Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Preferential voting serves up surprises in Oz

  • Print

BRISBANE -- Take a motoring enthusiast, a footballer known as "the brick with eyes'' and a billionaire man who wants to rebuild the Titantic and you have the makings of an interesting Australian barbecue.

Put them in the national Senate and you might have a problem.

It's one Australia will have to deal with shortly after the federal election held on Sept. 7 produced one of the most fascinating results for the upper house ever seen in this country.

Micro-parties, which included people who wanted to put Coke in school water fountains and build bullet trains, found themselves elevated to the plush red leather seats of the house of review.

The Motoring Enthusiasts Party and the Australian Sports Party were two of the standouts who will field a candidate representing what could only be described as "boutique interests" on the federal political landscape.

Wayne Dropulich, for example, is a gridiron playing engineer whose Australian Sports Party appears to have no policies other than advocating more sport in an already sports-obsessed nation.

With just 0.22 per cent of the vote, Dropulich managed to elbow aside the candidate from the century-old Australian Labor Party, which won more than 12 per cent of the vote.

One of the nation's most respected election analysts, Anthony Green, who has presided over numerous election nights on the national broadcaster the ABC, calls the victories historic, not merely for Australia, but for "world electoral history.''

The strange results are a direct manifestation of Australia's preferential-voting system, in which voters mark their first, second, third, etc. preferences. In the event the first preference fails to win a clear majority, 10 second preferences are tallied and so on until a clear winner emerges. It can -- and just did -- happen that a candidate for a fringe party can muster more "lesser" preferences than a candidate for an established party and win election despite having very little "first-preference" support.

So it is possible, as Green points out, that the Motoring Enthusiasts candidate Ricky Muir managed to turn .05 per cent of the votes into 14.3 per cent by harvesting the preferences from an astonishing 25 parties.

More alarmingly, both the sports and motoring parties managed to secure the preferences of both Family First (a socially conservative party) and the Australian Sex Party (a party which, as the names suggests, has a more libertine view).

Billionaire Clive Palmer, who himself has possibly won a lower house seat (counting still continues two weeks after the election) has secured one of his Palmer United Party candidates in the Senate in the form of Glenn Lazarus, a footballer formally known affectionately across the nation as "the brick with eyes.''

The amiable Lazarus freely acknowledges he will have to take lessons on the business of governing from Palmer, a colourful political operative and mining billionaire who has a range of interests including airships and rebuilding the Titanic.

Australia's reaction to the rise of the micros has been mixed with some suggesting the upper house has been turned into "a barnyard" while others marvel at the wonders of the democratic process.

Ron Boswell, an aging Queensland Conservative Senator who retires next year, is unapologetically appalled.

It's not that micro-parties should be denied their democratic right to representation, he says. It's that the democratic process is clearly being subverted when ordinary Australians vote for one political view, and watch their vote seep across the political divide in the preference process to land in a party with a contradictory view.

Canada appears to be pondering the pros and cons of the preference system supporters insist is the more sophisticated way of dealing with democratic elections.

It might well be, but there is wisdom in that ancient maxim:

"Be careful what you wish for.''


Michael Madigan is the Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 20, 2013 A15

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Andrew Ladd talks about his injury

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A Canada goose protects her nest full of eggs Monday on campus at the University of Manitoba- Standup photo- Apr 30, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A goose cools off Thursday in water at Omands Creek Park-See Bryksa 30 day goose challenge- Day 25– June 21, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google