The Wikileaks Party, established to give Julian AssangeTM a seat in Australia's Senate, has found itself scrambling to explain why it seems to endorse far-right-wing parties ahead of the Australian political mainstream in New South Wales, and is punishing The Greens in Western Australia.
The row emerged after the Australian Electoral Commission published declarations filed by political contenders for senate seats, in which they identify how they will distribute preferences for “above-the-line” senate votes.
Anomalies identified in the Wikileaks ticket included:
- In NSW, the extreme-right Australia First Party would receive preference votes ahead of any mainstream party. Other NSW far-right parties receiving Wikileaks Party preferences ahead of the mainstream include gun-advocates Shooters and Fishers and Australian Voice.
- In Western Australia, agrarian conservatives The Nationals would receive preference votes ahead of The Greens.
The Western Australian preferencing decision has been singled out for particular criticism, since The Greens' lead senator in that state, Scott Ludlam, has been a consistent and high-profile critic of the government over its lack of support for Assange, as well as taking strong positions on surveillance and government secrecy.
With its social media streams straining under the load of criticisms and questions*, The Wikileaks Party released the following statement:
“The WikiLeaks Party isn't aligned with any other political group. We'd rather not allocate preferences at all but allocating preferences is compulsory if your name is to go above the line.
“In allocating preferences between 53 other parties or groups in NSW some administrative errors occurred, as has been the case with some other parties. The overall decision as to preferences was a democratically made decision of the full National Council of the party. According to the National Council decision The Shooters & Fishers and the Australia First Party should have been below Greens, Labor, Liberal. As we said, we aren't aligned with anyone and the only policies we promote are our own. We will support and oppose the policies of other parties or groups according to our stated principles.”
However, individual Wikileaks Party members remained under siege over the preference arrangements. NSW Senate candidate Kelly Tranter posted and then deleted a Twitter post saying that the Greens were punished because they did a deal with the ALP, a party sending asylum seekers “to gulags”. Later, explaining that post, she stated that The Greens “spent weeks talking about the cruelty of the ALP and then do a deal with them”.
The “administrative error” explanation was not deployed in Western Australia. Instead, lead candidate Gerry Georgatos – a disaffected former Green who had once proposed forming a party called The Real Greens – defended the preferencing decision on the basis that it would not affect Ludlam's chances in the election.
“Scott [Ludlam] is effective first preference. Minors no threat. Rest is just hyperbole & disappointing. WikiLeaks WA no deals with anyone”, Georgatos posted on Twitter.
In Victoria, where the Wikileaks Party says there is no mistake, candidates under the right-wing libertarian group The Liberal Democrats – nothing to do with the party of the same name in the UK – rank higher than any mainstream party. ®
Bootnote: For people not familiar with the Byzantine electoral system used under Australia's preferential system: votes from unsuccessful candidates are redistributed down the ticket. In a simple case, a vote listing four candidates named Smith, Jones, Black and White:
- 1 – Smith
- 2 – Jones
- 3 – Black
- 4 – White
If Smith only garners 5 percent of the vote (and therefore doesn't make the cut), those votes are redistributed to Jones, and so on down the ticket.
Senate votes are even more complex, for two reasons: the ballots fill up with minor parties and create huge voting tickets; and Senate seats are allocated state-by-state on a quota basis. If a party achieves enough votes to gain one quota, it gets a Senate seat.
If a voter fills in all of a Senate ticket (known as voting “below the line”), so-called “preference deals” have no impact. However, because of the size of the ballot (there are 110 candidates in New South Wales), voters have the option to vote “above the line”. They “Vote 1” for a party or group, giving permission for the rest of their preferences to be filled out according to the “Group Voting Ticket” filed with the Australian Electoral Commission.
The “above the line” option makes for a lot of horse-trading between parties. Major parties try to agree to assign their preferences so as to exclude minor parties, and minor parties likewise try to maximise their chances of achieving a quota by down-voting the majors.
In addition, there's a lot of scope to set up a minor party whose sole reason for existing is to try to attract the votes of the disaffected, and redirect those votes to major parties.
*The author made Twitter posts during the weekend critical of the Wikileaks Party preferencing. ®