Fishing Party courts Coalition

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The Fishing Party Courts the Coalition

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I have just finished looking through the senate group voting tickets for the upcoming election. I put together a guide for voters to let people know where their vote is likely to end up if they vote above the line.

In 3 out of 7 senate tickets, the fishing and shooting party preferences the coaltiion in second place, ahead of any other minor party. In other words, a vote for the fishing party is a vote for the coalition. In the remaining states the coalition is in close to second place, usually second only to the Christian Democrats. It is even more interesting in Queensland, where a competing fishing party lists the coalition second, but puts the fishing and shooting party in 7th place. This points to an ideological rather than strategic preference for the coalition. Even the Greens, who have a 'deal' with Labor that sees them in second place on the Labor ticket, put many other minor parties ahead of Labor on their ticket. The reason for this is simple strategy. It allows the Greens to collect preferences from a few minor parties to help them get over the line, but will not prevent Labor from getting the Greens preferences if the Greens candidate gets eliminated, because those minor parties will most likely get eliminated first. The website of the 'old' fishing party has on it's front page in large print a statement of support for coalition policy and a request that voters put the Greens and labor last, but does not even mention candidates from either fishing party.

What makes this ideological preference for the coalition so interesting is the rather 'chequered' history between the two groups. Consider some examples:

In the leadup to the 2004 federal election, the fishing party (at the time there was only one) ran an emotive and reactionary campaign against the recently introduced Great Barrier Reef marine park - at the time the largest in the world (recently overtaken by Hawaii). There was also a scare campaign claiming that fishing would be banned along the entire coastline of Queensland that is adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. The fishing party took nearly half a percent of the votes in the QLD senate (by my estimates that is a vote from about one in every 30 fishermen). Ironically, these above the line votes went straight back to the coalition which, thanks to the extra two senate seats they won in Queensland, gained control of both houses of parliament for the first time since 1981. The fishing party ended up rewarding the party whose legislation they had been campaigning so strongly against. For a party whose catch cry is 'say NO to no take zones', this must have been a kick in the guts. They complained bitterly about it and to this day the GBR marine park network is a common complaint in their campaigning. Interestingly, they refuse to blame the coalition for their role in it, even though the coalition was directly responsible. They have tried to blame everyone but the coalition - mostly the Democrats, the GBR Marine Park Authority, and the scientists involved.

You would expect this to have made them 'twice shy' in their dealings with the coalition. Apparently not. They followed this up by declaring that the NSW coalition was going to abolish two of the state's marine parks. This claim did the rounds for a long time in the leadup to the state election and still gets trotted out, but no-one bothered to check whether it was true. The closest thing I have found is a promise to 'review' the marine parks. Neither the coalition nor the fishing party made any attempt to correct this misrepresentation, so one can only assume they both had an interest in perpetuating it. Fortunately the coalition lost that state election so there was no need for any embarassing attempts at blame shifting.

Recently, the federal government set up some large marine parks in areas of particular interest to scientists off the coast of Tasmania. The fishing party ran yet another scare campaign, but it must have been hard to get recreational fishermen wound up about federal waters off the Tasmanian coast. After the parks went in the fishing party was a bit more savvy and is now praising the coalition for not banning fishing close to the shore, even though these waters are the jurisdiction of the state government.

This praise coincides with recent claims that Tony Abbott is going to halt the marine park expansion if elected in 2010. In response, the Labor party has agreed to go into further consultation with the fishing community if elected, but the fishing party has suddenly acquired the ability to see through political spin and are describing this as empty rhetoric. Lengthy consultation processes are always part of the process. The fishing party discourages people from providing any details about what they want (other than no marine parks) in case their favourite spots get locked up. Then after the locations are selected they complain that they weren't listened to and that now their favourite spots have been locked up. Curious, I tried to track down the claim by Tony Abbott. What I found instead was a promise of more marine parks, but that there would be a temporary halt while they consulted with the public.

I have been told by fishing party supporters to ignore the history of the coalition because it is water under the bridge and that what matters is what the coalition is saying now, even if they aren't actually saying what fishing party supporters think they are saying.

The coalition no doubt benefits from this because it gets to appeal to both pro and anti marine park activists at the same time. However, what the fishing party and it's supporters get out of it is unclear. What is clear is that it is getting harder and harder to put this down to simple naivete. The only explanation I have seen from the fishing party is that if they gave their preferences to Labor instead of the coalition, they would then flow on to the Greens, and that Greens preferences never go to the coalition. Both claims are false. The anti marine park activism is largely limited to a few select online blogs and forums where the range of opinion is severely curtailed, thus allowing these claims to go largely unchallenged and the appearance of unanimity among fishermen to be put forward. This article for example has been posted on some and promptly removed without explanation, while all sorts of accusations against other political parties and criticisms of marine parks are allowed and encouraged. While the motivation to control people's opinion and encourage only criticism of marine parks is understandable from a group that genuinely opposes marine parks, it stops making sense when they channel all of this effort into rewarding the party that has created Australia's biggest and most heavily criticised marine parks.

It makes me wish I was a cartoonist.

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