Mythbusting the Vote

August 19, 2013

It’s less than three weeks to the Federal Election on September 7, so let’s take a step back from the campaigns to look at actual voting. In every election, there are misconceptions, half-truth and outright lies peddled by various groups, all designed to do one thing: convince you that your vote is only worth what they say it is.

That’s the first lie. Let’s bust the rest.

MYTH 1: I live in a safe seat. My vote won’t make any difference.

Political parties just love this one. The more they can convince voters that any given seat will remain in the hands of the current holder, the less work they have to do to keep those voters happy – and that gives them more time and money to campaign in marginal seats they might be in danger of losing. Prime Ministers and senior Ministers tend to hold ‘safe’ seats. Politicians tapped to be future leaders often move to a safe seat held by a party member who might be about to retire. It’s all very organised and stable.

Except when it isn’t. Safe seats may well be anything but. Usually, a seat would be considered safe if, at the previous election, the candidate won with 60% or more of the vote. At the 2007 election, however, a shock result saw Prime Minister John Howard lose his seat in a massive swing to Labor novice Maxine McKew. Howard became only the second sitting Prime Minister in Australia’s history to lose his seat (the first being Stanley Bruce in 1929). And in this year’s election, there are seats held with margins of over 12% that are considered ‘in play’.

When it comes to your vote, then, questions of ‘safe’ and ‘marginal’ are somewhat less meaningful than perhaps they used to be. It’s possible to overturn a safe seat with only a handful of votes. One of those could be yours.

MYTH 2: It doesn’t matter how I number my House of Representatives ballot, as long as I mark the party I want as number one.

This is a common mistake. The green House of Reps ballot requires you to number all boxes, and often people feel that they only need to focus on which candidate they designate as their first preference. As a result, they simply number the remaining positions straight down the paper.

Preferences determine the outcome of most marginal seats. That could mean a result that at first seems unlikely. For example, a Greens candidate ahead in first preference votes could well be defeated after second preferences were counted, if most of those preferences were for one of the major parties. The way you organise your preferences ensures you have the greatest possible influence on the outcome.

MYTH 3: A vote for a minor party or Independent is just a waste.

Oh dear. Another great piece of misinformation from the major parties – and one you’re likely to hear as you front up at the polling booth. The argument goes like this:

1. Minor parties/Independents don’t get elected.
2. You want to make sure your vote counts, don’t you?
3. You should cast your vote for a party that will get elected.

It’s all based on that first premise – which is rubbish. You only have to look at the Parliament just gone to see that. In the Lower House, we had four Independents and a Greens MP. In the Senate, there were 9 Greens, 1 DLP and 1 Independent. The make-up of that Parliament meant that the government of the day was required to be far more open to negotiation than previous, two-party situations.

There’s no clearer illustration that a vote for minor parties or Independents can be extremely effective.

MYTH 4: Electing someone from a minor party or an Independent will lead to a Parliament that doesn’t work.

You’ve heard this one from the Coalition, both in and out of Parliament’s chambers. Peppered with wonderfully ridiculous terms like ‘shambolic’, ‘unworkable’, ‘held hostage’, the Opposition did its level best to paint the 43rd Parliament, and particularly the minority government under Labor, as utterly useless.

Of course, it’s nonsense. That Parliament passed hundreds of pieces of legislation, including major reforms such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the National Broadband Network, carbon pricing, and the Better Schools program. Additionally, it implemented a number of reforms to the way Parliaments conduct their business – streamlining Question Time, briefing minor party and Independent MPs and giving them access to Treasury for costings being only a few.

As for the notion that the Parliament was ‘held hostage’ – again, this is entirely down to a Coalition attempt to damage the Labor government. The idea there was to convince voters that Labor was somehow so beholden to the Greens that it would betray its own base just to hang onto power.

The minority government worked, whether people (or the Coalition) liked it or not. There’s no reason to think that another minority government would be any different.

Oh, and since Liberal leader Tony Abbott never bothers to remind voters – any Coalition government has also been a minority government, comprising the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Country Liberal Party, and the Liberal National Party. Those governments functioned – and, presumably, Mr Abbott thinks any future Coalition minority governments would do so again.

MYTH 5: It doesn’t make any difference if I vote above or below the line in the Senate, so I might as well save myself some time.

Oh, where to start with this one?

How can I put this simply? IT MATTERS.

Now, it can be an utter pain to fill in every little box, making sure that you haven’t doubled up or skipped a number. If you live in Victoria, this election is likely to be particularly onerous for you. But don’t be tempted to simply stick a number above the line and be done with it.

Why? Because once you do that, you’ve given your vote away to that party. And while you may think that party represents your views, what about those to whom it’s directed preferences? Do you even know who those parties or individuals are, for that matter?

It’s not too hard to find out the preferences for each Senate ticket – all the information is clearly available on the Australian Electoral Commission website. And there are a few unpleasant surprises when you do look. For a start, some tickets in Victoria didn’t even lodge their preferences with the AEC – so you have no way of knowing what would happen if you did simply hand over your vote.

Then there’s the issue of the Wikileaks Party. Broadly considered sympathetic to Left-leaning parties, the WLP was expected to direct preferences to the Greens – and, allegedly, had indicated that it would do so. Instead, it preferenced the extreme Right-wing Australia First Party in New South Wales; and in Western Australia, preferenced the National Party above the Greens.

WLP supporters demanded an explanation, and were told that the NSW preferences came about as the result of an ‘administrative error’.

There are no clearer illustrations of the need to know where your preferred party directs its preferences, and of the need to vote below the line in the Senate. To put it bluntly, it’s the only way your vote can be truly representative.

Thankfully, there are some very clever people out there at Below the Line. They’ve collected the ballot positions and full tickets for all seats and both Houses, and are in the process of setting up their ballot editors. You can find out who’s running in your electorate or State, organise your voting preferences with these editors and print those out on a sheet to take with you into the polling booth. Yes, you still have to write down a lot of numbers, but the majority of the work is already done.

CONCLUSION: So there you have it. Five myths, all easily busted. If you’re skeptical about politicians when they talk about policy, then it’s worth extending that to anything they say about voting. The vote is your power – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

We don’t need your permission, Your Holiness

November 22, 2010

Although this post doesn’t directly bear on Australian politics, it does relate to some of the issues surrounding the imminent Victorian state election. Parties are positioning themselves on issues relating to human sexuality. The most obvious, of course, is same-sex marriage. Saturday’s Equal Love rally in Melbourne saw State Education Minister Bronwyn Pike break ranks with her party to speak out. She was joined by Fiona Patten from the Australian Sex Party and Senator Sarah Hanson-Young from the Greens. In contrast, the Democratic Labor Party went on Sky News to strongly oppose same-sex marriage on religious and (increasingly spurious) cultural grounds, and Ted Baillieu, speaking for the Coalition, simply issued a blunt ‘no, I don’t support it’.

Same-sex marriage isn’t the only such issue, however. In the seat of Richmond, Greens candidate Kathleen Maltzahn has taken aim at sex workers, and the Sex Party in particular for putting forward policies targeted at securing rights and protections for them.

Adoption by same-sex couples is also on the table. Premier John Brumby has already flagged his intention to review the laws surrounding this issue, and both the Sex Party and the Greens have policies calling for same-sex couples to be treated as equal under the law.

And that’s without going into abortion policy, access to reproductive technology, sex education and surrogacy!

Sexuality, it seems, is a bigger issue than it might appear in the Victorian election. It probably pales in comparison to people’s preoccupation with an efficient and comprehensive public transport system, but it’s there. People are thinking and talking about it.

