16 August 2007

Preferences



With the election months, if not weeks away, there is one thing that the decision-makers in political parties will be focusing on other than fundraising.

Preferences. Who gets preferences from whom. Who needs preferences from whom. The results of several seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate depend on how preferences are to be exchanged.

Current polls suggest that there will be a clear majority of Labor MPs in the House of Representatives. This has been the case all year, and both the MSM and many bloggers can't get past labouring the idea that Rudd may replace Howard as Prime Minister. The polls contain other data that is important to those who report on political life in this country, but the press gallery ignore it.

The whole idea of a press gallery is to ignore the stunts and to uncover what's happening behind the distractions and the hype. There's nothing more useless than a journalist who thinks the distractions are the story. Old hands have a role in providing a bit of foresight, not pumping out the hype as though to say: ooh, what an unexpected development!

The minor parties - those other than the ALP or the Liberal-National-CLP Coalition - play an important role in deciding not only the composition of the Parliament but they also shape the legislation that goes through it. Polls show how much support they can expect. Combined with a bit of investigative journalism, we voters may yet see what consequences our voting has, and may bear this in mind when we go to vote next time.

After almost ten years, the time has come to ask: what did Meg Lees get for her vote in favour of the GST legislation - and for those of us who aren't Meg Lees, has it been worth it? There are other such questions to ask of the minor parties' records: it is astonishing that Bob Brown is still taken at face value after all this time.

As I said about Costello, the press gallery will round on those it considers beneath its dignity, or it will ignore them. This article bemoans the lack of attention paid to minor parties, but it also highlights their lack of follow-through. Bartlett wasn't alone nor was he the first in raising issues like refugees and population growth in southeastern Queensland, but it's fair to say he's let events overtake him. Even more so with Lyn Allison: her work on RU486 helped to scupper Tony Abbott's personal ambitions and the kind of rightwing Christianity that has eaten the US Republican Party. "Will Senator Stott Despoja will be known simply as an attractive young woman who wore Doc Martins in parliament?". Only because that's the kind of publicity she courted in differentiating herself from Meg Lees.
Shouldn't the Federal Greens Party say where the preferences will be allocated? Sure, there's merit in localism but it can also be interpreted that the Greens are simply a collective of state-based factions.

They get wobbly when the hydra of clashing internal ideologies and parochialism raises its head(s).

All the more reason to give them a probe, to expose them to the kind of light that would might kill delicate flora/fauna on the floor of a rainforest. If attention they want, give it to them good and hard. When Christine Milne appears on TV she always looks as though she's got a migraine: make her think about what she says and does, call her to account, confront her with the consequences.

The worst thing about the reporting of minor-party interventions in the wider political system is that it's presented as a series of surprises, rather than analysed as eminently foreseeable developments. Government announcements are followed by a grab from the opposition and that's it, as though they were the only players. No experienced member of the press gallery has any excuse for keeping up this pantomime of the lazy. Giving candidate X second preference rather than third not only determines whether or not Candidate X goes on to one of those offices in the same building in the Parliamentary Press gallery, it determines the shape of legislation that will bind us all.

10 comments:

  1. The media's obsession with the two-horse race is simply irresponsible. I agree with what you've said about that, but I'm not sure what you mean by Allison and Bartlett letting events over-take them? Bartlett has been right on top of events, such as the NT indigenous intervention (http://andrewbartlett.com/blog/?cat=54), so has Allison with this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrDXl3HA3xs). Allison has also been on top with her Same-sex: same entitlements bill responding to HREOC (http://www.democrats.org.au/campaigns/glbti/). It seems like the ones who aren't on top of events are the media, or at least, aren't on top of the real events apart from the stunts.

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  2. Clinton, are you going to be a Democrat candidate in the coming election too?

    Bartlett's reportage from the senate floor was a stunt, but if you go into the post about impressions there are some nuggets about where we should be going from here. That's the real test: when the rest of the pack catches up with you, it's up to you to welcome them,, put them in touch with the stakeholders and identify where we go from here.

    When (If?) the Dems are ever in a position to force change, what changes will they make? What are the Dems' preference allocations, Clinton?

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  3. The preference negotiations are happening at the moment. Given that our primary vote is low and it's expected by other parties we will be eliminated early, that gives us some ammo - our primary votes distributed as preferences could be decisive! Of course, we could do better than expected and do a "Fielding" in one or two states...

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  4. Great, Edward: they're "happening". Very insightful. I assume the "us" and "our" refers to the Democrats.

