You probably don’t need me to tell you how to vote, and if this is the case, feel free to stop reading now. If, however, you’re still undecided, or you’ve never voted before, sure, go ahead. (For overseas readers, our “Liberal” party is the right-wing, conservative party.)
The Australian system of voting, as in Britain, does not directly elect the Prime Minister. For the House of Representatives, we elect our local candidates, and they, in turn, elect the Prime Minister. (Any party can choose whoever it wants as the leader, even after the people have voted, as the people didn’t directly choose that leader. That’s not to say that it will be popular, which is why it’s not common.) In the Senate, normally only half of them are up for election when we vote; they have a double-length term compared to the House of Reps. Also, voting for the Senate is proportional. Here, you contribute to your state’s senators rather than a more local representative.
Who to vote for? Well, since two parties are far more popular than the others, you’ll have to choose which one of these you like more than the other. You can vote for a smaller party that probably won’t get elected in its own right, and when it’s clear they don’t have the numbers to win, their votes will be reapportioned according to how you filled out your preferences. So, as most seats eventually go to Labor or Liberal, it’s really important to pick one or the other. The parties do distribute “how to vote” cards near election booths, but you don’t have to follow them.
It’s unlikely that one of the two major parties will offer policies you completely agree with, so you’ll have to pick the closest match to your own beliefs and values. Sometimes, neither offer what you’re looking for. It’s very possible that legislation that makes it through the House of Representatives will be knocked back or watered down in the Senate, if there’s no common majority across both houses. This happened in the last term of government, with Labor’s carbon emissions trading scheme voted down by the Liberals and the Greens. After trying for months to get the legislation through, they eventually gave up, leaving Labor looking like they hadn’t delivered what they’d promised.
In the future, it would be great to see many smaller parties become more powerful, leading to more negotiation between parties that have to share power. It’s unlikely to see this in the House of Reps any time soon, but it’s routine in the Senate. Ifyou want to encourage it ASAP, the Greens are probably the next-best-placed party, and could hold the balance of power in the next parliament.
Recommendations? I’m voting left, Labor in the House of Reps at least. Why?
1. Better broadband policies. There’s nothing wrong with investment, with money spent in Australia on a future-proof fibre network. Initially sold as 100Mb and now as 1Gb (10x faster), that’s possible because fibre is able to run as fast as the equipment at either end — unlike the copper network we have now. We simply can’t go fast enough with our current network, and the market won’t build fibre to the house as it’s too expensive outside the inner suburbs. Our current broadband network is slow and inequitable and will not be fixed by the market. Abbott is on record as thinking broadband is “for sending an email”, completely missing the point of what a fibre network could do for business and consumers alike.
2. Good things this government did. They said sorry. They signed Kyoto. They used stimulus spending to help Australia avoid a world-wide recession. And people want to chuck them out?
3. The Liberal coalition is exploiting racism and xenophobia by repeating “stop the boats”. Refugees arriving by boat weren’t even on the radar until the election was called and it’s suddenly a key election promise. The amount this country spends on “processing” refugees overseas before letting them into the country is almost completely wasted; the vast majority are genuine refugees. Besides, boat arrivals so far this year amount to less than three days’ worth of ordinary migration. The term “boat people” is degoratory, and popular because of a red-headed ex-politician whose name I won’t mention. There is not a vast army arriving by boat.
I could go on, but that’s plenty. Don’t vote for the Liberal party if you want fast internet or care about the environment. (Yes, the internet filter is a bad idea, but it’s very unlikely to pass the Senate, and on balance, faster internet is the more important initiative.)