WA senate election 2014: allegiances

At first glance, it’s difficult to make much of the group voting ticket (GVT) data.

One of the most important bits of information, I feel, is whether each party preferences the Liberals before or after Labor. Or, to ask a slightly more complicated question, how does each party rank the most likely winners? The answer would allow us to categorise microparties’ own ideology, which can otherwise be tricky. Quite often, the only other readily accessible information on microparties is the blurb they put on their websites.

I’ll look at the top five parties, by primary senate votes received in the 2013 federal election. These are: Liberals (2.7 quotas), Labor (1.9 quotas), Greens (0.66 quotas), Nationals (0.35 quotas) and Palmer United (0.35 quotas). These parties are the main game1.

So, I’ve boiled down the group voting ticket (GVT) data to a set of rankings of these parties2. Based on the results, there are a few clear categories. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of confusion as to whose side Clive Palmer is on (other than his own). However, the person of the moment must be Labor’s Louise Pratt, who has been treated almost as an independent in the preferences of several minor parties.

I couldn’t think of a good way to visualise this graphically, so I’ll just use bullet points.

Allies of the Coalition, enemies of the Greens

The following parties (with a rather libertarian flavour) all put the Coalition ahead of Labor, and the Greens last:

  • Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party
  • Australian Voice
  • Building Australia Party
  • Freedom and Prosperity Party
  • Liberal Democrats
  • Mutual Party
  • Outdoor Recreation Party (Stop The Greens)
  • Palmer United
  • Shooters and Fishers
  • Smokers Rights

These parties all place the Liberals and Nationals next to each other (one way around or the other). However, they disagree over Palmer United, with some putting PUP first (including, obviously, PUP itself), and others putting it behind Labor, but still ahead of the Greens.

There are four more parties that basically fit this mould, but which seem to be making personal judgements of certain individual candidates:

  • Australian Christians (concerning Joe Bullock and Linda Reynolds)
  • Democratic Labour Party (concerning Louise Pratt)
  • Family First (concerning Louise Pratt)
  • Rise Up Australia Party (concerning Louise Pratt)

These all have a very social conservative flavour. In what seems like a personal grudge, The DLP, FF and RUAP have taken special care to put Labor’s Louise Pratt after even their Greens arch-enemy, probably for being particularly outspoken on social justice issues. And, for reasons that escape me, the Australian Christians have elevated Labor’s Joe Bullock above the Liberals’ Linda Reynolds.

Neutral on Labor vs Liberal, but still hate the Greens

There are two parties running dual tickets, with the order of Labor and the Liberals switched around:

  • Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party
  • Katter’s Australia Party

Both place PUP and Nationals first and second, and the Greens last.

Prefer Liberals, but (perhaps) don’t mind the Greens

Another two parties that stick out:

  • Australian Sports Party (which, of course, won a seat in the recount, and then lost it again when the election was annulled)
  • Republican Party of Australia

These two prefer the Liberals, Greens and then Labor, in that order — a relatively unusual combination recently (though it used to be common practice for the Liberals themselves).

Allies of Labor/Greens, but Labor first

This rather short list of parties (plus independent) put Labor first and the Coalition last:

  • Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party
  • Russell Wolf (independent)
  • Sex Party

HEMP puts PUP ahead of the Greens, while the other two put the Greens ahead of PUP.

Allies of the Labor/Greens, but Greens first

A few more parties put the Greens and Labor ahead of the other three major choices:

  • Animal Justice Party
  • Pirate Party
  • Secular Party of Australia
  • Socialist Alliance
  • The Wikileaks Party, which gives special consideration to the Greens’ Scott Ludlam and Labor’s Louise Pratt, placing them individually before the Greens and Labor.

These parties also tend to prefer the Nationals to the Liberals, except for Animal Justice (which possibly associates the Nationals with shooting and slaughtering things). They put PUP anywhere from 3rd to last.

