News National How a faulty fax machine threatens the micro-party alliance
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How a faulty fax machine threatens the micro-party alliance

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Much has been made of the alliance of pint-sized parties that marched on the ballot box at the September federal election, plundering Senate seats and dashing Liberal hopes of stability in the upper house.

It appears that the big parties won’t stand for it. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has been re-formed to investigate the 2013 election. With only two minor party representatives – a Greens Senator with voting rights and a non-voting Senator from the Democratic Labour Party – it is unlikely to report favourably on the small party successes of late.

Liberal Party Senator Michael Ronaldson asked the committee to investigate senate voting reform and reportedly has support from across the parliament.

But reforms to the electoral process may not be required to curb the influence of the micro-party alliance. It may be self-destructing. At least two factions, led by old rivals David Leyonhjelm and Glenn Druery, have emerged to shatter the illusion of harmony.  

Leyonhjelm’s party, the Liberal Democrats, was not allowed to join the league of preference swappers led by Druery at the recent election – a ban he endured with very few ill-effects.

David Leyonjhelm
David Leyonjhelm: Micro-party dealmaker with a long list of disgruntled former allies. Photo: Supplied

In power, and that’s all that matters

Senator-elect Leyonhjelm, who won his seat for NSW on a whopping 9.5 per cent of primary votes, was certainly no friend of Druery, the so-called ‘preference whisperer’, although they were colleagues in the past.

“We don’t like the fact that Glenn sees himself as a kingmaker,” said Leyonhjelm. “None of his clients got elected. And the one he tried to stop, which was me, did get elected.”

Druery maintained that the decision to exclude Leyonhjelm was the will of the majority and not a personal one, but the Sex Party was not so sure.

“My gut feeling on that would be that it was the falling out between David and Glenn that created that scenario,” said its president Fiona Patten.

The rift dates back to their joint involvement in the Outdoor Recreation Party, which Druery helped form in 1996, and which he said was hijacked by Leyonhjelm.

“It was originally my baby, and they got control of it and changed its name to Stop the Greens, which it was never intended to be,” said Druery.

Leyonhjelm retorted that Druery was a failed Senate candidate for the party in 2010 who staged a power grab that got him kicked out.

He also lost another former ally in the Sex Party. They had previously dealt closely, and preferenced each other highly at the 2010 election because of their similarly relaxed views on many issues, including pornography. But a bitter preference dispute in the lead up to this year’s election ruined the relationship.

The Sex Party is still angry that its Victorian Senate candidate Fiona Patten did not reap preferences as promised from the four parties that Leyonhjelm seemed to control: the Liberal Democrats, the Outdoor Recreation Party (Stop the Greens), the Smokers Rights Party and the Republican Party of Australia.

“We did an agreement, which was witnessed by quite a few people in the office, to go to them in NSW and in return they would go to us in Victoria,” said the Sex Party’s registered officer Robbie Swan. “He got a pretty high primary vote as well because clearly a lot thought he was the Liberal Party. And he was number one on the ticket. So he had everything going for him.”

‘A fax ate my homework’

Patten was denied these preferences because of a comedy of errors that resulted in Leyonhjelm failing to submit the group voting tickets of each of the four parties. He blamed this on a rickety fax machine, a looming deadline and a poor decision to trade preferences right up until the midday cut off point on 17 August. But the Sex Party has been hinting at a more sinister explanation ever since.

“Maybe it was a f-ck up, but why tell me three different stories,” said Patten. “His first story was that the electoral commission’s fax machine was broken. The next was that his fax machine had a paper jam. And the third was that he rang the wrong number.”

Leyonhjelm said he and his team went on trading preferences “right through the night”, underestimated how long it would take to write down the 50-plus preferences of four parties in numerous states, left it until 11:55am to send the documents because the fax machine chewed them several times, and then missed the deadline because his wife Amanda keyed in the wrong fax number for the electoral commission.

To complicate matters, Leyonhjelm said the time on the transmission record he gave to the Sex Party to prove his innocence was 15 minutes slow, making it seem as if he had tried only once to send the documents at 11:40am and then given up with plenty of time to spare.

Understandably, the Sex Party thought all this sounded a bit suss.

Sex Party, Fiona Patten
The Sex Party’s Fiona Patten handing out how-to-vote cards at the 2013 federal election. Photo: AAP

A new alliance?

But while Leyonhjelm has lost some friends, his strong affiliation with several other parties helped win him a seat for New South Wales, and also secured the Liberal Democrats relatively high primary votes in South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia.

While it was legal, though somewhat unconventional, for Leyonhjelm to be the registered officer of three parties (Liberal Democrats, Smokers Rights and Outdoor Recreation) simultaneously, it was his “friendly” relationship with a fourth, the Republican Party of Australia, that others thought was most curious.

“David Leyonhjelm appeared to have control of that party,” said Swan, “in that he could offer preferences for it.”

So friendly was he with the party’s leader, Peter Consandine, that Leyonhjelm said he was entrusted with a rubber stamp of Consandine’s signature in order to lodge to the party’s group voting ticket – a task he obviously failed to accomplish in Victoria.

The electoral act states that to make the signature of another person on a group voting ticket is forgery, but Leyonhjelm insisted the electoral commission permitted his use of the signature stamp.

“According to what the electoral commission told Peter, which he told me, it’s perfectly acceptable,” he said.

But Fiona Patten speculated that the use of stamped signatures is “completely illegal”.

Read about Australia’s preference whisperer, Glen Druery: What comes next for Australia’s preference whisperer?

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