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The Micro Parties Will Survive

The Senate voting reforms don’t reduce the incentive to vote for micro parties. If anything, writes Ben Aveling, these reforms make it easier.

There seems to be near universal agreement that Malcolm Turnbull, aided and abetted by the Greens, has dealt a death blow to the micro parties.

He hasn’t.

It’s true that Ricky Muir was elected by people who didn’t know that they were voting for him. That won’t happen again. Next time, he will be elected by people who know that they are voting for him.

Ask yourself, all those people whose preferences ended up with Ricky Muir, how many of them regret it? The answer is, I suggest, approximately none. They got what they voted for. Because they weren’t really voting for anybody so much as they were voting against the major parties.

In 2007, 11% of voters cast their first preference for a micro party or an independent – someone other than the Coalition, Labor, or the Greens. In 2013, 24% of voters cast their first preference for a micro party or an independent. Ever growing disillusionment with all of the major parties means that number is only going up. This matters.

It is the nature of our voting system that fractions tend to round down. If you get 20% of a quota, you are very unlikely to get elected. But the closer you get to 100% of a quota, the more likely you are to get elected.

The Motoring Enthusiast Party received first preferences amounting to just under 20% of one quota – in total across Australia. They were lucky to get a senator elected. There were micro parties that received 30%, 40%, even 70% of a quota without getting a senator elected. They were perhaps unlucky. But that is the way of it.

With so many micro parties receiving significant percentages of one quota, even though any individual party was unlikely to be elected, it was almost certain that some of those parties would be elected.

Turnbull’s Senate reforms will not change that. It will make the process less random, in that people will have to allocate their own preferences. But those preferences will still be out there. They aren’t magically going to come back to the major parties just because people have to allocate them for themselves. If they wanted to vote for major parties, they would have.

These reforms don’t reduce the incentive to vote for micro parties. If anything, these reforms make it easier to safely vote for a micro party.

In past elections, voting above the line for a micro party meant not knowing that you weren’t sending your vote somewhere you wouldn’t want it to go. With these reforms it is now safe to vote for a long line of independents, then send your vote to the major party of your choosing.

Voting for a micro party is no longer a bet on the unknown.

This is doubly true for the established micro parties, which have had a chance to make themselves known to voters. Muir in particular is widely agreed to have acquitted himself well. While I personally wouldn’t vote for Leyonjhelm or Lambie, I have reason to suspect a lot of people will. And for an independent senator, it doesn’t matter how many people vote against you, all that matters is how many people vote for you.

According to Sun Tzu, the Art of War is to win without fighting. To that end, Malcolm is ‘threatening’ the micro parties with an opportunity to get re-elected on half the usual quota. Some threat.


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  1. James Moylan

    When the major parties get together and decide to preference each other, and deliberately exclude any votes tendered for small or micro parties: then no micro or small party candidates will be elected. Nor will there be any chance that any of these candidates will ever get elected.
    Yet the author still contends that the small and micro parties will be unaffected?
    I have been involved in building and running small parties for the last six years. I have devoted many thousands of free hours to attempting to build a more dynamic and inclusive political system. Under the new senate rules I would not have bothered. This applies equally to most every other person I know who is involved in independent politics.
    Because under the new rules being active in small party politics is largely a waste of time. Now that the seats of the politicians in the senate are entirely at the behest of the big parties instead of being within the grant of the voting public it means that our politicians simply do not have to listen to anyone except for the people who are funding their campaign and the party bosses.
    No longer do the concerns of smaller parties or voters have to be taken into account.
    The most important qualification for getting elected is an ability to do as you are told. Having an ‘opinion’ on any matter is likely to be counterproductive.
    Moreover: no political party in the modern age seem to be able to do the things they said they will do after the election. The Party gets into office and suddenly all the promises are optional and all of the most significant changes to our way of life that must be implemented immediately are all about fulfilling the wishes of vested interests and rich lobby groups.
    I am glad that you are optimistic about the future of small and micro parties. However the only people who seem to express this sort of confidence are those who have never had anything to do with small party politics and are backers of the Greens, the LNP or Labor.
    All the members of the small parties alliance are pretty sure that the new rules mean the end of independent politics in our country. I am pretty sure that it means the same. And I am getting sick to death of hearing uninformed voices declaring that this is not the case.
    Wait until after the first election using these rules and then tell me that they are good for our democracy. there will be no candidates elected to the senate who are not members of existing big parties or who don’t have the backing of big corporations.
    Then when the government decides to introduce a budget like the one that was rejected in 2013/4 there will be no other voices in our parliament to raise objections. There will be no cross bench.
    Say goodbye to our social security safety net. Say goodbye to medicare and a free education. Say goodbye to leave loading or overtime payments. We have thrown out all the dissenting voices and from here on in the only people in our political system who will have a voice are those who can afford to buy one.