With all that in the air, recent statements by the Pope deserve a closer look. There are a lot of Catholic voters in Victoria, and at least one political party – the DLP – with its roots firmly in the Catholic Church and its doctrines. And while, at first glance, the Pope’s words might not seem at all related to any of the above, take a closer look.

The Pope now thinks it’s okay ‘in some circumstances’ to use condoms. How nice of him. But wait, just what are those circumstances?

“In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality,” said the head of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics …

“There may be justified individual cases, for example when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be … a first bit of responsibility, to re-develop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes.”

And this ‘softening’ of a hard-line anti-condom stance is being ‘cautiously welcomed’ by HIV activists and health experts. The AMA even likes it.

I don’t think so.

This isn’t any kind of softening. This is the Pope saying, ‘what you’re doing is wrong, and you get one chance to avoid the wages of sin. I’m being generous here – I’m letting you use a condom but you’d better come to your senses.’

Gosh, whatever can he be talking about? Oh wait, of course, he’s talking about anal sex between men. Which is, of course, wrong. His one example is a little homily about a rentboy – who, implicitly, is infected with HIV – who might be ‘allowed’ to wear a condom so he doesn’t spread the disease to any of his clients. Of course, the Pope’s not condoning it, oh no. He wants said rentboy and his clients to realise that, by generously granting permission to protect themselves, they are expected to – what was the phrase – develop a ‘more humane’ sexuality. In other words, stop what you’re doing and be heterosexual or celibate.

And make no mistake, the Pope’s not saying the client gets to use the condom. No, no, it’s the filthy whore who needs to protect the client – who, after all, can be redeemed. Never mind that sexually-transmitted HIV has to come from somewhere, usually the client – in Pope World, just making yourself available for paid sex appears to automatically ensure you’re infected.

Of course, female prostitutes don’t get a look in. They don’t get the special dispensation. And why should they? After all, this whole sorry mess came about because of a woman, didn’t it? It’s one thing to give men the chance to get on the straight and narrow, but a ‘fallen woman’ doesn’t get the same chance. They reap what they sow.

Oh, and forget about using condoms as contraception. The Church is rock-solid on that one. No special dispensations, either. You don’t want kids? You can’t have kids because it would endanger your life/pass on genetic abnormalities/send you to the poorhouse? You have one option – don’t have sex. Because we all know that sex only has one purpose, right?

There’s a lot of talk about how it might be a small thing, but at least people will be protected.

No, they won’t.

Contrary to Papal belief, most prostitutes are extremely careful about the use of condoms. Many will actually refuse a client who won’t wear a condom. (Oh but wait, the clients don’t have to, do they?)

Yes, there are exceptions – people who are victims of sexual trafficking, who don’t get that kind of choice, and people who are either too stupid or too uncaring to take precautions so that they don’t pass on the infection. Now, I’m going to give the Pope some credit for brains here. I’m going to assume that he doesn’t really think some trafficker of underage boys in Thailand will now sit up and say, ‘Hey, the Pope said it’s kind of okay to give my kids condoms, better go do that’.

So what’s the Pope’s real point?

This little pronouncement of the Pope’s – which the Church are already rushing to say isn’t ‘magisterial’ (i.e. insert disclaimer here) – isn’t some indicator that maybe his religion is finally waking up to a few realities of life. It’s not a ‘compassionate’ acknowledgment that there are terrible diseases out there that can destroy the lives of innocent people. (Remember, this is the same guy who said condoms didn’t protect anyone against AIDS, and banned his African followers from using them.)

This is about some kind of horrible pseudo-redemptive ‘lesson’. Some things aren’t permitted, and you’d just better consider yourself lucky that he’s giving you the chance to wake up and toe the line. After all, unless sexuality is ‘humanised’ – i.e., stop with the buttsex you filthy men – not even a condom will save you. If AIDS doesn’t get you, Hell will. And that goes double for sex workers.

And just to spell it out in really blunt language: this is not really about protecting anyone. Although the Pope – when asked – admitted that using condoms might ‘reduce infection’, he was very clear that the real purpose of this ‘permission’ is purely to give people enough time to repent. It’d be a good thing if people (see: men who have anal sex) didn’t infect others, but condoms are not a ‘moral solution’.

This is entirely in keeping with the Church’s historical aversion to the free exercise of sexuality between consenting adults. That the Pope is dressing it up with grudging little concessions doesn’t alter that one bit. It’s still about dictating what expressions of sexuality are permissible. To paraphrase a certain former Prime Minister: he will decide who gets to have sex, and under what circumstances they can have it.

Now I don’t know about you, but I find that just a tad offensive – particularly when it comes at a time when we are at last talking and acting on issues that have for too long been branded as ‘immoral’ or banished to the too-hard basket by politicians with both eyes on the numbers and none on the people.

So, Your Holiness? Take your oh-so-gracious, lesser-of-two-evils concession and shove it. We don’t need your permission to love each other. We don’t need your permission to protect ourselves from infections that have nothing to do with God and everything to do with blind shitty luck And we don’t need you to tell us we can’t have sex unless we’re prepared to risk pregnancy. We will care for each other without your ‘help’.

We live in the 21st Century, and you have no power over us.

Victorian Leaders’ Debate

November 7, 2010

Warning: contains flippant remarks.

Time for a look at my home state of Victoria now. With an election looming on November 27 that looks to deliver another significant result to the Greens, and perhaps another minority government, the major parties have repeatedly hammered home the point that they want to lead in their own right. It’s fair to say, however, that the Greens were the elephant in the room when the leaders’ debate between Premier John Brumby and Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu took place, with moderators and panellists repeatedly mentioning their likely effect on the election outcome.

In a nice touch of serendipity – or perhaps irony – the debate was held on the 5th of November.

The first question was predictable. Both leaders were asked why they deserved Victorian votes.

Ted Baillieu led off with a litany of Victoria’s woes. Although he was a ‘proud Victorian, a very, very proud Victorian’, Baillieu shook his head sadly over problems of violent crime, deteriorating country roads, a planning system that ‘cannot be trusted’, children in state protection being neglected, rising water and power bills, and – startingly – long and ‘secret’ waiting lists for hospital treatment. He slipped in some stock phrases from the Federal Liberal playbook about ‘endless waste and mismanagement’ before promising a series of law and order reforms guaranteed to warm the hearts of conservatives everywhere – more police on the streets, a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to violent crime (whatever that means), and tougher sentencing. After that he waxed lyrical with promises to do everything from fix country roads to changing how hospitals are managed and embraced the idea of a ‘modern, open accountable government’ that would put an end to ‘cover-ups, secrecy and incompetence’. In short, Baillieu promised to save the world.

John Brumby went for the folksy approach, regaling the panel with the story of how he’d visited apprentices at Geelong TAFE. These politically savvy and civic-minded young people represented all Victorians, it appears – what they wanted was a strong economy, good jobs and for Victoria to keep its AAA credit rating. Accordingly, Brumby pledged to create 300,000 new jobs over the next five years, pointing out for good measure that Victoria has – thanks to Labor – the lowest payroll tax rate in 36 years. It was important to keep the jobs coming, he asserted.

Something strange happened then. In a rare display of psychic power, Brumby started channelling Prime Minister Julia Gillard. He rhapsodised about the ‘transformative power’ of education, something he’d always been ‘passionate’ about, and felt was of intense importance to every Victorian. To prove it, he listed the government’s achievements – the placement of more than 10,000 new teachers and support staff into the system, new buildings and schools across the state, and more investment in education to ensure every child had the opportunity to gain ’21st century skills’ (though presumably, not the ability to use Twitter).