    What are you prepared to sell? What have you got to offer? What will the quid-pro-quo be, not only in terms of preferences at this election but in legislative outcomes afterward? Did you even read the article above?

    I'm as happy to write off Allison as you are (assuming moderate liberal women won't come to her rescue) - but Bartlett?

    Does the demise of Howard and/or Rudd present any particular opportunities for the Democrats into the 21st century? Why is it, when people talk of "doctors' wives", nobody even thinks of the Democrats?

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  5. Andrew Bartlett22/8/07 12:09 am

    Thanks for not writing me off Andrew - I'm still in with a credible chance I think, and I agree that it would be very useful for everyone if the media examined these sorts of possibilities (and their consequences) with at least a little bit of depth, rather than the very infrequent, very fleeting and very shallow sort of notes that pass for coverage of smaller parties.

    As you note, these things can determine what becomes law and what doesn't - amongst many other things - yet are barely an after-thought. You are also right that most of the things that are presented as surprises or significant about minor party actions and statements are eminently predictable and often amongst the less significant things they do and say.

    I don't know about the 'stunt' comment though - I've done that before (IR laws springs to mind) and will do it again I imagine. Its just where I was at the time and it doesn't hurt to remind people that such things can be done with immediacy. It has got little currency as a stunt, as most regular blog readers seem to go to the substance not any perceived gimmick, while the media don't notice at all unless you really do make it a blatant gimmick, and then they don't notice the substance.

    As for your Meg Lees questions - (a) nowhere near as much as she could and should have, and (b) certainly not as far as her former party is concerned. I don't think it was worth it for the country either, although it was the 100% evil or 100% wonder it tends to be portrayed as.

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  6. Ah, now that's a tricky question, isn't it Andrew?

    Essentially, it's silly to discuss preference negotiations that are ongoing because the outcomes aren't yet known.

    As I said, what we have to offer is that our primary vote is apparently going to be very low but could be decisive in some contests. What can we ask in return? Well, we have always pledged to not block supply and have a good record of negotiation - we'll allow necessary, good reforms to pass and only obstruct bad bills. That might, I suppose, make us more attractive to the majors than the Greens if they actually want to get something done no matter who wins. But attributing a motive like that to a major party is a mug's game.

    I am not writing off Lyn Allison, but I don't hide the fact that I think Bartlett has the best chance of survival. I like Lyn a lot, and if moderate liberal women (amongst others) come to her rescue, I will dance a massive jig in the street while singing hallelujah. That would be magnificent - she has been a good leader, working hard albeit to little media acclaim for her effort.

    The cycle by which we are apparently dying is a Catch 22 at the moment - we can't get any positive coverage, so we're "dead", and because we're "dead", we can't get any positive coverage.

    The Democrats have prospered at change of government elections but it's not a massive sample we're dealing with there (changes of government in Dems' lifetime as a party, I mean), and would make an excellent party for Liberal voters to vote for instead of going all the way across to Labor, but the media (who concocted this "doctor's wives" stuff) seem reluctant to talk about us. A double dissolution would probably help the party, as would the mainstream media constantly bitching about bad government while seldom talking intelligently about the role of minor parties in the Senate; curbing the excesses of the majors, and both have them as you'd well know.

    Sorry, I've rambled, but it's hard to make coherent thoughts about this when you have a good message but little prospect of getting it out in a way that will make people listen.

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  7. oh no! I thought I replied to this, maybe my reply was lost, hope you just didn't not approve it.

    Anyways, in a nutshell, our party can't sell out, Senators have conscience votes and policy is decided by a ballot - both unique among Australian political parties.

    Yes the negotiations are 'happening', not least because all parties haven't been registered yet! But they would have been done earlier, I'm sure, if some parties were more decent in their dealings. I would just like to say that electorally, the Greens have a lot to gain from a perference deal with the Dems, but the Dems have very little to gain from them.

    The Dems appeal to a lot of groups. No one talks about it because they don't like mentioning the real alternative in this country; there's a herd mentality.

    'Quid-pro-quo', I mean really, that's just so ridiculous for a party like ours.

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  8. Andrew, thanks for addressing the article. I'd vote for you if I was in Queensland.

    While you can stunt with the best of them I think that others can and do out-stunt you, often to obscure any contribution you and others might make. It's not my fault or yours that the media are only interested in stunts, but it does make a mockery that there is value in having the kind of access the press gallery would hope that it has.

