Meet the Cross-Benchers, pt 2: Rob Oakeshott

August 26, 2010

The Great Reformer?

Wednesday’s National Press Club Address made interesting viewing on a number of levels.  But if you went beyond Bob Katter’s personal odyssey from Brazilian economic policy to  the failure of the ‘Coles-Woolworths’ Australian political system the most interesting point was the performance of Port Macquarie based MP Rob Oakeshott.  As the questions started flowing, it was clear that Oakeshott has become the de facto leader of the cross-bench MP’s.

Oakeshott’s apparent leadership role is something of a surprise.  But while he’s the youngest and most recently elected of the three rural independents, Oakeshott also has the most detailed prescription and list of recommendations for prospective PM’s.  Katter has largely confined himself to the concept that he’s been elected to get a return for his constituents which he’ll ensure is receive and Tony Windsor focuses more on ensuring a stable government to last a full term.  Green MP Adam Bandt has focused his discussions on ensuring planks of his party’s platform are incorporated in a stable, effective and progressive Government, while Denison MP Andrew Wilkie’s election was such a surprise that it’s understandable if his strategies for a hung parliament weren’t quite so developed.

But Oakeshott has far reaching reforms in mind.  Quite simply, he wants to revolutionise the way Australian politics work.

For Oakeshott, the current parliamentary system is an opportunity rather than a threat – he’s ‘a glass half-full kind of guy’.  Rejecting the language of ‘hung parliaments’, he instead believes that the current constitutional situation allows for balanced governments formed from across party lines.  He has stated that he’s not interested in a government formed by ‘Red Team plus plus plus’ or ‘Blue team plus plus plus’ and has suggested a better alternative would be for the people to be sent to the polls – a big statement for an MP who couldn’t hope to have the same level of power after such an election.  It’s stability – rather than a pivotal role for himself – that will determine who he will support, if anyone.

The key is for all members of parliament to look beyond ‘political party democracy’ towards a parliamentary democracy in which they act as local members.  In this sense, Oakeshott argues that the current fluid situation is one which will be decided not by a handful of independent MPs but by all 150.

The key here is that Parliament needs to become more politically powerful, vis-a-vis the Cabinet executive.  Deriding a governmental system in which polls, vested interests, and increasingly smaller sections of the ruling political party determine the agenda, Oakeshott is pushing for local MP’s and parliamentary committees to have more resources and to have a better role in putting forward policy suggestions.  Question time would be reformed to move away from the increasingly juvenile and confrontational situation where the Government attempts to harangue an Opposition intent on launching political attacks, while both sides try to score the key quote for that evening’s nightly news.

Oakeshott acknowledges the role of conflict within political debate and has no idealistic views that policy can be determined completely through consensus.  However Oakeshott wants this conflict to be moved back onto the floor of parliament.  Hoping for more conscience votes he argues that it’s the majority view of the parliament that should matter rather than the majority view of the governing party.  Allowing the opinions of all MPs to flourish in a robust debate within parliament would allow the political system to regain some of the respect it has increasingly lost within the electorate.

It’s clear that Oakeshott is taking a lead from the American political system, in which members of Congress have some leeway to vote against their party interests if their conscience, or the interests of their electorate, demands a more independent voice.  But the weakness in the comparison is that the American has an executive which sits separate from the legislative body.  Under the current Australian system, the Government has to maintain the confidence of the house, and any Government which introduces a bill which fails to achieve a majority within the House of Representatives is a Government which is flirting with instant dismissal.  To expect Government MPs to choose an independent stand on a specific bill over the survival of the Government probably goes beyond reasonable hopes.  Oakeshott has admirable goals for the parliament but to hope this level of reform can occur immediately and at the behest of one independent might be a bridge too far.

