When you’re handed a Senate ballot the size of a small bed sheet, you’d be forgiven for thinking there might be someone or something on it worth voting for. Surely among the dozens of intriguingly named political groupings, the ma and pa stores of the voting world, someone will stand for something decent.
Unfortunately, this is by and large not the case. Navigating your Senate ballot is above all else an exercise in avoiding inadvertently casting a vote for a far right religious lunatic or worse, one of several disgruntled ex-One Nation candidates fed up with the bleeding heart liberalism of the refugee debate.
A casually misplaced digit could easily have you unwittingly fuel some nut-job’s campaign to have Chiko rolls recognised as the official national food or compulsory forced labour for migrants. So be careful, and consult this guide by Louise O’Shea before numbering anything.
General rule of thumb
Anything with the word “Australia” in it – Rise Up Australia, Australia First, Australian Independents, Australian Voice – is likely to be a borderline fascist grouping, if not outright fascist. It will generally involve some version of a return to White Australia and a policy platform featuring compulsory Southern Cross tattoos for primary schoolchildren. You will probably recognise the candidates from the Cronulla riots. There are many of these, so be careful.
If you’re the kind of person who needs an entire room to store your porn collection and resents the fact that moral prudery and government interference prevent you from acquiring more, this is the group for you. Established as the political arm of the sex industry (the party’s leader, Fiona Patten, is also the CEO of the industry’s peak body, the Eros Association) the party is accordingly committed to the interests of its small business constituency. Opposing censorship and other government restrictions relevant to the sex industry gives it a libertarian gloss, but this is solely in order to make more money from the exploitation of sex and those who work in the sex industry. It takes no stand in support of social justice where it does not assist in generating greater profits for sex industry bosses. This is reflected in Sex Party preferencing, which has placed One Nation in NSW and other far right parties elsewhere ahead of left wing groups and the Greens.
Animal Justice Party
You’ll be surprised how many animals have political grievances when you read the Animal Justice Party’s policies. Whether it’s day release for lab rats, better working conditions for circus animals or breaking down the false dichotomy between introduced and native species, if an animal somewhere is suffering, the AJP is on to it. While they are one of the few minor parties that is not merely a means to channel votes to the Liberals, the fact that they are more inclined to speak out against the mistreatment of cows on boats than that of human beings does not win them any points in my book. They may also represent a serious threat to steak nights, if not steak in general.
How these lunatics got 500 people to sign a party registration form for them is a mystery. Really enjoying car driving is what unites them, and the non-uniformity of vehicle modification standards across state lines is what angers them. Basically their dream is to be able to drive across state lines in a modified car without worrying. They’d also like to be able to take their big cars onto Aboriginal land more often, with a bit of extra hunting and fishing thrown in. Needless to say, their preferences go to the Liberal Party in most states.
Possibly the most short-lived experiment in electoral history, the Wikileaks Party crashed pretty early on the rocks of preference deals. Suggesting that transparency in government is perhaps not a sufficient basis for a coherent political party, the competing interests of ex-Liberals, ex-Greens and some maverick personalities have rendered what might have been a serious challenge to the Australian electoral scene fairly impotent. Democratic structures that bring together people with a shared political world view are essential for a political party to function, and it seems the Wikileaks ethos may have been a little too broad and heterogeneous. The preferencing of far right groups like Australia First as well as the National Party ahead of left wing tickets and the Greens in some states has not only caused bitter internal division and resignations from the party, but has also discredited it in the eyes of many who admired Assange and Wikileaks’ courage in speaking truth to power.
Outdoor Recreation/Smokers Rights/Liberal Democratic Party
All somehow nefariously connected to the Liberal Democratic Party – a pro-free market, Ron Paul-loving right wing libertarian outfit. Don’t get sucked in, smokers: there won’t be any state funded cancer wards if these characters get their way (although there will be more legal camping areas).
Bullet Train for Australia
More or less self explanatory. Pro-business and preferencing the Greens, who are keen on trains in an environmental rather than spotting kind of way.
Their main concerns are surveillance, data retention and copyright reform, although they also have policies in a range of other areas that are broadly socially progressive. Their candidates are younger than most of the other parties and are generally fed up with being governed by “a class of self-confessed technological illiterates”. They are part of an international movement, their counterparts in Germany and Sweden attracting a significant, if still small, vote in elections there. They are preferencing the Greens.
Although attempting to tap into the anti-coal seam gas feeling and campaigning that has been done around the issue in NSW and Queensland, the preference allocators have alienated whatever left wing base they had by placing the sexist Non-Custodial Parents Party and various other far right groups ahead of the Socialist Alliance and Greens.
The only principled left wing party running for the Senate. They stand for workers’ rights, against the PNG deal, offshore processing and mandatory detention of refugees, in support of public education and for marriage equality. Their members are actively involved in various campaigns for social justice and workers’ rights. They have preferenced other left wing candidates and the Greens in a principled fashion. The only drawback is that you can vote for them in the Senate only in NSW, although they are also running in six lower house seats.
Katter’s Australian Party
A populist outfit able to pick up votes from the left and right. Katter champions the “little guy” and boiling billies at campfires and talks about men fishing together a lot, but his stand against the carbon tax and privatisation marks him as someone who also seems to care about the economic interests of working class people. His social values are conservative by 1950s standards, attacking the right wing Qld Premier Campbell Newman, of all things, for his perceived (although non-existent) support for marriage equality.
Palmer United Party
The only minor party to have nominated a candidate in every lower house seat and a Senate team in each state, which just goes to show that money really can buy just about anything. Run by the billionaire mining magnate and Liberal Party defector Clive Palmer, the party stands for pretty much what you would expect: stopping the class war (aka smashing unions), cutting income tax, building a stronger Australia (aka further enriching Australian bosses), as well as some things you wouldn’t, such as more government spending on social services and subsidised flights to Australia for asylum seekers. While Palmer’s criticisms of Kevin Rudd’s hair are fairly unobjectionable, the rest of the PUP agenda hinges on the interests of the mining industry and must be opposed.
The above groups are just a selection of what is on offer in this election. Sadly, more options in this case do not correlate with more choice. The plethora of small, mostly right wing tickets that have somehow managed to complete the necessary paperwork and assemble the requisite supporters does nothing to make our society more democratic. It simply aids the electoral interests of the larger right wing parties and gives conservative cranks a platform they don’t deserve. What’s sorely missing is any sort of serious electoral grouping based in the labour movement that is committed to standing up for workers’ rights and making their top priority the day to day economic and political pressures on working class people and the oppressed.