16 July 2024
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Lidia Thorpe's latest example of Senate’s unrepresentative swill

Malcolm Mackerras
26 October 2022

When then Prime Minister Paul Keating in November 1992 coined the famous description of the Australian Senate as “unrepresentative swill” he would not have had then nineteen-years-old Lidia Thorpe in mind. Nevertheless, he might just have realized his expression would one day apply to her. She is the classic case of why the Senate’s electoral system makes Australia’s upper house aptly be described as unrepresentative swill.

Let me give a brief history. There is a state seat of Northcote in the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne. Its member from 2006 to 2017 was Labor’s Fiona Richardson who died in July 2017. There was a by-election in November 2017 at which Greens candidate Lidia Thorpe took the seat from Labor. The Greens seemed to be on a roll. They had already won the nearby seats of Melbourne and Prahran at the November 2014 general election and hoped to add Northcote’s adjoining seat of Brunswick to Northcote’s immediate west.

When the November 2018 general election for the Legislative Assembly came around, the Greens kept Melbourne and Prahran and added Brunswick which was another gain from Labor. However, they were shocked when Thorpe lost Northcote to Labor’s Ms Kat Theophanous. In the twelve months during which Thorpe was the member the voters of Northcote learned a lot more about her and decided they did not like what they saw. They kicked her out - from which we have learned that Thorpe is the kind of Greens candidate who could never win a genuine direct election.

Having failed to be directly chosen by the people of Northcote Thorpe then set her ambition as being to get appointed to the Senate whose electoral system is technically one of direct election, but the reality is that voters are manipulated by a dishonest ballot paper into learning their duty. The purpose of one’s Senate vote is to help in the distribution of party machine appointments between parties on a proportional representation formula.

Former Greens leader Richard Di Natale resigned his Senate seat in August 2020. The following month Thorpe was, in the words of the latest Commonwealth Parliamentary Handbook, “Chosen by the Parliament of Victoria on 4.9.2020 under section 15 of the Constitution to represent that state in the Senate, vice R Di Natale (resigned)”. She was then elected to a six-year term at the May 2022 federal election.

Technically Thorpe has been directly chosen by the people of Victoria. She received 524,735 first preference votes, slightly short of the quota of 545,935 votes – and she was elected on preferences. It is important to note, however, that only 40,174 votes were cast personally for her below the line. The other 484,561 votes were the party votes for the Greens above the line. Meanwhile, she has resigned as her party’s deputy Senate leader following revelations that she did not disclose her relationship with former Rebels bikie president Dean Martin.

The whole business reflects badly on the Greens and, especially, on its leader Adam Bandt. He should have sacked her from her shadow portfolio of Indigenous affairs. The Greens rank and file members must be furious that she has used her position to undermine the case for an affirmative vote on the Voice to Parliament referendum proposal. It will be interesting to see if it affects the vote for the Greens at the Victorian state election on Saturday 26 November. I’ll make predictions about that before polling day.

It would not surprise me if she fell out with the Greens. If so, she could spend some five-and-a-half years in the Senate as an independent. In that event she would certainly not be re-elected when her term expires on 30 June 2028. After all she remains a party machine appointment even if she is technically described as directly chosen by the people of Victoria.

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