Category Archives: Politics

The Issue With Single-Issue Parties

The farcical micro-party preferencing system will undermine the ability and purpose of the Australian Senate, with an influx of irrelevant single-issue parties looking on course to win seats.

The Senate is granted wide-ranging power in the Australian political makeup, serving as a review and critique of the lower house, and possessing the means to block certain legislation, but for it to be effective, it requires a diverse range of voices. These voices need to be able to discuss the array of issues that it will inevitably encounter, not just one, but it’s looking increasingly likely that the Australian Sports Party, and the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts will each win a seat in the Senate, single-issue candidates with little background and even fewer policies.

Wayne Dropulich, a gridiron playing engineer, looks set to win a Senate seat in Western Australia for the Australian Sports Party. The party’s ideology is, unsurprisingly, focused on advocating sports, and little else. Their website reveals no insight into how they would act in the Senate, or any other beliefs or values on wider policies.

At least the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party include a quick byline on their role, saying it “will primarily be to review proposed legislation, which is passed in the lower house”, but apart from that textbook definition of the Senate’s basic role, and a few other broad statements on this, there’s very little else of substance.

These candidates are now looking increasingly likely to be holding an important chunk of power, and will be voting on issues ranging from the carbon tax, mining tax, and a possible intervention in Syria. It’s hard to imagine how these party’s will act as the reliable ‘checker’ of government legislation on these issues, when they are so squarely focused on their own specific areas.

It may unfortunately also lead to an increase in shady, underground deals and alliances, with these parties accepting bills in order to further their own specific interests. We just have no way to tell how they will act on these prevalent issues in the national interest.

These single-issue parties are a blight on the Senate, wasting the crucial opportunity for diverse, minor parties holding some semblance of power in Australian politics, parties that need to effectively and transparently evaluate legislation on a wide-range of topics.

But who voted for these highly specific minor parties? Well, by the looks of the ABC and AEC’s figures, not many people actually did. The rise of these single-issue parties is due in part to the excessive amount of candidates on the Senate ballot, and the accompanying murky underworld of micro-party preferencing.

The Australian Sports Party will win a seat with only 0.22% of the primary, first-preference vote in Western Australia, while the Labor member received 12% and will not. Can we really call a victory with 0.22% of the vote an accurate representation of the state’s wishes? And is it truly democratic if the victory came down to back-room deals and preferences that handed others votes to the Party?
A similar situation has been seen in Victoria, with the Motoring Enthusiasts likely to receive a seat while only receiving 0.52% of the initial allocation, well behind the likes of The Sex Party, Family First, The Wikileaks Party, and the Palmer United Party.

In NSW, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm’s name appeared first on the expansive ballot, and this, along with his party’s similar name to the LNP, may result in the very much pro-gun, former veterinarian gaining a seat in the Senate. Leyonhjelm has done nothing to shy away from the reasons of his voting results, duping himself the “senator for the donkeys”.

This process of micro-party preferencing is verging on non-sensical. It’s counter-intuitive and doesn’t properly represent the votes of the Australian people. The Senate’s purpose is to amend, negotiate and balance bills and legislation, and it’s hard to imagine how this will be achieved by parties whose major, and seemingly sole, focus is on cars and sports, hardly the most commonly discussed issues in Parliament.

It’s time to fix this system of voting so that our elected Senators, who are imbued with such important powers and responsibilities, accurately reflect the overall vote and allow the Senate to function as the check on the House Of Representatives’ power as it is intended to be.

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Filtering The Truth

The Coalition’s Internet filter policy wasn’t badly worded, it was just badly lied about.

A mere 41 hours out from polling, a UK-esque default Internet filter policy, forcing user to opt-out, was introduced by the Coalition, hidden amongst a AU$10 million online safety policy published online.

This story could’ve probably been written about the issue of trying to sneak a policy like this in less than two days out from the election, or the sheer ridiculousness and pointlessness of this style of internet censorship, but it only got worse.

Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull appeared on Triple J’s Hack program yesterday evening, and both confirmed and defended this filter, labeling it as being “like what the British are going to provide”, and clearing stating that is the “default”; “you can switch it off, then that’s your call”.

A few hours later, Turnbull was desperately back-tracking. “Policy released today wrongly indicated we supported an opt-out system of internet filtering,” he tweeted. “This is not our policy and has never been.”

But why then was Turnbull professing the strengths of this policy just a few hours ago?

Turnbull continued, and claimed that “the policy which was issued today was poorly worded and incorrectly indicated that the Coalition supported an ‘opt-out’ system of internet filtering for both mobile and fixed line services”.

Turnbull defended his statements on Hack by saying: “I read [the] policy shortly before going on [Triple J]. I did my best to make sense of it, until I could ensure it was authoritatively corrected”.

Well, the Shadow Communications Minister probably shouldn’t be going on air and discussing very important policy issues that he hasn’t yet made sense of, but the real problem here is with the claim that the policy was “badly worded”.

The original policy was quickly erased from the Coalition’s website, but it read: “We will introduce nationally agreed default safety standards for smartphones and other devices, and internet access services..[it will] involve mobile phone operators installing adult content filters on phones which will be switched on as the default unless the customer proves he or she is at least 18 years of age.” And in terms of home wi-fi, “will be switched on as the default unless the customer specifies otherwise”.

That is not badly worded. In fact, that is very precisely and clearly worded, and it outlines a specific plan for an opt-out internet filter to be implemented be a possible Coalition Government.

But according to both Turnbull and Tony Abbott, it misrepresented what the Party stands for, and bad wording is to blame.

The situation only got worse, with Coalition MP Paul Fletcher, the man in charge of policy surrounding child safety online, confirming the opt-out style earlier in the day, in an interview with ZDNet’s Josh Taylor, whose brilliant reporting broke this story.

“The key thing is it is an opt-out,” Fletcher confirmed.

There’s not much confusion there. The man behind the very policy seemed assured of what it would involved, but this was apparently not cleared by Turnbull or Abbott, although they both admitted to having read the policy before it was published.

The Coalition’s actions yesterday weren’t to just correct a badly worded policy, but to attempt to conceal either some serious disunity within the party, or a drastically abrupt backflip after much public outcry.

Either way, it’s not a good look for a Party whose major selling point has been “trust” throughout this entire election, and is definitely not giving the voters who will probably be electing them much credit at all.

Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Kodos

“Take a look at your beloved candidates. They’re nothing but hideous space reptiles.”

Although it’s a Homer Simpson quote, it could just as easily be related to the Australian election.

It’s from the classic Halloween episode where the aliens, Kang and Kudos, kidnap two politicians and take on their appearance. Nobody really notices anything too different or suspects anything, and even when they are revealed, the public are powerless to stop one of them being elected.

Despite this being an excellent satire of the American situation, it can also just as brilliantly relate to our current situation in Australian politics. I’m not saying someone should try to yank our two leader’s heads to see if a giant alien is hiding underneath, but I’m also not saying that this is a ridiculous idea.

There are a number of remarkable similarities between the alien’s actions and those of Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd in the last couple of weeks. They make a series of bizarre, incomprehensible public statements, and a number of hilarious/depressing gaffes (suppository, anyone?), and although the two probably won’t be caught holding hands in public any time soon, you just never know at the moment.

Kodos so eloquently sums up the modern-day election campaign by saying: “All they want to hear are bland pleasantries embellished by an occasional saxophone solo or infant kiss”. Replace saxophone solo with a visit to a factory or school, and infant kiss, with awkward kiss to the back of a poor lady’s head, and you’ve got a precisely accurate summation of the Australian election.

In a campaign speech, one of the aliens gives the inspiring proclamation of “We must move forward, not backward, upward not forward, and always twirling, twirling towards freedom”. This could easily sub in for either leader’s election speeches, with both focusing bemusingly on ‘A New Way’, while constantly emphasising past mistakes and returning to old policies.

