Is This The Most Dangerous Woman In Australia?
By Mike SeccombeAugust 20, 2013
The Liberal and Labor preference deals paint the Greens as extremist nutters. But the Greens aren’t running on a policy of putting an Australian on Mars...
So, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has decreed that the Liberal Party will put the Greens’ candidate last in each and every House of Representatives seat, allegedly because the Greens’ policies are too extreme.
At a press conference at which he announced the decision, Abbott explained that, unlike “everyone else in this campaign [who] supports economic growth and supports a more prosperous economy”, the Greens advocate “fringe economic policies”.
As a result of this edict the Liberal Party will, in 24 seats across the country, direct its preferences to candidates of the Citizens Electoral Council (CEC), ahead of the Greens.
The CEC, which is affiliated with the far-right conspiracy theorist LaRouche's organisation of the US, has as one of its major policies a plan to put an Australian on Mars.
Wouldn’t you love to see the policy costing of that one? Unfortunately the CEC, like the Liberal Party and unlike the Greens, has not released any costings for its election promises.
CEC policy also holds that, “All commercial banks must completely divest themselves of all non-commercial banking activity and banking units. No cross-management or cross-ownership with investment banking units may remain.”
It calls for the establishment of a new government-owned bank, which would compete with private-sector lenders.
Compare this with the Greens’ banking policy, which proposes levying a new tax of 0.2 per cent on the four major banks' assets over $100 billion, to raise $8.4 billion over three years. I have a sneaking suspicion the finance sector would be rather more aghast at the CEC plan.
Now, it needs to be said that Abbott’s edict only applies to preferences for House of Representatives seats. In the Victorian Senate race (the CEC is running only for the Senate in that state), the Liberal ticket puts the CEC lower.
But the general point holds: in the vast majority of contests for the Senate and the Reps, the Liberal Party has preferred a whole raft of parties which are way “fringier” than the Greens.
Let’s look at some.
How about the Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party? Its sole policy concern is weed: the legalisation of it, the taxation of it, the cultivation of it, the release from prison of all those convicted in relation to it, et cetera. Liberal preferences put the dopers ahead of the Greens.
The Australian Sex Party would go even further. It favours the decriminalisation of all personal drug use and the raising of $2 billion through legalising and taxing marijuana sales.
It also advocates balancing the budget by extracting $10 billion from churches through the removal of all tax exemptions on religious institutions. One suspects Tony Abbott’s good friend Archbishop George Pell would consider that a fringe economic policy – and much scarier than anything the Greens propose. Yet the Liberals prefer them to the Greens too.
Then there’s the Future Party Australia, whose energy policy makes that of the Greens look quite conservative. Its members share the Greens’ sense of urgency for putting an end to our reliance on carbon-based energy, but see alternatives such as wind and solar as merely an interim step on the path towards power generated by thorium-fuelled nuclear reactors.
Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks Party, even Tony Abbott would probably agree, is rather more radical in its views on civil liberties than are the Greens. But the Liberal Party’s allocation of preferences does not reflect it.
Other preferred parties include the anti-Islamic Rise Up Australia Party, and the Australian Christians party, which wants to cut the intake of non-Christian migrants and take more African Christians.
And how about the Australian Protectionist Party, which favours a racially/religiously discriminatory migration policy, the rebuilding of tariff walls and freer access to firearms for those of approved “cultural background”. Really.
There are many more examples among the hundreds of parties and candidates, but the point is made: Abbott’s edict had little to do with the “fringe” policies of the Greens, and a great deal to do with maximising the flow of preferences to his party and minimising the flow to Labor.
Nor is the Liberal Party alone in such cynical manipulation of the preference regime, although Abbott’s assertion is the most nakedly false of this campaign so far. The Labor Party also does it, as indeed do the Greens to a lesser extent.
In Queensland, for example, Labor is directing its second preferences to Katter’s Australian Party which, in its enthusiasm for old-style protectionism, can fairly be said to have fringe views, utterly antithetical to the economic reforms put in place by the Hawke/Keating Labor governments.
The KAP policy manifesto is thin, to put it mildly. The register of its donors is actually more interesting. It copped a quarter-of-a-million dollars from James Packer – heaven knows why, but maybe it has something to do with Katter’s opposition to tighter regulation of poker machines. Its other major financial backers include the ethanol company Manildra (the KAP solution to Australia’s fuel needs is vast production of ethanol), and a handful of companies and organisations with an interest in weaponry – either selling it, or firing it.
Do we really believe the ALP has more in common with Katter’s bunch than with the Greens?
Labor also places the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party very high on some of it tickets, as do the conservative parties. Why they do is a mystery; the party has no policy platform at all.
The bottom line here is that any examination of the preference deals stitched up by our political parties is deeply disillusioning.
It’s particularly sad, because in theory there is a lot to be said for Australia’s preferential voting system.
In theory, the system ensures victory for the candidate who is most acceptable – or, if you prefer, the least unacceptable – to all electors, even if he or she is not the first choice of the majority.
In theory, as the website Australian Politics explains, the system “allows parties of like-minded philosophies or policies to exchange preferences in order to assist each other to win”.
Alas, the practice belies the theory.
It’s not just that parties, particularly the big parties, expediently direct preferences to others with which they have little in common, policy-wise. It’s that they don’t direct preferences to others with whom they have a great deal in common.
Labor and Liberal, for instance, always put one another well down the preference list, when in reality they have a great deal in common. And this great convergence continues apace.
To take one example, consider the way Labor policy has moved towards that of the conservatives on the asylum-seeker issue. The differences are more rhetorical and presentational than actual.
To take another, look at the way the conservatives have come to emulate Labor on education-funding reform.
But the major parties’ similarities in individual policy areas are less significant than than their broader attitude to policy formulation and to the electorate.
The estimable Laura Tingle, writing in the Australian Financial Review on August 19, described Abbott’s paid parental-leave scheme as “irresponsible populist junk”.
She also noted that on its form in the election campaign so far, Labor was in no position to criticise.
Indeed, the mad, bad economics of both major parties’ policies on the development of northern Australia – the suggestion of differential rates of tax and forced relocation of people to the north – are arguably as far out on the fringe as anything the Greens propose. Or anything a lot of the other minor parties propose, for that matter.
The sad truth of modern Australian politics is that parties direct most effort to winning the votes of swinging voters, who are described by Stephen Mills in his seminal book, The New Machine Menas “ignorant and indifferent” when it comes to politics.
They’re the ones who are likely to go for a piece of populist rubbish politics. Or follow the party line on preferences.