  2. James Moylan

    Before I made my comment above I didn’t check to see who the author might be and whether or not they were aligned with one of the major parties. I just assumed that they must be. Of course I was 100% correct. The majority of posts I could find under the name Ben Aveling are on a site called “Our ALP”.

    When presenting an article on a topic which is so bound up with party politics, on a site which is dedicated to independent thinking and opinions, then I feel that failing to point out that you are a committed backer of one of the big parties is simply being dishonest.

  3. townsvilleblog

    In Queensland I will be voting Labor for the Ho0use of Representatives and when it comes to the Senate Glenn Lazarus and Kerrod Walters, followed by Labor and then The Greens, making sure to vote below the line and Place the LNP in the last two spots and then fill in the ballot paper as preferred, no problem.

  4. Dee

    “Say goodbye to our social security safety net. Say goodbye to medicare and a free education.”
    Yep…..and say goodbye to the LNP if they do that too. They will have a very short tenure if they bring back the 2014 budget measures and will never, ever claw back their support base.
    My concern is that MT and his minions wouldn’t be pushing this legislation unless it benefits them over the ALP. Since when have they ever cared about everyday Australians and “democracy”? They would’ve done any number of polls and surveys and made sure these changes are to their benefit. People need to realise that unless they put a major party somewhere in the 12, their vote could just go in the trashcan. They think it doesn’t matter now but it will matter if all of the above eventuates. Who will explain this to them… one? That is what MT is counting on.

  5. Hotspringer

    Like townsvilleblog, I will be voting for Glenn and after that any and all progressive independents and micro-parties. Labor goes just above the LNP!

  6. Florence nee Fedup

    I suspect the PM is counting on voters marking 1 in LNP group, as they have for years,

  7. Diane

    Can someone please give me an idiot’s guide to how to use the new voting system? I’m having trouble getting my (admittedly not very bright) brain around it! Do I vote 1-6 above the line, and 1-12 below – or is just vote above or just vote below, not both? And do I have to use all 6/12 or can i do less, and how many less to make my vote still count? And if there is one party I detest and absolutely don’t want any of my preferences to go to, do I give them number 6 or number 12 or not give them a number at all? Is there a handy website with instructions?

    I’m so confused….

  8. Matters Not

    Dianne, re the Senate you can vote above the line or you can vote below the line Or you can do both. If you do both, and do so ‘correctly;, then the below the line will count (over ride the above the line preference). Mess up the below the line and do above the line correctly the above the line will count.

    At this stage we don’t know how many boxes there will be above the line (ABL) because we don’t know how many “Parties” there will be. Probably there will be the ALP, the Liberal National (LNP Queensland), the Greens, Lambie’s Party, Lazarus Party and any number of other parties. One box for every Party.

    Again, below the line we don’t yet know how many candidates there will be. There will be 12 vacancies in each State (and 2 vacancies in each Territory – a total of 76 vacancies across Australia) you would be well advised to vote from 1 to 12 (and many, many more if you like) below the line.. You can vote for less below the line but your preference will ‘exhaust’. That means that your ‘preferences’ won’t have full effect. And that’s okay if you want to do just that.

