The Australian Government has announced an early Federal election for the 2nd July 2016. I know, I know. It’s easy to fall back on the belief that it’s a crummy system, the two major parties can appear almost identical in their seeming incompetence, and we have had so many Prime Ministers in the last few years that it’s getting difficult to keep up (Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Rudd, Abbott, Turnbull… did I miss anyone?). So I get it, presented with those options it doesn’t seem awfully appealing to vote. However, in Australia we don’t get a choice, as such. Voting is mandatory for most Australian adults so if you’re over 18 years old this is an appeal to check if your enrolment details are correct.
As I’ve mentioned ad nauseum, my uni studies were in were in the fields of sociology, journalism and political science. For reasons that are still unfathomable to me, my extended family have largely interpreted that to mean that I’m a qualified as a social worker and / or psychologist. Firstly, I can’t think of worse torture than to have to deal with other people’s problems – I have more than enough of my own. Secondly, they are vastly different sets of qualifications. There is some overlap (people I knew studying social work when I did my sociology degree often had to take sociology units for their course, but the reverse was not true). But it seems to fall on deaf ears when I try to explain that the reason I talk a lot about politics, society, culture and social issues is because it’s very hard to not do that after taking two university degrees in those fields.
The point being that learning about politics personally made me realise that while it is unreasonable to ever expect an election or government to result in a utopian society, it is extremely valuable for the people to let their voice be collectively heard. When we consider that people in other parts of the world and through history have risked their lives for the freedom to elect their government, we in Australia are really in a privileged place. We have a collective voice that others could only dream of. Choose the lesser evil, if that’s how you need to frame voting for yourself. Even better, actually reflect on the policies of a few different parties to see which ones best align with your own reflexively examined value system. Cynicism and despair are understandable, but surely that just shows how important it is that you contribute? What if everyone who’s despairing could be, I don’t know, a potential Labor voter, say because you’re feeling frustrated at attempts to remove weekend rates from your wages? It could change the ultimate outcome of the election.
Image Source: Australian Electoral Commission Facebook
Have a think about it. When you read the newspaper, or its digital equivalent, which issues get your blood boiling?
Are you like me, tired of the unbridled neoliberal capitalist agendas of the Australian Liberal Party (which is, confusingly enough for outsiders, the more conservative of the major parties)? What about the government more or less bipartisanly turning the nation into a business while the poor get poorer and politicians retire on annual pensions multiple times greater than the minimum wage?  How can Members of Parliament cry poor and strip away essential services while accepting retirement packages possibly better than what former US Presidents would receive?  Maybe you were, like many of us, a bit disillusioned by the previous Labor government’s terrible infighting… or even just the way they sometimes seem identical to the Liberals? Maybe like me you have warmed to a number of the Australian Greens policies surrounding matters of social justice, but are troubled by some other aspects of their progressive perspective? I don’t know. There are other parties, too, like Family First (I voted for them several years ago, when I was heavily involved in the Pentecostal community, and that past tense is very important – please forgive me, and in my defense that was before they introduced their shockingly misinformed environmental policies) not to mention a whole swathe of right wing Christian parties. As someone who lives in what is known as Melbourne’s Bible Belt, I can experientially attest to the growing influence of strongly conservative Christian Pentecostal and Baptist politics. There are also a heap of very left wing parties, too, and maybe you like them – only, I appeal to you, consider them because their policies resonate and not because, as one of my younger friends said a number of years ago, he voted for the Australian Sex Party in his first election because their name made him laugh – I don’t think he has anything in common with their views, and that if he’d read their policies for himself he may well have found himself in opposition to them (conversely, some of my extended family are supportive of the Sex Party’s policies, but they do so having thoughtfully considered their choice).
Sit down and put yourself through the torture (or joy… I don’t know, maybe you like that sort of thing) of listening to the Liberals’ Budget and Labor’s Budget Reply – be informed. Listen to both – it’s very important to be informed and to try to cut through the emotive wordplay.
Now I figure that my blog is no place to tell people who they should vote for, as tempting as I find that. But if you’re stuck and are not sure where you sit, the Political Compass test is a great way to help determine which parties most align with your value system.
For me, personally, the issues that most come up on my radar are:
- Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers.  I’ll be up-front here. I think the way Australia treats those who are seeking asylum is cruel and based on stereotypes and fears, not on the humanity of these individuals who fled from war only to find themselves in detention centres. I won’t pretend to have any easy or simplistic answers, but there has to be something better than the way the system is currently run.