Ian Henderson, the moderator, indulged in a little forward planning at this point. He commented that there was now a third force in politics, not represented at the debate – though perhaps for the last time. This was no doubt welcome news to many Greens voters who already suffered through the Federal campaign with little attention. Why then, asked the moderator, are voters dissatisfied with the traditional duopoly?

Brumby refused to be drawn. Others could make that judgment, but the ALP was about putting forward ‘positive policies, especially ‘progressive social policies’.

Then the dance began in earnest. Baillieu, asked about where the Liberals would direct their preferences, went on the attack. There was a Greens/Labor alliance in Tasmania, and now one in Canberra. Labor had done deals in the past with the Greens!

Moderator: ‘So what will you do?’

Baillieu: ‘Mr Brumby needs to answer if he’s done another deal.’

Moderator: ‘I asked for your preferences.’

Baillieu: ‘The issue is, will John Brumby preference the Greens.’

Brumby chimed in, noting that Liberal preferences were likely to determine the outcome in inner city seats (as they did in the election of Greens MP Adam Bandt). This was ‘a raging issue’, he said; there was a crisis in the Liberal Party about where preferences should be directed.

‘I’ve never heard so much hypocrisy in my life!’ declared Baillieu, brandishing an ALP how to vote card from the last election that directed preferences to the Greens. ‘John Brumby has to delcare if another deal has been done’.

Moderator (with apparently infinite patience): ‘When will we find out what you’re doing?’

Baillieu (finally, in a grumpy tone): ‘Before the election.’

This ridiculous exchange went on, reaching its absurdest height when Baillieu declared that Brumby – in saying he had not spoken to the Greens, did not envisage a power-sharing deal with them and was competing to govern in his own right – was, in fact, ‘going out of his way’ to avoid answering a question on preferences. He seemed unaware of his own apparent inability to answer any question on Liberal Party preferences whatsoever. Asked about disillusionment in his own core support base, Baillieu snapped, ‘I don’t accept that, the question is for John Brumby, he’s had a long term relationship with the Greens’.

At that point the moderator and panellists gave up, but their expressions were unmistakable pictures of frustration and not a little disgust.

The debate moved on, and Brumby’s answers featured an interesting element not usually present in debates – the mea culpa. He acknowledged that he had spoken hastily and thoughtlessly when he told journalists they ‘didn’t need to know’ information about proposed new trams. Although he was right to withhold commercial-in-confidence information, he said, he should not have answered in that way. He also admitted that an Ombudsman’s report into child protection showed that his government was not doing enough, and that he’d moved to put new funding and new measures in place. Finally, when asked about Black Saturday, he said that it was clear the system had failed, and for that he was sorry, he accepted that responsibility and was committed to the best possible response in any future crises.

Baillieu constantly interrupted everyone else – in fact, his entire manner could best be described as ‘don’t waste my time’. He relentlessly pursued Brumby on the question of government advertisements, though was unable to name any ad that was a ‘Labor party political ad’. When Brumby was asked about the number of people in ‘communications’ jobs in the government (between 800-1000), Baillieu refused to accept his answer. Brumby pointed out that many people in communications were not concerned with the public at all, but rather keeping lines open between and within government departments, but Baillieu was adamant that it was about ‘spin’.

One feature of this debate was the ‘quick question’, which only allowed for a 30 second answer – and it was here that the debate really showed that it was out of touch with people’s concerns. While we spent 20 minutes listening to Baillieu not answer a question about Liberal preferences, we were given almost no time at all to hear the candidates’ views about adoption by same-sex couples. Baillieu simply rejected the idea. Brumby tried to cram some more information into his answer, which amounted to ‘I’m not sure, but I want the Law Review to look at it’.

Baillieu had his moment in the sun on law and order. Violence had been ‘normalised’, it was a ‘major cultural issue’ that they had to ‘turn around’. He commited to a further 17,000 police and to place 940 protective service officers on all major metropolitan and regional trams and trains until the end of service each night. Asked how he could change the culture, Baillieu repeated the ‘more police on streets, zero tolerance’ mantra, then added a potentially worrying coda. Police needed to be given the capacity and powers to enforce the law. He didn’t elaborate on exactly what that might entail, but given the new move-on and stop-and-search powers, one can speculate. On his first day in government, he concluded, he would institute tougher sentencing and do away with home detention. All this, he declared, had been originally rejected by the government, only to be hurriedly adopted at the last moment.

Brumby had some different ideas about changing a culture of violence. He referred to school programs raising awareness of cyber-bullying and tougher liquor licensing laws, as well as general programs of information and awareness for the community.

Quick question number two asked about banning smoking in public places. Baillieu said he would wait to see what VicHealth recommended. Brumby said there were no plans to ban smoking, and started to talk about other programs in place and proposed to help people quit – but was cut off by the time limit.

The Wonthaggi desalination plant came in for some scrutiny. Brumby, asked if he had ignored advice not to proceed, said he had made the right decision. ‘All advice coming to the government from the Bureau and CSIRO is that erratic climate patterns are likely to be more frequent’, and therefore it was important to guarantee water security for the next 30-40 years. Bailieu was confronted with his own promise of a desalination plant, made four years ago, and reminded that he had continually said since that Labor’s plant was ‘never needed’. He responded that the Liberal Party would honour the contracts and build the plant, but that it was ‘huge’, ‘very expensive’, and that Victorians would be paying for water they may not even require. His own plan had been for a ‘modestly-sized, modestly-priced’ plant.

There was grudging acceptance from Baillieu that Brumby’s government had managed the economy well during the Global Financial Crisis, but even that was qualified. The surplus was ‘skinny’, propped up by funds from the ‘Rudd/Gillard government’ – and anyway, it was all ultimately due to the good work of Howard and Costello. Victoria was now in a situation of escalating debt, he asserted, and – apparently advocating a kind of 12-step ‘State Treasurers Anonymous’ program – the first step was to recognise that there was a problem.

Asked how he would bring down this debt, Baillieu made a very odd answer. ‘Imagine how much better off we would be if we hadn’t had those cost overruns in major projects,’ he said.

Brumby argued that the budget was not ‘skinny’, but rather ‘comfortably in surplus’; the only state, in fact, forecasting surpluses over the whole of the forward estimates period. He pointed out that Victoria’s share of debt was lower than when Labor first took power – then assumed the Voice of Doom. Baillieu had promised he would not add ‘one more dollar’ to the debt, but had also promised $7.5 billion in spending. In order to keep both commitments, he would have to cut spending to hospitals (including the new children’s hospital at Monash), schools and public sector jobs.

Quick question number three asked if either leader would introduce a $1 betting limit on poker machines. Brumby said he was in the process of instituting pre-commitment technologies, but had no plans to introduce betting limits. Baillieu jumped in to add hastily that he was the ‘first’ to raise the idea of pre-commitment technologies, and might look at lower bet limits.

As mentioned above, Brumby apologised for the systemic failures in dealing with the Black Saturday bushfires. He was at pains to point out the unique circumstances, while not trying to belittle the problem. ‘Systems failed, and for that I am eternally sorry,’ he said. He went on to mention that steps were being taken to deal with future situations, including $861 million spent on warning systems, and boosting numbers of fire fighters. Baillieu’s comment? ‘The government erred before the fires, and has erred in the longer term, but I won’t criticise John Brumby for his performance at the time. There were countless recommendations for change from reports, which were not accepted.’

Finally arriving at closing statements, Baillieu borrowed some Obama-talk and spend time calling for ‘change’. He pointed out he was an architect by training, which apparently proved he was focused on the future. ‘I see problems and I want to fix them,’ he said. He liked ‘nothing better’ than building the future.

