that are truly flexible can be a way of weilding MORE power over local issues. Or of showing true principal in relation to particular local issues that the local [sitting] member has not stood for. In Christian speak: principal gains authority - authority gains following. Power is nothing.

Only the middle class, who are involved in the centralised deals, gain power from the centralised deals. Working class [and supportive grassroots] elements of the party are further relegated to donations and handing out how to vote cards. It's no wonder the Greens can't find good candidates in [some]regional centres; and therefore struggle to gain the extra associated votes for a Sentate seat in Qld. All the major parties struggle with principal yet principal and authority builds movements.
Margaret Pestorius | 27 July 2010


deals are a major part of politics, nothing new there

for those who believe they are new to the arena need to do their research better

minor parties and independents have dealt and played their cards in positive and negative decisions in the past and will continue to do so in the future

how boring politics would be without deals
rhonda | 27 July 2010


A preferential system, yes necessitates often the back-room negotiations that result in preference deals. That's why Australia's democracy is limited and in need of reform. No voting system is perfect, but use of STV for the Lower House or a system like the German or NZ models that are more proportional should be opted for. Maybe then the "mother" of Westminster democracy might move beyond suggestions for preferential voting to a proportional system. Then Australia could have Coalition government in the best sense of the word.
Phillip Hadley | 27 July 2010


To my mind, preference deals, in themselves, are no big problem.

They do become a problem when linked with above-the-line voting for the Senate because the how-to-vote cards for the Senate do not make explicit the preference deals incorporated. Six years ago, very few ALP voters understood that by voting ALP above the line, their preferences would go to Fielding ahead of the Greens.

Voting above-the-line might be easier than filling in the whole senate paper, but it hands our right to vote over to party bosses. That's why I insist on voting below the line.
Warwick | 27 July 2010


Yes, John Warhurst may be correct "Nothing underhanded about Labor-Greens Deal". Labor and Greens, they are just Pro or sympathetic to Abortion on demand, Euthanasia, Same sex marriage, Homosexual and Lesbian couples to legally adopt children and Socialism. - Liberal, National, Christian Democratic Party, Democratic Labor Party and Family First, they just stand for God, Family, Life and Australia, simple as that
Ron Cini | 27 July 2010


Julie Bishop is seriously discounting the focus and values consistently spoken of by Christine Milne. Does she see the Liberal Coalition as more honourable?
anastasia | 27 July 2010


The "10%" figure may be true of House of Reps contests, but the effect on the 5th Senate seat for each state is much greater. Just ask Steve Fielding.
mc | 27 July 2010


I am amused by John's comment that voters can throw the how to vote card in the bin.Even a greenish tinged voter like myself politely declines the card in the first place.
margaret | 27 July 2010


Surely Julie Bishop can't need reminding that preferential deals are a common political devise to gain as much votes as possible. After all, it does take a coalition of conservatives, the misnamed (Australian) Liberals and the Nationals to fight Labor. Perhaps, Julie should attend professor Warhurst's classes.

By the way Ron Cini, if your Jesus does come back, he'd either joined the Greens or Labor, both parties share the same values, humanitarian, not homophobia.
Alex Njoo | 27 July 2010


Let's get it clear - A preference swap is only s piece of wishful suggestion by the political parties or candidates to the voter. IT IS THE VOTER WHO DECIDES ON HOW THAT PREFERNCE IS ALLOCATED NOT THE POLITICAL PARTIES INVOLVED.
nick qgocs | 27 July 2010


To Alex NJOO, it is sad to use Our Lord's name on a Catholic Website to promote values shared by the Greens and the Labor parties such as Abortion, Euthanasia, Same sex marriage, Homosexual acts which are intrisically disordered and are contrary to natural law. I advise you to discern the Greens and Labor parties' policies before using Our Lord's name.
Ron Cini | 27 July 2010


However, preferences can be manipulated. I recommended my preferences to a local solicitor, whom I thought was wholesome. His running mate a young, new solicitor to the town got 400 primaries. I was first elected with an overwhelming majority, passed my preferences to the solicitor who dragged his running mate in and little did I know they were corrupt. The running mate on primaries, was not meant to go in according to the locals, my preferences put him in. Not always a good thing.
shirley McHugh | 28 July 2010


The total lack of emotion during the 2010 elections may demonstrate not disapproval of major parties, but it may indicate that the large majority of people (well over 80%) are in general happy about both major parties. Both parties have found a sound middle ground and both parties have rejected the loony fringes on the right and on the left.

In fact finding a reasonable middle ground, away from extreme politics is very good for Australia. It was reasonable to expect the fanatics to give their votes to the ultra left Greens or not to vote at all. Labor and Coalition have found themselves being punished for doing a good job. A system in which a single party rules is not truly democratic, as it cannot represent the true will of the people. The last election may force Australia to move towards a more democratic system and towards a system where each vote has some value.
Beat Odermatt | 27 August 2010


The total lack of emotion during the 2010 elections may demonstrate not disapproval of major parties, but it may indicate that the large majority of people (well over 80%) are in general happy about both major parties. Both parties have found a sound middle ground and both parties have rejected the loony fringes on the right and on the left. In fact finding a reasonable middle ground, away from extreme politics is very good for Australia. It was reasonable to expect the fanatics to give their votes to the ultra left Greens or not to vote at all.

Labor and Coalition have found themselves being punished for doing a good job. A system in which a single party rules is not truly democratic, as it cannot represent the true will of the people. The last election may force Australia to move towards a more democratic system and towards a system where each vote has some value.
Beat Odermatt | 27 August 2010


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