    BTW, the new system will be massively advertised well before the election date. Websites, TV Radio. Newspapers and the like.

  9. Florence nee Fedup

    Not so sure it will be intensively advertised before the election, That question was asked many times, in many different ways during debate. That along with the one, will a candidate be fined if they say just vote one above the line. Also no sensible answer.

    Minister seemed to infer, is not up to government to advertise new rules. (hasn’t stopped them at other times, even doing so before legislation is passed)/

    Not their responsibility. Up to AEC to do it. Was asked if they would ensure AEC has money to do so. Answer seems to be no, even thought this government has taken money from them, and are struggling to meet existing commitments.

    I suspect they will be happy if public unawares, puts just one above the line, as they do now., No pesky preferences to get in way. Literally first passed the post.

  10. Diane

    Many thanks, Matters Not, I am now a little wiser! So rather than giving, for example, the LNP, or any LNP candidates, the last number of how many I am putting, is it better to just not give them a number at all?

  11. Ben Aveling


    You should put at least 1-6 above the line or at least 1-12 below the line.

    I would recommend more – basically I would recommend giving a preference to anyone you aren’t actively opposed to.

    You can fill every box, if you want to be 100% sure of putting a particular person/party last.

    If there is someone you don’t want to vote for, you don’t have to, so long as you vote for enough other people.

    A vote will still be valid if you only put 1 above the line or if you only put 1-6 below the line. But you shouldn’t do that because it makes it likely that your vote will ‘exhaust’. [Exhaust means that your vote doesn’t count at full value, or doesn’t count at all.]

    Put at least 1-6 above the line or at least 1-12 below the line. Or more.

    You can vote above the line and below the line, but so long as you’re careful in putting your 1-12 it doesn’t matter if you don’t. If you do make a mistake, you can always take your ballot paper back and get another one.

  12. Ben Aveling


    > “exclude any votes tendered for small or micro parties”

    Hi James, I’ve looked, and I don’t see anything that supports this claim. If there is, it would change everything. But I’m not seeing it. Can you be specific about where in the legislation this is?

  13. Ben Aveling


    PS. If you have already voted for everyone else, then there is no difference between not voting for a party, and putting them last. But if there are people you haven’t voted for who might get elected, then voting for the LNP might help them get up over the other choice.

    Letting your vote exhaust is a bit like saying: I’d prefer this or this, but if it comes down to a choice between that and that, then I don’t care, someone else can decide.

  14. diannaart


    Am still voting below the line for the senate.

  15. jim

    These changes sound to me like there designed to confuse thus render your vote a donkey vote which in turn goes to the incumbents ie LNP they use every trick in he book eh.

  16. kathysutherland2013

    I’m confused by the new system too. My own rulehas always been “Always vote below the line.” Is this still the way to go?

    (Incidentally, I always refuse “How to vote” cards – this means I have to do a lot of research to make up my own “How to vote” card, which I take into the polling booth!)

  17. James Moylan

    I have seen a lot of people having the same difficulty Ben so I wrote a long note an appended it to another article – I reproduce it here in the interests of not having to repeat myself too often.

    “Oops – notes to assist readers.

    First of all I was trying to make sense of the likely arguments that might be tendered in court (not agreeing or disagreeing with them personally) and I was doing so on the basis that everyone likely understood why the proposed legislative changes represent such a change in the way in which we count votes. Apparently I was wrong.

    I apologise. I am a wonk and so I expect that everybody else on the globe also has an unhealthy obsession with the dark arts of electoral mathematics. The new system changes everything because it shifts the criteria for judgement (the methodology) from one which is exclusively focussed on the differential ratings provided to candidates to one where the six most popular groups of candidates are privileged above all the rest. Below I provide a few clarifying notes.

    According to Anthony Green: ‘The proposed changes in the legislation abolish group vote tickets while retaining above the line voting. Electors will now be instructed to number at least six squares as preferences for parties. Preferences for candidates will be imputed to be in the order of the candidates for each party as listed on the ballot paper.’