Brumby gave out a round of thanks to the moderator, panellists, Baillieu, linesmen and ballboys, before promising that Labor would be the same ‘stable, experienced, strong’ government it was currently – only more so. Hospitals would be built, more nurses, doctors and police employed, and schools and pre-schools supported. For the first time he mentioned the impending closure of Hazelwood’s coal-fired power station, and his commitment to making Victoria the ‘solar capital of Australia’. (One can’t help thinking this should have been mentioned right up front, given the current state of turmoil over tackling climate change in the Federal arena.) Finally, he acknowledged that Labor could do better, and committed to do just that.

In the end, the debate boiled down to this:

* an incredibly rude Opposition leader who seemed unable to let anyone else speak, who was constitutionally incapable of even acknowledging that preference deals might, perhaps, possibly be done, and who was a little too enthusiastic about the idea of putting more police with greater powers on the streets.

* a Premier whose folksy manner seemed forced, but who managed to admit his own government’s failings even as he refused to talk to the Greens, while sounding the alarm on the apocalyptic consequences that would follow if the Liberal Party was elected.

* a Moderator who probably needed a Bex and a good lie-down.

* an audience whose bread-and-butter concerns were relegated to 30 second grabs, while they were forced to listen to 20 minutes of ducking and weaving on how-to-vote cards.

All in all, not a good result.

Mandate, mandate, who’s got the mandate?

August 31, 2010


It’s an impressive word, isn’t it? Positively drips with authority. We’ve heard it bandied about quite a bit in this election by the two major parties. Abbott ‘has a mandate’ because the Coalition has a larger slice of the primary vote. Gillard ‘has a mandate’ because Labor is winning the two-party preferred vote. The Coalition has the mandate because the people rejected the mining tax. Labor has the mandate because the people want better broadband.

So it goes. But what does that actually mean? What the heck is a mandate anyway?

At its most basic, a mandate can be defined as ‘a command or authorization to act in a particular way on a public issue given by the electorate to its representative’. Seems clear enough. In this case, then, the ‘public issue’ is actually forming government. Also pretty straightforward – so figuring out who’s got the mandate should be easy, right?

Not if you read/listen to/watch the media. There are passionate arguments coming from both sides, and from all areas of the media. Most of these arguments sound rational – or at least plausible, which doesn’t help. Surely the party who got the most votes should govern? But wait – we have a preferential voting system, not first-past-the-post, so should all preferences should be factored into the final decision? The commentary goes round and round and it just gets more confusing.

The Coalition are particularly strident in their claims of a mandate. The reasoning behind it seems to be that if they say it long enough and loud enough, people will eventually realise they are ‘right’. Labor’s not getting left behind on the mandate rhetoric, either. That nearly brought them undone last night, when the Australian Electoral Commission suddenly changed the way it calculated the two-party preferred numbers, and the Coalition appeared to surge ahead.

The simple truth is this: there is no clear mandate to govern, and there won’t be – no matter which party eventually gets backed by the Independents, Green and WA National MPs. The reason? The Constitution is silent on the whole question. It doesn’t say which set of numbers indicates a mandate to form government if a majority of 50% +1 isn’t reached. As former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser said last night on QandA, convention dictates that all things being equal, the current Prime Minister should make the first attempt, but that’s all it is – convention. State governments have wrestled with the question of minority governments, and the solutions have been as varied as the states themselves.

Bob Brown said it most succinctly – the party who can get the most numbers after negotiating with the minor parties and Independents will form government. That’s it.

So, whichever way this shakes down, neither the Coalition nor Labor will have any basis to claim they have a moral right bestowed upon them by the electorate. Not that this is likely to stop either of them. But it’s worth remembering. As a people, Australia did not deliver a clear mandate to anyone. No amount of number-crunching or finger-pointing is going to change that.

It’s fairly important that the major parties not be allowed to forget that, either. In a perfect world, this might be an opportunity for them to learn some humility. I’m not that optimistic, but I do hope that it will at least be an occasion for some party room soul-searching.

None of the above

August 23, 2010

Just when we thought it was all over …

Australia stepped up and did its democratic duty on Saturday. Amid accusations of dirty tricks, last-minute frantic electioneering and the heady smell of the sausage sizzle, we shuffled up to the ballot box and cast our votes.

The result? As my Magic 8-Ball said around 10.30pm Saturday night, ‘Ask again later’.

That’s right. We don’t have a government. With five seats still in doubt, the ALP holds 70 seats, the Coalition 72, Independents 2 and Greens 1. (And then there’s Tony Crook, the National MP who looks as though he will take Wilson Tuckey’s seat of O’Connor – and won’t necessarily support the Coalition). Neither of the major parties were able to make it over the 76-seat line to form government in their own right.

So what do we do now? We wait. And speculate. And horse-trade. Because it’s looking increasingly likely that we will have a hung Parliament. If that’s the case, then the business of politics may well start to resemble some kind of Japanese game show. Abbott and Gillard will race to collect enough MPs to survive a no-confidence motion, then see who makes it to the Governor-General first. We’ll have to supply our own frenetic commentary and chase music, of course. And sadly, no sumo suits.

Sound ridiculous? That’s because there are, quite simply, no rules to dictate how this is supposed to work. Who gets first bite of the Parliamentary cherry, as it were.

Abbott claims he has a mandate to form government, because the total number of Coalition votes is higher than for Labor. Gillard points out Labor won the two-party preferred vote. Abbott says it’s ‘clear’ everyone wants a change. Gillard says the Australian people have not made a clear choice. Meanwhile the rhetoric and the spin and the attacks continue.

Abbott talks like he already is the Prime Minister, and is just waiting for those who hold the balance of power to come to him asking to be let into the Big Kids’ Club. Gillard’s using the ‘consensus’ word a lot and focusing on negotiation, but making sure she slips in how much good work Labor did in power.

You know what, though? None of that matters.

Here’s what matters: the people who may determine how we are governed for the next three years. Bob Katter (Kennedy), Rob Oakeshott (Lyne), Tony Windsor (New England), Adam Bandt (Melbourne), Tony Crook (O’Connor) and Andrew Wilkie (Denison).

Who the hell are they, we might ask (with some justification)? We never see these guys on the news. How can they hold our future in their hands?

This is the nature of a two-party dominated political system. Media focus falls on the big parties, because after all, they’re going to be the ones who matter, right? Sure, a few Independents may get in here and there, but overall, could they really make any difference?

The answer to that is a resounding, ‘YES‘. This time around, it could be consensus politics, not party lines, that shapes the Parliament. Given that, it’s worth getting to know who they are.

Katter, Oakeshott, and Windsor are former National Party members. Each left the party because they were dissatisfied. Katter is vocal on the subject – he feels the Nationals no longer represent the interests of the bush, particularly farmers. Windsor’s biography is pretty coy, but there’s no love lost between him and his former party. Oakeshott parted ways with the Nationals over issues of property development and an Australian republic.

All three of these MPs are passionately committed to representing their local interests. They’ve said that they’ll work with either party, since stable government is more important than personal feelings. Interviewed on The 7.30 Report last night, they all said that they supported a national broadband network, and that Labor’s proposal was better. They’re not uniform in all their concerns, however.

Katter is concerned about issues of deregulation and protection for farmers, and opposes an Emissions Trading Scheme.

Windsor supports action on climate change, and has been involved in a number of projects, including soil carbon.

Oakeshott definitely wants an Emissions Trading Scheme.

Bandt is the first Greens member to win a seat in the federal Lower House. He claimed the seat of Melbourne from Labor after Lindsay Tanner, the Finance Minister, announced his retirement from politics earlier this year. In keeping with his party’s policies, Bandt has said he is committed to action on climate change, including a price on carbon. He is also concerned with dental care, same-sex marriage and high-speed rail links.

