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A television show is no substitute for the electoral process

By Brian Harradine - posted Monday, 12 July 2004

Voting is a right that most of us value.  It is a right central to our democracy - a right our service men and women have fought for.  It is a right that will be manipulated and devalued if it is turned into reality television by the Seven Network’s proposed new television show Vote for Me.

The Network’s plan raises questions involving fairness, democracy, and conflicts of interest.

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 is one of the oldest acts on the statute books. While carefully adjusted over time by democratically elected representatives, it continues to uphold our system of a fair and democratic electoral process and to protect our democratic institutions.


But an unelected media institution is about to circumvent this long upheld and valued process. Seven Network’s proposed new reality TV show Vote for Me bypasses and distorts this process, reducing the Senate to a game show.

As the longest serving senator in the current Parliament and the longest serving Independent since Federation, I am disturbed that the Seven Network will misuse democratic procedure to turn a profit.

From an original cast of 18, a candidate will be selected to contest in each state following audience voting by SMS. The Seven Network will give them $10,000 each for their campaign, and cover the $750 nomination fee. Candidates will receive daily exposure on the Sunrise breakfast program.

This money and airtime represent a vast political donation by a media company to a select group of candidates. Appearing on Vote for Me represents untold sums for a candidate in free advertising, as well as huge spin-offs through cross-promotion on other Seven  programs, coverage by other media outlets and speaking circuits and the like.

The candidate won’t have had to do any fundraising or have any grassroots organisation. They will get television exposure others can only dream about.  Other candidates lacking hefty personal bank balances or corporate sponsorship to underwrite their campaigns will not be able to compete.

Media networks want to be seen as giving fair exposure to rival candidates. Will the Seven Network ensure that others be given the same airtime as their chosen few? Vote for Me gives the chosen candidates an unfair advantage. It is difficult to see how the Network can be taken seriously as an impartial reporter of news about the election while simultaneously promoting its own candidates.


Past reality TV shows have attracted contestants with criminal records and other questionable behaviour. What happens if an extremist group recognises that this could be their one big chance to get someone elected thanks to a leg-up from the Seven Network? They could select an attractive, seemingly reasonable person to apply for Vote For Me.  How will Channel Seven know their true agenda?

What if the person gets elected?  By then it will be too late. This person could end up with the balance of power in the Senate. Holding the balance of power is fraught enough without it being held by someone who does not address issues on their merits with the common good in mind.

Vote for Me could just turn into a popularity contest where one or more of the six candidates is elected purely because they have become TV personalities. There are other questions as yet unanswered. For example, who decides where the candidates’ preferences should go? Where do they go for advice?  Why hasn’t the Australian Electoral Commission had anything to say about these things?

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Article edited by Betsy Fysh.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

this article was first published in The Canberra Times on June 30th. 2004.

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About the Author

Senator Brian Harradine was an independent Senator for Tasmania.

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