Democrats die as small parties shut out

What once was... Australian Democrats senators Natasha Stott-Despoja, Andrew Bartlett, Lyn Allison and Andrew Murray outside the Senate chamber in Canberra, 2008. Photo: AAP
What once was... Australian Democrats senators Natasha Stott-Despoja, Andrew Bartlett, Lyn Allison and Andrew Murray outside the Senate chamber in Canberra, 2008. Photo: AAP

Adelaide | Party registration changes approved by the major parties in State Parliament have run a scythe through the ranks of the micro parties, with many groups that contested the last election unable to stand this time.

The Australian Democrats, who had representatives in South Australia’s parliament from 1977 to 2009, won’t field a single candidate.

Micro-party political figures have estimated between 25 and 50 per cent of previously represented parties aren’t going to field a candidate.

Neil Armstrong, an olive-oil salesman standing for the Fishing and Lifestyle Party, has put up $6000 of his savings – all of which he expects to lose – just “for the principle to stand up and fight.”

The Independent Climate Sceptics won’t field a candidate either. InDaily has been told One Nation is also out.

Electoral reforms passed with the support of the Liberal and Labor parties late last year dramatically increased the cost of registering as a candidate for the upcoming election. The parties say the reforms were needed to stop micro parties “gaming” the system and winning seats based on tiny votes.

Candidates for the upper house are required to put up a bond of $3000 each, up from $450, and get 250 signatures in support of their nomination.

“When John Rau introduced that legislation that was the day democracy died in South Australia,” Armstrong told InDaily this morning.

“To put it in fishing terms they are a protected species mate.”

Armstrong, 63, is standing against the State Government’s changes to marine parks legislation.

“I’m here to stick my finger up at the government, shake my fist and say you’re doing this wrong. And I’m not going to take it anymore.

“We have been done over by minority groups. The Greens have way too much influence over the Labor party – that’s how this legislation came into being.”

Armstrong reckons that with 10 per cent of the vote the Greens are a minority of “latte-sipping tree huggers”, and he represents the “silent majority” who are too-often unwilling to stand up and fight for their rights.

Armstrong, and running-mate and Port Lincoln tackle shop owner Damien Smart, have stumped up the money needed to nominate out of their own pockets.

But Leon Ashby, a candidate in the last State and Federal elections for the Climate Sceptics, hasn’t been able to find the cash or signatures.

“It’s pretty ridiculous,” he said. “It’s making politics elite. It’s too expensive. We didn’t have enough time to get the 500 signatures. This has stuffed us all up, so to speak.”

Ashby believes some 50 per cent of minor parties have been forced out. Armstrong, who has been participating in minor party conferences, put that figure at closer to 25 per cent.

The Democrats won’t field a candidate either, national secretary Stuart Horrex confirmed yesterday.

The Katter Party however will throw its hat in the ring, expecting to field two candidates – although head office wouldn’t reveal the names yesterday, with Bob Katter expected to be in town Thursday to announce them himself.

Even the least minor of the minors has been affected.

Greens leader Mark Parnell – who voted against the changes in Parliament – told InDaily he has had to find $150,000 to get the names of 50 candidates on ballot papers across the state.

“We have to stump up $150,000 cash – or bank cheque, I think it’ll be a bank cheque.”

Rau told InDaily he didn’t like the reforms much, but they were better than the old system – and he wasn’t able to pass his preferred option, optional preferential voting, through parliament.

“[We] put the barrier to entry at a level which was sufficiently high to stop people who were just having a lucky dip and attempting to game the system. I make no apologies for it,” he said.

“If we had a first-past-the-post system I would agree with you entirely, you could embrace the old Maoist adage of let 1000 flowers bloom. Because those people who get negligible support could not possibly be elected under any circumstances.

“The present system we’ve got is capable of being gamed and manipulated. Why is it democratic that one large single bloc of common thought is defeated by 100 slivers of disconnected thought?”

Shadow Attorney-General Stephen Wade said this morning electoral reform originally proposed by Labor and not supported by his party would have made things far worse for minor parties.

“The Liberal Party supported modest electoral reform after the last Senate election to try to reduce the risk of undemocratic harvesting of preferences,” he said.