Bandt has already stated that he will support a Labor government.

Wilkie is former intelligence officer with the Office of National Assessments, who came to media attention in 2003 when he revealed that he believed the Australian public was being misled as to the real situation in Iraq. He ran unsuccessfully against John Howard as a Greens candidate in Bennellong. He is likely to become the Independent member for Denison.

Wilkie’s a bit of an enigma – a former Young Liberal, turned Green, and now Independent. There’s certainly no love lost between him and the Coalition (being the target of particularly vicious rhetoric for his stand over the Iraq war), but he’s signalled that he won’t necessarily side with the Greens. His concerns centre on public education, Medicare and dental health, and ethical government.

Then there’s Tony Crook. Although a member of the National Party, he has not committed to supporting the Coalition. Rather, he wants to be part of minority government negotiations. This makes him something of a maverick – it’s likely that if he does not eventually side with the Coalition, the Nationals would dis-endorse him as a candidate.

These are the men who may hold the keys to government. You’d think the major parties would be mindful of that, and respect them.

Gillard’s speech on Saturday night acknowledged Abbott as a ‘formidable opponent, and recognised that Labor had lessons to learn. She congratulated the four Independents and Bandt on their wins. She said she looked forward to negotiations, and that she realised Australia expected consensus.

Gillard phoned all five on Saturday night to congratulate them, met with Bandt and Greens leader Senator Bob Brown on Sunday, and has more meetings scheduled today.

Abbott, by contrast, came out swinging. Labor had lost the election; the Coalition had won half a million more votes; the government had therefore lost its ‘legitimacy’. His acknowledgment of Gillard sounded grudging at best; she had ‘worked hard’, ‘it couldn’t have been easy for her’. He didn’t mention the cross-bench MPs until close to the end of his speech, and when he did, it was only to say that he’d talk to them about forming government.

He made one phone call after 1:00am on election night, and has since contacted everyone except Wilkie. In a remarkable display of rudeness, his media conference yesterday lasted all of three minutes, after which he left hurriedly as a reporter was in the middle of asking a question. He made it clear that he believed the Independents owed it to the country to form government with him, repeating his ‘lost legitimacy’ rhetoric. His strategist, Michael Kroger, is out this morning warning the Independents that their electorates will turn against them if they support Labor.

If respect counts for anything, Abbott may be in trouble.

There’s another thing that Abbott should try to get his head around. Yes, there was a swing away from Labor, but it mostly went towards the Greens, not the Coalition. Voter dissatisfaction with one party does not necesssarily translate into support for its major opponent. The claims that Labor has ‘lost legitimacy’, that the Coalition ‘has a mandate’ and that ‘Australian has spoken’ are nothing more than empty rhetoric designed to panic us all into thinking that the only possible outcome here is a Coalition government.

It isn’t, and people should keep that in mind. The government will end up going to the party who can gain the most seats, not who is the biggest bully.

It could take a week for this to shake down. The count is now underway, and it looks as though Wilkie may not take Denison, after all. That would make it a little easier for Labor, but a hung parliament is still likely.

In the meantime, we’ll have to endure more of the same. More slogans, more spin, more attacks and more hysteria. We can be grateful, I suppose, that at least there’ll be no more of those dreadful ads.

In all this, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the crucial fact in this election. Australia has spoken, all right. We sent a clear message to both major parties – we’re not confident in either of them. They haven’t been able to convince us that they are capable of representing our interests, or of acting on issues that we believe are important.

Australia has spoken, and it said ‘None of the above’.

We must not let either Labor or the Coalition forget that.


The prime time news is reporting that Quentin Bryce, the Governor-General is ‘seeking advice’ about a possible conflict of interest, because her daughter is married to Labor MP Bill Shorten. Apparently this is in response to questions raised in the media as to whether she could truly be impartial in resolving the hung Parliament.

This is a beat-up of the first order, and here’s why.

The Governor-General does not decide who can try to form government. Her job is to wait until either major leader fronts up on her doorstep with a list of MPs that have agreed to form a coalition. If the requisite number if reached, she then swears in that leader as Prime Minister. This is immediately tested on the floor of Parliament, via a no-confidence motion brought by the Opposition. Should the putative government survive that motion, hey presto, we have a government.

To suggest that Quentin Bryce might pull some kind of sneaky trick is absurd. The only way she could interfere with this process is if Abbott fronted up with the numbers and she refused to accept them. Given the amount of scrutiny this whole election is under, the idea that she could do that and get away with that is ridiculous. Abbott would run straight to the media, and we would have a scandal of the first order on our hands.

The only power the Governor-General has here is to swear in the PM. If Gillard has the numbers, she gets in. If Abbott does, it’s his job. If neither can do it, Gillard has to seek writs for a new election.

And take a look at who was claiming this ‘conflict of interest’. Unsurprisingly, it’s been the Murdoch papers – the most partisan media group in Australia. The anti-Labor, anti-Green bias of Murdoch’s empire is well-known; you only have to look at a handful of editorials to see that. So why are they bringing this up now?

Maybe it’s because Labor is firming in the polls. It’s looking increasingly as though they will end up with 74 seats, counting Adam Bandt in coalition with them. This strengthens their argument that they will be more able to form a stable government (which is the one factor Katter, Oakeshott and Windsor have all said is most important in their decision-making process) – more seats, and a co-operative Senate to get legislation passed. Seen in that light, there’s more than a whiff of desperation about the whole notion that Bryce is hopelessly compromised by her relationship to Shorten.

In seeking legal advice, Bryce is not admitting anything. She is sensibly refuting the accusation that anything improper is going on. Already, constitutional lawyers have firmly declared that there is no conflict of interest.

This is just more noise and bluster. It’s completely in step with Kroger attempting to scare the Independents towards the Liberal-National Coalition, and Abbott’s claim that he has a moral right to form government.

It means nothing.

Election Day – Semi-live blog

August 21, 2010

Well, good morning, all.

Remember how you woke up this morning, rolled over, and got up with a nagging feeling that you were supposed to be doing something today?

Put down that coffee.

You need to VOTE!!!

Yes, the polls are open, and it’s time to go exercise those flabby democratic rights we all carry around with us. (Okay, maybe not so flabby, but hey – it’s early and I could never resist a bad metaphor in the morning.)

So let’s kick off this semi-live blog-scapade. I’ll be popping in and updating periodically throughout the day and into the night until we have a result (or the world ends, whichever comes first).

Links will be (as usual) via Twitter and Facebook – and as I said, feel free to follow me on Twitter, @crazyjane13.



Definitely no result tonight. Many of us are afraid to sleep, in case we wake up to dinosaur-riding Nazis marauding through the streets …

But for now, it’s time to close off this semi-live blog. Thanks for sticking with us, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.

Sleep well …


Abbott’s speech is a huge contrast to Gillard’s. She was careful not to claim victory, or even appear to be exhibiting any form of hubris. He’s talked up the responsibility of belonging to a party, and gleefully announced that Labor has lost its majority – and therefore its legitimacy. He’s claiming that there is no way Labor could form a minority government and function effectively. Not content with that, he’s brought up the ‘execution of a Prime Minister’ by ‘the faceless men of the Labor factions’.

The arrogance is unbelievable. Without a majority, without being able to claim a mandate of any kind, without being anywhere near a result, he’s acting as though the result is foregone. The tone of this speech could not be more different to Gillard’s. She was gracious, acknowledged Abbott as a formidable opponent, congratulated the Independents and Bandt.

All Abbott has done is congratulate himself, and sneer at those who ‘don’t feel so victorious’ tonight. And he’s getting wild applause for it – especially when he says ‘stop the boats’.

