Preferential treatment

In the wake of the Beattie’s promise to spend $150 million addressing land clearing yesterday, a lot of ink has been wasted over the issue of the Greens’ preference allocations, a subject the media has long had difficulty keeping in perspective. This Parliamentary Library research paper gives a good idea of just how little impact how-to-vote cards have on Greens voters, demonstrating that Labor enjoyed only a 3.5 per cent increase in their share of the Greens’ vote in seats where the party’s preferences were thus directed. In a compulsory preferential voting system that demands voters ultimately choose between Labor and the Coalition, at least 70 per cent of Greens voters will conclude that Labor is the lesser evil. Queensland of course has the complication of optional preferential voting, but as professional Democrats number-cruncher Senator John Cherry notes in this revealing exchange with Antony Green at Crikey, the 2001 result in the state seat of Indooroopilly saw a below-average number of exhausted Greens votes and an above-average flow of preferences to Labor, despite it being one of only two electorates where the Greens did not direct preferences.

Of more electoral significance is the fact that the Greens are running 72 candidates this time against 31 in 2001, as this will lead to wastage of preferences through exhausted votes in the same way that divided conservative votes damaged the Coalition last time. But the make-up of the Greens’ how-to-vote cards will have little bearing on this, as Beattie presumably well knows. The Poll Bludger imagines that Labor instead hopes to prevent these votes from being able to leak in the first place by encouraging the environmentally conscious to vote Labor rather than Green. Certainly Labor’s decision today to again run with the just-vote-one recommendation suggests that Greens preference deals are not hugely important to them. The question is, will the tactic work as well now that Labor are in as much danger from vote-splintering as a Coalition now relieved of three-cornered contests and facing a lesser threat from One Nation?

As for the Nats, it appears discipline is being maintained over the issue of One Nation preferences. Despite worrying noises in the lead-up to the campaign from candidate for Cook Graham Elmes, Springborg felt able to tell the Courier Mail yesterday that "we’ve got it all worked out – it hasn’t been an issue to date and it won’t be an issue". Despite state One Nation leader Bill Flynn’s bluster about his party being ready to assume opposition status, it seems that with Pauline now definitively out to pasture, One Nation no longer packs enough electoral punch to scare regional candidates into defying the party line.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.