NSW elections: why principled preferences matter

The Greens how to vote in the NSW elections.

The Latest Newspoll for the NSW elections on March 23 has Labor and the Coalition neck and neck. A Coalition or Labor minority government dependent on crossbench support is considered to be likely by the pundits.

On top of that, with a plethora of right-wing micro-parties contesting in the upper house, only the tightest preferences between more progressive candidates will stop the right gaining more ground in the Legislative Council (upper house).

A minority Coalition or Labor government would be forced to negotiate with the Greens, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers or independents to form government.

The Greens NSW has indicated it would not support the pro-developer, pro-privatising Coalition, but would support a minority Labor government. Labor leader Michael Daley insists he is not in talks with crossbenchers. But the preferences of both these parties suggest otherwise.

Given that this low-key election is only just taking off, with Labor promising targeted reforms to special interest groups and the Coalition rushing to outdo it, the result could go either way.

Years of corruption scandals, cuts to public services and privatisations, not to mention billions of dollars spent on private tollways instead of mass public transport systems, has enraged many people and made them distrust the major parties.

NSW is the richest state in the country, but the Coalition has no plans to fix the unaffordable housing and rental prices, nor even put forward a decent plan to fix the dire water problem in drought-stricken north-western NSW, for fear of upsetting its corporate mates.

On the pre-poll booths, frustration with the major parties is palpable. People are hungry for alternatives, but small right-wing parties are also making a bid for this political space.

Former Labor leader Mark Latham, who is top of the ticket for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation in the upper house, is being feted by the corporate media. Right-wing radio shock jock Alan Jones just donated $10,000 to Latham's reactionary and racist campaign.

Also vying for a spot in the upper house are a host of other small but well-resourced right-wing parties, including Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives (NSW), the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, Fred Nile's Christian Democrats and the Liberal Democratic Party.

Preference deals

While the Liberals and Nationals are not allocating preferences in the Legislative Assembly (lower house), they are urging people to vote for the Christian Democratic Party in the upper house.

In an exercise in cynicism, Labor is preferencing the conservative Shooters, Fishers and Farmers in the Upper Hunter and Murray seats and the Greens everywhere else.

The Greens appear to have made preference deals with Keep Sydney Open (KSO), the Voluntary Euthanasia Party, the Animal Justice Party (AJP) and Labor.

AJP, which is growing in popularity, especially among young people, is running in 48 lower house seats, as well as in the upper house.

Keep Sydney Open, originally formed to protest NSW's lock-out laws, has broadened its policy base and is running in 42 lower house seats as well as in the upper house.

The Greens, now a small major party, is battling to keep its three lower house seats — Newtown, Balmain and Ballina — and win back three seats in the upper house, after losing one to Jeremy Buckingham, who split and took a chunk of members with him.

Labor and the AJP, each of which claim to be beneficiaries of the Greens' split, are preferencing each other.

Why progressive preferencing matters

Given the number of right-wing parties vying for a spot in the Legislative Council, the results will hinge on the preferences of other candidates. This is why progressive preferencing matters.

Those parties claiming to want more progressive activists in parliament should be preferencing progressive parties for which extra-parliamentary work is their core activity.

Yet, the Greens preferenced Voluntary Euthanasia (which is not issuing preferences), AJP and KSO, before going to Labor in the upper house. It put Socialist Alliance after Labor to the shock and disappointment of many Greens activists.

The AJP is recommending a preference to KSO, Sustainable Australia, Greens then Labor. It does not preference the Socialist Alliance, despite its strong policy on animal welfare.

Local Greens branches (which decide their own lower house seat preferences) have issued how-to-votes that give second preference to Socialist Alliance in Parramatta and Newcastle, the two lower house seats the socialists are contesting. This reflects years of collaboration in community and union movements, as well as policy similarity.

When asked for the rationale for preferencing Labor ahead of the socialists in the Legislative Council, The Greens campaign manager said it “had to maximise its opportunities”.

You can draw your own conclusions about what that means.

Former NSW MP John Kaye, just before his untimely death in 2016, bid his party farewell with a warning about not losing sight of how The Greens can do its best work.

“The critical outcome for The Greens is to not be caught into parliamentarianism,” he said, warning about being “caught into the trappings of power”.

“This isn’t and never has been about changing government. That’s what Labor and the Liberals and Nats do. This is about changing what people expect from government, what they expect from the possibilities of working together for the common good and the collective outcome …”

Kaye went on to urge the Greens to stick to the role of being “an aspiring agent of social change”.

Preferences and the progressive vote

At a time when socialist ideas are attracting more supporters and the NSW Greens leadership claims to be inspired by Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, that party has decided to put Labor ahead of the activists who, more often than not, organise the rallies at which Greens MPs speak.

The Socialist Alliance is urging people to use their preferences to maximise the progressive vote.

Under the optional preferential system, the lowest polling candidate is excluded first and their votes redistributed to the remaining candidates. If you do not allocate preferences, your vote exhausts, benefitting the major parties. This is why the major parties, particularly the Liberals, are telling voters to just vote 1.

The Socialist Alliance is fielding a full ticket for the Legislative Council, above the line. It is recommending preferences above the line to The Greens NSW, Keep Sydney Open, Voluntary Euthanasia Party, Animal Justice Party and Jeremy Buckingham's independent group before Labor.

SA policy is to preference along policy lines, not personalities, and to put Labor before the Coalition and the right-wing parties.

[Reprinted from Green Left Weekly. Pip Hinman and Kate Rule are members of the Socialist Alliance.]