“We strongly and successfully opposed Labor’s proposals that would have wiped out minor parties and effectively made it impossible for independents to be elected.

“We would be concerned if genuine candidates were deterred as a result of the reforms. We have committed to a review of the laws after the election.”

Meanwhile, the minor parties still in the game have been busily working out the complicated preference flows needed to have a shot at getting elected.

Headed by Glenn Druery the Minor Party Alliance has been meeting over the last few months in South Australia to iron out preference flows – the idea being that if all the minors pass preferences to each other before the major parties at least one micro candidate should get up.

InDaily has been told the large majority of micro parties are involved in Druery’s meetings – except Armstrong from the Fishers.

“I play the game straight, I’m just a normal person,” Armstrong said. “This gamesmanship, hell, we’ve sort of decided we want to get in on first preferences not on everyone else’s.”

  • KevB69

    Oh for a proportional voting system…

  • Thommo

    It seems strange that the Fishing and Lifestyle Party blame the Greens when these changes were supported by the Labor and Liberal parties and opposed by the Greens. Is it just an excuse to attack the Greens and ignore the facts?

  • Ben

    I think minority parties can still find a foothold in The Senate as was demonstrated in recent Federal elections then work into the lower house from there. Minority party coalitions worth considering and developing. Certainly rule changes that bolster the two major parties is a concern both of which are not developing 21st century ideals quick enough if at all. Can’t believe how 1950’s the current Federal Government is behaving (or maybe I can).

  • Andlamsa

    I fully support Mr Armstrong in his principled stand (though wont be wasting my vote on a single issue like his). That said, it seems supremely ironic that he complains that his very much minority group has been “done over by the minority groups”…
    Perhaps the other benefit to the new legislation will be a further decrease in ‘front’ candidates that are essentially there to capture and preference votes to the majors, from those who wouldnt normally vote for them.

  • Michael Lardelli

    The Stop Population Growth Now Party (SPGN) will NOT be “gaming” the system. Our preferences will go to candidates, not to parties, depending on their stance on population growth. But you have to wonder at the regard for democracy of an Attorney General who critcises the preference system and tries to discourage small parties from standing by raising nomination fees many hundreds of percent – and this on the back of much tougher regulations for state registration of political parties (but only for those parties with no representatives in parliament)! Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised after Rau’s outrageous comments on the idea of a stable population – comments so bizarre that SPGN has even produced an election corflute (sign) to tell the voters about them (and to call for a rational discussion on population instead). Visit SPGN’s website to see it. Meanwhile the Liberal leader Marshall today complained of high unemployment and called for higher immigration to solve it – so Rau is in good company it seems.

    • john_48

      Excellent news – preferencing people not parties means that when I vote 1 SPGN I can have some confidence that the party has done its homework and directed its preferences to those candidates who are at least aware of the problem of unrestrained population growth.

      • Rigged

        If you vote for anyone above the line YOU dont get any say in preferences at all. Wouldnt you like to?

        With the new rules, no minor or independet gets an above the line box, and as such CANNOT have any preference flows to mates with dodgy deals. But the parties can. They’ve made it so that if you want to vote easy YOU CANT vote for anyone else but a party or it becomes an informal vote and doesnt count.

        So do yourself and your vote a favour and only vote below the line, and each of us then gets to decide this one first, then that one second, according to how we really feel and who we think might actually have the ghoulies to get in there and fight for us.

    • FEARLESS

      Will SPGN be pushing for free condoms ,

  • Fusili

    Liam Mannix shows a picture of senators in a discussion about SA politics. No wonder the voting public are confused, baffled and bewildered by our voting system.

  • Rob

    The major parties have been gaming the system for years. Lets face it, they rely on their party brand to get upper house candidates that nobody has ever heard of get elected.

