Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Issue With Single-Issue Parties

The farcical micro-party preferencing system will undermine the ability and purpose of the Australian Senate, with an influx of irrelevant single-issue parties looking on course to win seats.

The Senate is granted wide-ranging power in the Australian political makeup, serving as a review and critique of the lower house, and possessing the means to block certain legislation, but for it to be effective, it requires a diverse range of voices. These voices need to be able to discuss the array of issues that it will inevitably encounter, not just one, but it’s looking increasingly likely that the Australian Sports Party, and the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts will each win a seat in the Senate, single-issue candidates with little background and even fewer policies.

Wayne Dropulich, a gridiron playing engineer, looks set to win a Senate seat in Western Australia for the Australian Sports Party. The party’s ideology is, unsurprisingly, focused on advocating sports, and little else. Their website reveals no insight into how they would act in the Senate, or any other beliefs or values on wider policies.

At least the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party include a quick byline on their role, saying it “will primarily be to review proposed legislation, which is passed in the lower house”, but apart from that textbook definition of the Senate’s basic role, and a few other broad statements on this, there’s very little else of substance.

These candidates are now looking increasingly likely to be holding an important chunk of power, and will be voting on issues ranging from the carbon tax, mining tax, and a possible intervention in Syria. It’s hard to imagine how these party’s will act as the reliable ‘checker’ of government legislation on these issues, when they are so squarely focused on their own specific areas.

It may unfortunately also lead to an increase in shady, underground deals and alliances, with these parties accepting bills in order to further their own specific interests. We just have no way to tell how they will act on these prevalent issues in the national interest.

These single-issue parties are a blight on the Senate, wasting the crucial opportunity for diverse, minor parties holding some semblance of power in Australian politics, parties that need to effectively and transparently evaluate legislation on a wide-range of topics.

But who voted for these highly specific minor parties? Well, by the looks of the ABC and AEC’s figures, not many people actually did. The rise of these single-issue parties is due in part to the excessive amount of candidates on the Senate ballot, and the accompanying murky underworld of micro-party preferencing.

The Australian Sports Party will win a seat with only 0.22% of the primary, first-preference vote in Western Australia, while the Labor member received 12% and will not. Can we really call a victory with 0.22% of the vote an accurate representation of the state’s wishes? And is it truly democratic if the victory came down to back-room deals and preferences that handed others votes to the Party?
A similar situation has been seen in Victoria, with the Motoring Enthusiasts likely to receive a seat while only receiving 0.52% of the initial allocation, well behind the likes of The Sex Party, Family First, The Wikileaks Party, and the Palmer United Party.

In NSW, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm’s name appeared first on the expansive ballot, and this, along with his party’s similar name to the LNP, may result in the very much pro-gun, former veterinarian gaining a seat in the Senate. Leyonhjelm has done nothing to shy away from the reasons of his voting results, duping himself the “senator for the donkeys”.

This process of micro-party preferencing is verging on non-sensical. It’s counter-intuitive and doesn’t properly represent the votes of the Australian people. The Senate’s purpose is to amend, negotiate and balance bills and legislation, and it’s hard to imagine how this will be achieved by parties whose major, and seemingly sole, focus is on cars and sports, hardly the most commonly discussed issues in Parliament.

It’s time to fix this system of voting so that our elected Senators, who are imbued with such important powers and responsibilities, accurately reflect the overall vote and allow the Senate to function as the check on the House Of Representatives’ power as it is intended to be.

Filtering The Truth

The Coalition’s Internet filter policy wasn’t badly worded, it was just badly lied about.

A mere 41 hours out from polling, a UK-esque default Internet filter policy, forcing user to opt-out, was introduced by the Coalition, hidden amongst a AU$10 million online safety policy published online.

This story could’ve probably been written about the issue of trying to sneak a policy like this in less than two days out from the election, or the sheer ridiculousness and pointlessness of this style of internet censorship, but it only got worse.

Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull appeared on Triple J’s Hack program yesterday evening, and both confirmed and defended this filter, labeling it as being “like what the British are going to provide”, and clearing stating that is the “default”; “you can switch it off, then that’s your call”.

A few hours later, Turnbull was desperately back-tracking. “Policy released today wrongly indicated we supported an opt-out system of internet filtering,” he tweeted. “This is not our policy and has never been.”

But why then was Turnbull professing the strengths of this policy just a few hours ago?

Turnbull continued, and claimed that “the policy which was issued today was poorly worded and incorrectly indicated that the Coalition supported an ‘opt-out’ system of internet filtering for both mobile and fixed line services”.

Turnbull defended his statements on Hack by saying: “I read [the] policy shortly before going on [Triple J]. I did my best to make sense of it, until I could ensure it was authoritatively corrected”.

Well, the Shadow Communications Minister probably shouldn’t be going on air and discussing very important policy issues that he hasn’t yet made sense of, but the real problem here is with the claim that the policy was “badly worded”.

The original policy was quickly erased from the Coalition’s website, but it read: “We will introduce nationally agreed default safety standards for smartphones and other devices, and internet access services..[it will] involve mobile phone operators installing adult content filters on phones which will be switched on as the default unless the customer proves he or she is at least 18 years of age.” And in terms of home wi-fi, “will be switched on as the default unless the customer specifies otherwise”.

That is not badly worded. In fact, that is very precisely and clearly worded, and it outlines a specific plan for an opt-out internet filter to be implemented be a possible Coalition Government.

But according to both Turnbull and Tony Abbott, it misrepresented what the Party stands for, and bad wording is to blame.

The situation only got worse, with Coalition MP Paul Fletcher, the man in charge of policy surrounding child safety online, confirming the opt-out style earlier in the day, in an interview with ZDNet’s Josh Taylor, whose brilliant reporting broke this story.

“The key thing is it is an opt-out,” Fletcher confirmed.

There’s not much confusion there. The man behind the very policy seemed assured of what it would involved, but this was apparently not cleared by Turnbull or Abbott, although they both admitted to having read the policy before it was published.

The Coalition’s actions yesterday weren’t to just correct a badly worded policy, but to attempt to conceal either some serious disunity within the party, or a drastically abrupt backflip after much public outcry.

Either way, it’s not a good look for a Party whose major selling point has been “trust” throughout this entire election, and is definitely not giving the voters who will probably be electing them much credit at all.