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Forum Home > democracy in the 21st century > Is Compulsory voting creating apathy- are the Major parties protected by compulsory voting

gosfordpip
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Antony Green is the ABC's election analyst and recently discussed the issue of minor parties on Late Night Live.

Australia has stuck with its three major political parties since just after WWII. ABC election analyst Antony Green looks at how compulsory voting and 'ticket' voting seem to be creating apathy, stifling new ideas, and encouraging the proliferation of spurious rather than serious minor parties/

Australia is still dominated by the three traditional parties—the Liberals, the Nationals and Labor.

 

And like many Western democracies, our major parties still reflect the class, religious, ethnic and social divides of the 1920s. The Labor Party still carries the echoes of its working class past; the Liberal Party still appears as the party of rural and urban capital; and the Nationals maintain their tribal allegiance with smaller farmers and town dwellers.

 

For decades following Labor’s 1916 split on conscription, you would have also said these parties represented another divide, a religious divide on Irish/Catholic versus Anglo-Scottish/Protestant lines. That era has long gone, unpicked by the Labor/DLP split of the 1950s. Post-war immigration also made the division less relevant.

 

But while the general outlines of our major parties remain the same, they've managed to survive by being endlessly flexible in reacting to changing social conditions.

 

The more women who entered the workforce, the less male-working class the Labor Party had to become. All parties have had to react to Australia’s changing migrant mix. Parties have had to adjust to the native-born reaction to migration. They have had to react to changing perceptions of the environment.

 

Some party names also seem aimed to be deliberately attractive. Examples are ‘A Better Future for our Children’, the ‘Australian Sex Party’, ‘Smokers' Rights Party’ and a new one for the 2013 election, the ‘Coke in the Bubblers’ party.

Parties have also had to react to a radically altered economic landscape. Working conditions have changed dramatically with the end of great state-owned corporations and the resultant rise of trade workers as self-employed contractors. Traditional labouring occupations such as building, mining and stevedoring have seen increased mechanisation, a smaller workforce and a substantial increase in wages and conditions for those remaining.

 

For today’s modern blue collar worker, the tax treatment of their income, allowances and lodgings may be as important as their wages and conditions.

 

Yet despite all these changes, you might still expect a better showing from emerging and minor parties. This is not the case.

 

In 2010, the major parties polled 81.6 per cent in the House and 73.8 per cent in the Senate. These figures were down slightly on the previous election in 2007—85.2 per cent in the House and 80.3 per cent in the Senate.

 

Of the other minor parties in 2010, the Greens polled 11.8 per cent in the House and 13.1 per cent in the Senate, up from 7.8 per cent and 9.0 per cent in 2007. That meant the total for all the other parties in 2010 was 6.6 per cent in the House and 13.1 per cent in the Senate.

 

These votes for minor parties are very low in an international context. The traditional major parties in Canada, UK and NZ have all polled less than 70 per cent at various times in the last three decades. Only once, on the rise of One Nation in 1998, did the major party vote dip below 80 per cent in Australia..

 

So in a system of preferential voting, where there is no disincentive for voters to dabble with minor parties, why do so few Australian voters vote for minor parties?

 

The explanation may lie with compulsory voting. Maybe a third of the Australian electorate only votes because they have to. Once every few years they pay a minimum attention to politics—just enough to turn up on polling day and cast a vote.

 

And people who pay little attention will generally vote for the parties they know. From time to time you get an insurgent party like One Nation that taps into an area of public opinion not dealt with by the traditional parties, and a new star bursts onto the scene.

 

But overall, new parties suffer from the endless flexibility of the traditional players, and the inertia of voters.

 

Under voluntary voting, new parties would likely poll a greater proportion of the votes, and we would have a far more diverse political landscape.

 

The current proliferation of new federal parties isn't being driven by disenchantment with existing party politics either.

 

It's being driven by the structure of the current senate ballot paper, which gives parties absolute control over their preferences, even though they have few members and no ability to campaign.

 

Political parties only need 500 members, a constitution, a $500 deposit and a name that can’t be confused with an existing party. Non-party candidates need 100 nominators, 200 for a separate group on a ballot paper (but they have no right to a party name above the line on a Senate ballot paper).

 

In other words, the barrier to entry for new parties is extremely low, but the rewards—being able to get involved in secret, complex preference deals—are enough for some people.

 

Ninety-five to ninety-eight per cent of all Senate votes are cast above the line using the ticket voting option, meaning elections are decided by bewildering preferences deals between people you have never heard of.

 

Minor political parties

Some party names are also deliberately chosen to attract voters, even if the preference ticket is at odds with the sound of the party name. So in the famous 1999 tablecloth ballot paper election in NSW, parties that sounded like environment groups were actually fronts for 4WD activists.

 

Some party names also seem aimed to be deliberately attractive. Examples are ‘A Better Future for our Children’, the ‘Australian Sex Party’, ‘Smokers' Rights Party’ and a new one for the 2013 election, the ‘Coke in the Bubblers’ party.

 

If it were not for ticket voting—where voters abdicate power over preferences to parties—most of these small parties wouldn't run. Without ticket voting, these parties would split their vote, and sink. Under the current system, the parties can swap preferences either to generate low level political influence, or to try to manufacture a mandate.

 

The result of these games is the ballot paper at the 2013 election will be a metre wide, with around 50 columns of candidates, and in such a small font size that the electoral commissions have ordered an emergency supply of magnifying sheets to be manufactured in China.

 

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/australian-political-parties-and-compulsory-voting/4836086?fb_action_ids=10152053603854056&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=hovercard

July 27, 2013 at 5:53 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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