If our recent political debacle lends itself to analysis beyond Australia’s political choices being pretty dire, it may as well be two pet theories of mine. The first is pretty simple and goes like this: it isn’t enough to diss the other guy. You have to have policies, principles, and, above all, a plan for the future if you want to be elected.
The second is, Australia’s parliamentary system and our two primary parties are so utterly combative that it prevents us getting anything done.
I started hypothesising this around January and I’m a little depressed that it was proven this quickly.
I figure these two theories are argued for by the fact that Australia pretty much couldn’t be bothered to elect either party. And I do believe that’s what it was. People weren’t really torn between who to vote for. Everyone I talked to was either sticking with a party they’d always stuck to because they’d always stuck to them, or didn’t know who to vote for. Or were so mad they were handing in informal votes, which I personally gave real consideration to. Then there was the Greens vote, which I think is a protest vote as much as a ‘greenslide’, no matter how much I wish otherwise. But back to my theories.
The first issue
Voting for a major political party was pretty much irrelevant, as there was basically nothing to pick between the two of them. Certainly, rusted-on voters would argue that there are big differences between the two major political parties, and, for what it’s worth, I agree. But you wouldn’t have been able to tell from the political campaigns.
What was there to pick between? Julia’s mining tax and the spectre of WorkChoices? A vague one-day cap and trade system for carbon and water flows for the Murray Darling? Scratch that last one, I can’t remember who proposed it – which may lend itself to my point. If I don’t know – or can’t remember – what you’re campaigning on, why would I bother to vote for you?
Backbiting, stabbing, crawling scratching and hair pulling: I never thought the days of Paul Keating would look tame, but suddenly Parliament seems more like a schoolyard. And more to the point, Gruen Nation informed me that over eighty percent of all campaign ads were negative. So each party had way more to say about why the other was bad rather than why they were awesome.
When politicians are not out in public stroking their own egos, I feel it’s safe to say we have a problem. No-one can stroke themselves without at least a nominal reason, and it seems no-one had one. The next economic stimulus can be all the counselling our MPs are going to need while they recover from the lack of public validation they need to get by.
Here’s an argument for either theory: informal votes. According to the AEC, the swing to the Coalition was 2.28%. But more than 5% of the electorate submitted informal votes. Yes, the number of people who botched their ballots, deliberately or not, was more than double the swing. That’s not a mandate for power, that’s people throwing up their hands. That’s no-one wanting any of the options. That’s picking Option D: none of the above.
More seriously, why did we just have the election we did? Why did we have an election decided on negativity, on not-being Kevin Rudd, on mistakes, not progress? Well. We did it because Kevin Rudd was deposed. He was deposed because of the ETS. More specifically, because he couldn’t get it passed and didn’t have the nerve to go to a double dissolution – which, apparently, he should have, because he would have come out looking a lot braver than anyone is right now. The ETS didn’t pass because Tony Abbott refused to let it pass, and Tony Abbott didn’t let it pass, because he was elected (by one vote, goddamit) leader of his party, deposing Malcolm Turnbull, who was trying to actually do the bipartisan politics thing for once.
Suddenly, we’re back to combative politics. And look, no-one’s getting anything done.
Now, I realise it may be shortsighted of me, but my desired response to most political combats – whether it be the American Democrats versus the Republicans, the Israelis versus the Palestinians, or the backyard waterpolo match that is our own political system – is to bang their heads together and send them to their rooms without supper until they can behave. I have a strong feeling that if everyone was ignored when they misbehaved, they’d start acting like adults, or at least sulky teenagers forced to apologise.
And every time I see Question Time, every time I hear Tony criticise Julia’s policies, or Julia laugh and brush over Tony’s, that’s what I want to do. Send everyone to their rooms until they can behave, and stop lending their bad behaviour the validation it in no way deserves.
Maybe then we’d get something done. And we’d have politicians worth voting for.