friday, 20 august 2010

posted at 22:26

So Australia goes to the polls tomorrow to elect a new Federal Parliament for the next few years. My primary vote this year will go to the Australian Greens. A few people have asked me why, so I thought I'd write a little bit about my thinking. This isn't particularly coherent, just a series of random thoughts that point roughly in the same direction.

I think a solid third choice party is extremely important for a healthy democracy in this country. Without it the two major parties squabble like spoiled children. We need someone to step in and calm things down a bit. There's nothing particularly special about the Greens for this purpose; the Democrats used to fill the gap fairly well before they imploded. I'm also not under any delusions that the Greens wouldn't act the same way if they were one of the major parties. You want someone big enough that their voice and vote can make a difference, but small enough that they can't do anything useful by themselves.

This is even more important in the Senate. If there were only two parties then we'd be faced with either a friendly Senate where the government can do whatever they want without question, or a hostile Senate where the Opposition parade about and flex their muscles and prevent any work getting done. Neither are healthy. Its imperative that there be a solid third party in the Senate to force discussion and compromise to happen.

On the Greens as a party I don't agree with everything they stand for, but I'm not self-important enough to believe that a party concerned with the needs and wants of an entire country should cater to my every whim and fancy. For the most part though their vibe seems to be "look after the planet and each other", and thats something I can support. To their credit they have details of what they stand for on their website all the time, as opposed to the other parties who appear to change their tune depending on what the flavour of the momth is.

I've also thoroughly enjoyed listening to a couple of Greens members speak over the course of the campaign. Scott Ludlam was involved in the recent Communications Forum and I found him to be articulate and engaging while Conroy and Smith resorted to name-calling more than once. Bob Brown I've heard speak numerous times, and he was the same as always - engaging, interested and passionate.

The passion is contagious too. One of the problems with the big parties is they spend too much time looking for power instead of worrying about the right thing. The smaller parties tend to be far more passionate about their interests because you don't join a small party looking to gain power; you join because you care.

I've mostly talked about the Senate here. I live in the relatively safe seat of Menzies in Victoria. Its one of those seats that a few parties run a candidate in but no campaigning actually happens. I think its pretty sad really, because I'd love to vote for a local candidate that actually seemed interested. I had no hesitation in voting for the Labor candidate (Andrew Campbell) in 2007 because went doorknocking in our street during the campaign and was happy to come inside and have a coffee and chat with us. Like I said above, I don't need you to give me everything I want, but make me feel like you care and I'll happily follow you.

This time around there's nothing like that, so I'm left to other means to figure out where my vote is going. For me its more a case of working out who I'm not voting for. The reigning champion is the delightful Kevin Andrews, a man that I frankly find sickening. He has a long history of controversy during his tenure, and I can't in any good consciense give him my support. It doesn't help his cause that he's the only candidate that has sent out any kind of information during this campaign and its all been negative. Of course, I'd still rate him higher than the Family First candidate. I'm not even going to go into why I consider them to be complete nutbags; lets just say that if you're reading this and you disagree then you're probably not in my target audience :)

So I have a Labor and a Green candidate left over. Since I don't know anything about them I'm left to choosing by party. Voting Green first effectively results in a Labor two-party-preferred vote, but with the important point that the Greens get a primary vote data point. While that kind of statistic does not affect the outcome of the election, it does inform party strategists when gauging the opinions of the populace. I want my vote to register the fact that although I'm notionally voting Labor, Green issues are important to me.

So that's my vote. A few other points:

  • If its not already clear, my general preference is towards Labor over Liberal. Tony Abbott strikes me as being a very nice fellow and I'd love to buy him a beer and have a chat with him, but he seems a bit random and kneejerky for a leader. But not just that, some of his crew seem worringly incomptent. I'm looking in particular at Andrew Robb and Tony Smith. At least Joe Hockey gives me a chuckle. But generally, the Liberals feel tired and old. Another term or two in opposition might give them a bit of a chance to regroup.
  • On the Labor side I'm less interested in the personalities and more about what they've done in the last term. They don't seem to have made any particularly huge mistakes, despite all the carry on about the insulation programme and the school halls. Yeah, it wasn't perfect, but nothing ever is. For the most part the approach has seemed right. As for them dropping Kevin Rudd at the first sign of trouble, I don't particularly agree with it but I also know enough about the Labor Party to know that its not going to do much to change policy. As I read back over this I think that I might not be being hard enough on them, but really I just don't see anything of note, good or bad.
  • I'm really confused by Steven Conroy. In the aforementioned Communications Forum I thought he did a pretty good job arguing the merits of the National Broadband Network, but then fell apart completely when talking about the filter. He's been trotting out the same tired arguments for two years now and is borders on foaming at the mouth when confronted with the quite rational arguments to the contrary. I just don't understand how he can be insightful and confident on one issue and a blubbering idiot on another one. He's either unstable or he's in someone's pocket, both of which I consider dangerous. For this reason I'm dropping him way down the list on my Senate ballot.
  • I loathe the Liberals focus on "stopping the boats". Its both a non-issue in the larger debate about immigration as well as just going against my "be excellent to each other" vibe. Australia is a good place to live. For many of the people looking for a way in, their country sucks. We've got an insane amount of room and a crazy amount of spare food. You're no threat to my way of life. Come on in, enjoy the country and add whatever you're good at to make it even more awesome. And yes, there's lots of people who will make a big song and dance about a fat pile of related issues but at the end of the day these are people who need a hand, and we're in a position to help. Why shouldn't we? So anyway yeah, that loses the Libs a few points.

I'm kinda getting tired of typing now, so I'll stop. Ultimately your choice is your own, and I'd never try to tell you that you're making the wrong choice. All I ask is that you make an informed choice, consideringly carefully what you personally stand for and how the people and the parties involved will align with that. Don't fall for the sound bites, they don't tell you anything.

And if you still don't know, or think your vote won't count, then here's a nice tidbit from The Conscience Vote:

And when you go to the polls tomorrow, don't - don't, I beg you - cast an informal vote. If you can't stand either of the major parties, put your vote where your heart is - and don’t let anyone tell you that it won't count. Because you can bet that when the figures finally come in from the Electoral Commission, strategists and analysts from both sides will be going over the fine detail. Every vote that bleeds to the Greens or a minor party is a signal of discontent with the status quo.

And you're not "sending a message", regardless of what Mark Latham tells you. You're just lumped in with every ballot paper that was incorrectly filled in, illegible or just plain doodled on. If you want to send a message, do it with a valid vote.

Every single vote matters.

And remember to watch the ABC coverage of the count tomorrow night. There's graphs and stuff - its geeky and cool :)