Why Australia's Pirate Party won't get elected

Why Australia's Pirate Party won't get elected

Summary: Many would love to see the Pirate Party and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy face off in the Australian Senate, but the unorthodox political party doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning the necessary votes.


commentary At long last, Australia is to have its own official outpost of the Pirate Party, a controversial political group that has been wreaking havoc in Europe's parliaments for some years now.

It's about time.

It's a widely reported fact, after all, that BitTorrent-fuelled internet content piracy is a popular pastime in Australia; so popular, in fact, that some studies claim to have shown file-sharing is more popular down under than in any other nation worldwide.

The popularity of peer-to-peer traffic in our wide brown land is only matched by the vehemence with which our existing political parties have opposed it.

Current Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has thrown his hat in the ring on the issue several times.

For example, in March he was accused of improperly prejudicing the ongoing lawsuit between iiNet and major film studios, when he ridiculed iiNet's defence that it did not know whether its users had been downloading copyrighted works.

That came after Conroy in January added BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer software to the list of undesirable nasties, which the government's extremely unpopular internet filtering trial would try to block.

Considering that such polar opposite views are held by the nation's population and their representatives, it was inevitable that a radical political party such as the Pirate Party would arise to exploit the gap. After all, it is just such a gap that is driving the rise of the Australian Greens, despite the best efforts of Labor and the Coalition to "greenwash" their image.

The only problem for the Pirate Party is that it is extremely unlikely to win any seats in any election in the foreseeable future, meaning it will likely remain, like the Democrats, a party sidelined in the national debate.

The most likely arena in which the Pirate Party can realistically compete is, as the group flagged this morning, in the next federal election.

This refers, of course, to the much-maligned Australian Senate, with its alluring low-hanging fruit of proportional representation voting that has allowed many minority parties to sneak a seat or five over the years. Minority parties have almost no chance of picking up a seat in the House of Representatives, where candidates have to win the majority of votes in an individual electorate by geography.

If Steve Fielding and Nick Xenophon can make it into the Senate, the argument goes, surely anybody can.

Unfortunately for the Pirate Party, it's not that easy.

Let's assume the best-case scenario. In the recent European Parliament elections held this year, the Pirate Party picked up 7.1 per cent of the vote. That amount was enough to get Swedish candidate Christian Engström into the EU Parliament and the Pirate Party truly on the map in terms of European politics.

An interesting point here is that getting candidates elected, or even winning a certain proportion of the vote, is usually enough to win guaranteed government funding for political parties in most countries, including Australia.

However, if you examine the Senate voting in Australia's 2007 federal election (the one in which Kevin Rudd romped home), you'll find that even if the Pirate Party won that amount of votes or more, it would be very unlikely to win a Senate seat.

The group will not come close to winning seats in the next federal election even if it does poll as high as 7.1 per cent

In 2007, for example, the Greens, a rising challenger party in Australian politics, won 8.43 per cent, 10 per cent and 7.32 per cent of the vote in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland respectively, and did not win a Senate seat in any of those states.

The Greens even picked up a staggering 21.47 per cent of the vote in the Australian Capital Territory and 8.84 in the Northern Territory, although each of those territories only has two senators, while the states get 12 each.

The problem for the Greens is that it usually ended up losing because of complicated preference deals, where votes siphoned eventually to the major Labor and Coalition groupings.

Where the Greens won, it often did so at the end of the process, with Labor's preferences ending up in its bucket, or where it had star candidates like Tasmania's Bob Brown. And it's exactly this sort of preference situation that led to Family First's Steve Fielding winning a seat.

When you apply this process to a new entrant like the Pirate Party, with an unknown voting history and a radical agenda, it likely means the group will not come close to winning seats in the next federal election even if it does poll as high as 7.1 per cent, because it'll likely be far down the preferences list of major parties like Labor.

An unexpectedly good result, however, could pave the way for the party to win favourable preference deals in the election after that, around 2013-14. But it's impossible to say if the party's narrow appeal will stick with voters that long, and how the mainstream parties will have changed their policies in that time.

It's a pity. Having Communications Minister Stephen Conroy face off in the Senate against Pirate Party senators would certainly enhance the level of debate on issues of intellectual property and the internet, which much of the population is extremely concerned about.

