Anyone who has spent more than five minutes in politics is very aware of “dirt units” and how the major parties deploy lies, gossip, and spin against opponents and smaller parties that are posing an electoral threat.
The goal is simple: find anything that can be (mis)construed as evidence of a toxic subculture and spread it through lackeys in the media, or, more recently, with a whisper campaign on social media.
Sometimes, these dirt units will stumble across behaviour or attitudes that should be disqualifying in politics and will flog that angle to death; but mostly it’s all bullshit designed to sway the more gullible voters.
It’s like what the Russians did to Clinton, only far less conspiratorial
Each of the major parties has their own approach: The Liberal Party has long had the benefit of an overtly partisan media finding dirt for them, and when that fails, the Labor party machine is always churning out racist, sexist, abusive men who are more than capable of creating the dirt for others to find.
In general terms, the ALP are the masters of the dirt unit, going into every election with a plethora of claims about other parties (usually the Greens) that they can leak to willing media as required. During the Victorian elections, this sent one Greens staffer to hospital where he was put on suicide watch; this election saw early stories spread about Tom Raue, after he was preselected, for comments he had made years before – following a familiar trend of removing any and all context so that sarcasm and dark humour can be presented as deeply disturbing beliefs.
However, the Greens have since torn themselves apart in the worst way, with former Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham now presenting all the required dirt for the media, of course, Buckingham left the Greens after allegations of sexual assault were made public, and he threatened to sue anyone who might publicise those allegations.
Just this week, comments about “Asians taking our jobs” made by Labor leader Michael Daley in September last year just happened to surface, days before the election. It’s the perfect example of how dirt files work, if anything is found, sit on it until it becomes politically advantageous to do so.
Labor had similar issues when Liberal MP David Elliot made comments under Parliamentary privilege about Labor Leader Luke Foley sexually assaulting ABC reporter Ashley Raper at a Christmas Party in 2016, which only came to the fore just a few months before this election – forcing a leadership change late in the game.
Both of these issues are rightfully disqualifying for the ALP, voters need to know how morally corrupt Labor remain, but the real issue is how long it was kept under wraps, until it could be deployed for maximum political advantage, with a willing media only too happy to push it out at the optimal time.
The deployment of dirt files during elections with no regard to the damage it might do to those who haven’t done anything wrong, twisting facts and spreading falsehoods to get any potential electoral gain is evidence of a seriously broken system of politicking.
The flooding of social media feeds with negative stories has become so normalised, that, even when it’s needlessly excessive, voters can’t tell the difference between real news and published dirt files.
As long as it can’t be directly traced back to any particular party, voters will consider the election to be remarkably positive, as was the case in the Victorian elections, despite the fact that Labor almost caused someone to kill themselves with their fabrications.
Enter: Keep Sydney Open
The new party with progressive ideals and a swathe of young, intelligent candidates from a range of backgrounds grew out of the protest movement against the O’Farrell/Baird/Berejiklian lockout laws and subsequent war on young people.
Keep Sydney Open (KSO) arrived like a bolt of lightning in this campaign, quickly gaining a strong following, putting them within spitting distance of larger, allegedly progressive parties like Labor and the Greens.
Then the rumours started.
Claims of KSO being funded by the pokies industry started popping up on social media, generally from those with loose connections to the Greens. Anyone capable of reading the Keep Sydney Open policy page can see that they are committed to ending the special treatment of casinos, removing the tax breaks for pokies, and using the tax revenue to fund gambling addiction support services.
Then there was massive online discussion around the fact that the KSO how-to-vote material advises second preference being allocated to Sustainable Australia, an ostensibly anti-immigration party.
Now, to read through the Sustainable Australia policies on immigration and refugees, it is apparent that they are not anti-immigration in the vein of One Nation or elements of the Liberal Party, they appear to want a slowing of immigration to allow an increase in infrastructure.
This isn’t a defence or an examination of the merit of such a policy, it’s more of a consideration of the notion that their policy isn’t coming from a racist place.
Keep Sydney Open quickly responded to the claims of a “preference deal with racists”, issuing a statement about their intentions with preference allocation, and highlighting how common such moves are during elections.
Essentially it boils down to three key factors:
- Maximise the chance of winning seats to ensure Keep Sydney Open voters are represented in NSW Parliament.
