Micro Party Politics
Western Australia goes to the polls this weekend.
On the 7th of September 2013 Australia voted for a new government with Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. Somewhere along the way 1375 Senate votes went missing, triggering a special election to be held for six Western Australian Senate seats on the 5th of April 2014.
A record 77 candidates are vying the six senate seats, representing 34 parties. The majority of these candidates belong to ‘micro parties’.
Here we try understand how micro parties with limited public support can come to shape national policy and invoke their own agendas onto the wider public.
Who are the micro parties?
With no restrictions on how many candidates can apply, or a requirement for them to be based in Western Australia there has been an increase in the micro parties contesting this election.
By following the Australian Electoral Commissions basic guidelines, starting a party is actually easy process. So simple and easy, anyone can do it, but just because you can, should you?
“Why are so many micro parties running? 25% [of the electorate] chose not to vote [for the major] parties in the last election. One in four voters are disillusioned,” declares Keith Littler of The Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party,“We are legislated against with no consultation, no voice to our community.”
“We set up the party 3½ years ago,” Says Fiona Pattern of the Sex Party, “We don’t have the resources and opportunity to canvas our policies as widely [unlike the larger parties].’’
Not all of the micro parties have small budgets; The Palmer Party is spending millions on its campaign.
Keith Littler from the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party
Speaking with a number of the candidates, their reasons for running are similar, they want to be heard and don’t feel the major parties are speaking for them. “I’d like to see the voice of the ‘everyman’ heard,” says Tibor Meszaros of the Wikileaks Party. Fletcher Boyd of the Pirate Party echoes these sentiments, “I , like many Australians look at the large parties and feel I have no one to vote for.’’
Their backgrounds are as varied as the parties they represent: The Voluntary Euthanasia Party’s Dr Phillip Nitschke is a physician based in the Northern Territory. Fletcher Boyd from the Pirate Party is a software engineer and law student based in WA. David Fishlock of the Outdoor recreation Party is a mobile plant operator also from WA. The Wikileaks Party candidate, Tibor Meszaros and Keith Littler (Keith is the National Secretary, not a candidate) of the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party are both filmmakers, whilst Fiona Patten is an ex-sex worker who is the President of the Australian Sex Party and CEO of Australia’s national adult retail association, The Eros Association.
Dr Phillip Nitschke from the Voluntary Euthanasia Party
Can they make a difference?
In some respects this is all about getting publicity for minority issues, some of which will never make the headlines. Fletcher Boyd stresses that as long as their message is conveyed they will have had an effective campaign. “We hope that even if we aren’t elected as long as we get our message across then it’s a success. We hope to raise awareness.” David Fishlock reflects these sentiments, “we should get our voices heard.”
Tibor Meszaros believes the voters of this country aren’t idiots and until now the ‘battlers’ have had no alternative. “For too long we [the voting public] have had to endure the revolving doors of the major parties. The voters are looking for change every ten years but it is all in vain. At the moment there is a growing sense of protest at the ‘hot air’ that Tony Abbott is speaking. The truth is that whichever big party is voted in next, it will still be the same ‘hot air’ coming from their mouths.”
Dr Nitschke elaborates further, “we have always had people who are in support of this issue. Many people formed groups and a lot of the members were keen for the formation of a single-issue party. This is the option as opposed to having to vote for a major party.’’
Fiona Pattern from the Sex Party
It’s not all about winning.
Most of the candidates we spoke with won’t receive enough votes to be elected, so what happens next? “We have a split ticket with Louise Pratt of the Australian Labor Party and the Greens,” Dr Nitschke states his party’s preferences, through his years of politicking he knows which parties will support his members.
Dr Nitschke also sees the publicity of a campaign as an important tool for fundraising, since launching the party there has been a massive increase in donations. “This,” he says “helps push the issue and made all their efforts to this point worthwhile.”
“Their right to die is their only issue,” Remarks Dr Nitschke when asked about his party’s sole agenda.
Not all of these micro parties have single-issue agendas, but for the most part this is how they differentiate themselves from the major parties trying to appease everyone. For example the Australian Smokers’ Rights Party has a sole focus to protect smokers from over zealous government legislation, and that is their only platform.
The Voluntary Euthanasia Party understands that although they have a single focus, their supporters have set a clear mandate. “If a person helps a loved one with a terminal illness to die a painless and dignified death, they can be put to jail for life. It’s absurd,” States Dr Nitschke
The Outdoor Recreation Party’s sole focus is outdoor recreation on public land. “We are all responsible for our own actions,” says David Fishlock. “We want to give [public land] access to everyone.”
The system ruled by the minority.
Another common thread of these parties agendas is there belief that an elite minority rules us. “Basically the democracy that we are told we are a part of isn’t happening,” Says Tibor Meszaros. “Canberra has made the people in power so far removed from the common man – I’d like to see the voice of the every man heard.”
Although these candidates represent niche parties they are adamant that many of their agendas the public actually supports, such as voluntary euthanasia. “We have done many surveys, where eight out of ten people agree with voluntary euthanasia. This public opinion isn’t represented in the laws of this country,” Says Dr Nitschke.
How much the micro parties actually represent the average Australian is debatable. The micro parties we spoke with are keen to emphasise their ‘average Australian support base.’ Yet there is no consensus of who and what the average Australian actually is. With claims that some parties in this election are acting more like lobby groups focused on commercial interests rather than the good of the public. Some of these party’s agendas can be seen as opaque.
With this, we are left with the feeling that, like the major parties the one constant is their focus on the ‘average Australian.’
Most of these candidates know they won’t make it, some will come close, others will burn out close to the sun, with a fortunate few making it. These everyday people could, if elected, hold the Australian government to their agendas.
Jake Edwards is the Art Director of FLINT, based in Perth, Australia.
James Knox is Editor-in-Chief of FLINT, based in Perth, Australia.