Preferencing in the new Senate Election System

Apologies for all of the TLAs

Group Voting Tickets (GVTs) are no more. The rules governing Senate elections are changing
to optional preferential voting, no group voting tickets and a minimum of 6 preferences above the line (minimum of 12 below the line), and we need to work out how we will deal with the new situation.

There are a number of questions we need to answer.

Will we preference every Party in order? If not, where will the cut-off be?

Will we continue to work with the Alliance for Progress (AfP)? Will we preference all of the AfP Parties above the Greens? How will we change our preference voting if so?


With the end of GVTs we need to re-think how we will approach preferencing. We will need to put at least 6 preferences on our how to votes (HTVs), but listing all Parties will eat into space to pimp our policies and values.

In the past we got members to preference all of the contesting Parties in order, then used the initial vote to strike deals with other Parties for swaps.

2013 Preference statement
WA Senate election
Canning By-Election

My thought here is to preference until we hit a major Party, I.E. the ALP (based on previous preference votes). After that the vote becomes a lot less meaningful as it is unlikely to count anywhere after. That said, there is an argument to preference just 6 to save space for more important things on the HTV. We are one of the few Parties that puts policies on the HTVs because it is an occasion to expose everyone to our ideas and values and having ‘Just vote for X’ doesn’t say anything about who we are or what we believe.

Alliance for Progress background

At the last Congress we decided to participate in the AfP, an alliance of small parties with the aim of swapping preferences and working together on common campaigns. With the abolition of GVTs the impetus for us to preference every Party has diminished.

The AfP have taken a hard line against the abolition of GVTs and many member Parties are planning to work with Glenn Drury’s (AKA the preference whisperer) Minor Parties Alliance to preference against the Greens and the Liberal Party.

Whilst we are a bit pissed off at the Greens for making things harder for small Parties, changes to the electoral system are not the biggest concerns we have compared to mass surveillance, assaults on civil liberties and government sanctioned corruption. There is no way in the world we would support the ALP above the Greens. It just isn’t going to happen.

This has caused tensions with the AfP because there have been a number of articles that have implied that we are preferencing against the Greens.

Due to articles such as the one linked, some members became concerned that we would be seen as preferencing based purely on revenge for electoral changes. This was compounded when everyone was encouraged to attend the Minor Parties Alliance meeting at the last AfP meeting. There was serious concern that we would be listed as attendees despite never indicating we were going to show up.

The National Council discussed what to do about the AfP, a statement was drafted and we seriously discussed withdrawing. Rather than the NC deciding this unilaterally we decided it was better to discuss our entire preferencing approach this election, hence this topic.

Unfortunately the statement proved necessary because when Triple J Hack posted an article on Monday where we were listed as attending. There was a photo listing our attendance, which due to a small twitter storm, got taken down.

Alliance for Progress Future

With preferences becoming optional what we do with preferences becomes a lot more open question (as discussed above). It should be noted that due to our democratic process for preferencing, some AfP Parties have raised concerns that dealing with us is difficult because we can’t promise what our members will decide. Ironically, other Parties just outright lie, see various examples in our preference statements.

As shown in the preference statements, we put the Greens second in previous Senate preference votes. Do we want to preference all of the AfP above the Greens? If this is what everyone wants we could just put a vote asking something like ‘Should AfP members be listed as our second preference as a bloc?’

I have issues with preferencing the Animal Justice Party because they reneged on a deal in the Canning By-Election just last year. I also think Sustainable Australia are a bit racist and wouldn’t like them to be above the Greens either, but these are my personal views.

If we aren’t going to vote for the AfP as a bloc, do we withdraw and make deals with member Parties where there is common ground? Or do we stay involved and see if they are cool with us not preferencing all the AfP Parties above the Greens? I believe there will be space for us if we stay involved, but we will have to see how that plays out.

We don’t have to put any parties on our how to vote cards, we’re just not allowed to say “Vote 1 Pirate” without adding “and 2-6 for any other party”.

Being pedantic, but is that in the bill yet? I just checked, and couldn’t find it in any amendment, and I thought one of the oddities in the bill was that there is no clause that stops parties telling people to “just vote 1”

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There are already general provisions in the legislation that disallow advertising anything that would be illegal under the Act, according to a lawyer I recently spoke to who is familiar with the legislation.

Given this, might want to look at the current Electoral Act and see what provisions are actually there.

I’m firmly of the opinion that we should list a set of 6. It will eat into space, and that’s unfortunate, but at least we don’t have to list Reps prefs too, or the pork-barrelling that goes with it.

Our previous preference ballots clearly have the Greens at either [2] or [3], after us at [1]. Assuming we do another preference ballot and that behaviour continues, I believe any deals we do should not have the effect of bumping them any lower than [6] (maybe if there was an AfP thing we might list “[7] Green” as the final preference).