Oh wait, he’s just said he’ll be ‘talking to the Independents’ in the next few days. That’s the first time he’s acknowledged them. How very – patronising of him.


Gillard has stepped up to the podium to acknoweldge that the vote will not be decided tonight, along with a great walloping spoonful of flattery for the Independents and Adam Bandt. After all, they’ll be the ones who are most likely to decide which major party gets to call itself the government.

These are the people who will probably decide how our country is governed for the next three years:

Bob Katt
Tony Windsor
Andrew Wilkie
Rob Oakeshott
Adam Bandt.

Go, look them up.


Still no result. We’re running out of cupcakes, and may be forced to resort to the cooking sherry before long.

The good news: Steven Fielding looks to be gone. Dead. Cremated. Buried.

The bad news: some people with utterly appalling political judgment appear to have elected Wendy Francis to the Senate in his stead. Yeah, you know who you are.

Meet the new wingnut, same as the old wingnut.

In completely bizarre out-of-left-field news, it looks like Uncle Wilson may have lost his seat. o_O We are in shock.


According to the ABC, the Coalition has edged ahead with 70 seats.

The AEC is still saying Labor 51%, Coalition 49%.

Just in case, we have switched to bourbon.


The Australian Electoral Commission is calling Melbourne for Greens candidate Adam Bandt.

It also looks likely that the seat of Denison in Tasmania will go to Independent Andrew Wilkie, formerly of the Greens. You might remember him from his ASIO days, when he acted as a whistleblower over ‘ethical conflicts’ related to Australia’s participation in the Iraq war.

With four Independents and a Green in the Lower House, a hung Parliament is looking increasingly likely. We may wake up to a minority Labor government formed by Coalition with the Greens.

Meanwhile, the party is in full swing. The sacrifical Sex Party cupcakes have been regretfully consumed, and we are starting on the Liberal ones – except no one wants to eat those.


Guests are arriving with baked goods. We have party-themed cupcakes (including a handful of blue-iced cakes with icing spelling out ‘NO!‘), and a huuuuuuge number of Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

This is going some way to assuage our anxieties regarding the current count prediction, which is swinging between the major parties.

We are all consoled by the idea that Adam Bandt looks set to take Melbourne, though.


People beginning to arrive. Thrashing out rules for the election drinking game: 1 drink for every seat gained by Labor, 1 drink for every seat gained by Liberal, scull every time someone says ‘bellwether’.

Someone’s suggested sculling every time someone says ‘too close to call’, but we all agreed that was a short slide to crashing, drunken disaster.

Meanwhile ABCNews24 are calling Bennelong for the Coalition and Eden-Monaro to remain with the ALP.


Channel Nine’s exit poll says Labor 52, Coalition 48. Reports that Bruce Hawker (Labor strategist and sometime pundit) is currently wearing a sharklike grin. Opinions are divided as to what that portends.


First exit polls are in from Sky’s poll of 30 electorates.

2PP: Labor 51, Coalition 49.

The pollster says this does not include safer Labor seats, and so the national result will be more likely:

2PP: Labor 52, Coalition 48.

Primary vote breakdown:
ALP 42
Coalition 45
Greens 9
Other 4

With a margin of error, of course.


As both major leaders have now voted, the news networks have nothing to talk about until exit polls start trickling in. Consequently, they are concentrating on minutiae: ABCNews24 is doing a series of live crosses to marginal seats where they have reporters on the ground, while Sky’s talking heads are desperately trying to find something that say that hasn’t been said a hundred times already today.

In other news, a sewage truck has crashed in Cattai in Sydney’s northwest, and former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett has called Mark Latham a ‘turkey’. Somehow, these two items go together rather well.

2:14pm – UNSUBSTANTIATED REPORT, confirmation pending

Overheard in Sydney Airport earlier this morning, a senior Liberal party figure on the phone:

‘Joe Hockey?! … Yeah, look he’s fine, sure … but as leader? … Yeah … nah … Look, let’s just wait till six o’clock before we make any decisions.’


My democratic duty is done. Unsurprisingly, there was a conspicuous absence of Liberal volunteers at my Batman polling booth. I can report, however, that the sausages are satisfyingly crisp and the volunteers are generous with the onions.

Meanwhile, ABC Online has picked up the story about Libs dressing as Greens. The Queensland branch of the Labor Party has made a formal complaint.


Thanks to @dfhannah and @Cap_Slog, we now have a picture of those Liberal volunteers posing as Greens.

Apparently some volunteers also can’t respect the ‘no electioneering inside the polling place’ rules, as we can see in this picture from @infectedarea.


Reports coming in from Stirling, Canning and Ryan saying Liberal volunteers are posing as Greens and handing out Liberal-first, Labor-last how to vote cards.

And @annabelcrabb has unconfirmed reports that David Bradbury, Labor candidate for Lindsay, has dressed his volunteers in plain blue shirts with no logos. Voters could be forgiven for mistaking them for Liberal volunteers.


The spirit of Australian entrepreneurism (or maybe just opportunism) is alive and well in the electorate. The sausage sizzle monopoly is being challenged by a number of new competitors. Baked goods are featuring heavily, although at least one polling booth is offering wine and cheese for those of us who need to start drinking really early. Sources do not say whether the wine in question was Chardonnay.


First reports of dirty tricks are surfacing. In the seat of Ryan, people dressed in shirts with the message ‘Voting Greens?’ are apparently handing out how-to-vote cards for the Liberal Party, advising voters to preference Labor last (via @girlgerms).


There’s not a lot of news right now – although Sky is, hilariously, already showing (unsurprisingly) a seat count of Libs = 0, Labor = 0. Both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott have plenty of scheduled media events throughout the day.

Rumour has it that sausage sizzle quality may be down this year; Abbott has already promised a Royal Commission into this scandal.

On a more serious note, the Defence Department has just announced that two Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan were killed while on patrol looking for improvised explosive devices. Gillard will be speaking to the media, but not taking questions about it.

The war in Afghanistan hasn’t figured heavily in the campaign so far (with the exception of the Greens, who have been calling for an exit strategy). This news, coming on Election Day, could have an unforeseen effect on voters’ last-minute decisions.

It’s all up to us now

August 20, 2010

With less than 24 hours until the polls open, and figures now divided over who will win, the campaign has taken an ugly turn.

Tony Abbott is in the middle of an announced 36 hour campaign bender. Dragging his media pack with him, he is on something of a whirlwind tour of fish markets, media and mining towns, stopping only for the occasional light shandy. Apparently, sleep is for the weak – although it’s an open question as to how many people will turn up for a 3am stump speech. His media pack are leaving a trail of coffee cups and empty V cans behind them, and last night discussed the possibility of pooling their resources and sleeping in shifts.

Julia Gillard, meanwhile, is actually taking time to catch the odd snooze, although she’s kicking off every day by blitzing breakfast radio and TV (including ABC’s Triple J radio – Abbott, following the example of his former leader John Howard, is missing in action with that demographic) before heading off on her own version of a royal progress at warp speed. Factories, shopping centres and schools figure highly on her itinerary.

The Greens are likewise heading out, along with the minor parties and Independents. It’s all systems go for these last precious hours.

Meanwhile the fingers are flying thick and fast to bang out editorial after editorial endorsing the candidates. Unsurprisingly, all News Limited papers (with the notable exception of the Adelaide Advertiser) have backed the Coalition to win, while Fairfax papers are lending qualified support to Labor. The language is strong: ‘negligence’, ‘debacle’, ‘We deserve much better’, and the wonderfully hyperbolic ‘shambolic and tragic’. And that’s without even looking at what Andrew Bolt or Piers Akerman have to say.

