The federal election has been a fizzer, and the lack of direction from each major party has many reaching for a third option. But are we just throwing our vote away?
It wasn’t too long ago that I was excited about this election. I was excited because on paper, it was tantalising. I was convinced that we would see Malcolm Turnbull pull back the curtain in a Copperfieldesque reveal, proudly proclaiming that he was still the same middle ground small “l” Liberal that we had placed our (forced – Ed) faith in. He would face us and tell us a delightfully engaging tale of how he pulled the wool over the eyes of the far right within his party; expertly manipulating them with promises of a continuation of the Abbott agenda, whilst quietly preparing to come out of the conservative closet when it was too late for them to slay the king. A tale worthy of George R. R. Martin’s pen.
But. He didn’t.
Maybe just like a Game of Thrones episode, the evil plotters we hoped him to be playing, had been playing him all along. Or maybe he was playing us. Either way, apart from extreme disappointment, the primary result is a lacklustre budget and an even more lacklustre election campaign. Turnbull has truly become Tony Abbott in a better suit (and with fewer vacant stares into news cameras). And Shorten, whilst more impressive than most of us would have expected, has been playing the slow, albeit smart, and boring game. I don’t know about you, but it has me asking, “Is that all there is?”.
But, there is a third player in this game. Well, not just one but a group of them. They are the Foodland/IGA of the political sphere and they are threatening to loudly pinch some shoppers come July 2nd.
The Independents and minor parties are a polarising force. In recent times, we have seen them become king makers as their support literally became the linchpin for victory. We have also seen them become the obstructionists, preventing the majors from passing legislation (rightly or wrongly). This time around, their popularity is reaching an all-time high, in some cases even suggesting that they might be looking to move from understudy to top billing.
The big question? Could this actually be a good thing?
Independents/minor parties tend to gather votes for three primary reasons. The first is that they focus on a specific issue (particularly when that issue isn’t high on the priority list of the majors). The second, particularly in rural areas, is that they are local. They are a contributor to their local community, which generates far more loyalty than a party ever could – particularly when they can focus on the constituents over the party line. The final, and perhaps the most telling in this election, is that they simply aren’t the majors. The past decade or so has shown that the will of the party outweighs the will of the people, and it’s left a very bitter taste in the mouths of many, leaving them willing to vote for anyone who is not Labor or Liberal.
The single-issue-focused category can be the most troublesome. Whether it’s Pauline Hanson, with her xenophobic platform; Jacqui Lambie, with her belief that reintroducing conscription will solve every problem this country has; or Ricky Muir from the Motoring Enthusiast Party, somehow ending up in the Senate off the back of a record low 0.51 percent primary vote; they do represent a genuine cause for concern. Not because their issues don’t warrant attention (although…in some cases…) but because their issues in some cases represent such a small portion of the population that it’s hardly democratic that they become one vote out of 76 on some of the most important decisions in the land.
That being said, in many ways, their candidacy or election is a far closer representation of democracy than the majors despite the glaring mathematical representative imbalance that results from the murky world of preferences. A truly representative government is one that is made up of members from all walks of life with varying experience, beliefs, and passions. The majors, by definition, are the antithesis of this. Whilst the various MP’s, Senators and Members from a party may represent a wide range of different people, the entire concept is based around a unified platform. In other words, check your personal beliefs at the door.
The Ricky Muirs of the world may not understand all of the issues over which they have a disproportionate level of influence, but there is very little to suggest that an MP or Senator from a major party does either. And even if they do, their understanding, or at least empathy, means nought if that understanding or empathy plays second fiddle to orders from above.
Then you have those that start out with a narrow issue(s) based focus, who end up with enough like-minded support to form a party. Nick Xenophon secured his place in Canberra folklore with a passionate campaign against the societal and economic damage of pokie machines. As time went on, he took on a Quixotic persona, tilting at one windmill after another and surprising us all when some windmills did indeed turn out to be giants. Whether you love him or hate him, amidst his stunts he achieved much good against the odds. Good that could never be achieved within the constructs of a major party.
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This time around, he’s formed his own party with other like-minded aspirants. This fresh-faced party is garnering support at an impressive rate, threatening to take out the Liberal Sergeant at Arms, Christopher Pyne, in one of the safest seats in the country. Whilst some of that support is certainly based on their approach or policy base, a significant portion of it is because people are desperately looking for a viable third option. We need a third option, and a fourth and a fifth. We know the dangers of a duopoly in the private sector; those dangers are significantly amplified in the public sector.
The next stage up the evolutionary chain is possibly the most divisive party of all, The Greens. The Greens also started with a narrow issue(s) based focus – championing environmental causes at a time when absolutely no-one in power was listening. Over the years, their focus has expanded to encompass a wide range of social issues, with a platform contrary to that of the majors, which put the people and the planet ahead of the economy. In recent times, they are reaching for the next stage of development under the leadership of Richard Di Natale, who is managing to effectively champion social and environmental issues as well as economic issues. Unlike the majors, The Greens at the very least appear to understand that social, environmental and economic strategy are not mutually exclusive – they are actually symbiotic and cannot survive without each other.
When we strip away the idealism, however, we are left with the pragmatic. Having a more democratic representation may be what we want, or even deserve, but in realistic terms, will a vote for the fringe operators achieve anything? If Team Xenophon achieve the unthinkable feat of winning a couple of seats in the lower house, will they have any influence whatsoever in a sea of red and blue? Will more Greens in the lower house mean that their policy platform gains any more practical traction than it already has? As much as a vote for an Independent or minor party may feel like the conscience vote for us as individuals, does it really amount to anything other than a donkey vote?
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Most people in my generation or below would be the first to tell you that our political system needs a pretty serious reboot. Short of a revolution, that reboot can only happen incrementally. Whilst a vote for someone other than the majors may not directly result in the policies they stand for coming to fruition, it’s one step closer to a more inclusive system – not to mention sends a very loud message to the major parties which will hopefully prompt a little self-reflection. We may not feel the benefits of a vote in their direction after this election, or after the next – but they will be felt eventually. If we truly want more viable options at the ballot box, we have to support the alternative options that speak to us now, one vote at a time.