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Minor parties?

Continuing on the coalition theme, there’s been a rash of articles (this is representative) worrying about the rise of “minor parties” to secure 25 per cent of the vote. All of these articles are premised on the definitional assumption that the Greens (a well-established party with about 10 per cent of the vote, in a longstanding but fractious alliance with Labor) are a minor party, while the Nationals (a well-established party with about 5 per cent of the vote, in a longstanding but fractious alliance with the Liberals) are not. In most of these articles, the Nationals are just lumped in with the Liberals (even though they have broken with them in several states at different times) but in some they are accorded major party status.

These articles reflect the longstanding prejudices of the press gallery in favor of majority governments their horror of “hung Parliaments” and their continued belief in a “mandate” theory of government. , Speculating a bit, I guess it’s easier to work on the basis of insider information from ministers, and to a lesser extent, shadow ministers than in a context where authority is much more widely distributed.

In any case, while the idea of an upsurge in “minor party” support is dubious, the gallery is right to think that something has changed. I’m planning a proper analysis, based on my “three party system” model, before too long.

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  1. bjb
    March 19th, 2017 at 10:58 | #1

    Disclaimer: long time Greens member

    I think the reason the Nats are seen as a “major” party and the Greens not, is the number of seats won. At the last federal election:

    Nats: NSW 9.99% vote, 7 seats. VIC 2.61% vote, 2 seats
    Greens: NSW 7.95% vote, 0 seats. VIC 10.8% vote 1 seat

    (A bit hard to do QLD figures because LNP is one party).

    I’ve made the observation on other blogs, that IMO, it can’t be good for the democratic process where the Nats with such a comparatively small percentage of the overall primary vote have such a large influence on the legislative process.

  2. Ikonoclast
    March 19th, 2017 at 12:48 | #2

    Exactly. We need a proportional representation system like N.Z (mixed member proportional representation). Continued support for the current two-party, one-ideology system will just get us more of the same, meaning more neoliberal government and more environmental destruction. We need the Greens to become an important and then a major force in Australian electoral politics, along with the Socialist parties. It’s the only way we can avoid the total disaster of neoliberalism destroying Australia and destroying the lives of the current underclass, working class and middle class. Only the upper middle class and the rich are benefiting from the current system: about the top 10% of our population. Things have to change and they will change. The current system is unsustainable socially, economically and environmentally.

  3. Smith
    March 19th, 2017 at 13:17 | #3

    @Ikonoclast

    New Zealand, with its proportional representation system, has neoliberalism in spades. Proportional representation does not make it more likely that you will get policies that you want. Do you want One Nation to have 15 members in the House of Representatives?

  4. GrueBleen
    March 19th, 2017 at 14:27 | #4

    worrying about the rise of “minor parties” to secure 25 per cent of the primary vote.

    Primary votes aren’t always overwhelmingly important in a “compulsory” single transferable vote (STV) system. As witness the fact that in 1998 John Howard, with 49.02% of the 2PP beat Kim Beazley who got 50.98%

  5. GrueBleen
    March 19th, 2017 at 14:36 | #5

    Nats with such a comparatively small percentage of the overall primary vote have such a large influence on the legislative process.

    Hmmm. Well that’s in the lower house where the Nats contest just a few seats – I’ve never had the option to vote for a Nat in any of the Melbourne metropolitan seats I’ve voted in, have you ?

    I have, however, almost always had the opportunity to vote for the Greens – and the Dems before them – because they contest almost all seats. And why ? Apart from the masochistic enthusiasm of ‘garden variety’ (heh heh) members, because it pushes up the federal ‘per vote’ payout to all parties who get 4% or better in any electorate and/or in the senate.

  6. GrueBleen
    March 19th, 2017 at 14:40 | #6

    Do you want One Nation to have 15 members in the House of Representatives?

    Yes, I do. I think it would be just like when PHON (as it wasn’t quite known back then) got 10, I think it was, seats in the Queensland parliament. Strife, gall and bitter, bitter wormwood followed almost immediately with the total disintegration of the party not much later.