Cue Benny Hill chase music and sped-up montage. It’s all very silly, right?

Stop and listen to what’s being said, though. There’s no doubt this campaign has been really negative, but the rhetoric has ramped up to a degree where it borders on hysteria. Now, instead of being used as an unfavourable contrast, the dire warnings are forming the bulk of the speeches. Abbott’s a ‘risk’, says Gillard (over 10 times in her last 15 minute media conference). Gillard is ‘incompetent’, retorts Abbott (and his language is more varied, but boils down to about the same level of saturation). WorkChoices will be back. Our borders won’t be ‘safe’. We’ll be plunged into the digital Dark Ages. We’ll become a third world nation in terms of debt. The sky will fall. The world will end.

Et cetera, ad nauseam.

What’s going on? Take a long, deep breath in. Smell that? It’s desperation.

The candidates are running on empty. After a campaign that leapfrogged the country, debates, pressers, forums, photo opportunities, meet-and-greets (also known as grip-n-grins), they’ve got very little left in the tank. It’s hard to sell yourself when you’re exhausted – but it takes far less energy to condemn your opponent. The leaders also know that there will be saturation media coverage in this last day, and this is their last chance to scare us. The more they repeat ‘risk’, ‘incompetent’, ‘unsafe’, etc., the more chance there is of that sinking into our malleable minds and making us vote based on fear rather than give due consideration to policy. We get rapid-fire summaries of announced policy almost eclipsed by pronouncements of doom, and we start to forget what’s actually on offer.

So I propose we completely undermine that idea with a quick side-by-side recap of the bigger policies from the major parties.

National Broadband Network

Labor’s offering a fibre-to-the-home network with an optimum speed of 1 Gigabit per second to 93% of the country. The remaining 7% will receive wireless and satellite.

The Coalition has proposed a mainly wireless network, offering a peak speed of 12 Megabits per second, supplemented by satellite and fibre-to-the-backbone.

Paid Parental Leave

The Coalition is offering six month’s leave to new mothers, to be paid at their wage (or minimum wage, whichever is greater). A father choosing to stay at home will be paid at the mother’s wage. This will be paid for with a levy on businesses earning over $5 million per year, and will not start until 2013. Until then, they will offer the same scheme as Labor.

Labor’s proposal is for 18 weeks’ leave for primary carers, paid at the minimum wage. In addition, 2 weeks’ leave will be available for secondary carers. This leave is extended to cover fathers as primary carers, same-sex couples, and adoptive parents. This will be funded from the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

Climate Change

Labor has promised a citizens’ assembly to investigate a price on carbon, but has confirmed that a price on carbon does form part of their policy.

The Coalition has ruled out any form of carbon price.

Same-sex marriage

Both major parties have ruled out amending the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to legally marry.

Budgetary surplus

Both parties are promising the Budget will return to surplus by the end of the 2012-13 financial year. The Coalition is promising to deliver almost double the amount promised by Labor. Coalition costings are found here, while Labor’s can be found on their website.

Cuts to Services

The Coalition have announced they will cut services including: the computers in schools program, the Renewable Energy Future Fund, Trade Training Centres, a suite of climate change-related programs, the Australian Human Rights Framework and the APS Indigenous Employment Strategy, as well as reduce funding for Solar Homes and Communities, Green Car Innovation Fund and Green Building Fund, among others.

Labor has announced cuts to public service funding for the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Public Service Commission. It has also redirected funds from some renewable energy programs (including large solar power station projects) to fund the green farming and car trade-in policies.

Asylum Seekers

The Coalition will reopen the Nauru detention centre and install a boatphone to make decisions on turning back asylum seeker boats. They will also reintroduce mandatory Temporary Protection Visas and automatic rejection for anyone suspected of deliberately discarding identity papers.

Labor wants to build a regional processing centre in East Timor to be administered by the United Nations.

There’s more, of course, but these are the policies most likely to be subjected to scare-mongering in these last 24 hours.

You can check the respective parties’ websites: Labor, Liberal – which contains the Coalition policy and Greens. For a bit of contrast, try the minor parties as well: The Australian Sex Party, Australian Democrats (rumours of their death were greatly exaggerated – or at least delayed), Liberal Democratic Party and Family First.

To find Independent candidates in your local seat, check the Australian Electoral Commission for names.

Read the policies (you can find analyses of many of them in the archive here), check the costings, and try to keep those in mind when you hear – yet again – the slogans, the spin and the scare-mongering.

And then have a think about what the last three years have been like for you. And the three before that (since the Coalition team is largely unchanged from the Howard years, leaders notwithstanding). There are a number of posts in the archive here that go back to last election campaign. It can be enlightening to see just how much changed – and depressing to see just how much hasn’t.

That’s what matters in this campaign – not the spectre of WorkChoices, the Great Big New Tax boogeymen, changes of leadership on either side or questions of religion, gender or marital status.

Policy and history.

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.

I’ve called this blog ‘The Conscience Vote’ because I think that’s the most valuable thing any of us can do with our democratic rights. Vote our consciences – not by party loyalty, not by personality, not informally, and most of all, not mindlessly.

So go to it!

I’ll be tweeting and blogging throughout the day tomorrow. You can follow me here for exit polls, news reports, counting and the all-important announcements. And this blog will continue – getting elected doesn’t mean we can take our eyes off politicians, after all.

Right now, though, I’m going to make myself a cup of tea, toast some crumpets and take some time out to sit in the sun (what little there is of it in Melbourne right now).

I’ve got some thinking to do.

Open Thread: who’s your money on?

August 19, 2010

With only one more day to go before we hit the polling booths, let’s compare theories, shall we?

Who do you think will win the Federal Election? Feel free to be as vague or as detailed as you like.

Who will hold the balance of the power in the Senate?

What do you think the chances are of the Greens picking up a Lower House seat?

My call? Labor will be returned with a greatly decreased majority. In fact, they’ll just squeak in. Adam Bandt will just fail to pick up the seat of Melbourne, but the Greens will hold the balance of power in the Senate.

So how about you?

Climate change policy – the Coalition

July 19, 2010

Climate change was a hot-button issue in the 2007 election. Rudd’s promise, subsequently fulfilled, to sign the Kyoto Protocol was extremely popular with voters. The shelving of Labor’s promised Emissions Trading Scheme in April this year, by contrast, provoked outrage and a sense of betrayal, and may have been one of the major factors in his eventually losing the leadership.

It’s not an easy issue to get your head around. Most of us can accept that the planet is warming, with potentially disastrous results. Most of us accept that human activity is directly responsible for much of this problem. It’s when the jargon comes into it – emissions trading, carbon sequestration, abatements, etc. – that we end up lost. In analysing the policies of the major parties and the Greens, I hope to de-mystify some of that.

The Liberal/National Party Coalition has boasted that, going into this election, it is the ‘only one with a credible policy’ tackling climate change. It released its Direct Action Plan in early February this year, and there has been only one statement updating the policy since.

So let’s take a look at this policy. The document itself can be found here on the Liberal Party’s website.

The first striking thing about this plan is how much space is given over to criticism of the Labor government. Three pages are dedicated to ripping apart Labor’s now-postponed (perhaps indefinitely) Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme – its so-called ‘Great Big New Tax’. The tone is unmistakable – you’ve heard it every time a Liberal politician gets in front of a microphone, and I won’t bother repeating the accusations here. This attack tendency is repeated throughout the rest of the document; even as the Coalition is setting out its own achievements on environmental action, it tries to put the boot into Labor.

