(Update 1 Oct: Bob Day has been elected as expected.)
You'll see a lot of this sort of thing in the next six years if, as expected, Family First's Bob Day gets up in South Australia:
For those who don't know, Helen Polley is a Labor Senator for Tasmania, albeit a very "socially conservative" one. Now, I have no problem with the proposition that there may be some real nutters in the seemingly soft and fuzzy Family First fold. My open question then to Senator Polley is this:
If Day and Fielding are indeed so bad, why did your party preference both of them?
In the case of Fielding in 2004, those who remember it would know that this was a preference deal that backfired. Labor and the Democrats dealt with Fielding expecting him to be excluded and to receive his preferences. Fielding snowballed ahead of the Democrats on micro party preferences and an unexpected Coalition surplus, and used the Democrat preferences to beat Labor and the Labor preferences to beat the Greens. Senator Fielding was widely regarded by the left and parts of the right as well as a crass embarrassment to the Senate, but he wasn't just symbolic nuisance value. He actually held part of the balance of power for three years, and - in one of his few redeeming moments - delivered the Howard government's voluntary student unionism legislation when his vote for it cancelled out Barnaby Joyce's vote against. (Another was when he invoked the ire of, yes, Bob Day, by having the sense to realise that Tony Abbott's carbon-tax plebiscite was a silly idea.)
Parties are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, but if Bob Day is elected then Labor has learnt nothing. Because the same prospective FF Senator who Polley rails against - and will have more to rail against based on his H.R. Nicholls Society background - is the same one who her own party preferenced!
You can see this on the ABC's Senate Calculator model:
At this point in the count, the model shows Sarah Hanson-Young (Green) crossing the line with a very large surplus. This surplus contains the Greens' ticket votes and those of many minor parties, as well as those of the ALP. However, the ALP and Green ticket votes are most of it, and they flow to Bob Day ahead of Nick Xenophon's running mate Stirling Griff and the Liberals. This puts Day over the line.
Note above the large number of votes going from Labor to Day - 42,772 of them. The exact figure will be slightly different to that, but on present figures it is touch and go as to whether a Labor ticket order of Griff-Liberal-FF would alone have caused Day not to win. (Update: It would; see below) What is certain is that if neither Labor nor the Greens preferenced Day ahead of Griff or the Liberals, Day would have lost.
And the payoff? Why, of course! The Family First ticket in South Australia places the ALP 54-56, ahead of the Xenophon Group in 57-58. But as in Victoria in 2004, it is Family First who get the spoils.
The Greens, for their part, gained next to no benefit from preferencing Family First ahead of the Liberals and the second candidate for the Xenophon Group. (They preferenced Xenophon himself more highly, but he was always going to be elected anyway.) FF in turn preferenced the Greens only above its mortal enemies the Sex Party, who it would have put last anyway. But the Greens' decision to demote Xenophon's running mate to position 63 - below Family First, the DLP and even No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics (but above the Liberals) - is widely seen as having something to do with a preferencing spat between the Greens and Nick Xenophon that resulted in him preferencing them below Labor on both rotations of his own complex preferencing ticket. Xenophon did, however, preference the Greens ahead of both the Liberals and FF on one rotation, so had his preferences been distributed beyond his own ticket, the Greens would have been second in line behind Labor for half of them.
There are various stories about the source of the Xenophon preference strategy; for instance here you can see Bob Brown accusing Xenophon of trying to make himself a Senate kingmaker. Xenophon in turn links it to the Greens' decision to preference Labor ahead of Andrew Wilkie in Denison. That was, itself, a decision that came across as rather strange given that the Greens ran an open ticket in 2010 and their Denison 2013 candidate complained that she couldn't find any issues to run against Wilkie on, because they agreed on too much.
But the background to all this doesn't really matter, because a party is responsible for the consequences of its preferencing decisions and for who they actually elect. And Labor and the Greens are, assuming it happens, collectively, directly and absolutely responsible for Bob Day's election to the Senate. Even after the current Senate voting system is hopefully gone, their blame for electing him will remain.
It's not just South Australia either. It very nearly happened in Tasmania as well, where the usually pro-gay-rights Greens preferenced FF's Peter Madden, one of the two most anti-gay candidates in the field, 18th out of 54. Madden's election was averted only because he was nipped off by the Sex Party by a flimsy 821 votes at a crucial point in the cutup, and this only happened because Sex Party voting surged more on the day (proportionally) in Tasmania than the national average. I believe the cause of that decision by the Greens was a hopelessly sloppy absence of due diligence on Madden's appalling gay rights record, and not a preference deal. Anyway I've ranted quite enough about the narrowly-averted election of an anti-gay extremist on the preferences of Bob Brown's beloved party in previous articles. I just hope we never see anything like it again.
