With Labor going back to the future with the reinstatement of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, attention will be almost firmly focused on the major political parties. However, it’s on the fringes that some of the more interesting battles – and candidates – will feature. From next week, mojo’s Toni Brient runs the magnifying glass over these parties, but firstly do they actually stand a chance in an election expected to sway heavily in favour of the Coalition?
by Toni Brient
Voters in the 2013 Federal election will potentially have a choice of representatives from over 50 political parties.
Some 37 parties are currently listed on the Australian Electoral Commission register (many of which are divided into state branches) with a further 17 awaiting approval to be registered.
The presence of minor and niche political parties are not a new phenomenon in Australia, but some say the groups are receiving renewed interest in the current political climate.
According to Flinders University School of Social and Policy Studies lecturer, Rob Manwaring, it does not signal a change in overall political participation.
“I don’t buy the argument that we’re more apathetic or more engaged,” says Dr Manwaring, who lectures in Australian politics, public policy, and political participation.
“The big trend is that trust is gone. People are far less trusting than they used to be.
“They’re not more disengaged though. They’re less likely to vote for the major parties.”
Political commentator and founder of AustralianPolitics.com, Malcolm Farnsworth, suggests the greatest impact of minor and niche parties will be shaping the political agenda and influencing preferences at election time.
“Recently, a new trend has emerged where micro parties combine to swap preferences.
“(This) helped DLP Senator John Madigan win in 2010 despite a very low primary vote. It could assist Pauline Hanson in the 2013 election.”
Dr Manwaring suggests preference deals in recent years have caused a drop in the “overall share of votes” for larger parties, particularly in the Senate.
“They focus their campaigns there because that’s where they’re more likely to pick up their votes.”
Mr Farnsworth suggests a Senate presence is crucial to minor and niche parties gaining power.
“This is the only significant way the Greens, Democrats and the DLP were and are able to exercise power.”
Both Dr Manwaring and Mr Farnsworth expect to see a peripheral impact from minor and niche parties in the 2013 Federal Election.
“On the whole their influence is relatively fringe, almost like NGOs,” says Dr Manwaring.
“The media concentrates on the sparring between the main parties.
“It will be hard for minor parties to get a look in, let alone a niche one.”
Mr Farnsworth expects the Coalition to recover votes that have gone to minor parties like the Greens in recent years.
“Some people argue that Abbott is unpopular and this will encourage people to look for an alternative but I’m not at all convinced of that.
He said Kevin Rudd’s toppling of Julia Gillard could possibly, but not necessarily, blow the whole election wide open.
“In any event, I doubt that minor parties would have much influence.”
Dr Manwaring also expects the Greens’ vote to decline, with both he and Mr Farnsworth speculating that South Australian Senator Sarah Hanson-Young may lose her position.
But, because the Senate runs to a different electoral timetable than the House of Representatives, Dr Manwaring suggests the Greens will retain some power for a short time at least.
Dr Manwaring and Mr Farnsworth agree that the Family First party is likely to pick up seats.
Mr Farnsworth also predicts that the Australian Sex Party and Katter’s Australia Party will be popular in some areas.