Not worth voting for
This year’s election campaign has cast a cloud of sadness and disillusionment over Australian politics and therefore Australian society. With the final countdown well and truly under way we are left hoping for the best in dire circumstances.
A lot of the events over the last few weeks have looked like crass politics, but why are we so surprised?
Has election time in Australia really always been this dismal? This election will be the first where I will be able to vote officially in Australia. I was in London for the 2007 election and voted at the Australian embassy.
As I lined up outside the embassy, with hundreds of other nationals I was buzzing with excitement. I had a strong sense that my vote was going to make a difference. The Howard years had brought a swag of regressive policies. It made you reluctant to admit you were Australian when abroad. “Kevin 07” brought a promise of a new Australia, a shift into the 21st century.
The Gillard coup was a shock, even with the initial surge of excitement and enthusiasm. Once the honeymoon period was over it was clear that we had inherited a tailored Gillard, with backward policies.
We lurched, in those first few Gillard weeks, into an election, and that’s really when the despair set in.
The lowest point came early in the campaign when Prime Minister Gillard made clear her stance on refugees. Gillard called for an ‘open debate’ on asylum seekers and signalled that she would continue off-shore processing. These comments were clearly a bare-faced attempt to win marginal seats by appealing to populism. Her “dog whistle” announcement condoned racism, fuelled xenophobia and used peoples’ lives for cheap political gain.
Socially progressive policies on education have been missing from both the Labor Party and the Coalition during this campaign. Last week Gillard announced a re-hash of the My School initiative with a ‘reward’ scheme for schools. She then announced an expansion the chaplaincy program in schools. Richard Teese, professor and director of the Centre for Post-Compulsory Education and Lifelong Learning at the University of Melbourne, argued in his article Public Education Being Neglected that ‘The big parties’ vision of public schooling as a broken sector is not worth voting for.’
And this is how we are left feeling about most of the policies being put forward in this campaign. There is little worth voting for.
Perhaps the only exception is the Greens. Their education policy calls for a reduction of government funding for private schools. This policy would see a fairer distribution of funds towards the public schools that really need it. However, the policy caused major division within the Greens themselves.
The Greens have been the only party actually offering policies. Many, like their climate change and refugee policies, are progressive and good – visionary, even. But it’s difficult not to feel some resentment toward them as a result of their blocking of the ETS in the Senate last year. It is certainly true that the policy put forward by Rudd was flawed – but it was something. Now we are left with no policy on climate change and the risk of an Abbott government.
We are privileged in Australia to be able to vote in a fair, safe democratic manner. But this doesn’t mean we should become complacent with the inadequacies of our major parties. Mark Latham’s ‘leave the ballot paper blank’ option should be roundly rejected by voters. They are the comments of a man who is so self obsessed that he, and the media company which employed him, should be condemned. But he has tapped into the despair that many are feeling on the eve of this election.
For many people, this election is not about voting a government in, but about keeping a potentially regressive government out.
An Abbott government will take Australia back far beyond those Howard years it seems we have all too quickly forgotten. Remember where you were when you lined up to cast your vote in 2007 - and what is was you were excited about.
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