Many of Oakeshott’s policy positions are driven from his belief that Australian politics would be best served from respecting the role of independent reports and parliamentary committees.  On climate change, he argues that we need to return to where the Garnaut Report process went off the rails.  An acceptance of the scientific research which found that climate change had human origins led to a plan being put forward by eminent economist Ross Garnaut.  But for Oakeshott, the successive concessions and backdowns made by the Rudd Government on the ETS was where the debate went wrong.  The current situation offers the chance of a ‘do over’ – for the new Government to go back to the original report and take on a lot of its recommendations.

The believe that ‘we ended up with mush’ once policy positions entered the political process is a common theme espoused by Oakeshott.  He bemoans the process which saw a detailed tax review, involving eminent economists and business figures such as Ken Henry and Heather Ridout, produce little more than a fight with the mining industry on a concept which they originally supported.  He’d like to see the parliament as a whole go back to the original review and look through all of it’s recommendations.

On broadband, Oakeshott doesn’t believe the Government and Opposition’s plans limit his options to an ‘either/or’ choice.  Citing his own electorate around Port Macquarie, he states that broadband is of crucial importance but that the ‘pick and mix’ approach adopted by the Opposition has benefits in the hilly areas around Port Macquarie.  While hoping for a ‘consensus model’, when pushed he prefers the Government’s model.  However, it doesn’t sound like a deal breaker.  Oakeshott has stated ‘very loudly’ that offshore processing is both a waste of money and poor policy, as Oakeshott suggests there would be many rural communities which would be happy to host humane processing facilities.  The key is to ‘put fear in the back pocket.’

Oakeshott seems an unlikely parliamentary reformer – the ex-National Party MP from the seachange town on NSW’s north coast.  The stereotype would suggest an independent rural MP with this kind of power would focus heavily on ensuring his electorate is looked after.  But he’s aiming his one shot at real political power on reforms which could alter the way politics works in Australia irrevocably.


The State of Play, Day 3

August 24, 2010

Brisbane and Corangamite tighten, Wilkie close to home in Denison

Here where the remaining eight marginal seats sit after today’s counting (as at 6pm this evening)

As expected yesterday, the conclusion of the two-party preferred count has seen independent Andrew Wilkie has taken a sizeable lead in Denison.  Labor will need to get over 64% of the remaining two-party preferred vote to beat him.  Now, it’s true that declaration votes are more likely to go towards major parties than independents.  However, much of Wilkie’s vote comes from the Liberals and Greens, so he’s not completely disadvantaged on that front.  He’s not home, but he has to be a major favourite, and it might be that the biggest threat is the chance that the Greens get ahead of him on the primary vote count.

There was more counting of declaration votes in the other seats, which the Liberals having the better day.  They would have to now be clear favourite in Hasluck, and strengthened their hold in Dunkley and Boothby.  They also brought Corangamite back to doubtful.  However Labor has gained again in Brisbane, and there appears to be more votes left to count there than in any other marginal.  It could be Labor’s best chance of making a gain.

Here’s how the House of Representatives looks after today.

So not much has changed.  Hasluck and maybe Brisbane are the key seats – Labor would want to pinch one of them to get to 73 (if they hold Corangamite).  With Adam Bandt’s support that would make it close to impossible for Tony Abbott to form Government.  If they can’t achieve that, it’s going to come down to the four independents.

Meet the Cross-Benchers, pt 1: Bob Katter

August 24, 2010

It appears that covering 11 minor parties in 12 days wasn’t enough.  A hung parliament requires a closer look at the six Cross-Benchers who’ll have such a large say in the selection and functioning of the next Australian Government.  I’ll look at each in turn – starting with long-serving North Queensland MP Bob Katter.

The ‘Force from the North’ promises some interesting times.

‘Eccentric’.  ‘Outspoken’.  ‘Larrikin’.  ‘Larger than life’.  ‘Maverick’.

It’s unlikely there’s been an Australian politician who’s been referenced in those terms as often as the MP for Kennedy, Bob Katter.  Katter romped it in on Saturday, and, as anyone who watched his performance on the 7:30 Report on Sunday can attest, he’s vocal, opinionated, and committed to his constituents.

