By Joe Montero
The fallout from the recent election rorts, which undoubtedly helped the Liberal and National party coalition cling onto government, keeps on coming.
Dishonest advertising and outright lies are not new to Australian politics and elections. What is different, is that this time, they have become more pronounced than usual, and this has aroused more attention
It adds to the already low regard for politicians within the Australian community.
An added element, is a growing realisation that the Commonwealth Electoral Act is itself a part of the problem, allowing dishonest advertising and outright lies. And the Australian Electoral Commission, the body that has the task of applying the act, is powerless to do anything about it.
The third problem is, that the law allows people like Clive Palmer to effectively buy votes, so long as he has enough money to do so. Money has a disproportionate influence.
A fourth is, that the existing preferential system provides more avenues for manipulation and bringing out results, which do not reflect the real voting intention of society. This backs a built-in gerrymander. Together, they help to explain how a party can win with less votes than its opponent.
Finally, there is compulsory voting. Technically it is voting is not compulsory. All that someone on the electoral role is required to do, is to be crossed off the list. A significant number take this as a way out of voting. But most do not and cast a vote, believing that they have to.
The point is, that compulsory voting alienates people and is not a good way to build willing and enthusiastic participation. Voters are more likely to respond with a grudge and vote for that considered the least undesirable, and not based on their real aspirations.
Perhaps this is what best explains the wide gap between the earlier polls and the election result.
This is not the way to build proper participation. If they didn’t believe they had to vote, a large part of Australia would boycott elections. The result would be a more accurate portrayal of what Australia feels.
Put them together, what we have experienced underlines that the much talked about democracy in Australian society is in reality quite limited.
It is hardly surprising then, that more people are calling for a change.
For instance, Ben Oquist the Executive Director of the Australian Institute ha called for an inquiry into how truth in political advertising laws could be implemented in a way that is constitutional and fair. He is not the only one.
This is directly related to the Chinese language material designed to look like officially coming from the Australian Electoral Commission and directed the Chinese community in Kooyong and Chisholm, and creating the impression that unless members of the targeted community gave their first preference to the Liberal Party, their vote may not be registered. the implication is that they would d be fined. In a seat held by just over 1 percent, this is enough to make all the difference.
It turns out that the Australian electoral Commission is powerless to do anything about it.
The Labor Party is now considering legal action.
But this is not all. Clive Palmer spent at least $60 million to tell what can easily be proved to be outright lies, and they were taken up by the Coalition parties. Two of them is that Labor would introduce $1 trillion in new taxes and would impose a ‘death tax’.
Without this and having the ability to manipulate second preferences, the government would not have been returned to office.
Not to be outdone, the liberal Party knowingly misled by adding that Labor was planning a ‘car tax,’ that superannuation and pensions would be hard hit, and that lowering negative gearing provisions would push rents up.
All of these were conscious lies that took attention from any of the real policies of either side, and sidetracking attention from what is important to the trivial.
One doesn’t have to be a Labor supporter to realise that is a lot on the nose. Even worse, is that this higher level underhand behaviour, is set to becoming the normal way to carry put the business of politics, unless it is stopped.
Last year, research at the University of Canberra found that 59 percent of Australians were unsatisfied by the way in which democracy works in Australia. Up from 14 percent in 2007. It is a dramatic rise. One can only speculate on how much further this has risen after the recent election.
If the research by the University of Canberra is right, Australia is headed for a political crisis like what is being seen in other countries. Behind it is the growing sense that the political system we have is not delivering, in terms of jobs, fairness and the environment. Nor is it giving citizens a true voice.
If the political system continues to fail, people will increasingly call for something new.
This loss of faith in the limits of Australian democracy is not a bad thing at all. It provides an opportunity to raise options that can appeal to the community as a whole.
Australia needs a new type of politics. One that does not leave the decision making in the hands of a troika of politicians for sale, corporate money and media monopolies.
Australian citizens must discover how to come together to assert a collective will, transcending merely protesting against what the troika does, to building the means for making decisions and implementation them, through widespread participation from the ground up, and applied at the local, regional, state and national levels.
A new Australian electoral law is worthwhile pursuing. We should also be aware that tinkering a the edges will bring little change. Institutional change is needed too. Without this, the new law will amount to little more than words on paper.
Building a system of Citizens Assemblies open to all, electing their own delegates, participating in meeting the needs of communities, supervision of delivery of public services, and the building of local economies, in line with the needs of communities, and having a sufficient level of autonomy to make a robust and real democracy workable.
This won’t be built overnight. But we can begin the journey today.