As I mentioned in the last post, every person I’ve asked has given me a different explanation of how the election works. Most were completely off, but I’ve managed to put it all together by taking bits and pieces of everyone’s explanations coupled with news stories and the somewhat complicated yet informative description I found on (none other than) Wikipedia.
Maybe you Aussies reading this should pay close attention.
And take notes.
Here’s the skinny:
Just like in the U.S., there are two houses of the legislature – the House of Representatives (the lower house) and the Senate (the upper house) – except they don’t call it Congress, they call it Parliament like they do in England, and they elect their Prime Minister from the House of Representative rather than have a completely separate executive branch of government. Therefore, if the Aussie system was implemented in the States, Nancy Pelosi would become President.
I’d dig that.
So, there are 150 constituencies (electoral districts) in Australia and each one gets a seat in the House of Representatives – just like in the U.S. Then, the majority party forms a government and elects the leader of the party as Prime Minister. And then the Prime Minister forms the cabinet and so on and so forth. But here’s the cool part: they have preferential voting – you get to rank the candidates – and that helps to give third parties and other minor parties a bit of a voice. For example, in the States, I’d be throwing away a vote if I wanted to vote for the Australian Sex Party - a real party founded by the CEO of Australia’s national adult retail and entertainment association - because there would be no chance that the Australian Sex Party would win a district. (Just to clarify, the party isn’t pro-sex, but they are advocates for better sex-education and gay rights and such) But here, you can rank your candidates, so I’d do: (1) Australian Sex Party – so that I could give them support and help increase their numbers and increase awareness and help their cause - but then when they didn’t garner enough votes for a seat, my vote would switch to my second preference: (2) The Greens. Then, when the Greens gave a good effort and came in 3rd place, my vote would swing to my next preference: (3) Australian Labor Party. This would happen until there are only two candidates/parties left and whoever has the most preferences takes the seat. This is usually a candidate from one of the two major parties, but you will sometimes find the Greens or an independent candidate take a seat in the lower house.
I guess this would be a good time to chat about the actual political parties. There are two major parties: (1) the Australian Labor Party and (2) The Liberal Party of Australia. Labor is the Australian equivalent of the Democrats – a center-left party. The Liberal Party – contrary to its name – is actually quite conservative and is the Australian equivalent of those blood-sucking vampire Republicans on the center-right. They call it “Liberal” just to confuse us. Then you have the next two major parties: (3) The Greens and (4) The National Party. The Greens are left – part tree-hugging hippie and part really good ideas. The Nationals are more rural and very conservative and always form a coalition with the Liberal Party. Then you have your fringe parties: Family First (evangelical fucktards who can sit on it and rotate), the Australian Sex Party (who would probably be happy to sit on it and rotate), and various other small parties representing particular interests. Some of these parties actually win seats from time to time, especially at the state level. Currently in South Australia, the Dignity for Disability Party has one seat in the State Senate. I think it’s refreshing that a party with a platform of rights for the disabled can garner enough votes to win a seat. That would never happen in the U.S. With the good, of course, comes the bad. Here in New South Wales, the Shooters and Fishers Party has two seats in our legislature. That particular party - which I won’t type the full name of again because it hurts me – advocates firearms, hunting, fishing, four-wheel drive vehicles, and general assholeness.
So, now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s move onto the Senate. The Senate has 76 seats – 12 for each of the 6 states and 2 seats for both of the territories. Senators serve six-year terms and half of the Senate seats are up for grabs at elections every 3 years. Now, I’m about to confuse you. Brace yourself.
The composition of the Senate is determined by the percentage of votes each party receives – not each candidate. When you vote for the Senate, you rank your parties and each party that meets a certain threshold gets one seat (or more) in the Senate. So, for example, if Labor received 50% of the vote in a particular state, they’d get half of that state’s senate seats. If the Greens received 15% of the vote in a certain state, they’d get at least one – maybe two of that state’s twelve senate seats – depending on how preferences flowed. This system helps the larger of the smaller parties get seats. After a tremendous showing this year with 13% of the national vote, the Greens will have a total of 9 senate seats out of 76. Not bad.
But here’s the crazy part: the actual Senators who serve are drawn from party lists. Essentially, these are like sign-up sheets at an elementary school where you can just jot down your name and pop up on the ballot. Ok, maybe it’s not quite as easy as that – maybe you need a petition with 20 signatures or something – but still. Now, Aussies can rank the parties and be done with it and let the party power players decide who gets to serve in the Senate as I have described above or they can take what’s behind door number two. Behind that door: they can rank the individual candidates who appear on the ballot, and thus mix their preferences between parties – for example, ranking a Greens candidate #1, but then Labor candidates #2 and #3, followed by another Green at #4, and so on and so forth. Doesn’t sound like too much of a daunting task, now does it? Did I mention that at last month’s election, the Senate ballot had 84 candidates on it here in New South Wales. And did I mention that you have to rank them ALL in order for it to be counted?
Maybe I’ll stick to the party voting.
To be continued…