Isabella Batkovic scrutinises the Australian voting psyche and is not surprised by the results.
Australia’s political landscape is currently dominated by secrecy, inaction and confusion. From questionable asylum seeker policies to proposed marriage equality bills, the government seems to be lacking clear-cut direction and transparency. A recent article in The Australian hits the nail on the head with this comment about Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten:
“Thanks to their individual flaws, shortcomings and eccentricities, Abbott and Shorten keep each other afloat. If Labor had a better leader Abbott would be political dead meat by now…Neither leader has been able to gain complete ascendancy over the other, leaving people almost deadlocked on who is better. Or, rather, who is worse.”
The suggestion that there is currently no discernible favourite between these government representatives has led to the rise of ‘hate politics’, a term coined by Paul Scott, Lecturer in the School of Design, Communication and Information Technology in the Faculty of Science and Information Technology at the University of Newcastle.
“Many Australians will vote against a candidate they hate, not in favour of a candidate they like. The preferential system ensures the least disliked candidate gets up,” Mr Scott said.
One of the main disadvantages of the preferential system is that it promotes a two-party system to the detriment of minor parties and independents.
“When there’s a federal election approaching, you’ll hear Australians saying things like, ‘I’d like to vote for (insert minor party or independent) but I hate [insert major party 1], so I will vote for [insert major Party 2],'” Mr. Scott said.
There seems to be a widespread disillusion with the major parties, causing many voters to withdraw from the political scene.
“People are against being forced to vote for leaders or parties they simply don’t like. A 2013 survey by the ANZSOG Institute for Governance at University of Canberra found Australians who say they are anti-politics really means they are anti-party politics,” Mr Scott said.
This mentality of ‘hate politics’ is not something that can be easily rectified, and it is becoming a commonsense way of approaching affairs of the state, particularly among younger generations. An interesting article featured in The Telegraph earlier this year stated the policies that affect young people, such as student loans and employment opportunities, are not reflected in politicians’ priorities.
“If young people’s rights aren’t reflected…many won’t feel inclined to vote…This vicious circle could be stopped if under-25s were encouraged to delve into current affairs, but there’s hardly any emphasis in schools on teaching teens how to engage with the political system.”
Lecturer Paul Scott says ensuring Australians are educated about current voting systems and the privilege that comes with this freedom, is a good start to rectifying the issue of ‘hate politics’.
“I can’t tell you how many students tell me they have already voted but had no idea what they were doing or why they were doing it. That is disturbing. There are people in other parts of the globe prepared to die to express an opinion at the ballot box,” Mr Scott said.
Australian voters need to be reminded that, even though there are two major political parties, our preferential voting system allows us to vote for who we want, even if they’re a minor party. Voters don’t have to waste their vote on who they hate least and this is perhaps best explained in comic form by Patrick Alexander. Another option that may be worth exploring is that of optional preferential voting, wherein voters are required to only express preferences for the candidates they know and wish to vote for.
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