There's a view that we don't have to worry about preference deals in the Senate any more because the anger over the absurdity of this Senate election is such that we will not see this group-ticket voting system in the future. I'm not so sure about that, and I think we will have to wait and see what we actually get by way of electoral reform. Perhaps no-one will care in a year or two (especially if people decide they like the "joke" Senators better than the "real" ones) and perhaps it will be one of these things where parties are more concerned about being seen to do something than with whether their reforms are actually all that good. We cannot take effective reform for granted yet, and I believe we should study what specific parties did and what were the consequences of their actions. Especially where those same parties complain about the things they caused.
So my message then to Labor and the Greens is to enjoy every painful minute of the coming six years of Senator Bob Day for all it's worth.
Update Oct 2: Some commentary today has disproportionately blamed the Greens for the outcome while ignoring Labor's greater, and as it turned out, decisive, role. For instance, Andrew Crook's article in today's Crikey sealed section goes into the Greens' culpability for the result at great length without mentioning Labor's even once.
This is partly a product of the confusing nature of the process by which Day was elected. Day did indeed cross on Senator Hanson-Young's surplus. But the votes from Senator Hanson-Young that made up her surplus included votes she had received from other parties. At the time Hanson-Young was elected, 40% of the value of her vote came from the ALP. But because of the distortions produced by the Inverse Gregory system, the Labor votes became worth about 65% of Hanson-Young's surplus. Had the Greens not preferenced Day ahead of Griff and the Liberals, the Labor votes that flowed through the Greens to Day would still have done so, and Day would still have reached his quota after the throwing of the Hanson-Young surplus.
I mentioned above that it was not so clear whether Labor votes alone made the difference to Day's election. But this is clear now with the final results showing that following the Green surplus, Bob Day was 7342 votes weaker than the ABC calculator model and Stirling Griff was 4794 votes stronger. On that basis, had the Labor ticket votes not flowed to Day but instead flowed to Griff and then to Birmingham, Griff's surplus (consisting largely of Labor and Xenophon ATLs of roughly even value) would then have caused Birmingham's election.
Had Labor preferenced in the order Griff-Day-Birmingham then Griff and Day would have won. But this is only the case because the Greens preferenced Day-Griff-Birmingham. Had Labor preferenced Griff-Day-Birmingham and the Greens preferenced Griff-Birmingham-Day then it would have been very close between Birmingham and Day for the final seat after Griff's surplus. My rough calculations have Birmingham just winning. (In the event that Day won in this scenario, Xenophon would also be partly to blame.)
It is therefore Labor that primarily caused the election of Bob Day, with the Greens also culpable because one of Labor's possible alternative orderings would probably have resulted in the Greens' decision making the difference. And the Greens are also morally guilty of helping Day get elected even although their preferences were not alone decisive.
But Senator Hanson-Young is playing innocent!
This is technically, literally, true (at least hypothetically), but also grossly misleading by omission. In fact the SA Greens preferences went to Xenephon ahead of FF and the Liberals, but they did not go to Xenephon's running mate ahead of FF. So by the time Hanson-Young's surplus was distributed, Xenophon was elected so the Green votes did not go to him. All Labor candidates were either elected or excluded so the Greens votes did not go to them. Because Bob Day was preferenced ahead of Stirling Griff, it was Day who the Green votes went to.
Update Oct 2: Senator Polley Misleads The House Of Twitter
Unintentionally, of course!
As the screenshot above shows (and the tweet in question from several days ago is still in Senator Polley's Twitter feed at this moment) this is false. (Barring only the pedantry that Day was not actually a new Senator yet at that time, nor is he technically one even now; he has however been declared elected to take up his place as such mid next year.)
There was also this:
Which reminds me a bit of the famous inaugural appearance of the expression "faceless men", which came about when Arthur Calwell and Gough Whitlam were damagingly snapped in 1963 outside a conference they lacked entitlement to be at, in which the policies they would take to an election were being decided by party hacks.
I would be surprised if an ordinary ALP member does not exercise any potential level of control over the direction of Labor preferencing, even if it is through some extremely indirect route like voting for committee X that appoints Y who then deals with Z. But even if so, the idea that a party's own senators cannot have any influence on preferencing decisions by making their views known in advance about who should be preferenced is one I have a lot of trouble taking seriously.
Any insight into the dark machinations of how the ALP decides its preferences are welcome!