Unrepresentative swill. There, I said it. Had to get it out of the way. After all, I’m going to write a bit about the 2013 senate race, and Keating’s petulant jibe is to coverage of the 2013 senate count as “grim milestone” was to coverage of the Iraq war body count.
Right, so on Monday’s Q&A a questioner spoke of micro-party candidates “gaming the system”. She was quickly put in her place by Kroger and Brandis (unsurprisingly; the coalition needs to make nice with the senators-elect from the minor parties), who made the point that the process was completely legal, no one is alleging impropriety, and these folks were (or look as though they’re going to be) elected fair and square, given the voting system used to elect senators. But even Nick Xenophon on Lateline last night used the same turn of phrase – “gaming the system” – to describe the “back room preference-swapping deals” (paraphrased). That’s a bit rich. It stretches the boundaries of credulity to accept that Nick hasn’t sat in on more than a few of those back room negotiations in his time. Even if he is innocent, he’s undeniably been a beneficiary of them. I doubt the 98.66% of SA voters who didn’t vote him into the senate the first time round felt he represented their interests. Or even knew who the hell he was.
So, a lot of pundits are aghast that a candidate who receives a couple of thousand votes, or – as Emma Alberici claimed on Lateline in her interview with Xenophon – less than 0.02% of the national count (as if that matters a jot in a senate race, but I digress). OK, fine. I can see where they’re coming from. It does sound unreasonable that a candidate who attracts such a paltry proportion of the vote should get a guernsey, but that’s the way the system works. Nobody’s cheating. If you wish to claim that the Sports Party guy or the Petrolhead don’t belong in elected office due to their miniscule vote counts, that’s fine. But you are repudiating the senate voting system in doing so. More on that later.
Another common whine, often delivered by the same individual in the same breath as that above, relates to the luck of the LDP in being placed at the start of the ticket in NSW, so they got the donkey vote. Plus, it’s speculated a few illiterates unable to differentiate “Liberal” from “Liberal Democrat” chipped in a few extra votes to get David Leyonhjelm over the line, polling slightly more than 8% of the vote, and so he’s lumped in with the other Steven Bradbury senators-elect. But what if Lady Luck hadn’t stepped in to assist our mate from the LDP? The party’s candidates still attracted 3.5-4% of the national vote; the proportion of the national vote received being a critical metric of those decrying the political ascendance of our sporting and motoring pals. It’s reasonable to assume that the LDP would have polled similarly in NSW in the absence of their plum spot on the ballot paper.
So, if you’re offended by the fact that a couple of candidates from deeply obscure parties have grabbed a senate seat on the strength of one or two thousand votes, or 0.2% of the national total, surely you’d think that a party which has a nationwide vote of 3.5-4% deserves at least one representative in a 76-seat chamber? No no no, you were just complaining about how a candidate who received 0.2% of the national vote won a senate seat as a result of the senate voting system, so you don’t get to use that same system to explain why it’s reasonable that a party which received 3.5-4% of the national vote should win zero seats That’s called having a bob both ways.
There are the only two rational, consistent positions that can be held on this matter for those who support some form of proportional voting system in in the senate:
1) I have no problem with the senate voting system as it stands (of course, I may not be satisfied with the result it has delivered). Hence, the fact that a few senators-elect filled a state quota on the back of a handful of votes and an effective preference-swap arrangement doesn’t bother me at all. That’s the way STV works. What some consider fair or unfair is of no consequence.
2) I don’t like the senate voting system as it stands. It’s ridiculous that a candidate who attracts only 0.2% of the national vote can win a senate seat. It’s also ridiculous that a party which receives 3.5-4% of the national vote fair and square still has to rely on the fortuitous addition of votes from the unwitting or indifferent to get a representative elected. He – or any LDP candidate – should be there anyway, regardless of the LDP’s position on the ticket, because 3.5-4% of Australians voted for them.
If you support proportional representation in the senate, it can’t be denied that an LDP representative should occupy a senate seat based on the vote they received last Saturday.