March 29, 2014
The 2013 Australian federal election result in Western Australia (WA) was annulled after 1,375 (out of a total of 1.3 million) ballot papers were lost during a recount. In unprecedented circumstances, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) called for fresh elections to be held on 5 April 2014. For one senator this was particularly good news.
The Greens' Senator Scott Ludlam had requested the recount after coming third in the initial tally, with 124,268 votes, but then losing his seat to the Palmer United Party (who initially tallied 65,511 votes) by a 14 vote difference between two micro-parties. There could hardly be a better example of the disadvantages inherent within Australia's troubled preferential voting system. Luckily for Ludlam, the recount revealed the missing ballots.
After the preference controversies of 2013 damaged left-leaning micro-party's wider interests, the new election has focused thinking like never before. The fact that Senator Ludlam lost his seat amidst broken or perceptions of broken preference promises has at least temporarily counteracted the tendency for parties to attempt to 'game' the preference system, rather than act in accordance with their ideological beliefs. As these high-risk strategies usually backfire one way or another, this can only be good news. In the case of the WikiLeaks Party's (WLP) 2013 WA campaign, preferencing became a major distraction to both themselves and the Greens.
When WLP's WA senate candidate Gerry Georgatos preferenced The Nationals' David Wirrpanda, he was in turn preferencing one of the two major Australian political parties:
9,775 (0.75%) votes originally from The Wikileaks Party distributed to The Nationals (David WIRRPANDA) via preference 9.
66,275 (5.06%) votes originally from The Nationals distributed to Liberal (Linda REYNOLDS) via preference 5.
The WLP had an agreement with the Greens not to preference the majors ahead of each other and inevitably the Greens saw this move as a betrayal and pandemonium broke out between the two camps. The fact that the WLP's WA preferences were unlikely to ever affect Ludlam's election chances in terms of reallocated votes (something often cited in defence of Georgatos' decision) was besides the point. In a race that came down to tens of votes WLP's unwarranted distraction did affect Ludlam's campaign. It wasn't the preference numbers, but the secondary effects of the preference decision that Georgatos had failed to calculate.
Further, while it was always impossible for the WLP to win in WA, Ludlam stood a very good chance of re-election. The WLP's preferences were next to meaningless in the context of actually winning a seat. However, elsewhere they were of critical importance to WikiLeaks. Senator Ludlam was WikiLeaks' greatest friend and ally in the Australian senate and fooling around with these preferences was clearly absurd.
After the 2013 campaign, the WLP sought to regroup. A review of the preferencing fiascos in WA and New South Wales (NSW) was ordered and new National Council (NC) members were brought in to replace those who had resigned during the campaign. Both of these initiatives proved problematic.
The 'independent review' (PDF download link) was hampered by the fact that the auditor (a WLP member) Stuart Bell had “limited or no access to WLP official transcripts, minutes of NC meetings and official emails/correspondence” or to “WLP personnel”. Despite these difficulties, Bell did not accept the WLP's NSW “administrative error” was proven: “It cannot be shown that it was an administrative error” and suggested that the NC should take responsibility for future preferencing: “National Council to appoint a Registered Officer within a sub-committee of three National Council members.” If the 'executive wing' of the party had accepted the NC's power to select preferences during the 2013 campaign, Julian Assange might well have succeeded in winning a senate seat. NC members Cassie Findlay, Niraj Lal and Kellie Tranter all resigned in the wake of the review.
It is impossible to assess whether the review's preference recommendations have been fully adopted without a statement being released. However, for the WA campaign the party has consulted members and the final selections are remarkably similar to the NC's 2013 preference positions. The membership consultation also proved that the party's support base is predominantly left-wing. The 'executive' had previously found it difficult to accept the composition of its supporters because it conflicted with its ambitious 'left-right' policy. However, this progress and potential for progress had been dampened by the review failing to find anyone responsible for the difficulties of the 2013 campaign, and as a result the controversy continues.
The other attempt to regroup turned out to be deeply concerning. Jamal Daoud and Gail Malone (two of the new NC members) were soon entangled in the ill-conceived “solidarity delegation to Syria”. Not long after the NC lost four members (21 August) due to the preference scandal, and the party had accrued election debts of $80,000, something turned in the WLP. The WLP's coverage of the Syria crisis had been laudable. It was balanced and journalistic. But as the new NC influx took hold, the new party's priorities altered, becoming visible on 21 September when the WLP posted the first article in what was to become a torrent of pro-Russian propaganda. The party's political platform (mostly written by the old NC members) was soon swamped. It is yet to, and may never, re-emerge.
