Monday, November 7, 2011

How (not) to Vote

As this blog is being written from an Australian perspective (although many issues covered will be universally applicable) I figured it best to start with our current political climate.

Australia currently has what’s called a ‘minority’ government.

The federal election last year was somewhat of a tie. 

Our Labor party negotiated a deal with three independents and the Greens party.

As the Greens are regarded as being from the far left in Australia, there’s the general feeling that many of its associated issues, like the environment, have come to dominate the government’s agenda.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the environment is important.

A favourite past time of our conservative radio talk show hosts and the Opposition is to replay the following sound bite from Julia Gillard, the current leader of the Labor Party just before the election:

“There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.”

After it was discovered she would need to negotiate with the Greens to have the balance of power, it wasn’t soon before she would have to admit to their carbon tax.

Keeping in mind, however, that an emissions trading scheme was already under negotiation by Rudd’s government with the Liberals, before he was shafted by Gillard.

That scheme was scuttled when the Australian Liberals (our conservative party) shafted their own leader, Malcolm Turnbull, who was for the scheme, for Tony Abbott - who is considered to be far less progressive.

Everyone thought the issue was done and dusted at that point.

Climate change eventually disappeared from Australia’s agenda, and we got on with more ‘important’ things, like trying to pass a mining tax, which also helped kill off Rudd’s leadership.

If this is confusing to you – well, good. It should be.

It’s also made many Australians very disillusioned with their democratic process, and although politicians are ignorantly unaware of it, a lot of youth are simply not paying them one iota of attention.

In a fit of protest at the last federal election, I voted in a manner that’s considered an informal vote - I filled in all candidate boxes with the number one.

Australia has compulsory voting, so it was the next best thing to not turning up at all.

Of course you can legally leave ballot papers blank if you so wish, but given the absolute disgust in what was on offer, I just had the urge to ‘mess up’ the ballot.

Now, could this be considered throwing my vote away?

What right do I have to complain about the political system if I don’t participate in it?

I would answer by pointing to the outcome of the election, where I dare say many voters felt the same confusion and disheartenment with what was on offer.

For one thing, I didn’t want to vote Greens across the board. Nor did I have the option to vote for the three independents, Rob Oakeshott, Andrew Wilkie and Tony Windsor, who negotiated this minority government.

Both major party leaders, Gillard and Abbott, were showering the independents with dollars for their respective electorates for them to sign off on the coveted prime ministership.

None of the independents represented my electorate, and so didn’t represent me.

In fact, this gets to the crux of why Australians are so disengaged with this narrative – they feel as though they have no representation in Parliament, no one to stand up for them and their issues.

Parliament itself is viewed as even more of a farce than it previously was.

Instead, we have men and women of ‘all things’ – it’s very difficult now for the average Australian voter who is busied with other worries to pay them attention.

While we do live in a relatively free democracy, even though we have no Bill of Rights and the like, it’s nigh impossible for the average voter to discern any meaning behind it all.

And that sets a dangerous precedent. 

As following entries will explore, we’ll see where this public disengagement leads to minority issues dominating everyone’s thought space.

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