Tuesday, 17 August 2010

It may be of little interest to foreign

readers but Australia is having an election campaign. We are required by law to attend the ballot box on Saturday. Voting is 'compulsory' in Australia. What that really means is that we must enrol to vote when we reach 18 (in my case it was 21 but they changed the age of majority later) and then we must head off to a polling station on polling day (unless we have voted by post or voted earlier) and accept the ballot papers (one for the House of Representatives and one for the Senate) and then we are expected to mark them in the approved fashion and place them in the ballot boxes.

Nobody can actually force you to mark them in the approved fashion but most people make some sort of attempt. There will always people who do not bother to mark them or mark them in a manner that causes their vote to be invalid. Much of the latter problem is caused by our system of compulsory preferential voting.

I oppose compulsory preferential voting. If I only like candidate A I should not have to go any further than that. I should not be required to pass on my vote to candidates B and C if I disagree with their policies. I most certainly should not have to vote (even in order of preference) for candidates with opposing points of view. People say that compulsory preferential voting ensures that the candidate a majority of people want always gets in. That it is patently nonsense. It would only occur if people actually had a genuine preference instead of one which they are required to make by law.
Let me give a nonsense example but one which makes the point. There is always the possible scenario of candidate A believing in developing a scheme to plant "widgetia" plants because of their magical properties. I agree with candidate A and wish to vote for him or her. However under our system I am also required to vote for candidates B, C, D etc. Say then that, in this case, candidates B, C and D do not believe in widgetia, indeed candidates C and D would order the destruction of all widgetia plants. Candidate B wants wodgete planted instead. It is my view that wodgete is harmful to the environment. Where do I cast my preferences? I do not agree B, C or D. If candidate A does not succeed then my vote is passed on to B, C or D through preferences I am required to make. Optional preferential voting would reduce the problem. Proportional voting of one sort or another might also reduce the problem. The present system however, brought in by PM Billy Hughes in 1918, was designed to preserve the two party arrangement and neither major party is in a hurry to change it.

I realise why the major parties like this state of affairs. It benefits them. It also allows them to at least assist (if not actually set up) single issue parties with politically views that are popular with a group but which the major parties do not actually wish to be policy. They can then get the single issue party to feed their preferences to that major party. As most people vote according to the 'how to vote' card they can be sure of a clutch of votes feeding from that party. That practice would not be nearly as effective under optional preferential voting.

There has been plenty of that going on. We have eight candidates for our seat. Our sitting member is likely to lose his seat. His woes have been added to by a particularly nasty little campaign being run by his major opponent. This afternoon's mail brought the 'piece de resistance' in the form of a glossy statement falsely claiming he was in favour of a cutback to certain education services. The services in question are a state not federal responsibility and he does not even have anything to do with them. He is certainly not opposed to their continuing to exist, indeed would encourage it. The statements are, of course, designed to do great damage to his campaign. They may well succeed too. There is almost no time for a comeback and the media is unlikely to handle the story at all.

Now all of this might well be considered to be fair play in an election campaign. People do get nasty. What bothers me, and it will bother many other people if they get a chance to think about it, is the fact that nowhere on the glossy statement is there mention of which party is making it. It is just a statement. It could be coming from anywhere and the only giveaway is the fine print where it says, as required by law, "authorised by...." and a name that means nothing to most people because it is the name of an individual, not a party.
It is my belief that if you want to make statements about your opponents, especially a statement which will not stand up to scrutiny, then the very least you should have is enough courage to put the name of your party to what you are saying. Anything less is bullying. Bullying is a sign of cowardice.


jtwebster books said...

I found your post informative if not a little alarming. I had no idea how voting was done in Australia. I can imagine voting day is quite stressful.
In NZ we only vote if we want to, although we have to be enrolled. We have MMP which replaced the First Past the Post system a number of years ago.

catdownunder said...

The parties hand out 'how to vote' cards and most people just blindly follow those so it is probably less stressful than it appears but it is not a good system and definitely open to manipulation despite what those in favour of it have to say. (The comments by Australian Electoral Commission officers when I was doing some research were very enlightening on this matter!)

Donna Hosie said...

I still haven't decided which party to vote for.

I find the whole thing utterly depressing. I'm sick of negative advertising; I'm sick of fake personnas; I'm sick of it all.

catdownunder said...

I will be voting for our local member Donna. It is however a marginal seat and he is very likely to lose. He has been a good local member. Things have happened within the electorate and this is the way it should be. He is, after all, there to represent us.
I think the blatant attempts to deceive are what really bother me - the "off the cuff" speeches that are fully scripted and knowingly reported as "off the cuff" by the media really get to me - along with one particular party failing to tell you who they are whilst slamming their opponents. I expect them to slam their opponents but I believe they should be compelled to name themseves!