In the event of a DD there are a few other Greens-related considerations - all states should comfortably elect the lead Green candidate. Tasmania and (probably) Victoria will elect a second just on primary and have only a tiny surplus left. WA will have most of a quota for their second, NSW a bit over half (net preference receivers). Qld and SA will probably only have under half a quota remaining at that point - net givers.

Basically, WA and NSW are the only states that really matter for our preferences in a DD, if they’re meant to end up with the Greens.

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Im really annoyed with these senate changes, the main reason being that it is a type of optional voting. Voters no longer need to number all candidates, whereas previously they did (directly or indirectly)

Optional voting is a huge change, for a couple of reasons i believe it will fundamentally change the way the senate operates.

Firstly, and most obvious;

  • It will be easier for the government also win a majority of the senate, which is currently a very difficult thing to do, they can then mostly ignore what the senate thinks. They might be able to still have some enquiries and maybe slow down bills, but they dont have any negotiating power, they cant stop anything.
  • It will very likely reduce the number of cross bench senators, making it easier for one dodgy senator to sell his vote to the government for a small donation to his electorate (e.g senate Harradine)

Secondly, it means minor/micro party preferences to individual candidates become much more valuable, which takes a bit of explaining.

The way parties work at the moment, they fight internally to be the highest ranked candidate in their party, so they get elected first, so they dont end up in a situation where have part of a quota and have to rely on preferences from other parties.

With optional senate voting preferences become more scarce (because people dont have to give them a number at all), so they become more valuable. The best response to these changes i believe is for Minor/Micro parties to abandon preferencing above the line completely, and only give directions to number 12 boxes (that we specifiy) below the line.

Its no longer a contests to get a high number on the preference sheet, its now a contest to get a mention. Whoever gets the most mentions on the 20% of minor party ballots has got a pretty good chance IMO.

From the point of view of candidates in major parties who cant expect a full quota, there is a possibility that they could be “negotiated” with to push an agenda within their party in exchange for a mention on the below the line how to vote.

As an extreme example, say Labor has 6 candidates named, number 6 has no chance currently, but perhaps can personally organise a preference deal and get mentioned on the how to vote card of a highly rated minor party. The number of party votes might be enough that candidate 3,4,5 dont get enough votes for a quote and are rejected. The leftover party votes then flow down to candidate number 6 who would also get reject, but just so happens to haveenough personal votes below the line to get elected.

Its going to make the parties harder to manage in the senate, as individual senators realise their chance of getting elected isnt exclusively controlled by their own party.

IMO the way we have to play it is, find a minimum number of candidates on the ballot in each state that we think can; either

  • further our agenda with their party
  • push our agenda if elected,
  • a candidate who has views most opposed to their party (just to cause them problems)

I’m not in favor of promising to put all of the alliance for progress members ahead of the Greens.
I’m bitter at the animal justice party preferencing liberals ahead of the Greens for the 2013 senate GVT in the ACT in retaliation for the kangaroo cull that had the lone ACT legislative assembly Green being pragmatic in going ahead with the cull program while looking at solutions to minimise it in the future.
A bunch of idiots in that party that can’t be trusted.

I’m not in favour of listing preferences at all tbh. It used to be marked repeatedly that it’d be great to not have the GVT at all so we could just let the voter decide. What happened to that?

And now the GVT is gone - our role is now is to suggest preferences.

If a voter wants to use a further-preference order that differs from ours, it’s going to be at least an order of magnitude easier this year than it was in 2013.

OK, that’s not entirely ‘letting the voter decide’ - but it’s a big step forward. Perfect is the enemy of the good and all that.

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We could do a how to vote that says to vote 1 us, then 2 to 6 or more of your choice, but also put a table that describes where the majors and a few minor parties fall on a set of issues?


I agree with Glen - our HTV should include a matrix showing where various parties stand on issues of importance to us. This helps inform voters and could also tighten pressure on some parties to improve (some Greens get uncomfortable when their IP policy is compared to the LDP).

I don’t think we should do preference recommendations per se.


Another interesting thought is whether we would end up on anyone else’s set-of-six HTV and what the circumstances would need to be for that.

We’d probably need to make a deal for them to appear favourably on our HTV in order for us to appear on theirs.
A matrix of positions instead of giving out a ranked order will likely reduce our bargaining ability, but we’ll still have something to offer parties that we aren’t completely opposed to.

There’s probably not a lot of point in minor party preference deals now. Preference recommendations won’t have weight or value unless a party has the volunteer base to hand out a serious volume of HTVs. For us there’s probably nothing to trade and nobody worth trading with.

We can still use HTVs to plug policies and inform the public.