Will you vote for the Pirate Party in the next federal election? Why or why not?

Topics: Government, Government AU, Legal, Piracy, EU

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  • They don't have to win a seat

    Just by existing they may alter the views of the major parties. Look what effect Family First have had on slanting the policies of both the majors. The Greens have caused both Lib and Lab to consider the green vote and to be seen to be more green friendly - this mob could have the same effect even if they never get enough support to win a seat.
  • Follow-up

    There's some great follow-up analysis from Duncan Riley on this issue here:


    He rebuts my opinion and kicks off a great debate!


    Renai LeMay
    News Editor
  • Please Support the Pirate Party

    This is an appeal to all Australians who care about technology and their online games. You may disagree with the Pirate Party, but I strongly urge people in Australia to support this party, It is no joke that the Baby Boomer generation has stolen the representation of young people for their own gains. WE REALLY NEED ANY TECHNOLOGY PARTY IN AUSTRALIA. I don't want to make this a religious debate either, but people like ATKINSON in SA are religious people who are strangling the lifeblood of youth from this country. You fucking Aussies need this more than ever as the stale oldies multiply in their representation and immigrants who are religious simply vote family first
  • LOL

    So this party is going to be like most crappy little parties. Just giving votes to the ALP and pretending they're not.
  • How unpopular?

    Just howmany people in Australia really take much notice of the hullabaloo around the filtering debate?

    "the government's extremely unpopular internet filtering trial "

    I work in in IT, so I went and asked 30 people what their thoughts about the whole subject was...

    26 knew little about what was happening and did not think it would affect them anyway... There are so many factors affecting access speeds, they mostly did not think filtering 10,000 webpages of 200 billion webpages was going to make much of a difference to performance, and they don't surf that stuff anyway...

    The majority just figured it would not be a bad thing to keep that style of stuff off the screens anyway...

    Two of the remaining four thought the government should stay right out of running ISPs and two thought it was about time the government did somehting.

    Majority response: I'm sure it'll be fine...

    So I guess I am wondering just how small the actual group of people is, who find this "extremely unpopular"...?

    The Pirate Party? Just another group who fugure they can promise people that they can get other people's IP and products for free... They will push it until the governments finally do decide to take action against them, and then they will scream the house down, as babies always do when you take their free lollipops away...
  • How Unpopular?

    "The Pirate Party? Just another group who fugure they can promise people that they can get other people's IP and products for free"

    Except that't completely nothing to do with the goals of The Pirate Party. They're ACTUALLY all about obeying the laws, WHILE fighting the greedy megacorporations (who basically write all the laws themselves) who claim that every time you even HUM A TUNE TO YOURSELF you owe some starving musician money.

    Even though those same "starving musicians" are (a) mostly not starving (b) busily suing the same megacorps because they're BUSY SCREWING STARVING MUSICIANS.

    Almost *all* music industry contracts have terms which include things like ***fees for *stock breakage* which are applied to digital downloads (WHAT?), or terms which say "we'll pay you x%, but ONLY ON PHYSICAL SALES IN BRICK-AND-MORTAR STORES" sorry if you made ten million sales via iTunes (or other legitimate online music store) you get 0% of that money.

    The "starving musicians" are in the poor house because the greedy megacorps are NOT giving them anything even vaguely approaching a "fair deal" ... NOT because some 6yr old illegally downloaded some song from bittorrent.
  • A better option would be...

    A better option would be for the GetUp people to start a party.
    They cover a wider range of issues and already have a large group of "members"

    Also, where do the Greens stand on the internet filter?
  • Pirate Party Prospects

    In the Senate, with preferences, the Greens, previously the Democrats as well as the fringe christian based Family First have been elected. Even Nick from South Australia now sits in the senate. Some still hold the balance of power there over legislation introduced by the elected govt with a tiny fraction of the primary vote.
    Yes, the Pirate Party can get elected with a decent effort in all states and by directing preferences they can have a decisive influence on the outcome. Any vote over 2% to 4% with well directed preferences could result in other fringe parties representatives losing their seats, especially if a major party decides to preference them as preferable to the others.
  • LOL

    why would they give their votes to labor, given that the majority of what they oppose stems from a labor minister currently?
  • I'll Vote

    So how do we Vote ..

