Cover 📷: AAP
Senator Derryn Hinch has acknowledged his own adviser, self-styled “preference whisperer” Glenn Druery, may have worked against the interests of his Justice Party in the build-up to next week’s state election.
Mr Druery has worked with a slew of micro-parties to organise cash-for-votes deals that could see Victoria’s upper house descend into what ABC election analyst Antony Green described as an undemocratic “farce”.
The senator said it was “possible’’ the eight upper-house candidates for Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party had not enjoyed the best preference deals from Mr Druery. But he said he did not fully understand the complexity of preferencing agreements.
The possibility of Mr Druery striking deals at odds with the political interests of his own employer, has added to concern about the blurring of his roles as both a businessman dealing in votes and a taxpayer-funded adviser to Senator Hinch.
Complaints about Mr Druery by Reason Party leader Fiona Patten, are now being assessed by both the Victoria Police and federal special minister of state, Alex Hawke.
An analysis of preference deals by The Age and the ABC’s Mr Green shows that in a number of upper house seats other Druery-linked micro parties are favoured over the Justice Party.
Mr Green said Stuart O’Neill of the Aussie Battler Party ”looks certain” to win the Western Metropolitan seat if he can poll just 0.3 per cent of the vote.
The Hinch Justice Party candidate for that seat, Catherine Cumming, was angry to discover that she had done poorly from Mr Druery’s preference deals. “Glenn Druery has not worked for me,” she said.
Mr Druery has run his preference harvesting business for nearly 20 years. An investigation by The Age can reveal that two large blue-collar unions have been among his clients.
Ahead of the 2016 federal election, Mr Druery was paid by the CFMEU and the national electrical division of the Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union. At the time he was also a consultant to then-aspiring politician Derryn Hinch.
Senator Hinch has insisted Mr Druery, who lives on a 17-metre yacht at Clontarf marina in Sydney, has conducted his cash-for-votes business in his own time and with his own resources.
He said Mr Druery was currently on leave but wasn’t sure how long that had been the case.
“I think he’s been on leave for a couple of weeks,’’ Senator Hinch said. “I don’t think he’s doing anything illegal.”
Mr Druery’s method is to bring micro-parties together in a bloc to preference each other – he describes it as his “family” – to allow them to lift their votes above larger, better recognised and supported parties.
His preference dealing maximises the likelihood of his parties’ being elected in different upper house regions.
The Druery deals rely on group tickets and the fact that most electors vote above the line for the upper house, resulting in preferences being allocated according to deals struck by Druery and party bosses.
Victoria and Western Australia are the only jurisdictions left in Australia where the use of group voting tickets allows Mr Druery’s strategy to affect the outcome of elections.
The ABC’s Mr Green said the voting system was being gamed and, rather than reflecting the will of voters, “represents the will of the party organisers’’.
“It’s really disturbing, it’s mystifying people shrug their shoulders as this is an outrage’’.
Pressure for reform of upper house voting is now mounting after Labor and the Coalition failed to tackle electoral reform since 2014.
A record 380 candidates are contesting the 40 upper house seats in eight upper house regions, and it now looks likely that there will be even more politicians from micro parties in parliament after next Saturday. Labor and the Greens have had just 19 of 40 upper house seats since 2014.
Parties that are campaigning hard, and seriously, with substantial grassroots support including the Greens, Fiona Patten’s Reason Party, and Steve Jolly’s Socialists face the real prospect of losing out to Druery’s micro parties.
Victorian Socialists under prominent Yarra councillor Stephen Jolly, have run an impressive grassroots campaign for the upper house seat of Northern Metropolitan.
While the Socialists could double or even triple the vote of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party for instance, Jolly may still lose out because of Mr Druery’s preference deals.
“The Rasputin of all this is a man, Druery, who sees democracy as a money spinner. It’s disgusting,’’ said Jolly. “Those parties who get mixed up in it should be ashamed of it.”
Reason Party leader Fiona Patten, who will struggle to regain her northern metropolitan seat, said Mr Druery had asked her team for a $5000 upfront fee to join his “family” and a success fee of $50,000 for each candidate elected.
Ms Patten said her party (formerly the Sex Party) was told it would not be able to discuss preferences with the Justice Party without paying.
In 2014 Mr Druery was paid $20,000 to help in the final stages of Ms Patten’s campaign.
It is unclear how many parties have paid Mr Druery, The Age understands that micro-parties which have dealt with him include the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, Sustainable Australia, Aussie Battler Party, Transport Matters and Senator Hinch’s Justice Party.
Sustainable Australia’s William Bourke defended micro parties banding together against the “oligopoly” of the Labor, the Coalition or Greens.
He refused to comment when asked about how much his party was paying Mr Druery.
Senator Hinch confirmed Mr Druery worked as a consultant to him from late 2015 and then as an adviser after his election to the Senate in July 2016.
But he denied Mr Druery was working for unions while also consulting to him. “That’s a rumour, that’s bullshit,” Senator Hinch said.
The electrical division of the CEPU has confirmed hiring Mr Druery for $50,000 for a period of about 10 weeks through late 2015 and early 2016.
Mr Druery has refused to respond to repeated requests for comment.
Mr Green encouraged voters to vote below the line for individual candidates in the upper house rather than voting above the line and allowing parties to direct preferences.
In Victoria, voters only need to vote 1 to 5 below the line rather than placing a preference beside all candidates as was previously required in Senate voting.
Mr Green said Mr Druery, who is is a friend, is motivated by the challenge of getting candidates elected with as few first preference votes as possible. “He likes to disrupt the system,’’ said Mr Green.
He said Mr Druery had told him he wanted to beat his personal record of a getting a candidate – Malcolm Jones in the 1999 NSW election – into parliament on just 0.2 per cent of the primary vote.
Ms Cumming a former Maribyrnong mayor and councillor of 20 years said she had not been consulted about her preferences and that Mr Druery had decided preferences on her behalf.