“Has anyone done any modelling on the saying ‘if we vote minor parties then the Lib’s lose? Is it true or a myth? From what I hear independents will catch a lot of new voters this year which is good for accountability. But will it mean we split the vote and end up with a Labor/Green disaster? Any thoughts?“
The question is very important, and the answer can’t be helpful if brief, so please bear with me as I outline some context and technicalities to help us understand the merits and holes in the claim. If you want the really short version without understanding, my answer is: it’s ultimately a myth, but potentially true because of widespread poor voter education and effort – especially among Christians and conservatives.
Prior to the 2016 Federal election, when Australia’s votes would ultimately result in either Bill Shorten or Malcolm Turnbull, I was imploring everyone I knew to stop being blindly partisan and thinking the Federal Coalition was the only answer to improving Australian politics. At the time I was involved with the Family First Party in Queensland, and we were fighting the Left’s war against marriage with a broad platform of family and freedom-friendly policies and candidates.
Then the Australian Christian Lobby put out a credible, partisan video message from elder statesman John Anderson urging voters to support candidates supporting “the people’s vote” on the definition of marriage. Vote for the party, not person. The message was, if you didn’t vote for a Liberal or National candidate, but voted for a minor party with real convictions about the sanctity of marriage (the kind which translated into actual votes in Parliament rejecting woke agendas), you would just get Bill Shorten – and surely that was the worst possible outcome.
I disagreed, and urged friends to vote for the best candidate in their electorate, based on their willingness to say “NO!” in Parliament when it counted.
What the partisan strategy actually achieved was a Coalition led by Malcolm Turnbull who had two choices: either let rogue progressives in the Coalition ambush them and side with Labor to recklessly undefine marriage and family in law, or let the Liberal Party carefully gamble that they’d win a plebiscite. The promise was, even if they lost, the ‘good guys’ would be in control of the legislation, so that at least religious liberty could be protected in the specific wording of the legislation.
How’s that working for us, two Coalition terms later?
It turns out a Labor government wasn’t the worst thing Australia could get.
We got the worst, most Christian-hostile piece of immoral legislation imaginable, butchering the definition of marriage, and pouring contempt on the Constitution and the voters who trusted the Liberal Party to at least be better than Labor.
What if the worst possible outcome isn’t losing the election right in front of the tip of your nose? What if it’s losing a Liberal/National Coalition, whose culture, two or ten terms from now, will be actually more contemptuous of Christians and conservatives than the Labor/Green Coalition of today are?
What the 2016 conservative voters should have done was give their primary votes and best preferences to the best people: conservative candidates who promised to vote against undefining marriage no matter what a worthless plebiscite suggested was popular.
Because the little green ballot for the House of Representatives must have every box numbered, preferences must flow, and the conservative vote absolutely cannot be split (unless the voter is a dummy and unintentionally puts Labor/Green candidates above the Coalition candidates).
If the conservative minor party candidates in any given electorate collectively fail to get more than Coalition, their votes will absolutely be collected by the Coalition candidate and give them the best chance possible to beat the most popular Labor/Green candidate.
This all hinges on the assumption voters are educated and tightly preference the best family & freedom candidates at the top of their ballots, and the worst Labor/Green and other extreme candidates at the very bottom of their ballots. Voter education is where we should be investing our time (instead of facile, partisan slogans).
The best outcome is we actually get some minor party MPs elected to work with the Coalition while not owing them anything; but rather, block their worst ideas and demand they return to their roots and retake lost ground.
That is how the Greens powerfully influence Labor while “splitting the vote”.
But what about the Senate, where voters don’t have to number every box?
Now in the Senate, there is a much greater chance of really splitting the vote and gifting the Greens with another Senator and the powerful balance of power. According to psephologist Lex Stewart, for many years The Greens alone campaigned to reform the Senate ballot voting system, without support, until Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull joined them to make it the system we now have.
The Senate voting system in place since 2016 is intentionally designed to entrench the major party duopoly, disadvantage minor parties and independents, and advantage medium size parties – exactly like the Greens. Now the sixth and final senate position in each state doesn’t require a full quota (one seventh, or 14.3% of all formal votes): they just need more than anyone else not already elected. The Greens average around 10%, a number almost impossible for any minor party to accumulate, especially if right-thinking voters only number the minimum six boxes above the line or twelve boxes below the line.
What makes no sense is being so emotional about the indisputable failures and betrayals by the Coalition that voters end up helping the Greens have no competition remaining at the end of the race, rather than giving the Liberal or National senate candidates any help at all. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face! That is the worst possible outcome for freedom.
So the solution is simple to avoid risks of splitting the vote: number every box.
Whether above or below the line on the big, white, Senate ballot, number as many boxes as possible.
Above the line you’re voting for the party tickets in whatever order they prefer, usually favouring ‘progressives’ and leaving conservatives in nearly unwinnable lower positions. So vote below the line and make sure you know who the authentic conservatives are in each party so you can help them. But it’s still what I was advocating in 2016: vote for the best candidates first, and the worst candidates last.
Your votes aren’t endorsements, they’re preferences. Do not let your vote exhaust before the final Senator is decided by only doing a minimum effort. Make sure your voice will be there, be heard when the question is asked, “Is there anyone you’d prefer instead of The Greens candidate?”
So no, it’s not categorically true that if we vote minor parties then the Lib’s lose, but it’s potentially true if voters are also lazy or emotional about punishing the Coalition no matter what.
Frankly, I’m not melodramatic about “splitting the vote” or a resultant Labor Government, which is obviously inevitable sooner or later anyway. It’s foolish to think you can govern forever. It’s foolish for voters to be so blinded by partisan emotionalism that we unwittingly enable the party we support to take us for granted and lurch into progressivism and authoritarianism – like the Liberals have and likely will continue to if, allowed to.
In the 2016 election Family First ran a split preference ticket withdrawing support for Wyatt Roy, a woke, Liberal MP. Wyatt Roy lost; the Labor candidate won. The LNP preselected a conservative next time, Terry Young, who won it back. That is a strategy which holds the Liberal Party to account, and actually helps them get better by pruning the dead wood for them in preparation for the following season. It’s still consistent with voting for people, not parties.
Whatever your strategy, be deliberate about it, not lazy. It’s better you be the thinker leading other people to make Australia safe from the populist cowards in any party. The worst possible thing you can do is put in a minimum effort or allow other people to decide how you should preference. No one controls your preferences except you, and control them to the very last box you should.
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Dave Pellowe is a Christian writer & commentator, founder of The Good Sauce, convener of the annual Australian Church And State Summit and host of Good Sauce's weekly The Church And State Show, also syndicated on ADH TV. Since 2016 Dave has undertaken the mission of arming Christians to influence culture through events from Perth to Auckland, videos, podcasts and articles published in multiple journals across Australia and New Zealand. [more]