Micro parties, preferences and Druery deals: How does this affect Victoria’s election?

Micro parties, preferences and Druery deals: How does this affect Victoria’s election?

11/17/2022

A leaked video of the so-called “preference whisperer”, Glenn Druery, brazenly spruiking his cash-for-seats business has brought a fresh focus on the dark arts of Victoria’s group voting system.

As the last state in Australia where minor parties can harvest preferences and elect MPs who poll less than 1 per cent, the Druery video has renewed calls for Victoria to reform its group voting system.

Self-styled preference whisperer Glenn Druery.Credit:Andrew Meares

With just over a week to the state election, here’s a refresher on how the method works and who it benefits.

Who is Glenn Druery and what does he do?

Druery does deals that allow groups of micro parties with often minuscule primary votes to work as a bloc to secure seats in the state Legislative Council, known as the upper house.

Victoria is the only jurisdiction left in Australia where above-the-line group voting is still allowed in upper-house elections.

Glenn Druery advises minor parties on strategies on getting them elected, before the 2018 state election.Credit:Joe Armao

At a meeting at the Albert Park Hotel in August 2018, Druery told a ragtag group of aspiring politicians from micro parties that without him, none of them would be elected at that year’s state election.

He promised that if they joined what he called his “family”, he would navigate the complex and cut-throat world of preference negotiations for them and get eight of them elected.

In 2018, The Age reported that Druery – who at the time was a taxpayer-funded staffer for then senator Derryn Hinch, and now works for Liberal Democrats MP David Limbrick in the state upper house – was likely to earn at least $200,000 for the 2018 election alone.

How is it done?

By grouping multiple micro parties together in preference-sharing deals, tiny parties can collect sufficient votes to leapfrog bigger parties such as the Greens or Liberals, with much higher primary votes to secure quotas for upper house seats.

The key is above-the-line voting on the ballot paper for the upper house, where – unlike the Legislative Assembly, known as the lower house – multiple members are chosen for each seat. Under the system, voters can number a single box for a party above the line, rather than preferencing individual candidates one to five below the line. But if that party is one of Druery’s, voters effectively forfeit their preference choices to him.

You might, for example, vote 1 for the Sustainable Australia Party because of concerns about the environment. Preferences are then allocated on your behalf to parties within Druery’s “family”, which may include parties you have never heard of and that do not reflect your views about the environment.

While below-the-line voting is an option, less than 9 per cent of voters used this method in the 2018 state election. It is much easier to vote above the line and leave the rest to someone else.

What are the results?

In 2018, at least eight MPs from Druery’s stable won seats with primary votes as low as 0.6 per cent (the Transport Matters Party), although Druery has claimed nine MPs benefited. A record number of parties were represented in the upper house in the last term of parliament courtesy of Druery and his preference deals.

In 2018, The Age revealed Druery’s “family” included The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party. Documents obtained by The Age included a form to be completed and signed by the party’s candidates, and a commitment from successful candidates to pay an “independent consultant” (Druery) $30,000 over two years.

Other “family” members from 2018 included the libertarian Liberal Democrats, as MP Tim Quilty confirmed he gave a “verbal commitment” to pay Druery $30,000 for his services; the taxi industry-based Transport Matters Party; and the Dick Smith-backed Sustainable Australia Party, which effectively took the Greens’ seat in the Southern Metropolitan Region despite polling a fraction of the Greens’ vote.

What do people think of the preference deals?

Critics including the Greens, Liberals and election analysts such as the ABC’s Antony Green have long called for reforming the state’s voting system, pointing to the anti-democratic results of the preference deals and the election of candidates with minuscule primary votes.

Druery’s preference dealing dates back to the 1990s. Results of his deals include the election of Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party’s Ricky Muir to the Senate on just 0.5 per cent of the primary vote in the 2013 federal election; and what Green has described as Druery’s “pièce de résistance”: electing the Daylight Savings Party to the Western Australian upper house last year with just 98 votes.

On Thursday, Green told ABC Melbourne that if Victorians vote above the line, their preferences go “on a magical mystery tour across the ballot paper”. He encouraged listeners to vote below the line on November 26.

Druery himself expected sweeping change in Victoria in 2018, predicting that if micro parties won eight seats, reform of the upper house would follow.

“Fortunately, the system hasn’t been reformed here yet,” he told his Albert Park audience at the time. Curiously, it still hasn’t.

So why hasn’t the system been reformed here yet?

In 2018, The Age questioned whether “a dominant Labor government” would be “sufficiently motivated for reform”. It wasn’t.

The upper house election left Labor with 18 of 40 seats, the Coalition with 11 and the Greens with just one, down from five after 2014. This masthead noted at the time that, despite having to negotiate a larger crossbench, Premier Daniel Andrews would have found it easier to pass legislation, needing just three extra votes in the parliament compared with seven in the previous term.

In 2020, the Labor-chaired parliamentary Electoral Matters Committee considered upper house and group voting in its review of the 2018 election. It recommended a separate, specific inquiry be held to examine reforms. That inquiry has not happened.

On Thursday, the Coalition pledged that if elected, it would change the law, and the Greens lambasted Labor for its inaction. Andrews said he would wait for a post-election review before considering potential changes.

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