It is, as victim Glenn Druery puts it, the “most elaborate sting in minor party history”. For months the Animal Justice party was “negotiating” with the so-called preference whisper to gain the support of other parties working with him – only to direct its own preferences to others at the last minute.
But for Ben Schultz, the state election manager for the Animal Justice party and its lead candidate in the southern metropolitan region, undermining Druery’s preference arrangements just minutes before group voting ticket registration closed on Sunday was a case of righting what he described as some “wrongs”.
“The Animal Justice party does not agree with the wheelings and dealings of a preference whisperer and the backroom deals of predominantly older, white males. That time has come to an end,” Schultz said.
“It’s time that we move Victoria to full proportional representation and abolish group voting tickets so that we don’t have people like Glenn Druery setting up people.”
Victoria’s Legislative Council is the only jurisdiction in Australia still using a particular type of group voting system that allows parties to allocate voters’ preferences when they choose just one party above the line on the ballot paper.
In 2018 Druery helped eight of the 11 crossbenchers get elected by directing their preferences to one another.
This election he has worked with the Democratic Labour party (DLP), Derryn Hinch’s Justice party, Health Australia, the Liberal Democrats, the New Democrats, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, Sustainable Australia party and Transport Matters.
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He also thought he was working with the Animal Justice party to get their candidate in the northern Victorian region, Georgie Purcell, elected in exchange for their support in other seats.
But instead, Animal Justice directed its preferences to a bloc of progressive parties, including Fiona Patten’s Reason party, Legalise Cannabis, the Victorian Socialists, as well as Labor and the Greens – while still receiving the preferences from nearly all of Druery’s clients.
Druery said he found out after registration closed.
“We were meant to go together to submit their group voting ticket and Ben Schultz faked a phone call and said he had to rush home,” he said. “Later, I found out he’s already inside and he’s already submitted another GVT.
“The whole thing was an act. It was a charade. We’d been stung. It’s the most elaborate sting in minor party history in Australia. Over six months they spent getting my trust, the minor parties’ trust. The whole thing was a sting and I must say it was brilliant sting. They were very good actors.”
Druery said he felt “gutted” and “taken advantage of”.
“It’s fine to try and outwit each other and outsmart each other. That’s what we do … but this is below the belt, this is wrong and their party will pay the cost. No one’s going to want to deal with them in four years’ time,” he said.
Purcell, who currently works as chief of staff to Animal Justice party MP Andy Meddick, had no involvement in her party’s preference arrangements.
Across Victoria a record 22 groups are contesting a spot in the upper house.
Electoral analyst Ben Raue said the groups form three key voting blocs: progressives, the Druery-linked group, and right-wing and anti-lockdown parties.
The latter group, he said, includes Clive Palmer’s United Australia, the Freedom party and One Nation.
“With this group there’s been no big complex arrangement, where they all meet up in a room and decide who’s going to win in what region,” Raue said.
“It appears they’ve made one-on-one deals with each other.”
In the left bloc, Legalise Cannabis has received Labor’s second preference in four regions, which the party’s secretary, Craig Ellis, said signalled a “massive shift” for Labor.
“If Labor is re-elected we look forward to real action on cannabis law reform – legalise and regulate it, allow people to grow at home and fix roadside drug testing, which is a tool of prohibition because cannabis can be detected days after consumption,” he said.
Patten is facing off against Druery’s supported candidate, former Labor minister Adem Somyurek, for the fifth spot in the northern metropolitan region. Somyurek is now running for the DLP after he quit the Labor party after allegations of branch stacking.
• This article was amended on 17 November 2022 to clarify that Victoria uses a particular group voting system for its Legislative Council that is not used elsewhere in Australia. An earlier version stated Victoria is the only Australian jurisdiction to use group voting.