[ Addendum (2014-03-24): the Animal Justice Party actually has dual tickets, both of which interlace the positions of the Labor and Greens candidates, two-by-two; i.e. two Labor candidates, then two Greens candidates, then two more Labor, etc. One ticket starts with Labor, the other with the Greens. ]

Finally, there are three more special cases:

  • The Australian Democrats have dual tickets, both preferencing PUP and then the Greens, but alternating the positions of Labor and the Coalition.
  • The Sustainable Population Party has three tickets that rotate the positions of Labor, the Greens and the Coalition. At first glance, this appears to be neutral, but if you look closely you’ll see that, on balance, the Greens come out slightly ahead and the Liberals slightly behind. (You could arrange three tickets such that any three parties are evenly-preferenced, so it’s informative that SPP hasn’t done this.) They also put the Nationals first and PUP last.
  • The Voluntary Euthanasia Party has dual tickets, both of which put the Coalition last and favour the Greens over Labor, yet single out Labor’s Louise Pratt again for special promotion. One of the tickets puts Pratt ahead of the Greens, and the rest of Labor ahead of PUP, while the other puts Pratt behind the Greens, and the rest of Labor behind PUP.


If you’re voting below the line, hopefully you’ll find this analysis useful in developing your own preferences. The ephemeral microparties often have very positive-sounding names, but it’s difficult to know at a glance what they’re really all about.

Even if you’re voting above the line, this may still give you a rough idea of who believes what, so that you know what you’re doing when you write that single “1” on your giant ballot paper.

Update (2014-03-24) — full preference list

For completeness, here’s the actual list of major preferences. For each party, the top five parties are listed in order of preference. Numbers in brackets indicate the number of contiguous candidates. Where lone candidates appear separate from the rest of their party, their names are shown.

