OPINION

Modern politics: which party do you dislike the least?

Clive Palmer has done Australia a big favour in entering this election. He, along with the National Rifle Association of the US, will most likely deny One Nation any Senate seats.

Palmer's United Australia Party's Senate how-to-vote-card has six preferences on it in each state. None are for One Nation in any state. Similarly, One Nation has not put UAP in any spot on its Senate how-to-votes cards.

United Australia Party leader Clive Palmer earlier this month. Picture: AAP

United Australia Party leader Clive Palmer earlier this month. Picture: AAP

The two strongest loony right party's have shot each other in the foot. They will grab the loony right vote, but by the time the last two seats are determined in each state their preferences will count for nothing because the five other parties they have preferenced will be out of the race for those seats, including UAP's preferences to the Coalition.

It is part of a wider story of widespread disenfranchisement this Senate election.

This will be the first half-Senate election under the new voting system. The Australian Electoral Commission advises correctly that for a formal vote voters should vote preferences for AT LEAST SIX parties above the line (where the boxes only have names of parties not individuals) or AT LEAST 12 candidates below the line (where the boxes have the names of individual candidates next to them).

History tells us that around 90 per cent of voters will do the bear minimum. They will do six (or fewer) preferences above the line, and no more.

Given that in this election the average number of parties in each state Senate race is 25, the chances of a ballot paper with just six preferences on it remaining live when the last two seats in each state is decided becomes relatively low, maybe as low as one chance in two.

The new system was used in 2016 and worked quite well. But that was a double dissolution with 12 senators being elected from each state, requiring a quota of just 7.7 per cent after preferences. Disenfranchisement was significant but not catastrophic. About a quarter of votes expressing a first preference vote for a minor party exhausted.

This election, however, is for half the Senate - six senators from each state, requiring a quota of 14.3 per cent after preferences. Combine that with a reduced primary vote for major parties and the disenfranchisement effect is amplified.

The major parties are each always going to get more than 28 per cent of the vote and two senators, but, in the current environment, never reach 43 per cent and three senators.

So the starting position this election is two senators for each of the major parties in every state, leaving the remaining two in each state for minor parties.

A popular misconception is that all that matters is whether you put Labor before Coalition or vice versa however high up or low down they are on your voting slip. That is true in the Reps, but not the Senate.

It is extremely unlikely that any minor party will get the necessary 14.3 percent quota with first-preference votes, so two senators in every state will be relying on preferences from the major parties and other minor parties. They will make up the crucial Senate crossbench which decides the fate of nearly all contentious legislation in Australia.

But a very large number of Australians who vote at this election will get no say in who they are. Importantly, these disenfranchised voters will include people who have put one of the major parties as their first preference.

This is because unlike in 2016 when the majors were in still in the hunt for the last couple of seats in each state, this time they will be out of the picture after two of their senators are elected in each state, and if major-party voters have limited themselves to six preferences, none of which include the two candidates vying for the last two seats, their vote exhausts. They get no say in who should be the last two senators.

But surely a Labor voter would want the HEMP party rather than a Fraser Anning Party or One Nation senator. Surely, a Coalition voter would prefer a Hinch Party senator to a Green.

Yet if you look at their how-to-vote cards, the major parties have, in effect, advised their voters not to have that say. In NSW, for example, the Coalition how-to-vote card is: Coalition 1, Palmer's United Australia 2, Christian Democrats 3, Liberal Democrats 4, Small Business 5, Australian Conservatives 6.

But the last Senate seat in NSW could well come down to a tussle between the Greens and One Nation. It has been in the past.

Surely a Labor voter would want the HEMP party rather than a Fraser Anning Party or One Nation senator. Surely, a Coalition voter would prefer a Hinch Party senator to a Green.

In South Australia, neither the Greens nor Xenophon are on the Coalition's how-to-vote card. It is quite possible, however, that the last seat could be a tussle between them, and the 90 per cent of Coalition voters who just put six numbers above the line would get no say in that tussle. My guess is that nearly all of them, if asked, would really like a say.

The most effective way to vote is to count up the number of parties (35 in NSW) and then begin with the party you least like and put 35 next to that party and work backwards till you mark a 1 beside the party you dislike least.

In a way this matches the way many voters think of politics these days - who do you dislike least.

But not many people will do that and face disenfranchisement in deciding the last one or two seats in each state.

But maybe that is not such a bad thing. One Nation and UAP will split the mad-right vote and disappear into exhaustion. If their voters are that lazy or silly perhaps they deserve disenfranchisement, leaving the effective vote to those people who get informed and make the effort to express their preferences in order for every party and the nation will be better for it.

But my guess is that after the election the exhausted-vote problem will be revisited.

Incidentally, in the Senate, the two territories hardly matter. They each elect one Coalition and one Labor senator. Always have. Always will.

Finally, after Murdoch's Daily Telegraph appalling personal attack on Bill Shorten spectacularly back-fired this week, dare we hope that on Monday week The Daily Telegraph will do what its UK stablemate The Sun did after Margaret Thatcher's 1992 victory with the headline: It's the Sun Wot Won It.

This story Modern politics: which party do you dislike the least? first appeared on The Canberra Times.