    Note that under the new system however many candidates that one of the six most popular parties wish to list below the line will be able to be voted for with all preferences flowing down to the next in the list in that party. However these ‘imputed’ preferences will now be available only to candidates of the six most popular parties.

    Under the old system, even if you voted 1 above the line then all of the preferences would still be distributed (it would be done for you by the party). Now that all the group voting tickets are being eliminated then the voter is being asked to choose between preferencing individual candidates below the line or political parties above the line. This is entirely novel,

    It is because the choice of preferencing has moved from below the line (for individual candidates) to above and below the line then the dynamics have been entirely altered. This is because now the above the line preferences are restricted to only the candidates of the six most popular parties. So the candidates who are in any of the parties who are not in the top six are disadvantaged. But our system is not a party based system. It is supposed to be candidate based.

    Regarding the section nine uniformity argument. I avoided going into close detail as it is entirely technical but you asked for it (in truth I am culpable of the same lazy journalism that I so often decry).

    Imagine that there are no parties and everyone simply votes below the line and numbers every box. That is the legal myth regarding the way we vote now. When we vote above the line it is just a shorthand way of voting for every candidate below the line. The party rather than the voter distributes the preferences but still every voter votes for every candidate. Think about this as the baseline from which we are departing.

    So if I vote A B C D E F Parties above the line in Tasmania but party A does not exist in Western Australia then am I am voting in a way in Tasmania that is not available to someone in Western Australia? The constitution says the method of counting the votes has to be uniform but then the constitution doesn’t even consider that we might vote for a political party rather than candidates.

    So while the reason we need to count the votes in Tassie differently to the way in which we count the votes in Western Australia (using a different set of six favourite parties to define the preference flows) is simply because the popularity of the parties is self evidently different in each state. And while many are saying that this is stupid it is also apparent and self evident – and it is not in accord with the stipulation that all votes in all states be treated in a uniform manner. At the last election every senate vote in Australia was provided consideration using exactly the same electoral mathematical formula. Now the formula used will alter in each state. In what way is this not a move away from treating each vote uniformly across all of the states?”

  18. king1394

    When you go to vote (whenever that is) please ask the Electoral Officer to put the preferences sheets on display. They are always there, but being large and ungainly, are not often pinned up. I have been told that I am the only person to ask to see them (not unlikely). No one needs to be unaware of what any party or individual is doing with their preferences

  19. Bacchus

    Will the preferences sheets still exist under the new system king1394? My understanding is that parties will no longer be able to submit preference sheets as the voters now decide on how preferences flow for above the line votes.

    I’m with many here – it will still be below the line after much research and entering the booth with a home-made how-to-vote card. Just how many numbers to use, I’m not sure yet…

  20. Florence nee Fedup

    My understanding, no longer preference sheets. Will not be voting above the line. I hope Day is successful in having above line voting done away with. Can’t see the need to preference parties.

    What I would love to know how many are preference before losing value. Does 100 carry as much weight as say 20. 12 seems too low.

    Marking 1 should not be valid vote. That makes it optional preferential voting, which the government claims it is not.

    I am inclined to put any good independent before preferencing Labor.

  21. Matters Not

    Just how many numbers to use, I’m not sure yet

    Agree. And I’ll use Queensland as an example to explore some of the possibilities. (And I stress only some of the possibilities and given some assumptions I am aware of and others which are unknown unknowns).

    The ALP will endorse maybe 7 candidates with the likelihood of winning four vacancies with the possibility of five on a very good day and if a miracle occurs then 6. (I stress 6 would be a miracle).

    The Greens will certainly win one seat with a second a real possibility. (Depending on how many votes ‘exhaust’ and how the preferences flow – lots of variables in play.)

    The LNP will certainly get 5 Senators with the strong possibility of 6 and possibly 7 on a very good day (unlikely).

    So we have for certain (?). The Alp with 4, the LNP with 5 and the Greens with 1. That leaves 2 positions in ‘play’.