Much of the Coalition’s stance depends on opposition to the CPRS. Now that this policy has been all but abandoned by Labor, there is little sting left left in much of its rhetoric. This, of course, may change when Labor reveals its own climate change policy.

Tony Abbott, in an interview with David Speers of Sky News yesterday, categorically ruled out any form of carbon tax, or price on carbon. He also said he ‘doubted’ that countries like India and China would sign up to any kind of carbon price in the forseeable future. Apparently, he was unaware that India already levies a tax on coal.

The Coalition’s climate change policy hinges on an Emission Reductions Fund. Described as a fund to support incentives from business and industry to help Australia meet its 2020 emission reduction target of 5%, it effectively functions as a body for issuing grants. The Fund will be $300m in 2011-12, increasing to $1.2b by 2014-15, and is projected to reduce our emissions by 140 million tonnes per year. According to the Coalition, this fund can be in place by 2011.

The Coalition says it will use the National Greenhouse Emissions and Reporting Scheme to set a baseline of ‘business as usual emissions’ for those industries which are covered by it. Whether this is a uniform baseline, or worked out on a case-by-case basis is not specific in the policy. Businesses who exceed this baseline will be penalised, with the penalties to be set ‘in consultation with industry’. Those who substantially reduce their emissions will be able to sell ‘abatements’ back to the government. What price will be set on these abatements, and what will be done with those sold back to the government is not spelled out in the policy. In effect, they will be rewarded for making their businesses greener. Smaller businesses, and those not covered by the NGERS, will be able to opt-in to the scheme.

Those who keep to the baseline will be neither penalised nor rewarded.

The onus is squarely on business and industry to reduce their emissions. At its base, it is a ‘free market solution’ – the idea is that if it becomes financially worthwhile to do so, business will change its operating parameters. In other words, any given business will end up crunching numbers to determine if the money they get from selling their abatements is better than what they will get from continuing to operate at their current levels of emission. Given that for many businesses, reducing emissions could involve considerable expenditure, there is little incentive for them to try to get under the baseline. Furthermore, this policy allows for no incentive for business to grow. Unless abatements can then be bought from the government, businesses may find themselves in a situation where they cannot grow – and if there is any idea of future availability of abatements, this becomes an Emissions Trading Scheme.

The Emissions Reduction Fund is modelled on an old Howard government initiative called GGAP, in which business was given taxpayer-funded grants to reduce emissions. Unlike the old fund, which was under ministerial control, Abbott’s would be administered by experts (who will be determined by consultation with business, environmental groups and the community).

The bulk of the 140 million tonnes (85 million) is projected to arise from soil carbon replenishment, starting with an offer to purchase 10 million tonnes by 2012-13. Put simply, soil carbon refers to the amount of carbon dioxide that is trapped in the soil, and replenishment refers to ways of increasing the amount of CO2 that can be stored.

As with all elements of the ERF, there will be a call for tenders from farms with strategies to replenish their soil carbon. This may involve anything from tree planting to crop rotation and use of organic fertilisers such as biosolids (a polite euphemism for sewage). The price for these ‘soil abatements’ is set at approximately $10 per tonne. Farms that do not attempt to increase their soil carbon will receive nothing, but equally, will not be required to change their farming practices.

There are several issues with soil carbon replenishment. Some of these are set out in a Scoping Paper issued by the New South Wales Department of Primary Industry in 2008. One of the single most important points is just how much we don’t know about the process. Different soils and different climates absorb different amounts of carbon, and this is further affected by what is actually done with the land. There are only surveys for a very small part of Australia. Complicating this issue even further is the variability of Austraila’s climate. We don’t have any way of measuring from year to year how the levels fluctuate. The cost of a comprehensive survey of the country, and of working out the year-to-year levels could be prohibitive. Finally, some techniques used to improve soil carbon uptake can actually increase other greenhouse gases, particularly methane.

The Coalition’s policy does not take any of this into account. It is written with the assumption that these issues are already resolved. That they are not means that the majority of its emission reduction may not be able to take place at all. Even if they do address these problems, the potential expense would cause a huge blow out in the cost.

The policy goes on to state that ERF could also support forestry management, use of waste coal mine gas, green buildings, energy efficiency, better use of landfill, recycling, composting, and alternative fuels. Again, this is predicated upon private enterprise coming up with an idea and approaching the government for money.

Apart from the ERF, the Coalition has a list of projects that it will fund. It has allocated $60m for ‘clean energy hubs’ in the Latrobe Valley, the Hunter region and Central Queensland. There are no details on what is actually meant by this, but there is a note that it will be determined after consultation with local businesses and communities.

$100m per year is set aside for 1 million solar homes by 2020, in the form of an extra $1000 rebate for solar energy/hotwater. This will be capped at a maximum of 100,000 rebates per year.

125 ‘mid-scale’ solar projects in schools and communities will be funded. Through competitive tenders, assessed on which provided the greatest CO2 savings, grants of a maximum of $2m will be given to ‘suitable towns’, to a maximum of 25 grants. 100 projects, capped at a maximum of $500,000 each, will be allocated to schools.

$50 million will be allocated for grants to non-capital cities and towns to undertake pilot, micro and demonstration geothermal or tidal projects, to a maximum of $2m each.

Money will be withheld from the Renewable Energy Target fund for ‘big’ projects. This includes $2m for a study into the feasibility of using underground high voltage DC cables, which would free up land currently taken up by overhead powerlines and reduce lost voltage. $5m is slated for a study into the feasibility of algal synthesis to capture CO2 and production of biofuels.

There will also be support for the planting of 20 million trees in public spaces. At the time of the policy release, a study was underway to identify suitable areas. This proposal is tied to the ‘Green Army’ initiative announced by Abbott in January this year, which suggests that a suitably qualified workforce could be deployed to target areas in environmental crisis (such as sand dune loss and noxious weed infestation). At that time, Abbott invited suggestions from organisations with experience in such things to suggest how this might be done, but as of now the Green Army remains an idea that was floated, but not fleshed out.

The entire policy is expected to cost $3.2b over four years, and will be funded through ‘normal budget processes’.

Boiled down, the majority of the Coalition’s policy expects business, industry, communities and individuals to take the initiative on tackling climate change. Rather than regulate emissions from the top down, it assumes that providing a financial incentive will result in self-regulation from the bottom up. It is very close to classic Conservative policy – the government functions as a bank and gets out of the way of the actual running of business.

Unfortunately, the proposals as set out do not make emissions reductions attractive – either in terms of future profit, or of avoiding penalties. What they rely on, ultimately, is goodwill. If businesses choose to put prioritise profit over the environment, there is nothing anyone can do to prevent them.

Added to that the problems with the soil carbon replenishment idea, and you have potentially zero emissions reduction by 2020.

It’s on

July 17, 2010

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called an election for the House of Representatives and half the Senate for August 21.

The electoral rolls will close at 6pm on Monday July 19. New enrolments will close at 8pm.

The choice of date is rather interesting. The last time an election was held on August 21 was in 1943. At that election, Labor’s John Curtin won a landslide victory – the ALP won 49 seats, the Liberal Party 13, the Country Party 11 and 1 seat went to an Independent candidate. It’s tempting to say that Gillard is hoping to garner a bit of luck, and emulate his success.

Now the ‘fun’ starts … stay tuned for policy analyses and campaign issues. If anyone is aware of any local issues that may affect the campaign, please let me know, and I’ll look into it.

Oh, and just in case no one has figured out the ALP slogan yet? In Gillard’s election announcement and press conference, she said the words ‘moving forward’ or ‘move forward’ 24 times in 30 minutes – along with ‘look forward’, ‘step forward’, ‘go forward’ (twice) and ‘take forward’.

I think we get it, PM.

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