2013 Election roundup

The counting for this year’s federal election is well under way, and although the results aren’t known yet, Pirate Party Australia did phenomenally well in its first federal election. Currently the polls indicate over 29,000 primary votes nationally (0.31% of the vote with 67% counted), and I predict we will finish at about 50,000 votes total.

Pirate Party Australia competed in four of six Australia states (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania) fielding two candidates for the Senate in each. On a shoestring budget, we’ve done incredibly well in my opinion for a first election. For those wanting an explanation of Australia’s political system, I’ve included a summary at the end of this post.

I think the best thing to come out of this for Pirate Party Australia was that we proved founding a party on democracy and transparency works. You can have an open party where decisions are made through debate and consensus-building, where you don’t get trapped in vote-hungry deals and instead stick to your principles. I am confident we are in the perfect position to contest the next federal election and many elections to come.

Thanks to…

A lot of people put a lot of effort into this campaign. Sure, we all know we could have done some things better, but for a ragtag bunch of volunteers we have made an insane impact. I’d like to thank everyone involved in the campaign for their hard work.

There are a few stand out contributors that I feel should be named personally, however, and apologies to anyone I may have inadvertently left out.

First thanks must of course go to Brendan Molloy, former Party Secretary and lead candidate for NSW. Without him, the Party would not have been registered and not have competed at all. His combination of aggression and level-headedness allowed us to have firm footing from which to fight this election. I’m sure most of us hit points of frustration, despair and hopelessness, and even though Brendan hit these at least as frequently as everyone else, he was able to pull things together and get us through. Had it not been for him getting on everyone’s backs, not to mention delivering on every aspect of the campaign he could, we would never have been this successful. I hope he enjoys his two week break.

All candidates deserve a pat on the back. When many of them nominated themselves back in March and April, they were complete unknowns within the Party, but each has proved their worth (and not just in the election campaign, but in policy development and other areas). Each surpassed expectations in their contributions. So thank you to our Queensland candidates Melanie Thomas and Liam Pomfret, Brendan and David W. Campbell in New South Wales, Joe Miles and Geoff Hammett in Victoria, and Thomas Randle and Tom Storey in Tasmania. Each stepped up and did not disappoint. It is also worth mentioning the contributions of the secondary candidates (Liam, David, Geoff and Tom) who put their hands up as “warm bodies” — they went above and beyond being mere placeholders.

As I said a week or two ago: I have to thank all our candidates also for not being liabilities. As Press Officer I had no one call asking us to comment on candidates not knowing our policies, or making ignorant, racist remarks.

Further thanks to our State Coordinators — Sunny Kalsi (NSW), Ben McGinnes (Victoria), Mel (Queensland) and Thomas (Tasmania)  — and a few other volunteers in particular. It would be impossible for me to know absolutely everyone involved in the campaign, but a few names do stand out. David Kennedy in Queensland provided invaluable support to our candidates, as well as helping me with press releases, Chanel Gronowski, Emma Roberts and Elaine Lualhati were particularly active in creating and distributing materials in NSW, Mark Street and David Crafti showed enormous enthusiasm for the campaign in Victoria, and Tim Serong from Tasmania deserves praise for his assistance with press releases.

Overseeing the whole campaign (and indeed the whole party) the National Council deserves a round of applause: Simon Frew (President), Mel (Deputy President), Daniel Judge (Secretary), Ben (Treasurer), Mark Gibbons (Deputy Treasurer), Glen Takkenberg (Registered Officer), and Brendan and David (Councillors). I think the Policy Development Committee, led by Mark until July, also should be congratulated on having produced a splendid set of policies making us competitive this election, as should the Campaigns Committee for producing a lot of our materials and IT for mostly keeping things up and running.

Tirelessly promoting us was Internet activist Asher Wolf. Her support and encouragement was absolutely amazing, and I hope she is as proud of our result as I am.

On a personal note, I must thank my friends and family: those who put up with my ranting and raving and spruiking for the past few months and my parents for actually “getting it” and supporting Pirate Party Australia for the past two years. And last but not least, I thank the woman who has kept me sane for more than two years: thanks for putting up with my boring, frustrated rants and giving me some much needed escape and love.

The future…

What does the future hold for Pirate Party Australia? Well, as I mentioned earlier, we all know what we could do better. Other than the lack of experience, however, I don’t consider there to be any glaring mistakes. I’m looking forward to our next election being even better. We’ve got more volunteers, more funds, and more experience.

But between now and 2016, it’s important to remember that the bulk of our time is outside elections. We are a political party attached to an activist organisation, and there are plenty of events, protests, conferences and roundtables to attend. There is no end of work for us — there are three submissions to be made within the next four weeks alone.

