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The Sharp End: The Party Faithful

Ari Sharp, Australian Democrats candidate for Kooyong, reports from the campaign frontline.

It’s always interesting to see the bridges that are made and the bridges that are burnt during an election.

The past few weeks have seen:

  • One Nation attacking the Liberals because they are too much like One Nation
  • the Greens attacking the Democrats over preferences in spite of the fact that the Democrats are preferencing to the Greens
  • the Liberals attacking the ALP because the ALP supported it on the Border Protection Bill
  • the Nationals attacking the Liberals because Costello let the Telstra cat out of the bag
  • and the media attacking everyone for being so boring and predictable!

SharpMost of this, of course, is merely a bit of gamesmanship designed to stir up the style of conflict so loved by the media in covering an election campaign. For the purposes of a media soundbite, all that is needed is a grab of one politician attacking another (bonus points if they call for their opponent’s resignation), regardless of the merits of the attack, or the hypocrisy of the attacker.

As a Democrat, it has been interesting to follow the recent discussion over preferences. To me, the primary purpose of engaging in preference negotiation is to further the aims of your political party, namely to maximise the number of your candidates elected. It is only through achieving this last aim that the objectives of your party can be put into practice, and the world be shaped in the vision of your party.

Being a candidate precludes me from talking specifically about preference discussions, since these occur nationally. However, it is important that the record is set straight about what the Democrats have done with the recent preference negotiations:

  • we will be preferencing to the Greens and like minded parties in every single seat in Australia and in the Senate BEFORE we preference either of the major parties. (The Greens, incidentally, have not made any similar pledge and may well be preferencing the ALP ahead of the Democrats in some cases.)
  • in over 80% of House of Representatives seats and in the Senate, the Democrats will be issuing a split ticket, whereby we clearly give voters the choice as to which major party they would like to preference to ahead of the other major party.
  • in a few select seats, the Democrats will be preferencing in favour of one of the two major parties in exchange for a favourable preference flow in the Senate. This favourable preference flow may well be the difference between the Democrats having the balance of power in the Senate and a One Nation-Independent gaggle having the balance of power.

What has been lost in the discussion of preference negotiations is that voters decide where their preferences go. Voters have every right to number the boxes however they wish, and no political party can tell them what to do.

In essence, how to vote cards are merely a guide for the busy or lazy who are unaware of what each of the candidates stand for. In an ideal democracy, voters would ignore the how to vote card and make up their own mind about preferences. Sadly, we do not live in the ideal democracy.

Although the election may still be two weeks away, voting has already started. In pre-poll centres around Australia, voters who will be sick/travelling/working/praying on election day can vote in advance.

This used to be a fairly low key affair at Australian Electoral Commission offices in each electorate – until recently.

Political parties soon realised that a substantial percentage of voters were in fact prepolling for one reason or another, and that these voters would be without how-to-vote cards.

So now, party faithful are out on the hustings, handing out how to vote cards to the 10 or 15 people who may flow through every hour, for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for 3 weeks.

It is generally recognised as being the most boring job in an election, unless of course you find yourself with fellow true believers from other parties who make interesting conversation.

Now that’s what they mean when they talk about the party faithful!

Visit the Australian Democrats Web-Site


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Malcolm Farnsworth
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