ACT, Australia—According to Australian Sex Party president Fiona Patten, the recent revelation that First Family, an Australian conservative “family values” party, has approached the Sex Party for a preference deal in the upcoming federal election has been “front page news around the country.”
Patten told a local news outlet that she was “stunned” when Senator Steve Fielding, a Family First adviser, phoned her and made the proposal just as she was launching the Sex Party’s South Australian campaign in Adelaide yesterday. She replied right off that “her party was not interested in dealing with Family First, which she said represented the worst aspects of conservative Australia.”
Preference deals among competing parties are a regular feature of federal elections Down Under, but for Americans it may be a tad confusing. (It certainly was for this writer!) To understand why they happen, one first has to understand the Australian system of preferential voting. To do that, we got some help from Stuart Johnson, a member of the Australian Greens.
“Think about preferential voting as a series of runoff elections,” he wrote on his blog. “Let’s say a group of 11 people are voting on which restaurant to go to. Five of them choose a pizza place, 4 choose one Indian restaurant and 3 choose a second Indian restaurant. In a first past the post system they go for pizza even though the majority [appears] to want Indian. A fairer way is to rule out the least popular option and then get everyone to choose between the two remaining options. It may be that some of the group of 3 really don’t like the other Indian restaurant and prefer pizza, or perhaps it is just that they all want Indian—either way this is clearly the fairer way to work out what the majority would like. Preferential voting works the same way, the least popular candidate is removed, and then we see who everyone prefers out of the remaining candidates and this is repeated until a candidate has more than 50% of the vote.”
That explains the basic system, but political parties also are required to participate in the preference system.
“The reason parties make deals is that they have to (at least for practical purposes) assign preferences anyway,” wrote Johnson. “Now in some cases, there is not really much room to move. For example it is clear that the Greens will put the likes of One Nation and Family First a long way down their preferences, and Labor will have the Liberals down around the bottom of theirs. There are other preferences which are not so clear cut, so parties make deals with other; they are making agreements with each other about how they will assign preferences—something that they already have to do anyway.
“So why is it that they have to assign preferences,” he continues. “In the Senate, you have to submit a preference ticket to allow people to vote above the line for your party. Given that the very vast majority of voters do vote above the line then this really is an essential thing for parties to do. When people vote above the line then their vote is being assigned the preferences determined by the party. If you prefer then you can just vote below the line.”
Which brings us right back to the Family First outreach to the Sex Party, and the reason why a party that is opposed to gay marriage, gay civil unions, abortion, prostitution pornography—and supports the Government's controversial internet-filtering policy—would want to associate itself with a party that supports most if not all of the above, with the exception of the internet filtering?
"It was really just them trying to grasp at what they thought was possibly a strong vote for us and hypocritically get in on our coattails,” said Patten. “Frankly, we just couldn't go there. Being a new party, we were trying not to start off quite that cynical.”
A spokesperson for First Family admitted that a conversation had taken place, but was circumspect as to the party’s intentions.
"We were talking with them [the Australian Sex Party] about the election ... and we came to an arrangement not to do an arrangement with them," the spokesman said.
Now that sounds like a conservative family values group we can all recognize.