As with the other Existing Cross-Benchers, Katter was originally a National Party member who left the party in disgust at their acquiescence with deregulation of the dairy and sugar industries.  He claims that dairy deregulation caused increased prices for consumers and reduced prices for producers, while tariff reduction on sugar halved domestic prices.  When speaking on this issue on Sunday’s 7:30 Report Katter’s indignation was palpable – for this voice of the bush the logic behind harming the livelihood of farmers was incomprehensible.

Katter goes into hung parliament negotiations with a clear brief – to transform the fortunes of rural Australia.  He argues that since Whitlam both major parties have conspired in policies which privilege big business and urban interests over the needs of rural communities.  As a consequence, rural Australia is closing down, through depopulation of the inland areas of Australia to such an extent, he argues, that the Australian rural population is barely higher than the pre-European Aboriginal population.

To fix this, Katter suggests that we need a ‘different paradigm for Australia’ which centres around material support and greater respect for rural areas and populations.  Agriculture can be supported by the reintroduction of widespread tariffs, with Katter suggesting a 15% tariff on all imported products. The imports of certain agricultural products, such as bananas form the Phillippines, would be banned, and efforts would be made the reduce the market power of Coles and Woolworths.  Katter has stated that the concern over congestion has left him “burning up with rage.”  Greater support for rural areas will encourage the population to return to rural and regional Australia in numbers sufficient enough to ease the congestion concerns around Western Sydney and South-East Queensland.

Katter describes himself as anti-climate change, because it is rubbish.  In a parliamentary debate, Katter has likened the effect of increased carbon to the impact achieved by covering a house in chicken wire, and argued that because a stone thrown at a rock or a tree won’t bounce straight back there is no chance that CO2 will trap heat in the atmosphere.   To say that he won’t support an ETS is a massive understatement – in fact Katter derides it as merely a ruse which will mean “big companies will plant millions of trees and they’ll all die” in order to get carbon credits.

But he has environmental concerns, and believes that “we should take a bit of a pull on the reins here.”  Katter spruiks the environmental and economic advantages of ethanol-powered cars, which is an obvious preference for an MP whose electorate is dominated by the sugar industry.  He worries about the impact of carbon on ocean food chains, and believes that a ‘clean energy corridor’ through his NW Queensland seat would be able to connect wind and solar power generators to the national power grid.  This typifies a belief in the connection between environmental concerns and development potential which is at it’s strongest with his endorsement of the Bradfield Scheme, which would turn the monsoonal rivers of Australia’s North inland towards Lake Eyre.  Katter has argued that the plan could transform 7% of Australia’s water and 2% of the land into a river system which could support 60 million people.

In contrast, Katter’s contempt for the values of the urban ruling classes is fuelled by his outrage at policies which he believes put rural traditions at risk.  Katter bemoans the fact that country people can no longer hunt, fish, camp or even ‘boil the billy’. For Katter, the risk is that ‘we’ve got kids being turned into sooks and fat computer addicts who live in cyber-space.  They’re not allowed to have air rifles and can’t go fishing in some parts of the country.  What are they supposed to do?’

Katter himself can be called a number of things, but the last thing you could call him was a computer addict.  In fact, Katter refused to use one himself.  However he is a big proponent of the National Broadband Network as long as it’s in public hands.

Could he be called a racist?  Anytime a country MP is regularly described as a ‘maverick’ it appears a fair question.  But Katter’s brand of agrarian socialism is built more on redressing a perceived urban-rural divide than on ethnic barriers.  Katter has said Australia is ‘a vanishing race, and we’re burying our identity under the waves of others coming in from overseas’, shares 1960’s PM Jack McEwen’s belief that ‘unless we occupy it [Australia], it will be taken off us’, and has proposed deploying cables in order to stop the arrival of refugees in boats.  However he is widely respected among the many Aboriginal communities in his electorate.