    The recent changes show that it really is not safe to let politicians control the electoral system

  • JA R

    With respect to the Democrats they oversaw their own downfall to a less than minor party. The day they allowed their leadership to side with Labor instead of being balanced and sticking to their declared role was the day I and others stopped putting them first or even second on the ballots.
    I don’t agree with the changes made here in SA, as it does prevent serious people from being able to stand for what they believe in.
    The situation at the last Federal Election highlighted a flaw in what’s meant to be
    a democratic voting system. That flaw has been taken advantage of; it has highlighted the complete stupidity of the preferential voting system in Australia.
    One way this problem could be prevented is to either do away with preferential
    voting or to only have 1st, 2nd and 3rd preferences allowed on ballot sheets no
    matter how many candidates there are.
    This may even help people look more closely at who they give their preferences
    to. As it stands even with the changes made if there are lots of candidates it’s difficult for people to work out who is passing their preferences to whom.

  • Harry Harris

    I understand Mr X was also prominent in having this block on minors imposed. For some reason Adelaide’s media still see him as the answer to a maiden’s prayer when in reality he flits from cause to cause depending on the publicity factor. Now he has the gall to be promoting himself on lamp posts and in expensive “comic book brochures” shoved in our letter boxes, pleading poverty. If he had any faith in his candidates why does he not promote them instead. Can anyone point to anything either he or his last 2 ring-ins in the upper house -Bressington and Darley – have actually achieved? Blocking out other challengers to his minor profile seems to be the sum of his legacy. Well done Nick….I hear all minors are putting you last on their tickets as payback!

    • Really?

      What have they achieved? Or what have they turned themselves inside out trying to achieve? All to often the voice in the wilderness. I cite the recent deal on Gas distribution (backed by both Labor and Liberal) shoved through really quickly and quietly, and Ann Bressington as far as I know was the only politicians trying to TELL THE PUBLIC what this was, what it meant, how it was being done. Its (well it WAS) very important people know. Labor and Liberal appeared to make sure they DID NOT know. Now, what were you saying?

  • john_48

    Nothing wrong with minor parties. Dignity for the Disabled got in at the last election using the Bradbury preference system – but it least ensured that a minority group has a voice. A switch to optional preferential voting will serve to expose how few people have any time for candidates who get nominated as a result of some shady backroom deal within either the Labor or liberal Parties.

  • AJ

    With respect to Mr Armstrong, the were no Greens in SA Parliament when the Marine Parks proposal first went up; Mark Parnell was only elected in 2006, when Marine Parks legislation and policy was well-advanced… this kind of mythology regarding the Greens only serves the two old parties, who would not be held accountable at all if independents and minor parties like the Greens and formerly the Democrats were not elected.

  • Robert Crew

    If you can’t get 250 signatures, or get 300 people to donate $10 each to your cause, then you are not a serious candidate, and can’t claim to speak for any “silent majority”.

    • Grrrrrrrr

      Rubbish! People are looking for someone who will actually represent THEM, the people of the electorate, in parliament. Its the 2 major parties that spend millions on advertising and have all the money boys in the pocket. And its no biggie to them. Whats a cool mill here or there (when its not their own money!). Govt, at least a democratic one, is supposed to be us, the little people choosing someone WE have faith in.

      But you expect someone to put themselves forward, or BE put forward by community members, but instead of saying how can I help you, its GIVE ME YOUR MONEY and how can YOU help ME?
      Both major parties pushed this through, and very very quickly. BOTH major parties are about money BUYING a place in parliament. Money for posters and ads, and marketing and lord knows what. To BUY votes. Then to hell with the voters after election day.

      We want someone who asks “what do you people in the electorate need?” And will represent them, not the old boys that paid money to put him in the job.

      • Robert Crew

        I don’t get your point (or rather I do, but I think it’s childish).

        Are you suggesting that instead of advertising, someone who wants to run for the Legislative Council should have to personally meet and ask the opinion of the 75,000 voters required to get a quota? That they shouldn’t distribute any literature outlining their views (because that costs money)? That only candidates who are rich or unemployed should run, as only they have the time to personally meet everyone in their electorate? Or that we should have 1,100 MPs in each house of our Parliament, so that each one can represent 1,000 voters?

        Mass-communication costs in time and money, which is why people who truly support candidates donate both. Grow up.

  • Donald

    There needs to be anti monopoly legislation for the major parties

  • Dave

    This is a shameful and cynical abuse of trust by both major parties!

