19 July 2024
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Payman should go Green and Thorpe will go

Malcolm Mackerras
8 July 2024

Among the ranks of Australian senators there are now three independents who have left their big parties for different reasons. In one respect, the three are the same. Technically speaking, they have been directly chosen by the people of Victoria and Western Australia. Therefore, the fact of leaving a big party is irrelevant. They can sit as independents until their terms expire. The three senators are David Van (a Victorian ex-Liberal), Lidia Thorpe (a Victorian ex-Green) and Fatima Payman (a Western Australian ex-Labor senator). Van differs from the other two in that his term expires on 30 June 2025 from which point he will, I confidently predict, no longer be a senator.

David Pocock from the ACT is the only independent actually elected as an independent, but there are now five altogether, Pocock, Van, Thorpe, Payman and Tammy Tyrrell (Tasmania) who was elected under the Jacquie Lambie Network but recently decided to be an independent. That means the state of parties is now 31 for the Coalition, 25 Labor, 11 Greens, two from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party, one for the United Australia Party plus Jacquie Lambie and the five independents named above.

Though senators are technically described as “directly chosen by the people”, every schoolboy knows that the disgraceful Australian Senate voting system is not really one of direct election. The ballot paper, supplemented by the propaganda and misinformation pumped out by the Australian Electoral Commission, “educates” voters to know that the purpose of the vote is to distribute numbers of party machine appointments between political parties according to a formula of proportional representation between political parties. The dishonest ballot paper has not been designed according to any democratic principle. It has been rigged to ensure that big parties get their senators elected in the “correct” order – the order determined by the big-party machines.

Thorpe and Payman enjoy terms expiring on 30 June 2028. That is their main similarity. Neither needs re-election next year. Both, however, have been foolish in giving up probable re-election in 2028, which is quite likely to see eight senators elected from each state as part of a Senate electoral reform designed to improve Senate voting but also to increase the number of members of the House of Representatives by some 24 or 25 seats in 2028. Whereas there will be 150 members elected to the House of Representatives next year, that number is likely to be 174 or 175 in 2028.

The reason for the above is the requirement of section 24 of the Constitution that the number of members of the lower house shall be as nearly as practicable twice the number of senators. Since I don’t admire either Thorpe or Payman, I think both are foolish to give up what might have been a long-term career in the Senate. Those who are filled with such admiration, by contrast with me, might well argue that they have shown principles that led to their defiant attitude towards the party that gave their seats to them. Thorpe is more problematic than Payman. The WA senator seems to be a likeable politician – something I can’t say about Thorpe who looks troublesome to me. The reason why I don’t admire Payman is that, to me anyway, she has attacked Albanese and Labor because they are not antisemitic enough for her.

One respect in which the two differ relates to the extent to which their election was generally expected. Thorpe was guaranteed election, but Payman won her seat from the third position caused by Labor’s unexpectedly high vote in Western Australia in May 2022. In Victoria, an elector who placed the number “1” above the line for Group G (The Greens) must have known that vote would be counted as a first preference for Lidia Thorpe who was guaranteed election from the top Greens position.

By contrast, the Western Australian elector who placed the number “1” above the line for Group D (Australian Labor Party) may well have heard of Senator Lines and Senator Sterle but would be very unlikely to have heard of the third candidate Payman. Since the system is one of pretend candidate-base (while actually being party-based) that above-the-line vote was read as being “1” for Sue Lines, “2” for Glenn Sterle, “3” for Fatima Payman and “4” for Vicki Helps, all Labor candidates.

Let me give the statistics from the May 2022 WA Senate election. The total formal vote was 1,526,123 meaning that the quota for election was 218,018 votes. The counting began with Sue Lines winning the first seat. Her first preference vote was counted as being 523,139, that being made up of Labor’s above-the-line vote of 511,226 plus her own below-the-line vote of 11,913. Below-the-line votes for the other Labor candidates were 1,285 for Sterle, 1,681 for Payman and 1,214 for Helps. The only other candidate to win on the first count was the Liberal Party’s Michaelia Cash whose vote, in principle, was made up like that for Lines. The Liberal Party vote being lower than that for Labor one other Liberal senator (Dean Smith) was elected and eventually Dorinda Cox of The Greens and Payman were elected.

Now supposing that a case was made against Payman on the ground of her dual citizenship - she is being both Afghan and Australian, then the High Court would declare she had not been eligible to be a candidate and the votes would be recounted as though she had not been on the ballot paper with her preferences distributed accordingly. In that event Helps would replace Payman as the third Labor senator elected in 2022. I don’t expect that to happen, and I would be very critical of Labor if it tried to play such a trick.

In the meantime, Payman and Thorpe are independent senators with four more years to serve. Both have been directly chosen by the people at an election accepted by the High Court as candidate-based and therefore constitutional. What happens thereafter is anyone’s guess. My advice to Payman is to join The Greens, the party to which she really belongs. She might be re-elected in 2028 under their banner.

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