How will Katter work in the new parliament?  Despite his rough-and-ready persona he’s a polished politicians with an ability to make relationships.  He gets along very well with the other two Existing Cross-Benchers, and it’s easy to see him having a lot in common with WA National Tony Crook.  He has even found enough common ground over food security and the retail sector with the Greens to envisage a some form of cooperation – although the fact he describes himself as the ‘opposite of whatever a greenie is’ means the limitations of this quickly become clear.

But overall, Katter is interested in strengthening rural Australia, and especially his sprawling North Queensland electorate.  He claims to have ‘worked with people that I’ve loathed and detested’ in his pursuit of a good outcome and has declared that in 2010 ‘he couldn’t care less’ who wins, although his description of Barnaby Joyce as a ‘piece of incredible unfortunateness’ means the Queensland Senator might be left on the bench in negotiations.

For Katter, this hung parliament provides a once-in-a-lifetime to change the prospects of rural Australia – to deliver a paradigm shift, in the man’s own words.  While it will take a formulated and holistic rural development plan rather than sums of money to get his support, don’t expect Katter’s vote to come cheaply.

The State of Play, day 2

August 23, 2010

Overall it’s been a good day for Labor, and for Andrew Wilkie

The counting has recommenced today, with lots of counting of the two-party preferred count in Denison and Grayndler.

BOOTHBY (SA) – 847 Absentee ballots were counted today, with Labor’s Annabel Digance winning 502 of them.  The Liberals still lead by 657 votes with 21.13% left to count, but Labor’s a better chance than they were yesterday.

BRISBANE (QLD) – Not much counted here, but enough for Labor to close the gap from 858 votes to 784.

CORANGAMITE (VIC) – A very small number of votes counted, but enough to increase Labor’s lead to 1,230.

HASLUCK (WA) – The liberals have extended their slight lead on pre-poll votes, and now lead by 382 votes.  Still far, far too close to call.

They’ve counted the two-party preferred vote in 27 of the booths 56 booths so far.  Endearingly, they’re going through booths in alphabetical order.

Labor is gathering more preferences from the Greens and Liberals than I expected them to, and Denison looks destined to be very close.  Here are the two party preferred figures so far.

Jonathan Jackson (ALP) – 16,143
Andrew Wilkie (IND) – 15,735

However, I’m very confident that Wilkie will take the lead over the remaining booth votes.  There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, the booths counted so far have been slightly better for Labor – and worse for Wilkie – than those remaining.  The table below shows that.

So Labor has 50.6% of the vote so far, but they should be in front – their primary vote was higher in the booths already counted than in those to come.

The key for Labor is what proportion of preferences they’ve gathered.  They require 33.1% to be in front after booth votes are counted.  On the booths counted so far, they’ve gotten 31.8% of preferences.  If they continue to achieve that level of preferences, Wilkie will lead by over 600 votes after all booth votes are counted.

But it gets better for Wilkie.  And the graph below shows why.

In booths where Labor’s primary vote goes up, they also get a better flow of preferences.  But if Labor performed better in the booths that have been counted than in the booths still to be counted, it stands to reason that their preference flow will fall further.  This means Wilkie might have a lead bigger than the 600 mentioned above.

But a booth vote lead doesn’t mean Wilkie’s home.  Major parties tend to do better at getting postal and absentee votes than independents.  This could help Labor overcome what might be a four-figure deficit.

Also, the Greens did very well in pre-poll and absentee votes in 2007.  It’s unlikely they can make up 1,500 on Wilkie, but not impossible.

So, Wilkie remains favourite to win the seat, but it’s an absolute mess in Hobart.

DUNKLEY (VIC) – Stunningly, Labor has shaved over 400 votes from the Liberals’ lead and are within 616 votes with 21.93% to still count.  Billson should still win but it’s almost back in the game.

GREENWAY (NSW) – Labor’s lead has increased slightly to 1,190, and they still look home.

LINDSAY (NSW) – No big change here.  Labor lead by 1,058 with 16.55% to still be counted.

GRAYNDLER (NSW) – Yesterday I stated that the Greens needed to get 89% of the preference flow to win the seat.  Based on the booths that have been counted so far, they’ll only gain about 70%.  Labor will win this seat – probably by more than the 1 or 2% speculated yesterday.