Party Ticket # Major Preferences
The Wikileaks Party A 1 Greens (LUDLAM), Labor (PRATT), Greens [5], Labor [3], Palmer United Party [3], National [2], Liberal [4]
National B 1 National [2], Liberal [4], Palmer United Party [3], Labor [4], Greens [6]
Independent: Russell Woolf C 1 Labor [4], Greens [6], Liberal [2], Palmer United Party [3], National [2], Liberal [2]
Australian Democrats D 1 Palmer United Party [3], Greens [6], Labor [4], National [2], Liberal [4]
Australian Democrats D 2 Palmer United Party [3], Greens [6], National [2], Liberal [4], Labor [4]
Pirate Party E 1 Greens [6], Labor [4], National [2], Palmer United Party [3], Liberal [4]
Labor F 1 Labor [4], Greens [6], Palmer United Party [3], National [2], Liberal [4]
Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party G 1 Palmer United Party [3], National [2], Labor [4], Liberal [4], Greens [6]
Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party G 2 Palmer United Party [3], National [2], Liberal [4], Labor [4], Greens [6]
Freedom and Prosperity Party H 1 Palmer United Party [3], National [2], Liberal [4], Labor [4], Greens [6]
Voluntary Euthanasia Party I 1 Greens [6], Labor (PRATT), Palmer United Party [3], Labor [3], National [2], Liberal [4]
Voluntary Euthanasia Party I 2 Labor (PRATT), Greens [6], Labor [3], Palmer United Party [3], National [2], Liberal [4]
Liberal Democrats J 1 Liberal [4], National [2], Labor [4], Palmer United Party [3], Greens [6]
Australian Voice K 1 Palmer United Party [3], National [2], Liberal [4], Labor [4], Greens [6]
Building Australia Party L 1 Palmer United Party [3], National [2], Liberal [4], Labor [4], Greens [6]
Mutual Party M 1 Palmer United Party [3], Liberal [4], National [2], Labor [4], Greens [6]
Family First N 1 Palmer United Party [3], National [2], Liberal [4], Labor [2], Greens [6], Labor [2]
#Sustainable Population Party O 1 National [2], Greens [6], Labor [4], Liberal [4], Palmer United Party [3]
#Sustainable Population Party O 2 National [2], Labor [4], Greens [6], Liberal [4], Palmer United Party [3]
#Sustainable Population Party O 3 National [2], Liberal [4], Greens [6], Labor [4], Palmer United Party [3]
Palmer United Party P 1 Palmer United Party [3], National [2], Liberal [4], Labor [4], Greens [6]
Australian Sports Party Q 1 Palmer United Party [3], Liberal [4], Greens [6], Labor [4], National [2]
Liberal R 1 Liberal [4], National [2], Palmer United Party [3], Labor [4], Greens [6]
Shooters and Fishers S 1 Palmer United Party [3], Liberal [4], National [2], Labor [4], Greens [6]
Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) T 1 Labor [4], Palmer United Party [3], Greens [6], National [2], Liberal [4]
Republican Party of Australia U 1 Liberal [4], National [2], Greens [6], Labor [4], Palmer United Party [3]
Smokers Rights V 1 Liberal [4], National [2], Labor [4], Palmer United Party [3], Greens [6]
Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party W 1 Liberal [4], National [2], Palmer United Party [3], Labor [4], Greens [6]
Australian Christians X 1 Liberal [3], Labor (BULLOCK), Liberal (REYNOLDS), National [2], Palmer United Party [3], Labor [3], Greens [6]
Secular Party of Australia Y 1 Greens [6], Labor [4], National [2], Liberal [4], Palmer United Party [3]
Rise Up Australia Party Z 1 Liberal [4], National [2], Palmer United Party [3], Labor [3], Greens [6], Labor (PRATT)
Greens AA 1 Greens [6], Labor [4], Palmer United Party [3], National [2], Liberal [4]
Democratic Labour Party AB 1 National [2], Liberal [4], Palmer United Party [3], Labor [3], Greens [6], Labor (PRATT)
Katter’s Australian Party AC 1 Palmer United Party [3], National [2], Labor [4], Liberal [4], Greens [6]
Katter’s Australian Party AC 2 Palmer United Party [3], National [2], Liberal [4], Labor [4], Greens [6]
Animal Justice Party AD 1 Greens [2], Labor [2], Greens [2], Labor [2], Greens [2], Palmer United Party [3], Liberal [4], National [2]
Animal Justice Party AD 2 Labor [2], Greens [2], Labor [2], Greens [4], Palmer United Party [3], Liberal [4], National [2]
Sex Party AE 1 Labor [4], Greens [6], Palmer United Party [3], Liberal [4], National [2]
Socialist Alliance AF 1 Greens [6], Labor [4], National [2], Liberal [4], Palmer United Party [3]
Outdoor Recreation Party (Stop The Greens) AG 1 Liberal [4], National [2], Labor [4], Palmer United Party [3], Greens [6]
  1. Of course, another microparty could slip through once again, as the Sports Party, Motoring Enthusiasts, Democratic Labour, Liberal Democrats have done recently, but that scenario requires a rather different sort of analysis. []
  2. I’ve used an R script to do this based on the AEC’s CSV data. I’m happy to share it if anyone is interested. []

Climate Policy and Democracy in 2013-14

Tim Dunlop argues that Labor, having lost the election, should yield to Tony Abbott’s right “to govern as he sees fit”, and help him repeal the carbon tax. According to Dunlop, the “norms of democratic governance” are at stake. I find his reasoning a bit simplistic, but I’ll get back to this.

A range of new Senators will take their seats in July 2014. Beyond that point, Abbott will need to negotiate for the support of the Palmer United Party plus any three out of Democratic Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Family First, Nick Xenophon and the Motoring Enthusiasts. (The Coalition will have 33 Senators of its own, and needs 39 out of 76.)

It’s still possible (given Scott Ludlam’s appeal) that a Senate recount in WA may eventually go ahead, despite the AEC’s initial rejection, and deliver an alternate outcome: Palmer United losing one senate seat to the Sports Party1. Then Abbott’s options are slightly more complicated: he would need any six out of the DLP, LDP, FF, Xenophon, Motoring, Sports, and two PUP senators.