The alien claims that the “politics of failure have failed…we need to make them work again”, echoing the sentiments of Rudd’s announcement against negativity a few weeks again, while continuing to provide a negative campaign.

Homer eventually reveals the candidates for what they are, stating that they are “phonies” and “alien replicons from beyond the moon”, and let’s be honest, who hasn’t, at some point in time, wondered whether Rudd or Abbott is in fact an alien imposter from an outside universe?

Kang accurately surmises that the people are unable to do anything about it because “it’s a two-party system; you have to vote for one us”, a depressingly apt way to also sum up the Australian system. After being questioned about a third-party, the aliens implore them to “go ahead, throw away your vote”, a statement even more relevant to our situation following the Coalition’s preferencing which is seemingly an attempt to ‘Rains Of Castamere’ the Greens out of Parliament (if you haven’t seen Game Of Thrones yet don’t Google that one).

There are no real, significant differences between our two major parties, nothing big enough to allow debate to be primarily focused on policy. Because of this, our election campaigns have become a battleground of personality and rhetoric, of media appearances and sham ‘debates’.

The episode concludes with Kang being elected and immediately enslaving the population, and Homer says “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos”, a sentiment that many of us may be employing following the upcoming election.

The Fake Debate

What we witnessed last night was not a debate.

It would have been more apt to name it ‘two politicians giving separate press conferences while standing close to each other’, but that doesn’t really have the same ring to it.

A worthwhile debate requires interaction and arguments between the two leaders, but we didn’t get any of that. What we got was a dull, bleak charade full of rhetoric with no real substance.

On the few occasions when Rudd or Abbot interrupted the other, or attempted to counter their points, they were quickly shot down, and then continued to rehash the same tired rhetoric that’s been prevalent across the first week of what will be a very long campaign.

The Australian people deserve better than this to accurately make up their mind and participate in the democratic system, and if there are any more of these ‘debates’ in a similar vein, it will be a wasted and tiresome display.

Both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott barely veered from their own very set scripts, and often strayed far away from the question, choosing instead to address their opponents perceived failings.

Nothing was achieved in this ‘debate’ that couldn’t have equally been produced from two separate press conferences, or just a simple press release. We didn’t see either leader assert themselves over the other, or venture off script to rebut the others point.

But the fact that the debate failed at its very basic level to provide a thought-provoking discussion between our two prospective prime ministers is not either politicians fault, or the moderator. It’s the basic rules that accompany it that prevented any real debate to take place. With very restricted time limits on each leader, little to no chance for rebuttal, and strict rules against interrupting or directly addressing the opponent, there was never going to be any productive discussion.

It’s almost impossible to imagine that this ‘debate’ would have even slightly swayed any undecided voters, and isn’t that the exact point of these events taking place? We didn’t discover any real strengths or weaknesses from either leader, and the status-quo was religiously upheld by both.

The only moment that could possibly inspire swing voters was Rudd’s announcement of a conscious vote on same-sex marriage within 100 days of his possible re-election, but even this was announced before the ‘debate’, and could have easily just been put out in a press release.

The next ‘debate’ must give our leaders a chance to actually have a real, interactive discussion between each other, to give the voters a real insight to how the handle the pressure of a live, open debate, and how they can actually communicate their policies without the aid of ingrained slogans and obviously prepared answers to predictable questions.

The forthcoming debates must be reconsidered in this light, or they might as well be replaced by simultaneous media releases from each leader, and we deserve much more than that.

Wine Glasses, Gaffes, And Scaring Children: Election Week #1

The first week of the election buildup featured pretty much exactly what you’d expect: mistakes, petty insults, and little substance.

In a week where Australian politics got its very own versions of much maligned American politicians Sarah Palin and Anthony Weiner, it was a farcical and slightly comical beginning to what will be a very long election.