    Both Labour and Liberal parties have seen the tide of growing discontent with their policies, the increase in support for minor parties, and have moved to neutralise this by making it almost impossible for alternative views to be heard in parliament.

    Given that both major parties gag their parliamentary members very effectively, the only permitted voice from both parties is that of their Executive. Any member/candidate who dares to step out of line will not be pre-selected again.

    It’s a long way from a couple of decades ago, when truly independent voices could be hear from within both major parties.

    Perhaps there needs to be anti monopoly legislation to restrict both the major parties?

  • Paul Kuhn

    I see the FREE Australia Party not even mentioned. We WERE going to run 12 candidates – not exactly what Rau is saying about being a GAME, that was serious as we are… But the abhorrent and anti-democratic fee increase from $450 to $3,000 mean we can now only field 2 candidates for the same money. Not like we get funded by the unions is it Mr Rau? Labor has changed the electoral Act in an unsuccessful attempt to secure stonewalling of those minors, like the FREE Australia Party, from having a say where it counts – on the floor of the Houses of the People. Shame Labor, Shame.

    • A Really Free Australia

      If you don’t have enough support to raise the funds perhaps you don’t have enough support to get elected?

      • FEARLESS

        Good on you .We need to weed out the single issue jumped up fools .

        • Neil Armstrong

          Fearless, more likely clueless.

    • FEARLESS

      Good on Attorney General Rau for introducing these overdue changes, the fee should have been increased to $10,000 to weed out the loony parties that could possibly hold the state to ransom.

  • richard

    Strange how we have laws to allow free trade and laws to prevent big business from colluding to price fix in order to wipe out smaller opposition businesses.

    It was a sad day for our democracy when the two major political parties effectively denied the passionate minority the right to stand and exchange preferences.with their colleagues and I state this even though I normally vote for one of the two major parties.

  • Eliza

    We need to ban donations by developers to political parties and then there would be more of a level playing field for everyone. We have watched the major political parties treat the community with disdain. My preference is to get rid of them. Make them raise their own funds.

  • Bob

    Harry Harris, the new law would have stopped Clive Palmer getting power using an Indie that hardly got any votes to give him power. Nick still gets my support.

    • Harry Harris

      Hey Bob……So….how many votes did Bressington get ….8 first preference as I recall….then seems to have a falling out with your white knight….and whatever happened to No Pokies…single issue failure!

  • leafygreens

    Victory for commonsesnse. If Mr Armstrong’s ‘silent majority’ can’t raise a modest bond and a couple of hundred signatures to put forward his nomination, he shouldn’t be wasting everyones time. Its not a big ask.
    There are plenty of other ways to push your single issue barrow or stick it to the government, without becoming a micro candidate on the public $$ via a statistical sleight of hand trick.
    Its oh soooo fashionable to sneer and deride our pollies, but democracy works through elected representation, and we should be very concerned that micro candidates, with tiny support bases can then go on to have a vote equal to other members of parliament who represents 100 or a 1000 times more southaustralians.
    people die in other countries trying to achieve our standard of democratic, free, and fair elections.. democracy hasn’t died, Mr Armstrong,.. its just had some medicine for a dose of intestinal parasites

  • Mark Aldridge

    As a minor player, yes at times my name makes it to the ballot paper, to simply hope to improve my voice to lobby for reforms I find important at the time, in recent years I have indeed tried to shall we say “Give it a go” what people dare not forget is the foundations of democracy, the idea that the people hold all the power, not any one party who has the most to gain from structural biases.

    It is easy to get signatures, but not so when people are asked to provide so many details, name address date of birth ect ect, but yes I found 1000 people to back myself and my running mate, it is the $6,000 that has had the most in pact, I work for a living and so does Dave my running mate, we dont have access to public funding, so the $6,000 for our nominations is money we would have preferred to spend on letting the voters know we exist, because democracy at its best is about the Free will of an Informed electorate.

    You wont find my name in the head lines, because I am only a minor voice, so I am now forced to try for a stunt that reminds people I exist, and not even that is easy.

    Every media source that has an interest in honest democracy should at least ensure the electorate are aware of who is running and what they stand for, and let the people decide who represents them in the most informed manner possible

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