23 April 2017
There have been numerous times when political parties have emerged with names built around the politicians who founded them. In Australia we’ve seen the likes of Pauline Hanson and Bob Katter and others go down this path during the past two decades. While they’ve enjoyed success at times, their success hasn’t necessarily been long-lasting or widespread, or both.
Formerly with the Liberal Party until being dumped for some controversial comments on various issues, Hanson won much support across the country during the 1990s, and she saw fit to set up a political party bearing her own name. Although her party went on to win sets in various parliaments, most of the people who won them ended up falling out with the party, for one reason or another, and went in their own directions. Hanson herself lost her seat in Federal Parliament soon after setting up her party, while support for her party dropped. She then contested many elections over the following years, and ultimately won a seat at a Federal election in 2016. Now that she’s back in Parliament, support for her party has grown again.
Katter went down a similar path after falling out with the Nationals in 2001. Formerly a State MP and minister in Queensland before entering Federal Parliament in 1993, he set up his own party after going to the crossbench. His party won a few seats in Queensland Parliament, but support for his party seems confined to Queensland’s far north and west.
And then there’s the case of mining tycoon and billionaire Clive Palmer, who set up his own political party ahead of a Federal election in 2013. Arguably due in no small part to Palmer’s use of his wealth to run election advertisements on television, a luxury which minor parties can’t really afford at election time, the tycoon’s party won enough votes to pick up several seats in Parliament. But the party didn’t take long to implode, with two MPs walking away soon after entering Parliament. Palmer himself, having been elected only narrowly, quit Parliament at the 2016 election, amid problems afflicting his business interests, and his party’s seats were all lost.
Interestingly, one of the politicians to leave Palmer’s party back then is still in Parliament now, having set up another political party and won a seat in 2016. That person is Senator Jacqui Lambie, from Tasmania.
A former soldier who was injured and spent some time on welfare before entering the Senate, Lambie wouldn’t have made it there if she hadn’t been with Palmer’s party. But after going her own way, she managed to hold her seat in her own right. Needing to win about 7.7 per cent of the statewide vote to hold her seat, she and her party won about 8.3 per cent of the vote, which was more than enough. She might’ve appeared to be on some sort of probation after walking away from Palmer’s party, but after holding her seat with more than enough votes at the next election that she faced, she couldn’t have done more.
I suspect that if Tasmanian voters can’t abide the Labor Party or the Liberal-National Coalition or the Greens, they might turn to Lambie. She’s become a feisty figure who’s not afraid to speak her mind on various issues, which makes her controversial.
However, I’m not convinced that Lambie’s party will have that big an impact on the next general election in Tasmania, which comes early next year. The reason is how seats are won in elections there.
There are twenty-five seats, spread across five electorates up for grabs in the Tasmanian Parliament – hence five seats per electorate. Being multi-seat electorates, they look easier for minor parties to win seats in. Candidates are elected if they win roughly a sixth of the vote in any electorate. The reason for a sixth being the “magic” proportion is that, when working out roughly how many votes you need in order to win a seat within an electorate, you need to divide the total vote by a number which is one more than the number of seats up for grabs in that electorate – hence the need for roughly a sixth of the vote in order to win one of five seats in each Tasmanian electorate.
But people actually vote for candidates, rather than for parties. It doesn’t matter how much of the vote goes to political parties as a whole – it’s up to their candidates to win seats on their own steam, even if they get elected with other candidates’ preferences.
This is what arguably puts Tasmanian seats, as far as the next Tasmanian election is concerned, out of Lambie’s reach. Voters may like Lambie herself, but they’d be voting for people standing under her umbrella, if I could put it that way. Unless Lambie has candidates who share most of her views on various issues, and are trusted across large parts of Tasmania, they’ll probably struggle to win seats in their own right.
Few wouldn’t regard Lambie as a breath of fresh air in politics. She’s got a rawness about her which appeals to many. But her party might struggle to win seats in her home state when people can’t vote for her personally.