Nothing really changed today, although Wilkie is slightly more likely to be elected, and Labor improved marginally in a few other seats.  It’s still going to come down to the MP’s on the cross-benchers – who now have more political power than they could have ever thought possible.

The State of Play

August 22, 2010

Buckle up kids. This is going to be a bumpy ride.

The House of Representatives

It’s time to recap where the Parliament is now, and how it might settle after the last votes are counted.  At present, both parties are in front in 72 seats.  I think Labor are safe in 71 and the Coalition in 69, although Labor lead two seats which they could feasibly lose, and the Coalition 1.  There will certainly be three independents, who will most likely be joined by Andrew Wilkie in Denison, 1 Green, and a WA National who has stated he won’t sit with the coalition in Parliament.

There are still a large number of votes to be counted.  Votes posted into the AEC, cast before election day, or cast outisde the electorate, aren’t counted until after polling day.  This means that there are still a number of seats which could be considered in some doubt.

The parties provide postal voting envelopes to encourage people to cast their vote.  The AEC then provides information about whose envelopes have been used in each electorate.  It’s not a completely accurate assessment, because lots of postal votes are cast with AEC material, and there’s no compulsion to support the party just because you’re using their envelope. But it’s a guide nonetheless, and it might shed some light on the process ahead.

These are the five seats which are considered marginal in the picture above.

BOOTHBY (SA) – The Coalition’s Andrew Southcott leads this seat by 814 votes with 22.06% of the vote to count.  Labor will need almost 54% of what’s left. It’s unlikely they can do it.  However they have submitted 755 more postal votes.

BRISBANE (QLD) – The Liberals lead by 858 votes but there’s almost 30% of the vote still to count.  Labor needs to get about 53% to win from here.  Besides Hasluck, it’s probably the most likely seat to change hands as sitting members often to better at ‘other’ ballots and Labor are in front in postals.

CORANGAMITE (VIC) – Labor leads the outer Geelong seat by 1,189 votes with 20.5% of the vote to count.  The Liberals need to receive 56% of the vote from here, although they did do very well in postals in 2007.  Labor will probably win it from here.

HASLUCK (WA) – The closest seat in the country.  The Liberals lead by 363 votes with 25.4% to be counted.  Labor needs to get 51.6% of the vote from here, although they do have a four-to-one lead on postal votes.  Still far too close to call.

OK, this is messy.

Centred on Hobart, Denison has been held by Labor’s Duncan Kerr since 1987, but has had a growing Green vote in recent elections.  Kerr has retired, and the seat has attracted high-profile candidate Andrew Wilkie as an independent.  Wilkie, an ex-Green candidate, polled 8% in the same seat at the recent state election and wasn’t considered to have a chance last night.  But Wilkie’s performance has been remarkable, and the seat’s in doubt.

The table on the right shows how the vote so far.  Wilkie needs to pass three tests to win:
1. Beat the Greens into 3rd. This seems highly likely – 81% of the vote and he is over 1,500 votes in front.
2. Leapfrog the Liberals after Greens preferences. Once again, I think this will happen.  As it stands he’ll need to make up less than 200 votes from over 10,000 people who voted for the Greens.  The guy’s an ex-Green candidate so that seems pretty likely.
3. Beat Labor.  He’ll need to get two-thirds of Liberal and Green preferences to do it.  50% of Green preferences and 80% of Liberals would make it very interesting, and I think that’s likely to occur.

The greens didn’t advise on preferences in Denison, and the Liberals preferenced Wilkie.  I’d expect him to get up.

These seats are probably safe, but they might cause complications over the next few days.

DUNKLEY (VIC) – Bruce Billson leads this seat for the Liberals by 1,047 votes with 22% to be counted.  Labor needs to get 55% of the vote from here, which seems very unlikely against a long-term sitting member.  There’s also six times as many Liberal postals than Labor.

