Via Pollbludger, a fascinating story in the Australian the other day has revealed plans by the NSW Nationals to trial using open primaries to preselect a candidate in a winnable seat for the 2011 NSW state election. All voters in the electorate would be eligible to cast a vote in the ballot to decide the party’s candidate.
It appears that the plan is to use the system in one of a number of traditional Nationals seats held by a rural independent, such as Dubbo, Port Macquarie or Tamworth. It appears a smart strategy to blunt the impact of rural independents, and in certain cases would prevent cases of popular candidates being defeated by party machinists. As van Onselen points out in the Australian article, federal member for New England Tony Windsor would have likely won the Nationals primary for Tamworth back at the beginning of his career, and would have remained within the party.
If such a model spread through politics, it would have a fascinating impact. MPs would be much less beholden to their parties and we would likely see a decline in party discipline. It could also have a serious impact on government ministers. Yet it seems unclear how a primary system can effectively work in a political system which isn’t strictly divided into two parties, and it is completely incompatible with any system of multi-member election system.
It would seem to be a step in the right direction, but it would make more sense to give more powers to “one vote one value” elections within the party, which would be a strong incentive to encourage more voters to join political parties, while avoiding the obviously silly concept of voters from the opposite end of the spectrum having a say over a party’s candidates. The Nationals have a very large membership base, and it would seem to be just as effective to give the power of preselection to a vote of all members living in the electorate. It would seem bizarre that Labor and Greens members in, say, Dubbo, let alone supporters of the sitting independent, could have a say over who the Nationals stand.
While an open primary system may not become the universal system of preselecting candidates, it is a good gimmick and can be useful for the Nationals in regaining momentum in country areas which have become disengaged from the party. The rise of maverick Nationals who are more concerned with the party’s independence than its coalition relationship, such as Barnaby Joyce and Brendan Grylls, would be encouraged by the rise of open primary preselections.
Update: That dangerous lunatic Tim Andrews has some unkind words to say about this post over at his blog. Check it out.