I had this bit in my Poll Roundup, but decided it was too long, so I moved it to a separate article and expanded it a bit. It gets a bit ranty in places; beware.
Bill Shorten yesterday claimed the following:
“It is clear that if Mr Turnbull is any hope to retain a range of seats in the government column, he is going to rely upon the votes of more extreme views, which are not healthy for this Australian democracy.
The only formula whereby he can win this election is if parties like One Nation give him the preferences that allow him to govern, and the problem with Mr Turnbull getting another chance at government is we’ve already seen him surrender his values and his views on climate change, on marriage equality. We see that elements of the conservatives within his party giving him orders and instructions. What we see is a weak Prime Minister hostage to the right wing of his party, hostage to the political fortunes of even more right-wing parties outside his government.”
This was part of a general theme of trying to liken Malcolm Turnbull to David Cameron that Shorten had going, and I have to say that Shorten has been much more inventive, combative and spirited in trying to turn Brexit to his advantage than I expected. Whether this culture-warring works anywhere outside Labor-vs-Green seats, we will soon see.
Let's leave aside Labor's frequent past preference liaisons with the anti-gay Family First party (it's alright though, they've only caused two of them and nearly a third to win Senate seats so far) and the way Julia Gillard's Labor was so hostage to the Shoppie wing of her government over same-sex marriage that she herself voted against it. Let's also leave aside (until the end bit) Labor's puerile, paranoid and ultimately unintelligible opposition to Senate reform, which puts it in no place to say what is "healthy for this Australian democracy" for a number of hundreds of years.
Taking a sober psephological look at the facts of the matter, in 2013 the Coalition's edge over Labor on the lower house preferences of right wing micros was worth 0.36% 2PP. Here I define right wing micros on the 2013 Reps ballots as: Family First, Christian Democrats, Australian Christians, One Nation, Rise Up Australia, Australia First. I could include the DLP, but their preferences actually helped Labor! Defining a seat as won on right-wing preferences if the Coalition would have lost the seat had the right-micro preferences split evenly, I find the Coalition won just one seat on the preferences of parties "to the right of it" in 2013, and that was Barton. (Capricornia was close).
Looking at that 0.36% margin over time, I find that usually the Coalition wins either no seats or one seat by less than that, though in 2007 it was five seats. With the implosion of Palmer United, the launch of the Australian Liberty Alliance and some inconclusive signs of a large increase in One Nation support, it's plausible the Coalition's leg-up from the right could rise to, say, 0.6%. That would be worth an average of three seats based on past elections, and might be worth four or five all else being equal at this one. But the difference would probably fall largely in the Queensland portion of the few (11) seats One Nation is contesting, only four seats of which are really marginal. That means it might actually be only worth a seat or two, even if One Nation polls say 10% where it contests.
Still, whether it's one seat or five, it's hardly to be sneezed at, and could make all the difference - on current projections perhaps between majority government and a hung parliament. But to say that getting preferences from right micros is Turnbull's only plausible path to victory is a very silly statement which assumes that if he wins at all it can only be by a handful of seats. It's almost as arrogant as Turnbull saying he would win. Quite aside from this, One Nation (voters for which historically prefer the Coalition only weakly - about 55:45) don't appear to be preferencing either major party (let me know if you see a Reps HTV for them otherwise, they're not preferencing either party in the Senate or on their how-to-vote section on their website.)
Also, the idea that the Coalition's chances would bob up and down based on the size of right-wing party votes is threadbare. If a given right-wing party's vote goes down, and a voter for that party would otherwise have preferenced the Coalition, chances are they'll be preferencing the Coalition anyway, and perhaps even voting for it.
Extreme Views On The Left
Labor too get preferences from voters for some parties that get called extreme, and some of them actually are.
I'll ignore the Greens, because if they're extreme then so is half the Coalition. I'll ignore the Socialist Alliance, because they have seldom influenced anything. But we should consider the potential influence on Labor of the Animal Justice Party, whose preferences decided the Victorian seat of Prahran for the Greens (and would have almost done so for Labor instead, had they not put the Greens over Labor). The AJP, doubtless encouraged by its win in New South Wales, is increasing its efforts this election from two seats in 2013 to 41 seats (including 19 ALP-Coalition marginals and various ALP-Green contests). AJP preferences flow strongly to Labor and even based on 2013 results Labor might expect a 0.2% legup from them in each seat if AJP can poll just 1% per seat.