GREENWAY (NSW) – Labor leads here by 1,136 votes with only 18.8% of the vote to be counted.  They dominate the postal vote count and look home.

LINDSAY (NSW) – Labor leads by 1,017 votes with 16.6% to be counted.  The coalition will need to get 57% of what’s left but Labor dominates the postal vote count.  They should hang on.

Much like Melbourne, Grayndler is a seat where the Greens have come second on primary votes.

The best comparison is with Melbourne in 2007.  There the Greens fell 4.7% short of causing an upset after polling 22.8% of the vote.  In Grayndler, their position is better – polling 25.5% of the vote compared to the ALP 46.8%.  They’ll definitely come second, and if they get 89% of the vote they can defeat senior frontbencher Anthony Albanese.

But it doesn’t look like they’re close enough to get a second member.  While they’re about 3% clear of where they were in Melbourne 2007, it’s unlikely to be enough.  The preferences haven’t been calculated yet, as there was no expectation the Greens would come second.  When they do, expect the Greens to fall 1 or 2 per cent short.

So to recap:
– It takes 76 seats to govern.
– Labor has 71, and leads in one more (Corangamite)
– The Coalition has 69, and leads in three more (Boothby, Brisbane and Hasluck)
– So, it’s most likely to be 72 all amongst the majors.

The Cross-benchers
– There’s a Green in Melbourne, a WA National in O’Connor, and independents in New England, Kennedy and Lyne, who we’ll call the Existing Three as they intend to cooperate in negotiations.  There’ll probably be another one – Andrew Wilkie – in Denison.
– The Green has said he’ll support Labor.
– Wilkie hasn’t really said anything, which makes sense because he hasn’t been elected yet.
– The WA National has vowed not to caucus with the Coalition.  In the State Parliament last year the WA Nationals sorted a good deal for the WA regions to support the new Liberal Government.
– The Existing Three will cooperate in negotiating but haven’t committed to choosing the same side.

Basically, the ALP has the support of 73 MP’s to 72. The WA Nat is more likely to support the Coalition, so we’ll call it 73 each. If Labor can get him, the Coalition will struggle to form Government.  If the Existing Three hold together they have control, and they’ve said they will look at a broad range of factors rather than purely number of seats or votes won.

This is momentous politics – terrifying, fascinating and historic all at the same time.  There is literally no limit to what is possible over the next few days, and it is hardly hyperbole to state that in the next month the nature of Australian politics might change forever.  We live in interesting times.

Independents’ Day

August 22, 2010

Introducing the six men who will decide our next Government.

What a night!  We’re always promised elections which are ‘long nights’ and ‘close contests’ with the possibility of delivering a ‘hung parliament’.  This time, it looks almost certain that we’ll have one.

Neither party has enough MP’s to get to 76 – the number required to ensure they can pass legislation and maintain the confidence of the House.  It looks like six MP’s will sit on the cross-benches – neither forming the Government nor sitting with the Opposition.  This means the parliament is hung, and both major parties will have to attempt to put together a stable, workable government through negotiations with enough of the cross-bench MP’s to reach a majority.  That might involve the cross-benchers officially joining the Government, or negotiating a deal which means they will support the Government if the Opposition questions whether they have the confidence of the House.

I intend to go through the policy positions of these six MP’s as soon as possible, but for now I’m just going to quickly introduce them in turn.

There were already three independents in the House before the 2010 election, and all were re-elected reasonably easily.  In Lyne, centred on Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour, was won by Rob Oakeshott in a 2008 by-election.  Oakeshott had held the state seat of Port Macquarie from 1995 – first as a National and from 2002 as an independent.  New England, which takes in inland NSW from Tamworth to the Queensland Border, has been held by Tony Windsor since 2001.  Windsor had previously held the state seat of Tamworth from 1991.

The third existing independent is the irrepressible Bob Katter.  Here’s a taste of Bob in action.

