Democracy sausage

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Today, Australia votes in a general election that will determine who forms the next government. The campaign has been tiresome, with both sides prone to making deeply misleading claims.

Exhibit A is the claim made by the Liberal-National Coalition (our main centre right party) that plans by the centre left Australian Labor Party to scrap a tax rebate on share dividends – a rebate no other country seems to have – is a tax increase.

Exhibit B is Labor’s repeated claim that the Coalition have ‘cut’ spending to schools. They have actually increased spending. The claim seems to rest on the idea that the Coalition have not increased spending by as much as Labor planned to do just before it last left office, but that’s not a ‘cut’, it’s less of an increase.

It’s valid to be angry about either of these measures and prosecute your case accordingly, but this kind of spin is disrespectful towards voters.

Australia has a complicated preferential voting system that few people seem to understand, particularly when it comes to the ballot paper for the Senate. Outside every polling station, alongside the charity sausage sizzle, volunteers from each of the parties hand out ‘how to vote’ cards. The game is to try to send second, third, fourth etc. preferences in a direction that disadvantages a party’s main rival. The unfortunate result is a Senate where a bunch of fruitcakes with a tiny number of votes end up holding the balance of power.

I voted Labor today but I voted ‘below the line’ and made all my own preference selections from the main political parties. I have far more in common with the left of the Coalition than most of the tiny electoral oddities. How do I know? I’ve done a bit of homework.

In Australia, voting is compulsory. If you don’t turn out, you attract a fine. If the state requires Australians to perform this duty then what duty does the state owe in return? Education.

The trite solution to politicians making misleading statements is to teach the population ‘critical thinking skills’. However, regular readers of this blog will know that this is something of a red herring. General purpose critical thinking skills don’t really exist.

Instead, Australian electors need to posses relevant knowledge. It would not be possible to attempt to teach all knowledge relevant to an election in school – it would rapidly date and would risk placing educators in a position of advocacy. Instead, we need to equip voters to be able to obtain this knowledge themselves in adult life from a range of reputable sources. I think we sometimes assume that those who disengage from political news always do so as a matter of taste, but it is hard to comprehend sources such as the ABC unless you have a good base of foundational knowledge. That is what schools could and should provide through a knowledge-rich curriculum.

In the meantime, all that remains is to take a bite out of Australia’s democracy sausage and wait for what the night has in store.

8 thoughts on “Democracy sausage

  1. Compulsory voting strikes me as retrograde–it effectively removes the citizen’s right to say ‘none of the above’. Not knowing all that much about Australian history, I’d assume it was enacted for very much the same reasons that Disraeli trumped the Liberals in 1867 by extending the franchise even further than they’d planned–he understood that the newly-enfranchised householders would be more likely to vote Tory. Who instituted compulsory voting in Australia, and did they indeed reap the benefits at the polls?

    1. “it effectively removes the citizen’s right to say ‘none of the above”

      This is not the case. You can make an informal vote by spoiling your ballot paper and informal votes get tallied.

      1. If that’s the case, why waste people’s time? and think of all the carbon that’s needlessly burned when people drive to the polling station. And it still doesn’t answer cui bono.

    2. Australia’s high turn out (>90%) means politicians have to appeal to a wide segment. They can’t as in the US work on a small but dedicated group to get them in.
      It is worth the time and effort to have a turn out of 90%. My experience is also that people don’t feel it is any more coercive than fines for littering and see fining people for being to lazy to do the right thing as fair.

      No its not perfect, its just better than the alternatives.

    3. Compulsory voting was brought in by the conservatives to combat the politically active working class and preferential voting was bought in to stop two conservative parties splitting the vote but are both are seriously the best things about Australian democracy.

  2. I am not sure what you have against the claim a reduction in tax rebates is a tax increase. It is a change in the tax rate that increases what you pay. Their Australian system sounds very similar to Canada’s and has the same principle that if profits are taxed at a corporate level then taxing them fully again at a dividend level is onerous.

  3. I never did find out what The Yellow Vest Party stood for. Didn’t know they existed until looking at the ballot paper. Interesting blog post.

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