14 Mar 2011

Out Of The Frying Pan

By Catriona Menzies-Pike
Will it be the Greens' fault if Fred Nile holds the balance of power in the NSW Upper House? Catriona Menzies-Pike on how progressive groups are going to fight for the Legislative Council
"If you lot were running this place, we'd be cooking". That's what outgoing NSW Greens MLC Ian Cohen said when he looked at the unionists, environmentalists, feminists, academics, social workers and policy advocates assembled before him in the chamber of the NSW Legislative Council today. The thing is, this lot looks increasingly unlikely to have a say in running the NSW upper house after 26 March.

Cohen and Labor MLC Penny Sharpe organised a forum today to discuss the prospect of a Legislative Council controlled by the Coalition — with the support of the Shooters' Party and Fred Nile's Christian Democrats.

They are concerned that groups with a narrow agenda out of step with the rest of the community will exert undue influence on lawmaking in NSW. The consensus was that NSW Labor has been bad news for progressives — but that Liberals in cahoots with the Shooters and Fred Nile will be much worse. Those with long memories recalled the assaults on workers' rights and civil liberties by previous state Liberal governments. "Yes, the ALP are awful," said Eva Cox, "but they're less awful than some of the alternatives." Things have been bad, David Bernie, vice president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties said, but they could go backward. He pointed to the safe injecting room in Kings Cross and the introduction of ethics classes in schools as two positive initiatives passed under Labor which would be very likely to disappear under the influence of the extreme right parties.

Some argue that the scenario in which the Shooters' Party and Fred Nile hold the balance of power has been made more likely thanks to Greens preference decisions.

In February the NSW Greens announced their decision not to direct preferences to either of the major parties in this month's elections. At the time, Greens MLC David Shoebridge said, "the NSW Labor machine is toxic to voters in NSW and the Greens want nothing to do with them." Another view, one that you'll hear from the ALP, is that the decision not to preference Labor was made to shore up support for inner-city candidates in the lower house.

Greens campaign material will direct voters to vote 1 above the line for the Greens. (Liberal how-to-vote cards for the upper house are putting the Liberals first — and Fred Nile second.) There's a risk that the Greens will consign themselves to marginal status for the next four years. With the Coalition predicted to hold an outright majority in the lower house and the strong likelihood of a conservative upper house with the balance of power held by extreme right wing minority parties, the Greens — along with the ALP — may be left out of the lawmaking process altogether.

So what is the situation in the upper house? There are 21 vacancies in the Legislative Council; nine of the standing MLCs are Labor and two are Greens. ABC psephologist Antony Green's reading of last week's Newspoll predicts five new Labor MLCs and three Greens.

This will give Labor and the Greens 19 seats combined — and loss of the balance of power.

It's the candidate placed sixth on Labor's list for the Upper House who is likely to miss out — and in a tough twist for progressives, that's former CFMEU official and member of the Labor Left Andrew Ferguson. According to David Shoebridge, that's entirely a matter for the ALP. In response to those who suggest that Greens preference might stop Ferguson winning a seat, he argues that it's not for the Greens to decide who should be on a winnable spot. Shoebridge told New Matilda, "it's the same party machine who put Eric Roozendal in the top spot and Andrew Ferguson at number six."

Former president of the Legislative Council Meredith Burgmann doesn't see it like this. Her view is that voters who are worried that preferencing Labor will entail support for Eric Roozendal are missing the point that their preferences will also push candidates like Ferguson over the line — and if they're not allocated they may be distributed to one of the extreme right parties.

Shoebridge told New Matilda today that the Greens position is that the upper house will be decided on primary votes. Antony Green and Ben Raue agree with him. Their analysis suggest that the Greens preference decision will have little impact on Labor's prospects in the Upper House. Raue writes:

"If the right wing gains control of the upper house it is because of the massive unpopularity of the current government causing a massive landslide to the right."

"Greens preferencing decisions have no impact on that outcome. I'm sure that the Labor types coming out and crying foul know that. They know that their policies have driven away a large proportion of their voter base, and are facing a massive disaster. The latest hysteria about Greens preferences seems to be nothing more than an attempt to blame the Greens for their impending defeat." 

The optional preference voting laws are complex and poorly understood, argues Eva Cox, who pointed out scenarios in which a failure to preference might result in votes for the Greens being directed to the extreme right parties. (Here's clarification from Green on NSW preference flows under optional preferential voting.) Cox, like Meredith Burgmann, encouraged voters to distribute their preferences above the line rather than following the cue of the Greens.

There's no doubt that the speakers and audience at today's forum shared a genuine desire to find a progressive consensus. And even if, as Paul McAleer of the MUA phrased it, "egotistical hysteria gets in the way of progressive outcomes", there's a common enemy in sight.

Still, strategies for withholding the balance of power from extreme right wing parties were thin on the ground. Some speakers made direct appeals to the Greens to reconsider their preference decision — but the only substantial decision taken was to produce brief plain English guides to preferential voting to ensure that voters know where their preferences are heading.

The forum was chaired by GetUp's Simon Sheikh who pledged to use GetUp's networks to help. Even so, with less than two weeks till polling day, spreading the word will take some considerable effort. And on current polling, progressives are  going to struggle to make their voices heard in the Legislative Council. 