That's not to say AJP always preference Labor, and they are getting all kinds of flak for preferencing the Liberals in LaTrobe (and they have form on this sometimes - see comments). But on the whole their supporters probably won't follow the card much anyway, and will mostly be left-wing, even if one of their candidates seems to be an Orlando truther and another has some strange views about nature.
The Animal Justice Party are extreme. I don't say that in the sense that they are irate, hateful, violent or disruptive, nor that being "extreme" is always a bad thing. I'm quite extreme on a few things myself. It's simply that they're not just live-animal-export and battery-hen protest people. Their philosophical views are much more off the scale than almost anyone has noticed. This is a party that clearly doesn't believe in killing introduced animals for environmental control reasons (apparently not even if the exotic species' advantage in an environment that has evolved without it goes on to inflict cruel harm or even extinction to native species), and that promotes unscientific hysteria like the view that kangaroos are at risk of extinction because of culling.
As a scientist who is concerned about exotic species influxes and the risk they pose to native species, I find views like the AJP's frustrating. To give one example, indian mynas pose a dire risk to Tasmanian birdlife, should they ever get established here. Some influxes of the odd nest or two have been taken out with telescopic rifles, a method that I totally support. If only very cruel and painful methods of control were available for keeping out this pest then I would alas have to support them. The AJP would not support such methods, and have a fundamentalist-like faith that there's always some kind of effective cruelty-free alternative to lethal pest control. From their opposition to lethal feral animal control it's clear they'd let the mynas live to round them up humanely later and then set about "restoring eco-systems via methods harmonious to nature such a rewilding." Whatever the hell that means in whatever language it is written in.
The AJP also supports (among many other things) a long term transition to a world with no animal farming, ending fishing and fish farming, phasing out the sale of pets except from rescuers or shelters, radically transforming zoos so that they're hardly zoos anymore, and moving to a 100% animal-product-free human diet. It's a vision the traditional ALP base would find extremely strange.
Now of course I would never suggest that Labor would swap preferences for policy outcomes with an extreme party given Mr Shorten's own concerns about this being bad for Australian democracy. That would be to imply hypocrisy by Labor over preferencing and I try hard not to do that more than seven times per article, plus I'm not sure if it's true. But in the very week when Labor received HTV preferences from the AJP for the Senate (alongside the Greens, various left micros and the deplorable "Health Australia Party") the AJP announces an alleged agreement with Labor to increase plant-based food production. This came soon after AJP members attended a meeting with Mark Butler to pressure him on their pet (pun intended) issues.
The details are extremely vague, but increasing plant-based food production is code for AJP's long-term goal to phase out animal farming altogether. I can find no confirmation of the supposed arrangement from Labor and it may well just be the AJP chest-beating or getting ahead of themselves, but nor can I find any Labor denial of a release that purports to quote Mark Butler. Even if it is all fictitious, the AJP is still one of a few extreme left parties that would like to influence Labor policy, and from which Labor (often) receives preferences. The AJP is a minor presence now, but it is growing, as part of a trend for left-wing voters to look outside the Greens.
While parties to the left of the Greens have less potential to assist Labor than parties to the right of the Coalition have to assist the Coalition, it is still the case that Labor too benefits from the preferences of extreme parties.
Ultimately though, the implied idea that the Coalition moves to the right to harvest scraps of preferences from right-wing micros is weak. The religious Right of the Coalition needs no such encouragement, it is already there. Bill Shorten is right about that bit, and he is right that Turnbull, while still having the great asset of simply not being Tony Abbott, so far lacks either the inclination or the ability to fix it. The Coalition is much too full of powerful religious deniers of basic liberty and equality, who belong in Fred Nile's party or something resembling it. It has been that way for a very long time, and it would cause me to endorse Labor as the better major party choice with relish - if only Labor were not themselves so often so painfully stupid.
After the Coalition's increasingly confused stonewalling on same-sex marriage, and Labor's atrocious performance on Senate reform, both major parties are in my view about equally unworthy of election. Neither can be trusted to navigate the basics of intelligent or evidence-based liberal-democratic policy. One doesn't care about the liberal side, the other failed this term's biggest democratic test. That is not to say we should flood the place with any old alternative, since a lot of the alternatives are even worse!