When the weeks starts with the revelation that a chairman of an Ethics (yes, ethics) Committee sent his mistress pictures of “his penis plonked in a glass of red wine”, it’s probably going to be a bad week. Yep, Coalition MP Peter Dowling’s attempts to one-up Weiner were revealed, and he promptly stepped aside, but we’ll have to live with that mental image for the rest of our lives.

Carrying on with the ‘let’s embarrass Australia internationally’ theme, Jaymes Diaz’s catastrophic interview went viral and made the headlines in the US. LNP’s Diaz claimed that the party has a “six-point plan” to ‘stop the boats’, but after being asked a total of eight times to reveal these, he could not. Diaz stumbled through the painfully cringeworthy interview before finally being saved by a disapproving minder, and slowly backing away from the interviewer, looking dazed and lost.

This typified how the campaign so far has been solely focused on catchy slogans and the go-to line of ‘stop the boats’, without any real substance from either Party.

You’d think that a candidate being unable to detail any of his Party’s key policies would be the biggest gaffe of the week, right? Wrong. Oh so wrong.

Enter Stephanie Banister, the figure-head for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party. Banister showed a predictably awful lack of basic common knowledge in the interview with Channel Seven, which included the phrase “I don’t oppose Islam as a country”, reference to the Koran as “haram” and claims that the national disability insurance scheme was “working at the moment”. It doesn’t begin for another three years. In another embarrassment for the country, this interview also went viral, and has led to many accurate comparisons with the one and only Sarah Palin.

Not surprisingly, Banister is also facing criminal charges after allegedly placing anti-Muslim stickers on supermarket products, which is probably what got her into the One Nation Party in the first place. Mercifully, she has now resigned.

On the topic of actual policies, the week was rather sparse. The focus, as usual, was on economic issues, with each side announcing one big spending policy. Labor announced an extra $450 million for out of school care places, while the Coalition stated that it would cut company tax by 1.5%.

Meanwhile Kevin Rudd visited a lot of schools and Tony Abbott visited a lot of factories.

Will it get any better tomorrow? It’s debatable.

Industrial Action Doesn’t Deliver The Results

The National Tertiary Education Union’s decision to impose a ban on disclosing results to university students across the state has meant losing the support of those that they need most: the students.

After prolonged and ultimately useless negotiations with the universities, the NTEU has imposed a ban on the transmission of assessment results to the uni’s, and this has affected the likes of RMIT, Swinburne, LaTrobe, Monash, and Deakin.

It is entirely counterproductive and unreasonable to put offside those students that pay the fees, to disadvantage those that would have previously provided full backing to lecturers and tutors who are campaigning for better working conditions.

Backlash across social media has been significant and immediate, with many arguing against being involved in a union’s fight with their university, and how the absence of results will adversely affect them.

The NTEU’s demands are entirely reasonable and by all means should be upheld; with the main issues regarding the casualisation of staff members and the increasing tutorial sizes, as well as a fight to not have their pay cut. It’s almost impossible to argue that these aren’t well deserved, and that an overwhelming majority of students would have supported this.

However, involving the students and their thoroughly deserved results by using them as weapons to blackmail the universities, the NTEU has alienated many against their own demands.

Withholding a semester’s results is more than the “small inconvenience” that they claim it to be. For many, the end of semester results can either be a well-deserved reward for four months of hard work, or a much-needed wake-up call for the next semester, but not receiving any results at all leaves students confused and dissatisfied with the past semester and those that are imposing the ban.

The industrial action was also not communicated to students in a clear and obvious manner, with many not finding out about it until the morning that results were meant to be released.

It is also not clear how the ban will affect students that may have failed a subject and need to change their course for the upcoming semester, as well as what exactly entails ‘special consideration’ in obtaining results.

University students should have at least been consulted or had a vote on these actions taking place, allowing them to be involved and supportive of the decisions, instead of having these bans blindly imposed on them, with no end in sight.

Students should never be used as bargaining chips in industrial action. These results are something that they have worked hard for and deserve to receive them when they were previously promised, not something to be controlled and manipulated by the union body.