    If it wasn't for Whirlpool .. I would never have known about them , on the other hand at least it makes a great advert for them , maybe they should get their banner on all the popular BT trackers ... Truth be told most leechers proberly dont vote / care about voting .. unless it will effect them ... ie Internet filtering ..

    I'll vote for them .. if its nice and simple .. apart from that I will do my normal thing .. rock up take papper throw in box go back to my seat in front of Pc .. find somthing else to download ( knowing full well I'll never even look at the files again .. apart from moving to the Completed / Leech here Folders :P)
  • Count me in

    I will vote for pirate party. Both liberal and labor are just a joke. I didn't get my stimulus money and I was pissed off. I will never vote any party built by the old crooks ever again. I felt betrayed. Now, I want to vote for a party that represents young generation. Count moi in, pirate party!! yaaarrghhhh~!!
  • I'd be tempted...

    I'd be tempted to re-register on the voting poll if this party were an option.
  • I voted for labor last time

    Last time I voted for the ALP straight down the line (senate included) mostly because it was the best way to help get Howard out (say what you will about what the ALP has done on filtering, censorship etc etc etc, Howard would have been worse)
    If a party comes in that doesn't support censorship, doesn't support allowing the big media companies to go after alleged pirates without needing to actually prove that copyright violations actually took place (3-strikes etc) and doesn't support the expansion of the powers of the big media companies, that party is something I will seriously consider voting for.
  • <yawn>

    Another group of misfit geeks playing at being Libertarian champions but in reality they are saying they are anti-censorship (free sicko content for your kids) and anti-copyright (giving away other people's intellectual and artistic property because they struggle with and are jealous of the concept of original thought).

    Get a life and get some interpersonal skills and you might just start to value art and its creators instead of trying to kill any incentive for creativity.

    The pirate party - an assinine waste energy and votes. Grow up, kiddies.
  • Att yawn

    Its people like you who let the government get away with bullying the Australian masses for Internet censorship. I guess you like your tax paying money going to waste as the internet filter and making Australia a nanny state
  • Vote below the line in the senate

    See title. Sure, it may take a little longer, but at least your preferences are your own, not those chosen by some dodgy backroom deals in the run up to the election.
  • Preferences, not quite the reason.

    In an ordinary election, only roughly half the senate seats are up for election. Meaning that each sate, 6 of the 12 senate seats are up for election. Senators ordinarily sit for 6 year terms. The territory senators (2 for each territory) sit for 3 year terms and are up for election with every election.

    In a double dissolution election, where the entire senate is disolved, for each state all 12 seats are up for election, with the last six elected sitting for a 3 year term, while the first six elected sit for a 6 year term.

    Biggest obstacle to getting elected is not preferences, although they do play a role, it is quota.

    In an ordinary election you need to get a little over 15% (your quota) to get elected to a state senate seat, in a double dissolution you need a little over 8 % to get elected. In the territories you need a little over 33%.

    The greens simply fail to make quota in most cases, and thus rely a combination of preferences flowing from the surplus vote of the major parties (they actually have to flow somewhere), and the preferences of smaller parties and independents that had very low votes (tend to go all over the place).
  • Re: Yawn

    Free sicko content for your kids?

    That is exactly the kind of bullshit scare-tactic which is responsible for the Pirate Party's formation.

    "Censor the internet! It has naughty pictures on it!" It's the catchcry of an uneducated buffoon like Senator Conroy who has no concept of the medium he seeks to attack. The Internet is the last remaining bastion of free speech, and people like you would have it gagged to liberate yourselves of the need to be responsible parents.

    How about educating yourself on security software and user restrictions on content at a local level instead of asking that everything be dumbed down to your knuckle-dragging plane? How about 44+ million of taxpayers money be spent on actually CATCHING internet predators instead of just giving ISPs and the home user a monumental headache thanks to a poorly vetted and stupidly implemented filter?

    (Oh, and it was 5 local bands who introduced me to the pirate party. A party whom they support vehemently due to the draconian practices of the big 4 recording companies.)
  • To: Att yawn


    I don't want any nanny state thanks.

    I agree completely with the above post.
  • Anonymous

    I'd vote for em

    especially if they at least get that Family First guy out of the senate....