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.

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