ABC News reports this morning that Judi Moylan last night survived the preselection challenge in her outer Perth seat of Pearce from former One Nation and Liberal Merredin candidate Jamie Falls, as I predicted a couple of weeks ago. No word on the third candidate named in reports at the time. The result still has to be ratified by the Liberal Party’s state council, but I doubt that that will be any major issue.
One interesting point here. This poll was not conducted publicly – we know by press release from the victor and at some point from the party what the outcome was. This reminds me of the rolling of Birney on 24 March, specifically this part:
The meeting lasted for a little over half an hour.
“The party room meeting has decided, those figures would not be divulged,” Mr Halligan said.
This allowed speculation by the losing faction on ABC and other media outlets subsequently about the role of the deputy leader Troy Buswell in securing the result. Was the result really that close, or not? There is a strong argument to apply the same level of democracy to internal party matters as to elections – after all, the people ultimately are offered the team these contests produce as the party’s only representative. It is probably not necessary to go the way of the Americans and have party-affiliated voters choose the leader at a primary, but certainly with preselections for seat representation, there is far more room for democracy.
Parties have been accused at various times of either trying to unseat uncooperative members or “parachute in” desirable high-profile candidates through the preselection process. The preselections for the 1996 contests in Curtin and Moore – safe Liberal seats in Perth’s coastal region – were dominated by power plays by the so-called Noel Crichton-Browne faction which, in part, led to the Liberals’ loss of both seats to their sitting member standing as an Independent. In October 2004, the Sydney blue-ribbon seat of Wentworth had a similar contest between sitting member Peter King and party-endorsed Malcolm Turnbull. In several contests in NSW, there has been allegations that a radical faction of the party is trying to take over and promote its own candidates.
There was clearly some dispute in all cases as to whether the unelected Liberal Party preselectors and the public within that electorate’s borders disagreed on the choice of candidate. The spectre of branch-stacking that has haunted both major parties adds to this situation. So many questions – did all the members who could vote, vote? Did people move into the area in anticipation of a vote to take advantage of the relatively low absolute numbers required to win such a contest (usually less than 100)? Why aren’t the results made public? Should the AEC or WAEC be running the preselection contest? If it’s good enough for most unions and quite a few corporate boards, it should be good enough for a party fielding public representatives. In the present situation, with a large number of safe seats, the parties operate almost like a dictatorship, choosing the next MP for the area, not just a “candidate” as they are guaranteed to win.
One solution may be the French method with an Australian twist, by which the party endorses a candidate but has the option of running several. The twist would be the preferential system which limits the vote-splitting which can occur by this procedure. My belief has always been that corruption arises when a system invites it or offers reward for engaging in it – i.e. if there is no benefit in engaging in corrupt conduct, then the cost-benefit analysis weighs towards working within the system instead. The French system offers no reward for branch-stackers as the people make the decision who will represent them instead of a group of party members.
There’s going to be a lot more of these contests, especially as both major parties are failing to attract members and both branch-stacking and shock results become more possible or likely, and public debate about factions and branch-stacking continues despite the parties’ attempts to suppress it. It is about time that they responded with a coherent strategy that allows democracy to take its course.