There are a number ways of influencing parliaments in Australia to advance whatever your political agenda may be. You could try: bribing some politicians; demonstrating in the streets; constructing a lobby group; or registering a political party.
Political parties differ from the other methods because, by definition and required by the electoral act, their aim is to actually elect a representative in to a parliament – the place where laws are made. There are three ways to make use of elections to further a party’s objectives: you can timidly direct your preferences to whichever parliamentary party promises to best take care of your issue; you can use the opportunity to advocate for your cause with other parties who may be seeking your preferences; you can actually try and win a seat.
In HEMP’s first senate election (NSW 2001) our intention was to just feed our preferences to the Greens, the party who, at that time, had the best pro legalisation policy. So we were taken aback when their candidate, Kerry Nettle, visited Nimbin and asked us not to run at all. Why, we asked. Because, she said, the Greens main objective was to collect the electoral funding (available to any party exceeding a primary of 4%) and didn’t want their vote split. We ignored that improper request, nominated, and polled a respectable 1%. Nettle got just over 4% anyway, and very cleverly harvested most of the other micro party’s votes. All up, that put her in front the sitting Democrat (Viki Bourne) and so was elected the Greens first mainland senator.
We were very pleased with that result and, with hope in our hearts, awaited the promised ‘taking care of’. For three years – nothing happened – not even a ‘thank you’ chrissy card. They did have one opportunity to say something. Just prior to the 2004 election Laurie Oakes ambushed Bob Brown on a live TV interview. Like a rabbit caught in a spotlight, Bob couldn’t manage to enunciate his own Party’s Drug Law Reform Policy.
Since by then it was disappointingly clear that our support for the Greens had fallen on deaf ears, we decided in the 2004 election to offer Labor a token 1/3 of our preferences with the aim of influencing their policy. The other 2/3 went, still in hope, to the Greens John Kaye. This time, despite starting on 7%, the Greens didn’t do so well at harvesting minor party preferences – not even The Democrats. Now alienated from the Greens, they directed their preferences to Fred Nile. So Kaye fell short and Green preferences easily re-elected Labor’s Michael Forshaw. At the Greens 2005 conference, held as always in secret, they reversed (to appease News Limited?) their drugs policy to its current prohibitionist position. Their own rank and file was kept in the dark.
By 2012, now understanding that pre-election promises are made to be broken, we decided to auction our preferences beforehand. Labor offered, in exchange for a larger share of HEMP’s preferences, to put up an inquiry into the use of medicinal cannabis in the NSW Upper House. The Shooters and Fishers (SFP) were included because they chaired that particular committee and, effectively, had the casting vote. The Greens, belatedly, had no option but to get on board. Kaye, to his credit, argued effectively and helped to convince the other three members (two Libs and a Nat) to vote for a limited use of medicinal cannabis, producing an unexpected unanimous decision.
At the 2013 election, this time we decided to attempt the third option – to win a senate seat. With a surge in the number of registered political parties, this was now a realistic aim for a micro party. On top of that we now had the remarkable energy of our National Campaign Director, Jim Moylan. He single-handedly organised branches in every state and attracted enough donations for HEMP to nominate in every state. All was going well until about two months before the election, when the Greens got wind of the ‘small party alliance’ and ‘the preference whisperer’. They put two and two together and came up with five. Suddenly the SFP became the evil empire.
The Greens, conveniently forgetting that only a few months before they had themselves directly preferenced the SFP before all other candidates (including Labor) and elected a Shooter into the Western Australian State Upper House, went on the warpath. They mounted a concerted, nasty, and personal attack on Michael Balderstone in his home village of Nimbin. Eventually we were forced to succumb to their bullying, shamefully renege on the bargain we had with the SFP (they’d kept their side), and remove them from our preference list. In return, the Greens promised HEMP that they would reassess their ‘status quo’ cannabis law reform policy, and to hold, early in 2014, a ‘Drugs Summit’. Sadly, the bullying was all for nothing – and worse. The SFP were never going to be elected in NSW. Taking the SFP off our preference list in NSW actually prevented HEMP preferences from flowing to the Greens. Worst of all, losing SFP preferences in Queensland stopped HEMP from taking the sixth senate spot from the Libs.
Well, at least we had the ‘Canberra Drugs Summit’ talkfest to look forward to. Nothing happened. No news of any change to the ‘do nothing’ Greens cannabis policy either.
Then we got, an unexpected, one last chance – The WA Senate election re-run. This time, fed up with the Greens empty promises, HEMP, for the first time, directed all of our preferences to Labor ahead of the Greens (as well, we belatedly repaid our debt to the SFP). The Greens also cut a deal with Labor. For extra insurance, like thieves in the night, they coerced the WikiLeaks Party to ‘rat on’ the second preference agreement that they had with HEMP. The result will be the same as in Queensland – HEMP certainly (WA count at 88% at time of editing) prevented from taking the sixth senate spot from the Libs by the Greens innumerate actions.
This thirteen year long saga between HEMP and the Greens is typical of a marriage gone wrong – starting out in hope, then unmet expectations, and ending in bitter recriminations. The lessons learned from this sorry history; the Greens have little interest in cannabis law reform; the Greens prefer to have enemies than friends; the Greens prefer to be in opposition against the Tories; the Greens have neglected this most important social justice issue. Section 8 of the Greens’ federal policy document on “drugs, substance abuse and addiction” states: “The Australian Greens do not support the legalisation of currently illegal drugs.”
Graham Askey, Secretary, Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party.