On the carbon tax, the various positions are as follows:

The odds seem to be in favour of Abbott getting the numbers, but there are scenarios in which he doesn’t. Any two of Muir, Dropulich and Lambie2 could combine with Xenophon, the Greens and Labor to block Abbott’s plans, and the likelihood of that depends on a lot of things we just don’t know at the moment.

You might think that single-issue parties like the Motoring Enthusiasts and the Sports Party are unlikely to put up a fight when it comes to non-core issues (things other than Motoring and Sports), particularly when the issue in question is the Prime Minister’s single most emphatic election promise. But then Xenophon himself previously ran on a “No Pokies” ticket, and isn’t shying away from the climate change policy debate. And Family First can’t reasonably claim that their policy is motivated by anything to do with families. The outcome probably depends more on the character of the new senators themselves than their respective party platforms.

But the outcome also depends on Abbott’s ability to negotiate with all these people simultaneously, including Clive Palmer. Even with enough Senators who want to repeal the carbon tax, how many of them will want to secure special deals beforehand? How much will they try to milk Abbott, before letting him have his victory? Clive Palmer in particular could…well, do anything. The carbon tax might remain in place by virtue of endless bickering over the precise terms of its repeal. Maybe. Who knows?

Well, the Labor Party itself could put an end to this speculation, if it wanted. And it could happen now, rather than in mid-2014. Where the ALP votes with the Coalition, all other parties and independents are irrelevant. This is what Tim Dunlop wants.

I’m sure some will disagree and say that the environment trumps everything, that addressing climate change is the most compelling issue we face, and that you can’t practice politics on a dead planet. Fair enough.

But I would say in response that politics is the only way we have of implementing planet-saving policies in the first-place. Every move we make that undermines the legitimacy of the process itself damages the main tool we have to bring about the change we want.

Dunlop’s argument would have some legitimacy if the fate of democracy really was in the balance, but he hasn’t made that case.

After all, why is it that the Labor Party has the power to keep the carbon tax in place in the first place (at least temporarily)? This power, even in opposition, is a product of Australia’s representative democracy, not an anathema to it. Our democratic system was designed this way for a reason. What is the point of the upper house if not to be a check on the lower house? The Senate is elected too, remember, and Abbott has not won the Senate. Not yet, anyway.

Dunlop appears to fear the idea of political deadlock, as exemplified in the US:

There, a rump of the Republican Party, in the form of its so-called Tea Party members, is currently destroying not just Congress itself but the nation’s faith in its ability to effectively govern itself.

The ramifications of that are huge, and we shouldn’t let it happen here.

But it can’t happen here. Australia has constitutional mechanisms to resolve such deadlocks if and when they occur. If the Senate repeatedly rejects government legislation, the government can call a double dissolution election. Abbott has been talking up this possibility for a long time. Also, should it ever be needed again, the Governor General has the power to sack the government, triggering an election. One way or another, these mechanisms will shift the balance of power by re-consulting the voters.

The US has an additional challenge in the form of low voter turnout, if voters become disillusioned. Compulsory voting in Australia largely solves this.

Dunlop also makes this point:

The system asks that both winners and losers of the democratic competition accept some level of humility. Compromise is built into the fabric of democratic governance and no-one gets all of what they want.

The problem with abstract discussions on compromise is that, while compromise is almost universally agreed to be essential, there simply aren’t any rules about when and how it happens, and who must compromise more. There can’t be any rules, because compromise is an inherently rule-breaking idea. The appropriate degree of compromise depends entirely on the situation at hand, not on any general principles. It’s circular reasoning to employ “compromise” as a reason for why one side should give in.

But say, even, that we are aiming for some arbitrary level of humility and compromise from both sides. If Labor voted to repeal the carbon tax, what “humility” and “compromise” has the Coalition had to endure?

Dunlop tries to eke out a somewhat nuanced position. He does acknowledge up-front that:

A party that claims “we won the election therefore we get to do whatever we want” is not citing any sort of constitutional truism: it is strategically deploying a rhetorical trope in order to get its own way.

