The one-quadrant election

So there’s an election campaign going on in Australia. While there are over fifty parties contesting, Australian elections are reduced in the eyes of the media and most of the electorate to a contest between the only two contestants likely to form government: Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party, which swings between centre-left and centre-right on the traditionally unrevealing two-dimensional political axis, and the Liberal/National Coalition, led by Tony Abbott, which swings between centre-a-bit-less-left and centre-a-bit-more-right.

There’s a whole reason that it happens that way, which for now we can leave at “what people are used to”, “what’s in the papers” and “where the money’s at”. While people would probably have a better chance of finding a party that represented their interests if they had more exposure to minor parties like the Greens, the High Speed Rail Party, the Pirate Party or the Sex Party, they also don’t want to waste their vote, which is exactly what a vote for a minor party in a two-horse race feels like. (Of course, preferential voting means it’s actually impossible to “waste your vote” in an Australian election, but many people don’t seem to know that, and less than 3% of us can be bothered to order the hundred-or-so candidates on the senate ballot paper). So despite the plethora of options on the table, we have two-party elections, two-party coverage, two-party polling, two-party debates, two-party campaigns and a two-party parliament, at least in the lower house.

All this should make life pretty easy. To vote, all you have to do is draw up (or think up) a little plane with four quadrants, like this (okay, wordpress isn’t helping me out, but I’m sure you know what it’s meant to look like):

Pros Cons
Labor
Coalition

And then you start to fill it in. After about a minute of brainstorming and quick jotting, mine looks like this:

Pros Cons
Labor Good NBN plans
Pretty decent economic management
Incumbency and unfinished plans
Get to keep some kind of ETS
Narcissistic leader
Can leader work with his team?
Dehumanisation of asylum seekers
Coalition Really generous PPL scheme
Historically decent economic management
Too generous PPL scheme?
Crazy backward leader who wants to turn Australia into the 1950s
Rude, personal attacks on Gillard govt
Incompetent shadow cabinet
Seriously flawed environmental policy
Dehumanisation of asylum seekers
Christopher Pyne

Yours might look different, depending on where you read your news and what you think is important, yours might be in your head, on a piece of paper, spoken out loud and thought about, whatever. But you have a basic knowledge of what the options are, and what voting for each side would mean, good or bad. Then as the campaign goes on you go back to that list, real or virtual, and you think about what’s important, and what’s not, and you add to the list, circle some things, cross others off, whittle it down, get a good feeling about one side or the other, and on September 7 you go in and vote. It’s kind of like buying a fridge, or a house, or whatever newfandangled gadgets people buy these days.

Now here I belatedly get to my point: this election, no-one seems to be doing any of this. This is the plane of a guy I worked with earlier this year:

Pros Cons
Labor Pink Batts Great Big Tax Worst Government Ever Backstabbing Bitch Stimulus Spending What a Waste of Money Mining Tax Doesn’t Work NBN What a Waste of Money Great Big Tax Worst Government Ever 300 Billion Dollars of Debt Can’t Be Trusted Another Boat Every Day Corrupt Incompetent Fools Craig Thompson Eddie Obeid Julia Gillard has Questions to Answer Set Top Boxes What a Waste of Money Worst Government Ever Great Big Tax
Coalition Not Labor

Don’t worry, my Enter key wasn’t stuck, I am trying to be faithful to his verbal diarrhoea. And yes, lots of those things don’t make sense, but leave that aside for a second. But does it sound familiar? You might have heard it from Alan Jones, or the Liberal Party, or the Courier Mail, or the Daily Telegraph, or your cousin (not going to link that one), or any of Rupert Murdoch’s Papers, or Miranda Devine, or a meme on social media, or somewhere else. In fact Media Watch gave us a revealing breakdown on monday night, so if you rely on the Daily Telegraph for your news (like my colleague did, for example) I can guess that your plane looks something like this:

Pros Cons
Labor 3% 55%
Coalition 19% 4%

The thing I don’t get is how happy some people seem to be, beaming about going straight to the polls armed with their one-quadrant-full of information (to be fair, they should by now also know a little about the Coalition’s strengths, if they’ve been keeping up with their Telegraph), ready to kick out the “worst government ever” and replace it with “good Aussie Bloke” Tony. Ask almost any question to these people, and the answer will come from the goldmine that is the “cons of Labor” quadrant. They don’t need to know anything else, they don’t want to know anything else. Labor is bad, end of story.

I think this attitude is stupid. I think it’s irresponsible. I think that every Australian should sit down before they vote and think about the pros and cons of either side, and if they can’t think of any, think why the fuck not? If they can’t put one of Tony Abbott’s real solutions in any box, anywhere, because he hasn’t actually told us what it is yet, they should think why the fuck not?

And speaking of why the fuck not, high speed rail, anyone?

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