    And that’s all part of the democratic process, so they tell me.

  7. bjb
    March 19th, 2017 at 15:02 | #7

    @GrueBleen

    I take your point, however, do you really think the Nats would increase their first preference votes by any significant measure if they contested as many seats as the Green ? I’d be surprised.

    I’d like to think the Greens contest as many seats as possible to give Australian’s the greatest opportunity to indicate their policy preference, and with our preferential voting system, your vote is never “wasted” by voting for a “minority” party.

  8. GrueBleen
    March 19th, 2017 at 15:50 | #8

    @bjb

    do you really think the Nats would increase their first preference votes by any significant measure

    Well yes, if the Nats competed in more seats the overall (national) total of Nats votes would increase, though it’s hard to say by how much. I don’t think they’d get a lot of votes in my electorate for instance, but they might total up as much as 2% say – and if they did that in every electorate in the country that they don’t currently stand in – ie their percentage is zero – then the Nats would have to get more votes in total than they currently get. And then my admittedly simplistic arithmetic says that if you get more votes, then unless the total number of votes increases enormously, you must get a higher percentage of the votes available.

    I’d like to think the Greens contest as many seats as possible to give Australian’s the greatest opportunity to indicate their policy preference,

    “Not only … but also …” as we used to say. Every electorate in which the Greens get 4% or more of the votes they get an electoral funding payment from the Electoral Commission; which, all things considered, is a significant portion of the Greens election funding which then helps to pay for the campaigning that allows them to stand in virtually (if not completely) every electorate.

    Note that as at 22 July 2016, the AEC had paid out $6,337,258 (plus 36c) to the Greens for 2016 election expenses. The Nats, for comparison, only got $3,158,301

  9. Mpower
    March 19th, 2017 at 15:59 | #9

    @GrueBleen
    Minor parties do have potential but not sure about the Nats?. A basic problem minor parties could help with is ameliorating the exaggerated policy differences between major parties which all too often grab a turn trying to run the show. So policies flip-flop. Minor parties could help chart a less chaotic middle course. There are some examples in the Senate where they have failed spectacularly and some where they have had a win. Sadly , wins are more likely to be by buying votes than negotiating more democratic solutions. But the potential for a more useful role for minor parties does not seem to apply to minor parties in coalition. Who can forget in 2014 Barnaby’s nihilistic statement that the Nationals could not help with a rescue at Shepparton because it was a Liberal seat.
    As lobbies seem to increasingly be running the joint, maybe the Nats would do better as a lobby group. But they would have to get back control of the usually rational National Farmers Federation. It is anathema to the Nats that the NFF would support ideas like emissions trading. however, they should not worry about a solution for agriculture emissions anytime soon given the electricity sector was the first target and how has that gone?

  10. Ikonoclast
    March 19th, 2017 at 16:13 | #10

    @Mpower

    Exaggerated policy differences between major parties? Maybe on social matters but not on economic matters. On economics they read from the same song sheet: deficit hysteria, negative gearing, home owner grants, no significant taxes for corporations, sell all our gas to China for a song (and Chevron profits), enable Adani and the coal industry generally. Keep the mining magnates happy. Keep wages low and profits high. They are in lockstep.

  11. GrueBleen
    March 19th, 2017 at 16:48 | #11

    @Mpower

    Minor parties do have potential…

    Not quite sure I see PHON as a “party” at all, more a disorganised assembly – if that’s what you were really referring too.

    As for the Nats, well any party that voluntarily submits itself to the “leadership” of Barnaby Joyce, can’t be trusted to anything sensible. Though I guess the same could be said about the Libs and Malware Turnbull.

    Otherwise, I don’t think either Lambie or Leyonhjelm could be qualified in any respect at all as “minor parties”. Kinda leaves Xenophon and the Greens, I guess.

    As to the “flip flop” of policy between the “majors”, well I guess that comes from the almost equal split down the middle between “us” and “them”. Originating from a never ending supply of group archosis.