    Enter the Lazarus ‘party’, perhaps Palmer and some variation of PUP, Family First and any number of others. (I think that Lazarus will do very well.)

    With a ‘quota’ of 7.6923% (approximately) of the valid votes plus 1 vote, the possibilities, while endless can be envisaged. But ‘pontification’ as this point in time would be exactly that. So I won’t. ?

  22. Lee

    “Say goodbye to our social security safety net. Say goodbye to medicare and a free education. Say goodbye to leave loading or overtime payments. We have thrown out all the dissenting voices and from here on in the only people in our political system who will have a voice are those who can afford to buy one.”

    Voting for micro parties doesn’t guarantee that current safety nets will be maintained. Bob Day, who got elected on preferences, supports the ABCC bill. As we saw in NSW last week, micro parties are willing to do considerable damage in order to get what they, a small group of people, want.

  23. Lee

    “Letting your vote exhaust is a bit like saying: I’d prefer this or this, but if it comes down to a choice between that and that, then I don’t care, someone else can decide.”

    What a load of rubbish. If my choices are not elected, I don’t want to vote for anyone else. That isn’t letting anyone else decide. It’s refusing to vote for the best of a bad bunch. It’s saying lift your game if you want my vote.

  24. nurses1968

    One argument I saw that was to be used in the High Court challenge was the fact that a formal vote under the new regime may not elect anyone and expire even after numbering 1 to 12
    It is possible to vote 1-12 for Independents and Micro Parties and still not have those you voted for pick up a quota, and you vote is exhausted.
    If each candidate polled the equivalent of Ricky Muir or for that matter, Cash , your vote, 1-12 will vanish into nothingness
    I intend to vote 1-6 for Micro/Independents then 7-12 ALP and let it exhaust at tht point

  25. Michael Taylor

    Lee, if my internet was fast enough I’d be able to say goodbye to lots of things. 🙁

  26. 2353

    Ben, there is noting wrong with a vote exhausting before it gets to the major parties. A lot of people do it because they know the ballot papers are scrutinised by party workers as they are counted and recounted and it is an effective and subtle way of in the view of the individual, neither of the major parties deserve the vote.

  27. Backyard Bob

    I’ll be voting In whatever way I’m able to discern as the best way to do damage to the LNP. Hopefully that won’t involve too much messing around with one-issue micro parties, whom I regard to be rather farcical.

  28. LOVO

    Since the early eighties I have voted below the line and numbered every box….phew! Voting below the line may take some time but at least one knows where one’s preferences go.
    In NSW elections I always put Fred last. (Happy Easter Fred *waves*)
    In Fed elections I ( nearly) always put Lib’s or One Nation last. ( It’s my little way of saying “F* you)
    This election, (as I did last NSW election), I will be putting up my own posters, which say….
    ” Don’t vote Liberal
    Don’t vote Labor
    Don’t vote Nationals
    and send the bastards a message” 😛

    ( In 2007 11% voted micro/independent, 2013 it was 24%, One wonders if’n Hawker Britton or Crosby Textor are taking note.)

  29. You can't be serious?

    Animal Justice Party 1.
    Sustainable Population Party 2
    Australian Sex Party 3
    Mutual Party (formerly Bank Reform Party) 4
    Voluntary Euthenasia Party 5
    Socialist Alliance/Nick Xenophon/Greens 6

    Any of the candidates from the above parties would be better than most of the LNP. And possibly as good or better than many in Labor. What do ordinary voters have to lose?
    If you can actually vote for Lazarus, Lambie and Muir in your States then I think you are lucky to have the chance to do so. They have shown they are for the people. Unlike the LNP, who are in power to ensure their own interests are secured and those who are part of the party apparatus, big business, the already wealthy and their post parliament position providing sponsors. There are also too many far right wing ideological and religious fundamentalists in their ranks. Labor is a bit more sympathetic to the ordinary person but it also puts the party, personal interests and factional power plays first, has too many party and union apparatchiks in their parliamentary ranks and like the Libs does have not enough diversity. I used to vote Greens but am disillusioned with them too over their support of the Senate voting reforms so not voting 1 for them this time in the Senate and possibly not at all depending on what other parties are contesting the election.
    Time for a real shake up and clean out in politics. The reign of the big parties maybe at the beginning of the end. I live in hope.

