Wednesday, April 09, 2014

H.E.M.P. - A-Z Blog Challenge

It stands for Help End Marijuana Prohibition and is the name of a political party. Yes, really. And with the Senate election re-run in Western Australia they have assumed an importance they would not have otherwise had. Given when they were registered as a political party in 2006 ( they had been registered before but were deregistered because they had a membership of less than 500) they had only had 508 members it's not surprising I hadn't heard of them before. Maybe that should be I hadn't been aware of them before because it turns out they have been in existence since 2000. I'm guessing that if they had put up candidates I would have relegated them to the bottom of my voting list along with the other one issue parties and forgotten about them.

But here they are turning up in the WA Senate re-run election. You'll find a summary about this debacle here but basically what happened was that during the election count for the Senate in 2013 approximately 1400 votes went missing and have not been found despite a massive search and an enquiry. As a result the Court of Disputed Returns has ordered WA voters back to the polls to re-run the Senate election and we had to vote on April 5. I must say too that this is quite an extraordinary event. The AEC is usually very efficient and the presence of party scrutineers ensures that things like this rarely happen. Mind you, the AEC did manage a bungle in the early voters at a retirement village this time too (If you can't get to a polling place on the day you can either send in a postal vote, go to one of the designated early polling stations or vote at a mobile polling station which goes to hospitals, nursing homes and so on). Fortunately the error was caught early but it still resulted in all 75 resident voters having to vote again. I'm guessing they weren't really happy given the complexity of the vote this time but it's good to know they weren't disenfranchised.

Because Australia has a two house legislature this election won't affect which party holds power in government federally which convention decrees is always the majority party (or coalition of parties) in the House of Representatives where members are elected to represent individual electorates. The Senate has a different function being intended to act as a house of review and represent the States. If the same party as that in government dominates the Senate then there will be much less possibility of them finding their policies blocked but if there is a hostile Senate - and with this re-run there is a considerable chance of that happening - the government of the day can find themselves stymied. If this happens to certain triggers then the government can dissolve Parliament and call another election. Complex, isn't it.

While voting is always something of a chore - we have compulsory voting here and you are fined if you don't cast a vote - this election was a much more complicated affair because of the proliferation of  one issue parties like the H.E.M.P. party. As a result we had 77 candidates with the majority representing obscure single issue groups like H.E.M.P., the Australian Sports Party and the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party (There was even a Pirate Party. I have no idea what they think.) with no real policies on any other matter (and in the case of H.E.M.P. their candidates don't even live in WA).

This wouldn't matter so much if we didn't also have a system of preferential voting. This means you have two options when voting. You can vote according to party preferences. This is because all candidates try to do deals with others to have their supporters preference each other and these preferences are registered. If you vote above the line your preferences will go according to which party you have voted for. This is how at the last election a candidate from the Australian Sports Party got elected while having only around 0.2% of the votes. His vote flowed from preference deals.

Alternatively, you can vote below the line. This means you have to list your preferences in order for all candidates and with 77 candidates this is a daunting prospect. Still this is what I always do. It's my vote and I want it to reflect my preferences, not that of anyone else.

And now, having voted, we're waiting to see what will happen with the sixth and final seat, the only one where the vote is still to be decided. It will be interesting to see just how much things change or whether they stay the same.

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