Considering that Daoud's pro-Russian/Assad regime stance over Syria has often made headlines in Australia, it is likely that he was only invited to join the NC as part of a developing Syrian policy. Further, there were only six days between the invitation and the policy breaking the party's surface. That is not enough time to settle the issue, even if two senior NC members (and Julian Assange) were not informed.
During the 2013 election it became apparent the media and in-turn the general public had difficultly separating the two groups after the issues surrounding group voting tickets, a candidate resignation and some of the National Council members resigning. The National Council, including WikiLeaks Organisation founder Julian Assange discussed the multiple pathways available and have decided to continue running the party under a new name, […] we are still early in the discussions, and further details will be details communicated to our supporters as they become available.
Within 48-hours of the name change post, Daoud left (and has alleged that he was forced out) the NC. Those most responsible for the Syrian delegation, namely John Shipton and the new NC member Gail Malone did not resign. Although the post does not mention the delegation, it seems very likely that this was the final straw for WikiLeaks. If the preference problems were bad in terms of PR, the delegation was a disaster. Apparently “Mr Shipton and Mr Daoud” not only could not understand the ramifications and seriousness of the delegation, they wanted to repeat it.
The WLP's “new name” is a euphemistic description for the party losing the WikiLeaks brand. This is because there is no other method of separation. Shipton's 'associated-separate entity' concept, described by himself as “WLP is associated [with WikiLeaks], but we must act as a political party, separately to WikiLeaks” is clearly nonsense. Recently Marketing Week reported on the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) president Martin Riley's opening speech at the Global Marketing Conference in Sydney:
At this stage, we still need to get your feedback and decide on a name and when the party's name will change - but due to the missed milestone we cannot change the party name before the WA Senate election.
If this post is accurate and if the intention it states actually happens, then the WLP is currently running on a false premise. Besides one tweet and one post in the WLP's internal newsletter, the electorate in WA have not been informed about the changes due to occur post-election. Tellingly, the WLP has not even mentioned this issue on their website. As a result many do not know that voting for the WLP is not a vote for the ideals commonly associated with WikiLeaks but a vote for something that is completely separate. And that because of this, the WLP will likely not carry the WikiLeaks name beyond the election. Or that if Assange had had his way, the party would have likely dropped the WikiLeaks name before the election enrolment (7 March) had taken place.
A further false premise revolves around elements of the WLP's political platform. It is now clear that the new party does not fully believe in its climate change policy. Along with the shield laws section, climate change is barely represented in the WLP's news feed. Each of these topics represent 16.7% of the policy platform. And yet, shield laws have received 0.16% and climate change has received 0.31% of the party's 634 posts. Further, when climate change has been mentioned, it has been misrepresented. For other political parties, a lack of commitment to two policies (with a flip-flop approach to one of them) would be a serious issue. If, for instance, the Greens discovered that they had almost completely ignored two policies and posted material and made statements that contradicted a flagship policy like climate change, they would, without doubt, address these questions to restore confidence.
Considering climate change and shield laws account for a third of the WLP's policies, how can anyone vote with a sense of certainty on the contents of the platform? It is extremely unlikely that the WLP will offer clarity on any of these matters. For instance, no one knows whether John Shipton still intends to return to Syria. No one knows whether John Shipton still intends to raise $40,000 to be spent on humanitarian aid by the Syrian Health Minister Saad Abdel-Salam al-Nayef. No one knows whether the 'resignation' of Jamal Daoud has effectively ended the WLP's Syrian policy. In short, no one knows what they are voting for.
Perhaps this type of transparency (which would be either inconceivable or all too familiar in other parties) is acceptable to the WLP, despite the fact that, yet again, the party's actions are discordant with a policy platform; and perhaps the WLP feels they can act in this manner because people will be voting for the principles associated with the WikiLeaks brand, unaware that the WLP seldom, if ever, upholds those principles.
WikiLeaks is a global brand. If they allow anyone to use the brand, the associations created will not include distinctions. This is why WikiLeaks has recently sought to protect against the misuse of their brand name. To build a genuine perception of separateness without inviting endless misperceptions and qualifications, entails the removal of the brand from the party. The WLP also stated in the newsletter post:
Global brands need to be seen to “play by the same rules and standards” everywhere if they are to survive. Riley added: “Any ill-thought commercial, promotion, micro-site in Thailand or Peru can come back and bite you in the UK, New Zealand or Australia. Today brands are only as strong as their weakest link. “The truth is, in an age where everything is on show, every brand can have their own Tahrir Square or Wikileaks moment.