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David Grayling
Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 12:44

The Shooters Party and Fred Nile pulling the strings because of Green preferences! Is that what this State has come to? Are we to be governed by more ratbags and extremists?

Lodge your complaint on election day. As you push your form into the box, light it with a match. Stand back and feel a warm inner glow.

If someone complains, tell them you're shining a light into the political darkness, that you're standing up for democracy and commonsense which no longer exists in NSW.

Let's be beacons for a real democracy!


Ken Fabos
Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 13:28

I suggest people ignore David Grayling's advice and make the relatively small effort to vote below the line. I've never let others decide where my preferences should go and will not let the size of the upper house ballot paper intimidate me. Criticising The Greens for failing to direct preferences that should be the individual voter's responsibility to make clear is uncalled for; major parties rely on voters being lazy and uninformed. Make the effort and use a Right that so many people around the world envy. Even the option for voters to allocate preferences is something few electoral systems allow.

So which of the major parties has shown itself to be serious about the issues Greens voters are advancing as most important? The Coalition will not treat emissions and climate, environmental protection or sustainability with genuine commitment; a big chunk of their core constituency refuses to acknowledge the existence of any problems and their political leaders are not going to upset them by encouraging them to be better informed. Not that anyone could expect Labor to come up with real substance; even if it goes to the trouble of saying the right things it lacks genuine commitment or credibility. Mainsteam politics is indeed letting us down but failing to vote doesn't help make it better.

Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 14:08

Ken I have to concur with your analysis.
I think it simply proves my mantra " One can lead the public to wisdom through information and reason but you can't make them think"

I wonder why we the public allow how to vote party ads much less 'preference direction' and the running the gauntlet to get to vote.
I reason that I vote for policies and the competence of person who is 'going to represent (all) the electorate not the party. Definitely who is going to be PM (functionally I am neither in the parliamentary party nor in their electorate). Least of all
the candidates "presented" affability. Under those terms DG's advice is like cutting off one's nose despite one's face.

Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 14:11

The line should read " Definitely NOT who is going to be PM .......

Oops a premature senior's moment.

Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 15:03

Ok, I can understand Fred Nile being viewed as a extremist, but why are the Shooters and Fishers party viewed with such opprobrium? If you come down to it, they are equally ardent conservationists as the Greens, and should be sharing preferences with them.

David Grayling
Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 15:56

"Under those terms DG’s advice is like cutting off one’s nose despite one’s face." Examinator, I think this is another premature senior's moment.

And why is burning a ballot such a terrible thing. Didn't women used to burn their bras?

Surely highlighting the foibles of our so-called 'democracy' and the many shortcomings of those standing for election is a good thing and should be encouraged!

Chris Maltby
Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 18:20

The problem with the Shooters and Fishers mob is that they are a true single issue party, and they will horse-trade on any issue if they can get watered down gun control, destruction of national parks or pretty well anything anti-green.

They delivered for Labor when needed and they'll deliver in spades for the Coalition.

Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2011 - 23:13

dear me, meski1, if only the Shooters and Fishers were ardent conservationist! All they want is to be able to shoot at wildlife, and fish, wherever and whenever they like. I once thought naively that they would support setting up sanctuaries and marine no-take zones, but sadly, their only concern is their untrammelled right to shoot and fish. Oh, and opposing the Greens.

Posted Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - 01:58

Too right Libelula.

I've seen too much corruption through the legal system in the past ten years & I thought it was bad before that because I didn't need to watch shows like 'underbelly' to see what crime was like, I only had to remember it.

I dread the circumstances of which Fred Niles with his imaginary friend called 'God' start running things again because he unable to separate himself from the religious ideology that supports gender & child abuse. Even though Labor have given the state police so many powers, it gives them the right to walk all over the public's human rights & doesn't allow citizens to have any repeals to their convictions, especially where police & government corruption is involved.

They are all corrupt but one of them is worse than the other & as far as I can see, Labor is the most corrupt out of them all.

True Green
Posted Wednesday, March 16, 2011 - 18:03

I used to consider my self a green, until the greens started to try and ban things I did. I spend my recreation time camping, fishing and shooting. Some place I go, I can now only camp in designate areas. One area I used to fish is now a sanctuary zone. I originally supported marine parks and believe the Shooters Party voted for them as well. It is the greens banning all fishing for no scientific reason I don't like, and they want 30% of our water off limits to recreational fishing. As a licensed shooter I am constantly hearing in the media about how the greens want to limit my shooting, and make it even harder than it is. They seem to want to stop me shooting feral animals.
I believe The Shooters and Fishers Party is a true conservation party. Conservation is defined as either sustainable use of resources or the wise use of resource, and the greens seem to be against both of these definitions. The Shooters and Fishers conservation policies are more progressive than the greens who seem to be stuck in the past and concerned with locking people out instead of managing the environment.

Posted Wednesday, March 23, 2011 - 11:47

I have always numbered every square in the upper house ballot, purely for the joy of sticking Fred Nile absolutely last.

I agree Labor are too corrupt to trust with the time of day, let alone government. I don't want Joe Trapodi running the state thank you very much.

Yet to decide who I will vote for, but Nile still goes on the very end. I'll see who appeals to me at the poling station...