Today’s Herald-Sun reports that Labor and the Greens are on the brink of closing a deal in which Labor will get Greens preferences in sensitive lower house seats, and the Greens will get Labor preferences in the upper house. In reality, the former part of the bargain is of little consequence: it is well established that the Greens lack the power to influence the preference decisions of more than a handful of their supporters. Furthermore, Rick Wallace of The Australian notes that "how-to-vote cards for the upper house have to be submitted several days before those for the lower house", making it possible for minor parties to "strike a deal to get what they want from Labor and Liberal in the upper house, then rat on them when it comes to the lower house". That possibility aside, the deal seems like sound tactics on Labor’s part. Upper house seats decided on Labor preferences are now certain to go to the Greens rather than Family First, preventing a repeat of Steve Fielding’s Senate win in 2004. The cost to Labor is that Family First will surely not be putting them ahead of the Liberals like they did in 2004: Labor’s brains trust presumably had reason to think this was not going to happen in any case. It was earlier reported that Labor was considering a separate preference swap with Family First in eastern suburbs marginals, which could potentially have decided very close outcomes in Labor’s favour at no meaningful cost. However, this idea is said to have been scuttled due to "rank-and-file unrest".
The other ball in play is the possibility of a Labor-Liberal deal at the expense of the Greens and the Nationals. Unlike minor party supporters, Labor and Liberal voters by and large follow the how-to-vote card, so the significance of their preference allocations is not limited to the upper house. This respectively gives them power to swing the result in Liberal-versus-Nationals and Labor-versus-Greens contests, leading to talk that Labor might put the Nationals last in exchange for Liberal preferences in lower house seats vulnerable to the Greens. On the one hand, such a deal would put the Nationals’ seven lower house seats at risk, particularly Rodney and Shepparton; on the other, it would terminate the Greens threat to Labor in Melbourne, Richmond, Northcote and Brunswick. This prospect has generated much excitement in the media, with Paul Austin of The Age reporting that "senior Nationals (have) privately vowed to destroy any chance the Liberals had of victory" if it goes ahead. Specifically, they have threatened to direct preferences to Labor in former Liberal leader Denis Napthine’s seat of South-West Coast, won by less than 1 per cent in 2002. However, Ted Baillieu says he has "made it very clear" that "we are giving our preferences to the National Party and they are giving their preferences to us".
UPDATE: Some comments worth relating from Brian Costar of the Swinburne University of Technology in this week’s issue of the Weekly Times, concerning the possibility of a Labor-Liberal preference deal: "I don’t believe it will happen for one minute. Last time, (prior to the 2002 election) in the pre-poll period, Labor gave its preferences to the Liberals … but when it got serious they just gave their preferences to the Nats". Costar is quoted as saying the source of the story was likely to have been a "strategic leak" from the Labor camp, "designed to send a message to the Greens ‘not to get too smart’ as well as to spread discord between the Nationals and Liberals".