- Direct votes in a way that favours progressive parties.
- Prevent One Nation from gaining a second quota in the Upper House (Legislative Council).
The last point is central to such a deal. Sustainable Australia is a party that can split the anti-immigration vote, with One Nation (and the Liberal/National Parties) on the far right and Sustainable Australia on the centre-left, (plus Labor on the centre-right).
Sustainable Australia is second preferencing Keep Sydney Open on their how-to-vote material.
However, short of an unheard of swing away from the Liberal/Labor duopoly, Sustainable Australia won’t reach the quota for a seat in NSW, meaning the KSO preferences would flow to Animal Justice then the Greens and then Labor, if Keep Sydney Open also don’t reach the quota.
The maths can be somewhat complicated, but it’s all fairly simple once you understand how preferential voting works.
Upper House voting is a numbers game, and there was a renewed focus on micro-preferencing deals after the 2013 federal election because of the fact that it’s a numbers game.
When the maths is good, it can boost a smaller party to prominence, breaking up the duopoly.
Regarding “preference deals”: there is no such thing in NSW elections
Similar to the changes made prior to the 2016 federal election, all preference votes are allocated by voters. Parties can make suggestions as to how they believe preferences should be allocated by voters, but have no control once the voter is in the polling booth.
The notion of preference “deals” is a hangover from when all that was required of voters was numbering a single box above the line and allowing the party to decide where preferences would flow.
NSW has optional preferential voting. Since 2003, NSW voters have been able to number as many, or few, boxes above (or below) the line as they want. And as long as the numbers start at one and are sequential, the vote will be counted as valid.
This is also the case for voting in the lower house. Not every box has to be numbered, but most people number every box because they don’t understand how the preferences work in state elections.
ABC elections analyst Antony Green has a much more thorough breakdown available if you click here.
What it comes down to is very simple, all claims of preference deals are false, voters make the choice as to where and how preferences flow. Votes extinguish after the last preference is allocated.
The big parties (Greens/Liberal/Nationals/Labor) rely on voters not understanding how preferences work in NSW elections. They can’t afford to discuss the lie that they continue to perpetuate, as exposing the truth behind “preference deals” means they can’t fear-monger about less mainstream parties like Labor working with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers; or the Liberals working with One Nation.
Except, on election day, they push voters to only number a single box, to ensure they can maximise their votes. Voter-allocated preferences have the potential to hurt the major parties.
It’s shocking, but politicians from the major parties are lying to voters, and they really don’t want the public to know how much power is contained in each vote.
Small Parties Will Decide This Election
The focus of a lot of discussion during this election has been on the popularity and ubiquity of smaller parties, and the potential for voters to move away from the Liberal/Labor duopoly. Antony Green has been forced to abandon his standard electoral calculator, as many battles are being fought in various seats between a range of parties and independents.
Keep Sydney Open could very easily fill the gulf on the left between Labor and the Greens, especially as these two parties abandon progressive and centre-left voters to try to win communists on the left and former Liberal voters on the right.
Despite being a former protest group, a vote for Keep Sydney Open does not appear to be a protest vote.
Increasingly, Australians are experiencing a sense of disenfranchisement, as the major parties battle over the voters that lean right, and the Greens tear themselves apart. There is incredible potential for parties that are prepared to represent the people voting for them, which is why so many people are voting for smaller parties.
While some will continue to push lies, gossip, and spin in the lead-up to an election: claiming a half-read headline to be fact; intentionally spreading falsehoods; or shilling for the major parties without disclosing the fact that they are members – it is important for all voters to do their own research and choose the party with the policies and morals most closely matching their own views.
Or, you could read a slightly-partisan political blog and just follow the expert advice found there.
There is one more important thing potential voters should know. On election day, eligible voters can enrol at a polling station. If you aren’t enrolled to vote as yet, or know someone who hasn’t enrolled, you can drag them along and have them vote for the first time, this is especially helpful for university students and school leavers.
The NSW Election is on Saturday March 23. For the record, I am not a registered member of any political party, this blog is designed to address core concerns I have with reporting and social media discussion around the NSW election, and to advocate for the party I believe has the best plan for NSW.
I am not receiving any payment nor assistance from Keep Sydney Open.