    Lees should serve as a salutary reminder to everyone who considers themselves a "player". That kind of thing is the nearest thing you get to a legacy if you're not a member of the governing parties. Talk about a mess of potage.

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  9. No Edward, it wasn't at all tricky to ask it.

    It's not at all silly to discuss what it is that might be negotiated. It is not at all silly to consider what people involved in politics might seek to gain, and what they might offer in seeking to gain. Points for trying, but I've been insulted by professionals.

    Negotiations are, by their very nature, fluid; but once the deals are done the Dems will have the excuse that a deal's a deal, and like the wishes when blowing out birthday candles they won't come true if you give them voice.

    "As I said, what we have to offer is that our primary vote is apparently going to be very low but could be decisive in some contests."

    Actually, that's the essence of my post. This is the very point that your first post tried to slide around.

    "we'll allow necessary, good reforms to pass and only obstruct bad bills"

    So, you're in favour of flowers and against war? Much of the work of Parliament involves choices that aren't so clear-cut, and the whole idea of an election is to decide who gets into Parliament and who doesn't. What you're doing is lumping yourselves in with the (quasi-)religious parties, who also present themselves as being only able to cope with openly Manichean positions: as such they are the part-timers and dilettantes that minor parties are accused of being, and you would present the Democrats in the same way!

    The Democrats were successful because they demonstrated a willingness to reject the simplistic and delve into the details. The devil is in the details, so they say, and so is God; as that's where the action is, that's what I want more information about. Couldn't be any less silly really.

    "The cycle by which we are apparently dying is a Catch 22 at the moment - we can't get any positive coverage, so we're "dead", and because we're "dead", we can't get any positive coverage."

    Yep, that's what I said. That's why this post and others like it is labelled "press gallery groupthink" because that's my real target.

    "The Democrats have prospered at change of government elections but it's not a massive sample we're dealing with there (changes of government in Dems' lifetime as a party, I mean)"

    The Democrats have experienced 50% of all changes of government since the end of World War II. You'll never beat press gallery groupthink unless you overcome it within your own head, and those standing with you in the redoubt.

    "The Democrats ... would make an excellent party for Liberal voters to vote for instead of going all the way across to Labor"

    Couldn't agree more, and can I recommend that you get yourself invited to Liberal Forum and Black Hand events? They leave a lot to be desired in terms of actual fun and the company can be tiresome, but in your position you could do worse.

    It's difficult to ignore the fact that when people switch from left to right they tend not to stop off in the middle - Andrew Bolt and Paddy McGuinness are two who come to mind who find it easier simply to swap jerseys rather than reflect deeply on the essence of the game.

    "the media (who concocted this "doctor's wives" stuff) seem reluctant to talk about us."

    That bitch-goddess, the media! Never mind that, are the "doctors' wives" themselves talking about the Democrats? If they are, stuff the MSM. If not, why not - and don't blame the media, if you're smart enough to snap out of their message then others are too.

    Never mind being taken by surprise about Allison - are there discussions with women's groups to mobilise support? There better be, and if so I'd like to know about it. More importantly from your point of view, it could build momentum that would show that the MSM follows rather than leads.

    Basically what you're saying is that the media aren't helping you get your message out so you've given up trying to get it out - now that's silly.

    One long post deserves another, I say. Now for Clinton:

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  10. Clinton:

    "in a nutshell, our party can't sell out, Senators have conscience votes and policy is decided by a ballot - both unique among Australian political parties"

    Bullshit. If you can't make a firm commitment and follow through on it, you'll never get anywhere in politics.

    Governments used to rely on the Democrats to get votes through the Senate, and oppositions to stop them; this hasn't been the case recently but let's hope it is the case after next year. As Andrew Bartlett will tell you, Democrats will vote one way on issue X so long as they get what they want in issue Y. It's the relationship between X and Y and the definition of each in this particular case that I'm seeking.
    "I would just like to say that electorally, the Greens have a lot to gain from a perference deal with the Dems, but the Dems have very little to gain from them."

    Why do you think so, Clinton? By answering this question, we could go a long way to addressing the issues I raised.

    "The Dems appeal to a lot of groups. No one talks about it because they don't like mentioning the real alternative in this country"

    Maybe it's not really an alternative, then.

    "there's a herd mentality"

    Stop bleating. As I said to Edward, if you're smart enough to snap out of it then others are too. The MSM follow, they do not lead.

    It's only ridiculous to talk about the Democrats and quid-pro-quo if you're convinced that the Democrats are done for.

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