  30. Salstarat

    Whenever people wish to complain about the micro parties remember this, it is people like Jacqui Lambie and the other minor parties in the Senate whose votes were absolutely IMPERATIVE in removing the despicable $200K university fees, the increase of the GST to 15%, the loudly criticised $7 co-payment and many other truly undemocratic, unfair policies that the fascists in the LNP tried to force through over and over again. Make no mistake about it, ALL of these unwanted policies, targeting the poorest most vulnerable people in Australia, will be ON THE TABLE immediately after the election if the Lying Nazi Party get returned! I will be voting LABOR and, unlike my last vote, will NOT be voting for the GREENS after Di Natalie has proven himself to be nothing more than a right-wing stooge for the LNP and siding with them on the issue against the elected Senate. The Senate has done its job in protecting the people from the elitist, one-sided, undemocratic EXCESSES of the worst government in living memory. I watched Jacqui Lambie on Q&A last Monday night and was quite impressed with the way she tore shreds off the smug, sanctimonious and dumbed down Josh Frydenberg who, as expected, make himself look like a total fool and a homophobic mouthpiece for the screaming, lunatic right wing fringe of Abbott’s Flat Earth Society!

  31. Catriona Thoolen

    I have a copy of the legislation and you can vote ‘above the line’ for every party. The changes ‘should’ mean that you can’t only vote 1 above the line, but the AEC has said they will accept that for the next election.

    What I am recommending is that you fill every box above the line…bar three. Leave blank LNP (if they are combined ticket), the Greens and Nick Xenophon Team…because they supported this reform, they should have to cop the outcome.

  32. kathysutherland2013

    @Catriona Thoolen – that sounds too complicated for me! I’ll be voting below the line, as usual, and filling every box, as usual.

  33. You can't be serious?

    According to Anthony Green, you can vote both above the line and below the line on the Senate ballot paper. If the below the line vote is invalid for any reason, then the above the line vote will then be counted (provided it is technically valid).
    Various articles I have read (A Green’s blog, included) about the “reforms” indicate that voting 1 ATL will be valid (via saving provision), that you can number more than six boxes consecutively ATL and more than 12 consecutively BTL No need to number all boxes (or 90%) BTL anymore, unless you want to make sure your vote is not possibly exhausted and there are still candidates that you do not mind your vote counting towards.
    Even if you number Greens, Xenophon and LNP at the end of your BTL voting (due to their support for Senate voting “reforms”), it is still possible that your vote will be counted towards one of their candidates being elected. If you do not want that to happen, then it may be better to allow your vote to possibly exhaust by not numbering those candidates at all. Number everyone else or those candidates whomn you would not mind being elected. Those parties will get the message (via their scrutineers) the same as if you had numbered them at the end of your ballot.
    I also suggest that everyone write on their ballot paper the main reason you are not voting for the relevant candidates eg (No vote for parties that voted for Senate voting “reforms”). So long as this is not written over any of the boxes on your ballot paper (numbered or not by you), your vote will still be valid.
    I have scrutineered at Federal elections and I have seen some interesting art drawn on and messages written on ballot papers, which were not invalid just due to that.

  34. my say

    After reading all the comments it seems as though there is a lot of confusion around this voting system ,with so many different options and opinions ,
    maybe that is what Turnbull wanted when he changed the voting system,I hope it is made clearer when all names are added to the voting papers ,so we can rid our country of this lying secretive government,

  35. Ben Aveling

    @my say. Yes. The level of confusion is worrying. It’s going to take people a while to understand what is and isn’t allowed. The level of informal voting is likely to go up.

    But people will eventually work out how to use the system to express their will.

    While I do think that Turnbull meant to bias the result, to restrict people’s choice to one of the major parties, I think it will have the opposite effect.

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