08 February 2016
by Fleur Anderson

Micro parties' revenge a dish best served Green

An alliance of left-leaning minor political parties says it will release a flood of candidates into the inner-city seats of Sydney and Melbourne that the Greens want to win in the next federal election if the Greens support the Turnbull government's planned overhaul of the Senate voting system.

The Turnbull government is currently locked in talks with the Greens and independent Senators Nick Xenophon and David Leyonhjelm over changes to the Australian Electoral Commission rules that allow micro parties to construct complex backroom deals allowing Senate candidates to win seats on tiny primary votes.

Labor's opposition minister of state spokesman Gary Gray is a keen advocate of implementing all changes as recommended by Parliament's joint standing committee on electoral matters, but is being fought by Senate powerbrokers Stephen Conroy, Sam Dastyari and Penny Wong.

Sources said the government was prepared to a deal with the Greens and Senators Xenophon and Leyohjelm if need be, and pass legislation by mid-March, but would prefer Labor to be on board given the gravity of the move.

Without Labor, it is likely not all of the recommendations of the committee will be adopted but the changes being mooted would go a long way to stop the gaming of preferences.

The rise of the micro party system, pioneered by the so-called preference whisperer Glenn Druery, resulted in six micro-party candidates winning Senate spots in 2013 and is blamed by the Coalition and some in Labor for the inability of the government of the day to pass significant budget changes in the Senate.

The Alliance for Progress is a loose collection of more than a dozen small parties including the Science Party (formerly the Future Party), the Pirate Party, the Australian Progressives and a number of single platform parties advocating issues such as cycling, hemp, euthanasia, renewable energy and the arts.

James Jansson, leader of the Science party and organiser of the alliance, said the micro parties will field candidates for both the Senate and the House of Representatives with the intention of directing their preferences to Labor instead of the Greens if the Greens help the government to abolish group voting tickets that currently give smaller parties a chance to win federal seats.

Mr Jansson said the alliance also opposed the Greens' push to increase the minimum party membership required by the AEC from 500 to 1500 because it was an unreasonable level of paperwork for small organisations, which were required to check members' contact details were up-to-date and whether members were willing to be contacted by the AEC.

"A substantial number of member parties will run in Sydney, Grayndler and Melbourne," Mr Jansson said.
Collective membership exceeds Greens
"Concentrating volunteers in these seats will have a marked impact on the result, and we collectively have membership bases that exceed that of the Greens."

Mr Jansson said the decision by left-leaning micro parties to target the Greens in its most promising seats could threaten the election prospects of the Greens' only House of Representatives member Adam Bandt and the future Greens candidate for Grayndler.

Labor's Anthony Albanese faces a tougher-than-expected contest to retain Grayndler after the change in electorate boundaries placed his home and electorate office outside his seat. The Alliance also plans to give its preferences to Labor's Tanya Plibersek instead of the Greens candidate.

"The Greens used to be our friends because they have typically have done the right thing; for example, they voted against the democracy harming metadata laws," Mr Jansson said.

"Standing side-by-side with them were the minor parties. Unfortunately, they now support a democracy harming voting system that directly reduces the diversity of parties and hence threatens the choice of voters."

He said the Greens were "getting straight into bed with the Liberals to do a dirty deal" because the Greens' preferred voting system would ensure the three largest parties would lock down almost every seat in the Senate and House of Representatives.

"Just as the loss of small supermarkets left consumers with a non-choice between Coles and Woolies, the destruction of minor parties comes at a time when people are looking for alternatives and new voices."

On Sunday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull kept alive the prospect of an early, full-Senate double dissolution election. If the reforms were passed before such a election, Senator Xenophon would be the only one of the eight crossbenchers returned.

If Mr Turnbull goes full term, John Madigan will lose his spot while the other six will have three more years.