But I have difficulty separating this “rhetorical trope” from Dunlop’s own argument. He has not immunised himself from it merely by explaining it. His only real premise is indeed that the Coalition won, and he does speak of the “rights”3 of said winner to do essentially whatever they like. This is a simplistic interpretation of representative democracy, and it is effectively repudiated by the constitution.

Although its power may not last, Labor has every reason to block the repeal of the carbon tax. Its ability to do this is not some murky result of arbitrary, incomprehensible parliamentary rules, but of basic democratic process. Tony Abbott will have the authority to repeal the carbon tax when he has the numbers to do it, not before.

  1. And also Labor (Louise Pratt) losing one seat to the Greens (Scott Ludlam), but that won’t change things as far as the carbon tax is concerned. []
  2. And/or others, of course, but those three seem the most likely. []
  3. I would have thought words obligations and privileges might be a better choice than rights. By being elected, you gain obligations, and certain privileges needed to carry them out. []

Fun with Senate GVT Data

As I learnt from the Poll Bludger, the Senate group voting tickets were released a few days ago. (The data is available in CSV form from the AEC: NSW, Vic, Qld, WA, SA, Tas, ACT, NT.)

Group voting tickets (if you don’t know) are the way most voters choose to vote on the senate ballot paper. They are the above-the-line option, where you choose one party only, and (perhaps unbeknownst to many) cede your choice of 2nd, 3rd, etc. preferences to that party. A GVT is a list of preferences for senate candidates, decided in advance by each party. You can either select a GVT (whose details are not shown to you on the ballot paper, except for the first preference), or number all the candidates.

I thought it would be interesting to see how the pantheon of parties ranks itself. Which parties are closer to the front of the other parties’ preferences? Which parties are despised by all? Where do the major and high-profile minor parties come?

Here they all are. I’ve included every political party and independent contesting senate seats in every state and territory. The bars on the graph1 represent the median position of a party among all parties’ preferences. Smaller bars are preferable, indicating that a party is closer to the front of overall parties’ preferences. I stole the colour coding from the ABC.

(Note: there’s nothing predictive about this graph. It’s just a representation of what the different parties think of each other.)


Parties contesting senate seats differ state-to-state. Independents and many minor parties run in one state only. Other parties have subtly different registered names in different states. I’ve tried to remove these inconsistencies in the graph. However, the Liberals and Nationals further confuse things by being the same party in Queensland but not anywhere else.

Anyway, here are some observations:

  • Australian First Nations occupies the most favourable position by a wide margin, though they are an NT-only party.
  • The Australian Sports Party is next, perhaps in keeping with our vaunted national identity, and/or perhaps because it’s a feel-good concept that compares starkly with the entrenched ideology of other parties.
  • Most established, high-profile parties lie at the bottom of the list, towards the end of overall parties’ preferences. The more we see of our political parties, the more faults we find. Moreover, the established, high-profile parties are probably the ones considered the largest barrier to the chances of all other parties.
  • The Greens are fourth-last, and are perhaps in the unenviable position of being seen as an “establishment” party even while struggling to maintain a presence in the House of Representatives.
  • Family First, meanwhile, seems to have attracted disproportionate magnanimity. Did Steve Fielding really capture our hearts after all?
  • The wisdom of our political tacticians has placed Bob Katter slightly ahead of Clive Palmer2. It will be interesting to see if either makes a dent in the status quo.

It’s curious that the major parties should be so far down the list, considering the undisguised craziness of others like One Nation, Rise Up Australia, the DLP, etc. Is that really the path we want to go down? Given the choice between (a) a senator from your least favourite major party, and (b) a senator from Rise Up Australia, who do you think would do the least damage?

I had also intended to use the GVT data to construct a network of parties, showing allies and enemies (where an alliance is implied by one preferencing the other before all major parties). The result is currently too cluttered to be readable, though.

  1. Actually, a bar graph doesn’t quite feel quite right, because the data represent positions rather than quantities, but it was the easiest choice. []
  2. The ABC has decided that these two are now worthy of colour coding. Palmer takes yellow from the Democrats, and Katter takes brown from One Nation. If Katter and Palmer fail, who will be next? []