Senate voting

I’ve always been one of the 4% of voters (Antony Green) who voted “below the line” in the Senate*. Every person who admits to sharing this obscure habit always comes back to one reason, “I wanted to vote [XXX] last”.

So this year, with the release of the Senate ballot paper (NSW here), I thought I’d help my fellow below the line readers (yes all two of you) by researching the minor parties to find out which one deserved my absolute last place vote. It’s always a minor party – most major parties at least do me the service of preselecting relatively normal people who would understand the idea of democracy if they tripped over it (Tony Abbott aside). On the NSW ballot paper, the possibilities are fairly enormous:

  • Citizens Electoral Council – included on their platform is the establishment of a national bank which will give loans at less than 2% to “agriculture (family farms), industry and infrastructure development)
  • Family First – the only thing I found really objectionable in their platform was opposition to abortion
  • Pauline – no kidding, that is the name of the party – she’s got a pretty good brand. Interestingly, her immigration policy is now all about how we let too many muslims into the country. When she was first elected, it was all about too many asians, which just shows you how quickly the bogeyman can change if you’re not paying attention.
  • Climate Change Coalition – a very slow website (a bad sign if this party hasn’t got a few geeks on board) with Dr Karl Kruszelnicki second on the ticket
  • Socialist Alliance – after reading John Curtin’s biography, I have a soft spot for a party with this name, and they stand for a lot of good things.  But reading their platform, it seems a grab bag of fashionable issues, rather than a well thought out social justice agenda (every single environmental issue is a trendy one, for example).
  • What Women Want – from the name, I thought it was going to be a right wing party supporting women’s right to stay at home and look after children. But its actually a party founded by a woman who started out as an advocate for better midwife care for women giving birth, and most of its policies are feminist positions I agree with.
  • Hear Our Voice – couldn’t find a website for this one, which doesn’t bode well for its ability to follow through on its slogan. I found this launch speech though, which suggests that the founder is one of hte labor party branch hacks who lost out on preselection from the big name candidates who were parachuted in by the party machine. Can’t say I’m that sympathetic.
  • Senator on Line – Australia’s only “internet based democratic party”. They will vote in all votes according to what their website tells them the people want. In one sense, it’s good to see people believing in democracy. On the other hand, sometimes politics is about a bit of leadership – these people completely abdicate any responsibility.
  • Conservatives for Climate and Environment – this party name suspiciously ticks many boxes in an attempt to maximise the hating the major party vote, but on looking at the website, it seems to be genuinely a freemarketeers response to the reality of climate change. The main platform is a carbon tax, which I wholeheartedly support, and will never get mainstream support from any party.
  • DLP (which has two candidates who share a surname, never a good sign) – I can’t really support a party which is mired in 50s sectarian struggle. And an idle read through its policies revealed that the major points on the family involve being anti homosexual marriage and anti the family court. Things like preschool, childcare, stopping child abuse, – anything that actually involves looking after children barely get a mention.
  • The Fishing Party – confusingly different from the Australian Fishing and Lifestyle party below (looks like a Queensland vs NSW split from the websites). Both are mainly in existency to support recreational fishers’ rights to fish as much as they like free from interference from the government.
  • Christian Democratic Coalition (Fred Nile party) – no kidding, the brackets are on the ballot paper, to maximise brand recognition, even though Fred himself isn’t up for re-election – on first glance this appears moderate by comparison with some of the others, but looking at the detail of the policies, you will find policies like effectively banning immigration from anyone islamic, blaming child abuse on “non traditional families” and the funding of chaplains in all schools
  • One Nation (which has two “retired” candidates and one “pensioner” candidate) – a pale shadow of its former self now that Pauline has gone
  • Non Custodial Parents Party (equal parenting) – both candidates male, as you would expect from the name, most of the policies are about non custodial fathers needing to have a better chance to maintain contact with their children
  • The Australian Shooters Party – as you would expect, their main policy is to make it easier for people to own and use firearms.
  • Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party – confusingly different from the Fishing Party above (looks like a Queensland vs NSW split from the websites). Both are mainly in existency to support recreational fishers’ rights to fish as much as they like free from interference from the government.
  • Socialist Equality Party – the Australian arm of the world party of socialist revolution (ICFI) which believes that “this [current] eruption of militarism is the expression of a systemic crisis in world politics and economy “
  • Carers Alliance – a party supporting carers for people with disabilities, with some fairly bland policies about getting extra support where the major parties have failed.

I found that bit of research fairly depressing, but after actually spending the time looking at the policies, I think my original instinct is confirmed – the Christian Democratic Coalition (Fred Nile) party will be getting last place from me. They’ve got a superficially nice looking front page, with some moderately innocuous (clearly coded, but not extremist) bulleted statements:

The Christian Democratic Party is committed to:

  • security for our borders, streets, transport and houses;
  • improved quality of family life;
  • the protection of children from abuse;
  • the promotion of Christian values and ethics;
  • the promotion of a just, honest and accountable government;
  • support for Christian schools;
  • opposition to pornography, gambling and illegal drugs;
  • legislation to guard life from all destructive forces.”

But the detail includes some very extraordinarily offensive racist, sexist and homophobic statements that I’m not going to repeat here.

I know full well that this decision will make zero difference to the election result. But it makes me feel better to think that if I accidentally elect a minor party, I will have made some effort to ensure that I’ll be able to hold my head up afterwards.


* For the non Australians, a brief explanation. The Senate is our upper house. Each state elects a certain number of Senators by proportional representation, using preferential voting – i.e. you don’t just vote for your preferred candidate, you keep numbering down the ticket, and the counting keeps counting your vote until eventually it is used to elect someone (the article I linked to above has a complete description). These days, you can choose a party, and they make the preferencing choices for you, but I prefer to decide for myself.

