By Dave Wright
Polls indicate that Labor and Liberals are running neck and neck in the New South Wales election on March 25. Minor party preferences could decide the outcome, in particular in key marginal seats and the upper house. For this reason, it is important to know how preferences flow.
One good way of assessing the politics of the minor party candidates and independents is to look at where they are directing their preferences.
Voting procedures are different for the two houses. In the lower house ballot, optional preferential is used. This means that you must mark the number 1 on the ballot paper. After that you can number as few, or as many, of the other candidates as you like.
In the upper house, proportional representation is used. There are 21 candidates to be elected statewide. Each party has lodged a group voting ticket, which is its preference sheet.
There are two ways to vote in the upper house. You can mark "1" above the line. This means that your vote will be counted as a ticket vote, and your preferences will follow the party's group ticket. Alternatively, you can number candidates below the line from 1 to 99, ordering the candidates any way you like as long as you mark at least 1 to 15; otherwise your vote will be informal.
In the 1991 state election, the Greens' Ian Cohen was narrowly defeated by Call to Australia's Fred Nile for a seat in the upper house. A number of factors contributed to the defeat, including poor preference flows.
This time, six more candidates will be elected to the upper house. The quota for election has been reduced to 4.5% of the total vote, giving small parties a greater opportunity of being elected.
There are 27 groups contesting the upper house election with 99 candidates. Many of them are conservative or extreme right wing — Australians Against Further Immigration, the Citizens Electoral Council, the Shooters Party and Call to Australia. The Country Party, a small rural party with no ties to the National Party, has the chauvinist slogan "Australia for Australians" on its campaign leaflet. The Riders' and Motorists' candidate, Piet Baird, is a former ASIO counter-terrorist agent.
It is quite clear that the right is making a concerted effort to maximise its vote in the upper house by flooding the ballot paper with various front groups in order to support the Liberal-National Coalition or Nile's Call to Australia.
There are only a few progressive groups standing. These include the Indigenous People's Party, the Greens, No Aircraft Noise, the Public Hospital Alliance and the Democratic Socialists. The Greens, No Aircraft Noise and Democratic Socialists are also running candidates in some lower house seats.
In the upper house, the Indigenous People's Party's preferences go to the Democrats, the Greens, the Country Party, Abolish State Government, the Democratic Socialists and then Labor.
The Greens' preferences are more complicated. They stitched up a deal to exchange preferences with the Democrats some time ago. From there, they go to the Daylight Saving Extension Party, Australian Independents Coalition for Political Integrity, Natural Law Party, Indigenous People's Party, Country Party, No Aircraft Noise, Public Hospital Alliance, Environment Independents, Democratic Socialists, Stop Dual Occupancy, then Labor before Liberal and Call to Australia towards the end.
In marginal lower house seats, the Greens will give preferences to Labor. In some other seats, such as in Marrickville, they direct preferences to the Democrats, the Democratic Socialists, independent and No Aircraft Noise and leave out the ALP.
The No Aircraft Noise Party will not be directing preferences to any other candidates in the five lower house inner west seats it is contesting. However, in the upper house, where it had to give preferences on at least 1 to 15, it favours the right-wing anti-corruption crusader Eddie Azzopardi's Independent EFF, then Environment Independent, Stop Dual Occupancy, Daylight Saving Extension, Seniors, Riders and Motorists, Democratic Socialists, Public Hospital Alliance, Indigenous People's Party, Democrats, then Greens.
The Democrats have again decided to split preferences equally between Labor and Liberal. They go first to The Greens, then Public Hospital Alliance, the Indigenous People's Party, A Better Future for Our Children, Australian Independents Coalition for Political Integrity, Environment Independent, Country Party, Stop Dual Occupancy, Natural Law, No Aircraft Noise, Seniors, Daylight Saving Extension, Independent EFF, Abolish State Government, Riders and Motorists, Citizens Electoral Council, Australians Against Further Immigration, Labor or Liberal and finally Call to Australia.
Democrat preferences leave out Democratic Socialist. This would seem to indicate that the Democrats would rather see extreme right-wing parties elected ahead of the Democratic Socialists.
Democratic Socialist upper house candidate Bruce Threlfo explained to Green Left Weekly the criteria his campaign used when deciding preferences. "While it seems a little basic to say this, we directed preferences on the basis of each party's policies." In the upper house, the Democratic Socialists have gone first to the Indigenous People's Party, then Greens, No Aircraft Noise, Public Hospital Alliance, Democrats, then Labor before Liberal, with the more extreme right parties last.
"We chose to go to Labor before Liberal simply because they are the lesser of two evils", Threlfo said. "In the process of trying to build an alternative to the major parties, we have to deal with the reality that one of these two parties will be elected into government."
The Democratic Socialists are running in the lower house seats of Newcastle, Wollongong, Marrickville and Fairfield. "We gave preferences to the Greens, Democrats and Labor before Liberal. In seats where we are not standing, we recommend a vote for the Greens ahead of Democrats, and then Labor before Liberal. In Port Jackson we recommend a vote for the social justice independent Denis Doherty", Threlfo concluded.