Micro parties keep fighting as Senate voting reforms threaten to wipe out major party alternatives

Senate voting reforms being debated this week could see a wipe out of micro parties in Australia and kill off a trend three decades in the making.

But some politicians will not go down without a fight.

The rise of the micro parties

The number of micro parties has been on the rise since group ticket voting was introduced by Labor in the mid-1980s.

In 1984, 18 political parties were registered for the federal election. The tally at the last vote was three times that, even without the additional 23 branches of the major parties.

And the ever growing count — with three new political parties already registered this month — has come at a cost for what was once a steady force in Australian politics.

The Australian Democrats were deregistered in April last year, almost 40 years since it formed.

It has been almost a decade since the party — once seen as the third major force in federal politics — had a representative in Canberra and its current president Darren Churchill has blamed the increasing competition from micro parties.

Political academic Nick Economou said the downfall of the Democrats showed the way in which minor and micro parties have changed over the past decades, evolving from major party splinter groups (as the Democrats were with the South Australian Liberals) to issue-based parties such as the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts.

Australian National University academic John Warhurst said micro parties had only really come to the fore in the past few years, as a result of the major parties being "generally on the nose".

He said not only did voters start to look elsewhere for leaders, but the strained relations with major players also led to the creation of parties.

The Palmer United Party (PUP) is led by former life member of the Liberal National Party, Clive Palmer, and John Madigan's Manufacturing and Farming Party was created by a senator who quit the Democratic Labour Party while in office two years ago.

Personalities and a flash in the pan

Even more parties based on so-called "personality politics" have emerged since, with the Glenn Lazarus Team and the Jacqui Lambie Network now registered for above the line voting for the federal election.

But entering the political scene and remaining there are different things, Professor Warhurst said.

He said new parties had previously burst onto the scene, only to die off at the next election.

Professor Warhurst said it was easy to draw comparisons between the dwindling numbers in PUP and the (now revived) Pauline Hanson's One Nation.

"[It] suddenly erupted and did very well at a single election, then faded away at a single election," he said.

"The trouble with any party which rises so quickly is that the candidates hardly know one another; they don't have as much in common as they thought they might and holding the ship together becomes quite difficult."

But there are success stories, with independent senator Nick Xenophon successfully holding his Senate spot while building up a following for his own party.

The Nick Xenophon Team is expected to grow further under the Senate voting reforms, but his success may come at a cost for less-established micro parties.

Fight back: The plan to stay in politics

Glenn Lazarus in the Senate looking concerned Photo: Parties based on so-called "personality politics" have emerged, such as the Glenn Lazarus Team. (AAP: Alan Porritt)

The Government unveiled the proposed changes last month, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull telling reporters the current system had been taken advantage of.


And while some academics cite a system plagued with feeder parties — created to funnel preferences to other candidates — the small parties are not going down without a fight.

More than 30 micro parties met in Sydney earlier this month to coordinate an attack on marginal lower house seats held by the Liberal Party as well as those of interest to the Greens.

Parties on the left are due to target Wills and Batman in Victoria, as well as Richmond, Grayndler and Sydney in NSW. More conservative parties were pushed towards Deakin and La Trobe in Victoria, Petrie in Queensland and Macarthur in NSW.

Glenn Druery, the man referred to as the "preference whisperer", said the plan to target seats and preference the Liberals and Greens last were "motivated by revenge".

"They stand a chance, but it's got to be done right," he said.

"In the past, minor parties, and major parties for that matter, had gone out willy nilly without precise and measured plans ... But if this is done properly, they will have an impact."

Senator David Leyonhjelm was among those at the meeting.

The Liberal Democrat said the old saying of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" was in play.

"The enemy in this instance is the Greens and the Government," he said.

"They have agreed to work together to change the electoral laws so that all of those minor parties in the room are very unlikely to ever win a seat in the Senate ever again.

"But if we're going to go, if we're all going to be executed, we're pretty much of the view we will take a few of the buggers with us."

Family First senator Bob Day was also there and said he would not rule out steering his preferences away from the Coalition.

"We'll have to wait and see, but the Liberals want to wipe out Family First and other minor parties," he said.

"What is a minor party or an independent supposed to do?"

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