The realpolitik of preference deals

There is never a better time to see pragmatism winning out over principles than when it comes to the allocation of preferences in Australian federal elections.

So far, Malcolm Turnbull has taken the most principled position. The Liberals will not be preferencing the Greens as suggested by Michael Kroger. This is because the Prime Minister presumably thinks that preferences should be directed towards parties that have aligned political views. It is therefore more logical for the Liberals to preference Labor. It may be the the lesser of two evils but preferences do need to be allocated somewhere.

The Liberals have smashed the Greens’ hopes of picking up new lower house seats at the July 2 federal election after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed preferences would flow to Labor ahead of the third party.

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The move to put the Greens behind Labor in seat-by-seat contests across the country will potentially throw a lifeline to under-pressure Labor frontbencher David Feeney in the Melbourne seat of Batman, and assist senior frontbenchers Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek in the Sydney seats of Grayndler and Sydney.

Labor will preference the Greens ahead of the Liberals across the country and is considering a deal with Nick Xenophon which could see the independent senator pick up three Liberal seats in South Australia and possibly even cabinet minister Christopher Pyne’s seat of Sturt.

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This despite the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten vowing to never again enter Labor into a power-sharing agreement with the Greens and his fellow Victorian right-wing ally Michael Danby vowing to preference the Liberals over the Greens. And it comes after the senior left-wing frontbencher Anthony Albanese called Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to rule out ever preferencing the Greens decrying it as the “ultimate cynical politics.”

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 Albo  must be pleased with the preference deal

It’s a murky old world, the world of preference allocation.

Anthony Albanese may be unhappy that Turnbull will not be preferencing the Greens but it will probably save his political bacon. However, gratitude is not a prerequisite for re-election to the Federal parliament.

And then we have Nick Xenophon decrying the  “dirty deals” but presumably he will not refuse Labor Party preferences in South Australia.

The Greens are refusing to preference the Liberals over Labor. This means that in any electorate where the Liberal candidate is unable to achieve 50% of the vote, the seat will go to either Labor or to the Greens.  In a close election, this could be a key factor.

The broader question is what is going to happen if there is a hung parliament. Both major parties have ruled out a deal with the Greens. But the reality is that they may have to if they wish to form government.

With neither major party having 50% of the primary vote, we may be heading towards a three party system in Australia.

This means that we are likely to see a coalition, such as the coalition between the Liberals and the Nationals, between Labor and the Greens.

While it is possible that one of the major parties will have a majority in the lower house, it is far less certain that this would be the case in the Senate.  It may also be that coalitions of Minor parties and independents will form around specific issues rather than these coalitions supporting the government.

Successful government in Australia is likely to rely on the establishment of stable coalitions between the major parties, the minor parties and the independents. We are moving away from a two-party system to a more diverse and potential unstable system.

It certainly will not be a system where the philosophy of “it’s us or nobody” will not work.

 

 

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