Pirates should abandon the federal ship

The Pirate Party of Australia should forget about trying to win a Senate seat in the Federal Government and instead focus its sights on even lower hanging fruit. I speak, of course, of the state governments.

commentary Elections ahoy, mateys! The Pirate Party has landed on these fine shores and is on the hunt for electoral swag.

The debate on the worth of this new copyright-focused party has already kicked off, with ZDNet.com.au's Renai LeMay saying that it won't win a seat in the next federal election and The Inquisitr's Duncan Riley retorting that a Senate seat is possible.

However, both pundits have forgotten one thing.

They presume that the next election will be federal. In fact, that simply isn't so. The next likely election to be held is in South Australia with the approximate date of 20 March 2010. The SA election should be the primary target of the Pirate Party, not a federal election, even if one were to occur later this year.

The problem with the federal Senate elections is that the threshold is simply too high at 14 per cent for a party to stroll into parliament the first time out. The Pirate Party is unlikely to have any major party direct preferences, which makes election a Herculean task. The election of Senator Steve Fielding is an abnormality that Labor will not create again; it has learnt its lesson. And Xenophon is someone that has pulled over more than double the SA Greens' vote. It isn't luck that got the good South Australian to where he is.

To be able to stroll onto the federal scene and collect some Senate seats, the Pirate Party would need to be able to replicate the success of the Nuclear Disarmament Party (NDP) in the 1980's. Unfortunately for the Pirates, I don't see anyone with the celebrity appeal of Peter Garrett in its ranks so far, so cutting through the avalanche of major party election propaganda will be an immense struggle.

The Pirate Party should forgo its federal ambitions for the moment and focus its efforts squarely on the state upper houses

For these reasons the Pirate Party should forgo its federal ambitions for the moment and focus its efforts squarely on the state upper houses elected by proportional representation, with SA and NSW looking as the best targets.

In the 2006 South Australian election, the quota for the upper house was 8.33 per cent and the quota for the 2007 NSW election was around 4.5 per cent.

The Pirates is more of a Shooters Party than a NDP. A reality check and some research will tell the party that although there is a highly vocal techno-active minority that supports it, it's more likely to result in a vote closer to 5 per cent.

The problem with Pirates
The Pirate Party's FAQ states that it will be a single issue party.

"To begin limiting and casting official party opinions on other political issues discredits and takes away focus from the fundamental issue on which the party was founded," the official FAQ says.

That's all well and good for joining hands across the continent and gaining members on a feel-good basis, but the reality of the situation is that once elected, you need to have a stance on all issues unless it is prescribing a policy of abstention (with the exception of copyright and civil liberty issues).

Which way would a member of the Pirate Party vote on a bill such as WorkChoices, the stimulus spending or the emissions trading scheme? At the present moment, a Pirate Party vote is merely a protest vote, and thanks to our preferential voting system, it means that vote will end up in the hands of Labor, Liberal or the Greens eventually.

On the issue of preferences, Duncan Riley says that the Pirate preferences would more than likely flow to the Liberal party since the Pirate Party is in opposition to Labor's policies.

As someone that sits in the middle of the demographic that the Pirates would be chasing, and as someone that has sympathies with the civil liberty-based views that the Pirate Party expresses, I simply could not bring myself to vote for them knowing that preferences would be flowing to the country's major conservative party.

Could I trust a Pirate senator to not sell us down the river? Currently I don't know

I don't care enough to vote below the line on this single issue (to avoid the preferences drain) and there are other non-conservative parties with policies on most issues that express views in line with the Pirate Party. With that one line in the FAQ, I've gone from interested voter to an absolute negative.

Could I trust a Pirate senator to not sell us down the river? Currently I don't know and would welcome the party expanding its platform so I would have a better idea.

The Pirate Party is in its embryonic stages though, and the things that I see wrong with it presently could change.

As an overall strategy for influencing the houses of parliament, should an early federal election occur, then the party should use it as a fundraising exercise and dress rehearsal for the real business of targeting the state elections with low quotas due to occur in 2010 and 2011. Once that is complete and the party has stabilised, only then should it focus its return to the federal arena.