Katter represents the Queensland electorate of Kennedy, which sprawls across outback Queensland from Charters Towers to the NT border.  He’s represented the area for close to 40 years – first in Qld State Parliament and in Kennedy since 1993.  Formerly a National, Katter was a member of the Bjelke-Petersen Ministry in the 1980’s before leaving the Coalition in 2001 after deciding economic rationalism had gone too far.

The three independents work well together, and have announced that they’ll negotiate with the major parties together.  While they represent formerly National seats, they’re all antagonistic towards the Nationals, with Katter today calling Barnaby Joyce a ‘piece of incredible unfortunateness’.

Adam Bandt‘s victory in the seat of Melbourne wasn’t a massive surprise.  I’ve previously covered the Green’s policies so I won’t go into them again, but it’s worth noting that Bandt has declared that in the event of a hung parliament he would side with Labor.

Andrew Wilkie‘s likely victory in the Hobart-based seat of Denison was a complete shock.  Wilkie originally worked as an intelligence officer for the Office of National Assessments before blowing the whistle about misuse of intelligence in the run up to the 2003 Iraq War.  Wilkie wrote a book about his decision, ran for the Greens in 2004 and 2007, and also as an independent for Denison in the 2010 Tasmanian state election.  While he’d done well in these elections, there was no reason to think he’d get elected – Labor was seen as a 98% chance to win the seat.  Wilkie isn’t certain to be elected but it would be surprising if he wasn’t.

The final cross-bencher is also tentative, but for a different reason.  WA National Tony Crook was elected to the rural WA seat of O’Connor, which includes Albany and Kalgoorlie.  Normally, the Nationals sit in the Coalition.  But the WA Nationals are an independent organization from the other states, and in the campaign Crook vowed to sit on the cross-benches if elected.

The Verdict, pt 4: The Top Four

August 21, 2010

OK, now to the top four.  Three of the four focus on central issues with positions which I largely agree with – the Sex Party on individual freedom, the Secular Party on the role of religion in society, and the Greens on the environment and asylum seekers.  In the end, ranking those three came down to focusing on what issues meant the most to me.

The ASP does have something of a sparse policy portfolio, but much of what they do advocate is quite reasonable.  If you get beyond the name, they’re a party which is standing for trust and maturity amongst adults over fear and scaremongering.  It’s a political ideology that’s tough to pull off and anyone who attempts to needs to be respected.

That said, I’m not sure that the issues they are pushing forward are really the first-order issues which need to be addressed immediately.  A very honourable effort, but not quite this time.

Another party pushing against a growing trend – this time towards religion in politics.  The Seculars also provide a deeper policy portfolio than the Sex Party.  There’s one thing which holds them back from being even higher on my list.  That’s the feeling that the state and religions should be separated feels more important as an underlying philosophy for politicians, rather than the centre of their purpose for existing.  I’m completely in favour of secularism – I’m just not sure that it needs to be approached with the zeal normally reserved for the wackjobs on the right.

That said, when I cast my vote in a local church hall, it was very VERY tempting to put the Seculars first – if only out of spite.

They’re irrevelant, unpopular, and as 2001 as Nikki Webster.  But when you look deeper at the Democrats’ policy, you see that it’s a shame they no longer hold a significant place within Australia’s political landscape.  They’re economically small government and pro market, they’re pro individual freedoms, and they’re smart on the environment and asylum seekers.  They came very close to getting my first preference.

The Greens have the right focus for the coming parliamentary term.  They’re a little left economically for my liking, but in a balance of power role that’s more likely to act as a compulsion for the new Government to consider the interests of the weakest elements of society.  Their rural policies are so good that the  Weekly Times – the voice of the bush – have basically endorsed them. Their well-known policies on climate change and asylum seekers are generous, forward-thinking and optimistic, but they’ve added health and education policies which provide holistic alternatives to the current models but also have easy-to-introduce elements which they should be able to deliver from within the legislative process.

This feels like an ‘It’s Time’ moment for the Greens.  Time to end inaction on climate change and political attacks on refugees.  Time to stand up and play a powerful role in Australian politics.  That’s why, this time, I’ve voted Green.