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.
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.
Minister Stephen Conroy has thrown his hat in the ring on the issue
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.
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.
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.
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?