Oct 242011

Amusement abounds today. Followed closely by concern for the future of Australian democracy.

Selective polling of voters in the electorates of Lyne & New England – the seats of Independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, respectively – has apparently revealed that voters in those seats don’t like the choices they made 14 months ago in electing both men as their democratic representatives. One might ask, whose fault is that? Bleeding obvious aside, and the questions asked by Newspoll disregarded, I have to say such polling proves nothing in the grand scheme. The voters made their democratic choices and for the next two years they must live with those choices. Let’s look at the polling distribution for both seats, courtesy of the Australian Electoral Commission. Forget Newspoll as the results of their so-called random poll are not definitive.
In August last year, for Lyne, Oakeshott won the seat with a 47.15% primary vote. Two Party Preferred (TPP) he attained 62.73% of the vote. His nearest opponent, David Gillespie for the Nationals, achieved less than half of that at 37.27%. In terms of the two major parties, ALP lost 3.65% while coalition parties picked up that loss. Take note of that swing. The electorate’s choices were Oakeshott, Labor, Nationals, another independent and the Greens. They chose an Independent candidate. Why? Obviously there wasn’t the trust or expectation that others would look after the better interests of the majority.
In the seat of New England, Tony Windsor’s primary vote was a staggering 61.88%. TPP was 74.41%. He faced five other candidates, the closest of which was the National’s candidate who polled 28.48%. Labor lost 1.96% of the vote, that going to coalition parties. Again, take note of that swing. Clearly, the electorate choice was for candidates they believed would act in their better interests. Not pander to fluctuating popular opinion, but act in their better interests. There is a radical difference which seemingly, few Australians are actually able to grasp. The News poll questions themselves are, at best, disingenuous.

If a federal election for the House of Representatives were held today, which one of the following would you vote for?
Are you personally in favour or against the federal government’s plan to put a price on carbon, which was passed by the house of representatives in early October?
Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way Rob Oakeshott / Tony Windsor is doing his job as the local member of parliament for Lyne / New England?
Would you say you support or not support Rob Oakeshott’s / Tony Windsor’s decision to help federal Labor form a minority government?
Two-Party Preferred Question:
“In a federal election for the house of representatives you would be required to allocate preferences to every candidate on the ballot paper ranking them from your highest preference to your lowest preference. When you rank them, do you think you would give a higher preference to Oakeshott/Windsor or the Nationals?”

The first two questions presume that (a) the electorate knows in advance what the political climate will be in 2 years time, (b) that the current status quo, re: the electorate’s better interests would be served by someone other than the incumbent, even though 14 months ago that wasn’t the case, and (c) those being polled actually understand what an elected representative’s job is. False dichotomies. No-one can foresee the future and in fairness, few Australians actually engage with the democratic process or understand why we elect
representatives to act in our better interests. It should be said that on issues such as the pricing of carbon, government has failed to adequately take the people into its confidence and properly explain the purpose and impact of doing so. Equally, the opposition’s relentless campaign of fear & loathing based on the flimsiest of rationales and a disrespect for the democratic process has, somehow, managed to register with a politically disconnected populace. One might describe that populace as willing to accept information, whatever it is or however it comes, as long as it’s easy to absorb. The science of climate change is not easy to absorb, unless one makes the effort. My experience with the nay-sayers is one of a blatant unwillingness to read the science, let alone understand or absorb. Therefore it can be said that the nay-sayer cohort are open and primed to accept any information which doesn’t require them to think too hard. The application of fear & loathing fits that bill perfectly.
However, I digress. Every elected representative has an obligation to (a) act in the better interests of his/her constituents as a whole, and (b) ensure that in acting on behalf of his/her constituents, he/she also acts in accordance with the over-arching national interest. Standing for public office is not a popularity contest, or at least, it ought not to be. Sadly, far too many people with the power of the vote look at that power in exactly that light. Far too many registered voters in this country look at voting as a chore. Something to be tolerated once every three years in the Federal sense, where they walk in, have their name crossed off and vote in accordance with the How-To-Vote card shoved into their hands by the party functionary of their choice at the gate. Electing someone to represent you, and your better interests is much, much more than that and deserves both more consideration and a greater level of respect.
What Oakeshott and Windsor do, and I strongly suspect a greater majority of elected representatives on the whole as well, is use their elected representation to further the better interests of their constituents. Whether that furtherment be in line with respective party dogma or not is immaterial. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s irrelevant. Something else that very few Australians with the power of the vote appreciate. We are not all driven by dogma, although it is evident that few seem to be driven by a sense of reality or purpose. Most voters vote for their own individual interest. The WIIFM principal. What’s In It For Me. That’s not what democracy is all about and therein, in my estimation, lies the flaw in our democratic system. Not in the representatives themselves because I believe they know what they’re standing for and how they are expected to carry out their obligations. The flaw lies with the voters in not having that same understanding. It is this ignorance which political parties play upon in their campaigning. That’s why the coalition campaign of negativity enforced by a bitterness and disappointment I’ve never seen in my 36 years as a registered voter, has worked so well for them. The coalition parties are playing to the base common denominator. WIIFM.That isn’t democracy, that’s anarchy.
I say this to the voters of Lyne and New England, and also as an aside to the media influences continuing to peddle anti-government and yes, anti-democratic sentiment. We are all a part of the democratic process. That process works, as evidenced by a functional government and responsible executive successfully presenting and passing over 200 pieces of legislation in the past 14 months. Whether you individually or collectively agree or disagree with what government does or how it functions, the fact remains that you elected the constituent parts which put it into place. Government exists today because of the Constitution which governs its operations. We have a minority government because insufficient voters opted to elect a convincing majority in the required number of seats. The Parliament wound up being ‘hung’, it’s fate to be decided by non-aligned elected representatives who, Andrew Wilkie not withstanding, received overwhelming voter support from their electorates. Evidence the swing percentages alluded to above. That’s our Constitution at work, like it or lump it.
In Lyne and New England, there was little or no support for the major parties, yet here we see media telling as that in the space of 14 months, this has completely turned around? I don’t believe it. Whatever the case, we’ll see the true facts of the matter in 2 years time when the next democratic election is to be held. At that point, and only at that point, is there any credence to be placed into what voters who last time over-whelming ignored the major parties, may think of their incumbents.