Students at every university affected are paying a large and significant amount of money to attend these institutions, to undertake assessments, and receive feedback and marks, not to be dragged into industrial action that they can have no real effect on.

Not receiving end of semester results is shortchanging the students that are paying a lot of money to be there, creating unnecessary and sometimes unfixable stressful situations.

Although the ban is not being applied to graduating students or those with ‘special considerations’, it is still hardly an easy process to obtain the grades, with students having to fill out a request form, wait for approval, and then forward this to their lecturer to have the ban lifted, delaying the results significantly for those who desperately need them.

Currently, the results ban is indefinitely imposed, with the NTEU stating that it will be in place until the university ‘negotiates reasonably’, and with the results date having come and passed, this will very likely extend well into thesecond semester.

The NTEU needs to come to their senses and lift the results ban, allowing what were formerly their closest allies, the students, to give their full support for the rightful demands for better pay and working conditions.

Australian Politics: If We Don’t Laugh About It, We’ll Cry About It

It’s no wonder that the Australian youth are disengaging with politics at a staggering rate, and the recent events in Canberra merely serve to consolidate this.

The main reaction from the youth, mainly via social media, has been one of cheap humour and (some brilliant, some awful) puns, and it is completely understandable: if we don’t laugh about it, we’ll cry about it. As Kurt Vonnegut said, “laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion”, and it seems that the youth have chosen to resort to this laughter in response to their frustration and exhaustion with the political system, and the tears may well come in the future when the reality sets in.

Australian politics has boiled down to soap-opera levels of ego, personality, and petty drama, and there’s little doubt that this will only increase in the lead up to the hopefully-soon election.

The deposed Julia Gillard had made some real and significant policies which will hopefully have long-lasting consequences, but her inability to communicate this, the oppositions constant negativity, Kevin Rudd’s destabilising efforts from the inside, and the media’s focus on entertaining dramas, meant these went largely unnoticed.

Kevin Rudd is largely seen as a more popular character than Gillard because he is a better speaker and public presenter, not that he is necessarily a better politician, and this typifies how our political system is increasingly focusing on personality and larger-than-life characters, rather than the things that really matter.

Imagine watching these dramas from an outside perspective: a country becomes awed and adoring of a politician elected on the back of tacky catchphrases (Kevin07) and ‘relating to the youth’ (see: Rove). The country then rethinks this position and becomes very anti-Rudd after a series of media exposés and dramas, as well as some mining interferences, and eventually leads to his deputy knifing him and becoming the country’s first ever female Prime Minister. This PM marginally wins the election on the back of a very hung parliament and proceeds to deal with constant insults, snide comments, and sabotage from the inside. Eventually, after three years, this PM becomes so unpopular it rivals Rudd in 2010, leading her to be deposed in the exact same fashion as she became leader, but not by a fresh, new face that Australia hadn’t already had the chance to judge, no, in comes the same man that was ‘knifed’ three years ago.

Julia Gillard was preceded by Kevin Rudd, and Julia Gillard was succeeded by Kevin Rudd. What an absolute embarrassment.

We aren’t presented with any real choice; there are no genuine, significant policy differences between the two major parties, and even if there were, we wouldn’t be hearing about them with the Opposition’s apparent tactic to avoid any talk of real policies.

And the real problem is that they don’t need to. The coalition will win this election by merely not being as bad as their opponent, and that is a serious and dire indictment for Australian politics. In a democratic system, we should never have to pick the lesser of two evils.

Something that seems to constantly slip peoples minds is that in Australia’s political system, you vote for a party, not for an individual. While Rudd and Abbott may serve as the figureheads of their respective parties during the election, the choice is a vote for Labor or the Coalition, and the overwhelming focus on individuals has contributed to the dumbing down and over-indulgence of Australian politics.

Let’s make a stand, and demand some substantiated answers to some vital questions, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll see a worthwhile and re-invigorating return to a vibrant political system, because, in it’s current state, it is a farce, and the Australian population, the youth specifically, deserve better.