  12 comments for “Senate voting

  1. November 4, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    I’m really surprised that we’re only 4 % worth of voters. I vote below the line to show that my non-major party vote isn’t a ‘protest’ vote, but is actually how I’d like to see the world.

    I find the bit about who to put last pretty easy…for me, the difficulty is that moment when you get about three quarters down and you think ‘oh dear…oh dear, dear, dear…’. And I’m always worried that I’ve made a mistake and my carefully thought-out vote won’t even count.

  2. JenniferV
    November 4, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    Oops – if you thought you were talking to me, I’ll have to confess that I’ve joined the 96%. Eventually became too time-poor to work out who I REALLY hated the most. And if you’re looking for another reason not to vote for the CDP (Fred Nile) party, ol’ Freddo is actually in the NSW upper house, not the Senate, but according to today’s Sun Herald, is lending his NSW Parliamentary email address to his wife to help her get elected nationally.

  3. November 5, 2007 at 6:04 am

    Crikey – and I thought our system had issues! Is this what we’d get if we finally abandoned the first past the post system? I could only imagine that an already ropey electoral turn-out in the UK would fall even further faced with that much of a demand. Or we’d always end up elected minor parties beginning with “A”.

  4. November 5, 2007 at 7:15 am

    JV, I think I can still rely on my mum to vote below the line (but maybe that comment will tempt her out of lurking…)

    Unrelaxeddad, this system has evolved (badly as you can see) from preferential voting in a proportional representation system – I think preferential voting works very well in a single member seat (which is our lower house), and in a multiple member seat there are probably better ways of doing it than this.

    For that reason, though, the ballot paper is drawn, and not done alphabetically – the top spot on the ticket is generally agreed to be worth 1-2%.

  5. November 5, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    I’m one of the 4% too. There’s usually at least four parties I want to put equal last. I also give higher votes to women in the big parties than to men, which is a bit silly but why not?

  6. November 6, 2007 at 7:04 am

    I’m also a below the line voter.

    Thanks for taking a look at all the minor parties! They’re a ropey lot by and large, aren’t they?

    Susoz, I believe that according to some Actual Psephologists who posted to my LP thread about voting below the line, it apparently makes life hard for minor parties if you number their candidates in an order other than the order they have listed them – the votes end up distributed disadvantageously somehow, and instead of helping the lower-ranked candidates for a party it actually harms the party as a whole.

    Which is probably going to screw the Climate Change Coalition, as a lot of people will want to vote for Dr Karl ahead of their primary candidate.

    However, it does mean that you can turn the screw on the parties you wish to place last on your ballot even more: give their top ranked candidates the lowest number and their bottom rung candidates the highest number when you fill in their column.


  7. Shaun
    November 6, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    Having had some of the Citizens Electoral Council material inflicted on me, I can add that they’re also really whacky climate change deniers and radical conservatives.

    Family First’s rhetoric is also strongly reminiscent of the ‘culture of life’ jargon that is used by fundamentalist Christian activists worldwide. Last election, I was surrounded by such people and CDP and Family First were high on their list. It is no wonder that their Vic preferences go straight to CDP.

    I think it’s also important to look at the group preference flows. Those give us a pretty good idea of where each party stands on the spectrum of progressive/conservative. This way we can try and avoid voting in the bizarre people who have been very fortunate in preference allocation.

  8. Andrew
    November 9, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    I second Shaun’s suggestion of looking at preference flows, which are usually published by the AEC. You get the occasional group that sounds promising but has preferenced the “Pave The Earth” party.

    Voting a party in the “wrong” order increases the likelihood that their top person is eliminated before your vote gets to them. That sounds good, but in fact it increases the chances that your vote ends up with someone even further down your preference list. Presumably you didn’t want to do that. On the other hand, it makes a clear point to the scrutineers, and by the time it gets that far it’s all bad news anyway.

    When I started voting, the Senate paper was a napkin rather than a tablecloth, and the CDP (Festival of Light back then, IIRC) and the Nationals were the easy choice for upside down at the bottom of the ticket. Ah, the good old days…

  9. November 13, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Thanks for the little education at the bottom. It is going to be a challenge to learn a whole new system, especially for a person like me who’s not very politically minded to begin with.

  10. November 16, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    I think the only fairly recent case where a reasonable number of people got ‘stung’ by unexpected passage of preferences concerned Senator Neville Bonner. He was at #3 I think on the coalition ticket. Quite a number of people who would otherwise have left the coalition alone until they were really running down put him in as first preference to show solidarity with him personally. He did not achieve a quota immediately. All his first preferences became ‘rusted on’. If he had been eliminated those preferences would then have been distributed as their voters intended. He was however the recipient of enough preferences from higher up the ticket to take him over the quota.

    The surplus votes to be distributed were drawn only from those that reached him in the immediately previous step. They could in fact have helped elect the next person on the coalition order, which was not the intention of those voters who found themselves ‘rusted on’.

    Generally, if you run your preferences up the ticket of a “no-hoper” party, and then take them elsewhere, they are unlikely to be ‘visible’ in the “no-hoper” columnat any stage of the count.
    If the top of the ticket gets eliminated before someone further down, the “reverse-donkey vote” may have triumphed. Another possibility concerns a party with patchy talent . If the people who are inclined to vote for the party decide they like #2 on the list better than #1, maybe that is a message that the party leaders need.

  11. Bernard
    November 24, 2007 at 11:13 am

    Thanks for that – you might be interested to know that you’re the top hit for a google search on NSW Senate voting paper on the day of the election (don’t ask me why I chose those search terms, I’ll leave that to the SEO crowd).

    Great info, both in the original post and in the comments – go the 4%!

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