It is also important to expand our policies. We have a fantastic foundation in evidence-based policies, and I am looking forward to tackling the role of Policy Development Officer between now and July. Our existing policies provide a solid framework on which to build, and there are many areas that people have suggested we look into. Policy development takes time, but we have made enormous progress in under a year, and given we now have three years, I’m sure we’ll be a powerhouse of productivity.

Of course, we will want to start building state branches. A few have already volunteered to start drafting constitutions to get them up and running. I expect we will have Queensland, NSW, Victoria and (maybe) Tasmania on their feet within a few months, with our weaker states of South Australia and Western Australia following suit. Eventually we may even register our ACT branch and get the Northern Territory going.

We need to focus heavily on improving party participation. We had a lot of people put their hand up to help, but while we have a very flat structure it is clear that we could be operating more efficiently. We stress transparency, democracy and oversight but we need to ensure our members are empowered to know what they can do and how to do it. I’m looking forward to encouraging more initiatives from the grassroots of our party.

The next three years will be our chance to mature into a force to be reckoned with. We’ve proven ourselves to be more than a fad: lets give them hell between now and 2016. Let’s prove we’re not a flash in the pan!

Our electoral system…

Australia’s political system is a bit of a mess, and for God knows what reason it’s never properly taught in Australian schools. It’s essentially a combination of the United Kingdom and United States systems. As Australia is a federation of former British colonies, it’s unsurprising that we have a bicameral parliament based on the Westminster System. We have two Houses of Parliament — the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Most new laws start as bills in the House of Representatives. Before they can become laws they must also be agreed to by the Senate, which is sometimes called the House of Review.

The House of Representatives is the lower house and is modelled on the House of Commons. It consists of 150 members elected from 150 single-seat constituencies (electorates) with approximately equal numbers of voters. Each of these members occupies a seat in the House, which is why electorates are sometimes referred to as “seats” (e.g. “the Seat of Greenway”). Members of the House of Representatives are called “Members of Parliament” (or MPs for short).

MPs are elected by numbering every box on a green ballot paper, in the order most preferred. In the Seat of Macquarie this year, there were eight candidates, and voters were required to rank them from one to eight. No numbers may be repeated and every box must be filled. The least preferred candidate is the one with the least number of primary votes — the least number of “1” votes. They are eliminated, and their votes are redistributed according to the candidates marked “2” — this process is continued until the most preferred candidate is left. Votes are not wasted — if the candidate you want to win is not elected, your vote is transferred to your next preferred candidate until it reaches someone with enough votes to win.

If a party achieves a majority of seats (76/150) in the House of Representatives, its leader requests permission from the Governor-General to form Government. The Governor-General is the Queen or King’s representative in Australia — currently Queen Elizabeth II is Australia’s Head of State. The leader of the governing party becomes the Prime Minister as Head of Her Majesty’s Government. Ministers (like the Minister for Trade, Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Attorney-General, and so on) are chosen from the elected members of the governing party, and may be appointed from the members of either the House of Representatives or the Senate.

If no party achieves an outright majority, they may be able to form Government with the support of independent MPs or members of other parties. The Gillard-Rudd Labor Governments (2010–2013) were minority governments formed with the support of independents and the Greens.

The Senate, also known as the Upper House or House of Review, has 76 members. Unlike the House of Representatives, each state gets a fixed number of Senators: 12 per state. A senator’s term last six years. Instead of all twelve being elected at the same time, half (six) are elected every three years. Territories only have two senators however, both of which are elected for only three year terms. The Senate provides equal representation for each of the states, to ensure that the larger states aren’t over-represented, or that the smaller states aren’t under-represented.

Senators are elected using a large white ballot paper — sometimes called “the tablecloth” because of its sheer size. Because it is often large and unwieldy, Senate voting works different to the House of Representatives.

There are two methods of voting and voters may choose which they prefer. Below the line is the least common. The line in question runs horizontally across the ballot paper. To vote below the line, voters must fill out every box below this line — from 1 to 110 in the case of the NSW ballot — from most preferred to least preferred. If your most preferred candidate isn’t elected, your vote transfers to your next preferred candidate, until it reaches someone with enough support to get elected. Again, no vote can be wasted.

Because there are so many candidates, most people prefer to vote above the line, by marking a box next to their most preferred party. Above the line votes are transferred according to a presubmitted “group voting ticket” filled out by political parties.

That’s about it for my explanation of Australian politics: I hope Australians and non-Australians reading now have a better understanding of how our system works!

Author: Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer

Pirate Party Australia Deputy Secretary and Press Officer. Former member of the Pirate Parties International Court of Arbitration.

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