By John Mikkelsen
While Labor seems to be sailing to a fate similar to the original Titanic come September 7, a swirling maelstrom of murky Senate preference deals could provide life jackets to a very mixed bag of Senate hopefuls, including Pauline Hanson.
She is just one of the strange bedfellows likely to benefit from a series of incongruous deals stitched up by party leaders at odds with their supporters.
How many rootin', shootin', cowboy hat wearin' real men in the north realize that a vote above the line for their doppelganger hero Bob Katter or his minions will flow to Labor and the Greens?
Will those who vote 1 for Big Clive Palmer or his candidates know that they are also voting for Family First, Labor and the Greens?
And if they think that sex will always beat politics (who could blame them for that?) do they know that a vote above the line for the Sex Party will flow down and possibly slide Pauline Hanson into a NSW Senate seat against the dry odds of a six- time loser?
Sex and Aunty ABC's news and current affairs don't normally go hand in glove, but the unlikely alliance between the Sex Party and Pauline Hanson reared its ugly head in a fiery finger-waving clash between the national broadcaster's election analyst Anthony Green and News Breakfast co-host, Virginia Trioli onThursday morning http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-08-29/preference-deals-could-benefit-micro-parties-at/4920822
Green pointed out the 'flotsam and jetsam' swirling in the minor party preferences, using the Sex Party as an example. He was adamant its supporters would not be supporters of Hanson or One Nation, but in the event that she managed to pick up at least two percent of the vote, that is where their preferences would be directed, possibly helping her win the seat.
He conceded she would be swimming against the tide to obtain the necessary numbers with a position on the extreme right of the ballot papers (which some would say was apt), and that a magnifying glass was necessary to read all the names for the myriad of candidates and parties. The system was undemocratic and must be changed, he insisted.
Trioli said he "must have had his Wheet Bix," he was speaking privately and not for the ABC. She claimed voters may be happy to have their preferences allocated in such a way.
The National's Barnaby Joyce would have found the exchange amusing, having been on the receiving end from Miss Trioli in an off-camera moment following an interview several years ago when the journalist pulled a loopy face (apparently) and twirled a finger alongside her head implying Barnaby was short of the full quid.
But the retiring senator who has a shoe in for the House of Reps seat of New England vacated by Labor- supporting independent Tony Windsor, is in agreement with Green about the current preference deals.
In a Canberra Times column titled 'Don't let your Senate fall prey to vultures,'http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/dont-let-your-senate-fall-prey-to--vultures-20130822-2seb6.html#ixzz2cmAYlr4b Joyce writes, "Like native bird populations during a drought, these parties disappear in between elections only to magically appear at an election to funnel votes to the party lucky enough to benefit from back-room preference deals.
"Now, if you would please tell me where your Senate above-the-line preferences go, I will be far more comfortable. But, be honest - you haven't a clue".
He points out the irony of socialists and Greens benefiting from preference deals with Palmer and Katter.
"Indeed, Clive's preferences are a wild ride. In Queensland, if you vote for Clive Palmer, your votes go to Family First, then to the Socialists, then to the Greens, Fishing and Lifestyle, Katter, the LNP, One Nation, Democrats and finally to the Australian Christians, presumably to ask forgiveness…
"The Katter party, which ostensibly is opposed to everything Green, is preferencing the Greens ahead of the Liberals in the ACT, and ahead of Nick Xenophon in South Australia. Bob Katter may be instrumental in helping the Greens keep the balance of power by helping a Green senator to be elected in the ACT.
"Bob has also done a deal with the Labor Party in Queensland. Bob represents a conservative electorate where more than 60 per cent of voters preferred the LNP to Labor at the last election. Bob has been preparing the ground. He needs Labor's preferences, and he needs the money of the trade unions. He has been voting accordingly…."
The ABC points out that the list of Senate Group Voting Tickets shows how preferences are distributed. Group ticket voting works by each group lodging a full ticket of preferences to all candidates on the ballot paper. When a voter selects a party using the group ticket voting square, the vote is deemed to have the full list of preferences lodged by that group.
"More than 95% of voters use the group ticket voting square, effectively meaning that the distribution of preferences in the Senate is determined largely by deals between political parties".
Green and Joyce are right. The present system of preferential voting has been stretched to ridiculous limits and in future it should be changed. Many Australians would be happy with one vote, one value to the party of their choice. Or at least, in taking a leaf from the Queensland State electoral book where preferential voting is optional – vote for your preferred candidate or fill in all the squares, simple as that.
Meanwhile most voters seem to have already made up their mind on how they will cast their primary vote. Last week's final debate between Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott at Rooty Hill in Sydney won't affect the outcome, with some commentators declaring it a dead heat. Some viewers who gave the nod to Abbott are obviously sick of the exaggerated hand gestures and daily verbose speeches which remain a hallmark of the reincarnated Rudd.
Sportsbet has already paid out more than $1.5 million on a Coalition win http://www.sportsbet.com.au/blog/home/sportsbet-pays-out-early-on-coalition-to-win-2013-election#sthash.ViFTLZno.dpuf/
Abbott seems to have settled in cruise control mode and the week ahead is unlikely to deliver a major upset or provide Rudd with a magic Christmas Pudding - GST moment which lost the so-called unloseable election in 1993 for John Hewson.