- The detrimental impacts of anthropogenic climate change. And before anyone rants at me, because as someone living in the aforementioned Bible Belt I get ranted at quite regularly on this topic, my honours degree specialised in the field of the social impact of climate change on agriculture. If you want to convince me I’m wrong you will need, at the minimum, equal or higher qualifications than I have in a relevant field from a recognised educational institution. I am not trying to be a jerk but I am so bored with well-meaning but misinformed people trying to convince me that they know more about the political machinations behind climate change belief than I do. Let me make this clear: your faith in Jesus does not ride on whether or not the bulk of meteorological evidence indicates unprecedented rapid shifts in climate patterns across the globe. But your future material existence, or that of your children, absolutely does depend on how we address climate change. A lot of us who identify as Christian are in fact deeply concerned with the theology of environmentalism and animal issues, convinced that the peace of Christ and His redemptive promises must extend to the whole of nature/creation. [See here and here for examples.] For those who are genuinely interested in being better informed, but who aren’t sure where to start, I highly recommend Open Universities Australia’s FREE online course on climate change. Which you can take from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection that enables you to watch the videos and take the comprehension quizzes.
- Services and funding for public education, health, mental health, the poor, the disabled, regional and remote communities (Australian Indigenous people being accused of choosing the lifestyle of living in their traditional lands, as though they could just ignore their heritage like that? I don’t have words…) and others facing significant hardships.
- The (anecdotally) apparent and problematic bias of our current political system towards protecting the interests of the extremely wealthy while fostering a social climate that marginalises people who are poor, coloured, students, vulnerable women, and/or non-Christian, etc. (I say anecdotally because I ran out of time to find references to every single one of these points.)
- Rapid expansion of suburban areas without adequate attention paid to the environmental and agricultural costs of eating up farmland with housing and roads.
- Ensuring affordable housing for Australians who actually need somewhere to live, rather than favouring the interests of investors. In fact, in one of the more rage-inducing things I’ve read this year, despite how difficult it is to find a rental property in which to live, there are some 82,000+ empty investment properties in Melbourne alone. People are left fighting for the few remaining available properties, which are often very expensive, yet poorly managed. (I’ve been a tenant for the last 15 years and in my experience you pay a tonne of money for a run down house with barely any maintenance and very little legal protection against crap landlords. It’s a horrible situation and it would really go a long way to helping the many homeless in our state if investors were required to have tenants most of the time.)
- Honestly, I can’t possibly list all of the socio-political concerns that I have as an Australian. What’s going to happen to the Great Barrier Reef and the Kimberley? What will they do about the condition of the Latrobe Valley coal plants (I used to live there and the pollution was awful) while balancing the socio-economic needs of the people in the area? What about supporting farmers who want to transition to more sustainable methods of agriculture? What about animal welfare issues? What about Internet access? What about modernising the public transport system to make it a useful and environmentally practical option (my husband works in public transport so I admit my bias there)? What about Medicare – a literal lifesaver for many of us who grapple with health issues? What about private health insurance – a black hole and waste of money for those of us who paid thousands for cover only to find it didn’t actually offer useful services like reduced doctor bills, instead only covering scientifically questionable services that were entirely irrelevant to an average family that just needs some help paying for their kids’ dental treatment and spectacles? What about the marginalisation of and hostility towards people of colour and non-Christian religions? I mean, the list could go on.
The point is for each of us to reflect on our own concerns AND on the way policy impacts the healthy stability of society overall.
So, to summarise, while I’m not going to tell people for whom they should vote, I want to appeal to my fellow Australians to thoughtfully and calmly consider the policies of the major parties, make sure we’re properly enrolled to vote and hopefully, come July, we might have a government that best represents the interests of the whole nation and not just the privileged few.
The salaries and entitlements paid to Australian politicians are among the most generous in the world. The pay is so good, especially for those in the top echelons, that it pays better to serve here than it does in the US, Europe or many Asian countries.
The Australian head of government earns an annual salary, allowances and entitlements that are more generous than the package enjoyed by the most powerful head of government in the world: the US president. Or the British prime minister, German chancellor or French president. The Australian prime minister earns $507,338 in annual salary and allowances combined. But when their electorate allowance is added – a taxable payment that can either be spent or pocketed – the salary banked by Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd was $539,338.
The US president earns $US400,000 each year – about $445,000 in our dollars. Even the British prime minister takes home a smaller ministerial and parliamentary salary of just 142,500 pounds – about $264,000 in our currency.
(Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/end-of-entitlement-culture-must-start-with-mps/story-fnbcok0h-1226835322064, accessed 10 May 2016)
The Finance Department has revealed taxpayers fund the $44.6 million needed to pay for the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Act for those who have served in parliament.
Note: I am conscious that while I have attempted to present a neutral position here, it is apparent that on most issues I sit slightly left-of-centre / slightly authoritarian (Australian Labor, Australian Greens) in my approach, while having some slightly conservative values in response to a few very specific issues (Australian Liberal and National). It would be dishonest to pretend that I am a purely neutral observer. We all have our worldviews and blind spots, and the first step we can take is to recognise where our own value system lies. Despite the pervading insistence of the belief in common sense approaches to life, “common sense” is not as common as we convince ourselves – it can be heavily influenced by our own starting point.