  12. Douglas Hynd
    March 19th, 2017 at 19:52 | #12

    Greens standing in all electorates assists in getting votes for representation in the upper house – they can also do it because they have membership to ensure at least some presence on the ground in most electorates

  13. Empower
    March 19th, 2017 at 20:05 | #13

    @GrueBleen
    “Minor parties do have potential” means not for the current anomalous mix resulting from the spill in the senate. I also mean to include any member not in a major party. As for exaggerated policy differences between parties, it would be hard for them to share a hymn sheet. I would like to see it. We have ad hoc policies that are isolated projects with no sense of a coherent plan.

  14. AlexJ
    March 19th, 2017 at 20:28 | #14

    @bjb

    It’s approximately possible to figure out the Nats vote in Queensland. The AEC classifies electorates as ‘metropolitan’ and ‘non-metropolitan’; in Qld in 2016 the LNP had about half its votes from each type. Also, federally the LNP MPs split into Liberal and National partyrooms.

    Which is to say that if the LNP in Queensland de-amalgamated, the Nats vote would jump back up to 8% or so.

    I’m not sure the three party model is quite sufficient. I prefer a four party model: PHON, LNP, ALP, Greens. Granted only two or three of the four will be competitive in an electorate at once.

  15. Moz of Yarramulla
    March 20th, 2017 at 08:39 | #15

    I still remember Tony Abbott saying “I will never lead a Coalition government”… he lied about that too. I’m that what he meant was he’d never lead a government formed of a coalition between The Coalition and another party. A Co-Coalition?

    On that note, how many parties are actually in The Coalition? I’m guessing three – the Liberals, Nationals and Queensland’s Liberal-National’s?

  16. Moz of Yarramulla
    March 20th, 2017 at 08:44 | #16

    @Douglas Hynd

    It is amusing to see the paid staff handing out how to votes in certain electorates, with the inevitable “please take a Liberal Party flyer and vote John Smith” where Mr Smith is the Labour candidate. The money is quite good, as well.

    I have handed out for my state ALP member because we really need more people like him in state parliament. But like so many readers here, the other 90% of my campaigning is for The Greens (or their greencore “opponent” Save The Planet).

  17. Duncan Farrow
    March 20th, 2017 at 09:59 | #17

    Here is an interesting discussion on the recent Dutch election. The One Nation equivalent ended up coming third but is unlikely to have a big impact on policy.
    http://variable-variability.blogspot.com.au/2017/03/election-threshold-democracy-corruption.html

  18. Robert Banks
    March 20th, 2017 at 15:00 | #18

    The distribution of primary votes in Australia is, and as far as I know has been, quite symmetrical for a long time: Labour and Liberal are usually similar; Greens and Nats (respectively left and right of the 2 main parties) roughly similar; and if there are fringe parties, they divide similarly with smaller shares. I suspect that for some time, there has been more fragmentation on the far right than the left, although that may depend on one’s judgement of some parties. Centrist parties (Democrats, Xenophon) seem to me to usually sink back into whichever part of the continuum they arose from.The “fixed” nature of our voting system – because its first past the post favours parties of the status quo, but only works that way as long as Liberal and National collude to keep Labour out.
    I think this neat symmetry is breaking down under globalisation, automation and environmental crisis – but its interesting how symmetrical it seems to have been. (It used to be that the Labour vote roughly equalled Liberal + Country Party).
    I’d be interested in John’s thoughts about how the 3 tribes will fall (or form) in the face of globalisation, automation and environmental crisis – I guess I think they represent historical alliances arising out of 200+ years of industrial capitalism.

  19. GrueBleen
    March 21st, 2017 at 15:29 | #19

    @Douglas Hynd

    Greens standing in all electorates assists in getting votes for representation in the upper house

    Yep, fair and reasonable point but I would also stay with my contention than the Greens – as with the Aussie Dems before them -need a decent supply of election finance.

    they can also do it because they have membership to ensure at least some presence on the ground in most electorates

    To some extent they do, but that doesn’t mean the Greens can actually campaign visibly in many electorates. It’s mostly just a leaflet and then a few faithful manning the voting stations to hand out the “How To Votes”.