Do Aussies Vote Too Often?
So Australia does a lot of things right when it comes to our federal elections. Unlike the United States, our preferential voting system allows citizens to vote for The Greens, independents and other small parties without ‘throwing our vote away’.
Our compulsory voting means that, in theory, politicians must factor in the needs of all the different socio-economic groups in society… Okay, that’s not really true in practice, but at least we don’t need to spend millions of dollars of election resources trying to convince people to actually show up to the polls on Election Day. Our upper-house system is also pretty good. I mean, Ricky Muir did get elected on 0.51% of the primary vote last election, but we’re working on it!
Now the country is in the wake of the first double dissolution election in 33 years, where the entire senate is dissolved and re-elected, which I’m sure will result in an unbelievably long ballot paper.
I was nineteen years old when I voted in the last federal election, and now at the much more jaded age of twenty-two, I don’t really feel like anything has really changed. ‘Well, of course it hasn’t’ I can hear you snort, ‘it’s only been three years, that’s a very short time in the modern political landscape, you can hardly expect a party to strongly influence a staunchly democratic country in three short years’. Wait… Then why are we already voting? It’s true, not much can come out of three years in government; at best you can hope for some skeletal plans for the future, a royal commission or two and a sprinkling of some early-phase implementation. So why the hell are we already voting again?!
Australia’s constitution states that the House of Representatives must dissolve no more than three years after it first meets, meaning that we must have a half-senate and full Lower House election. In other western democracies such as in the United States, federal elections are held every four years; In the UK and Germany, it’s every five years; it’s every six years in Finland and Austria!
Australia has among the shortest federal terms in the world and not only is it really tedious; it’s really hindering our progress as a nation. Here’s why:
Democracy is slow
Unfortunately, no governmental system is perfect. The democratic process is among the fairest but slowest systems in the world, and three years is just not enough time to get anything particularly meaningful accomplished. Much of the first term of an elected government seems to be spent pulling out many of the stitches sewn by the by the previous government, explaining the reasoning behind this action with vague, half-baked, often haphazard plans for the future in an attempt to show the public that the Federal Government is in the process of actually doing something constructive. The thing is, these plans often don’t have enough time to be at all realised before another government has been voted in, dismantled the previous plans and started the cycle again.
It’s not really until the second or third term where significant, thoughtful changes to the country can actually be made. Politicians are acutely aware of the limited time that they have before they could lose their jobs again, especially around a first-term election. This can subsequently lead to rushed-out legislature that hasn’t been subjected to the same level of scrutiny that may have been given if they had more time to prepare.
With such short election terms, governments become wary of polls very early on in their elected term, which leads to purely-populist driven decisions in both legislature and internal party structure. This gave rise to the incredible series of events that resulted in our country having five Prime Ministers in five years from 2010-2015. FIVE!!! Austria didn’t even have a single presidential election in that time.
The most recent casualty of this extraordinary statistic was Tony Abbot, who, after a few days short of two years in office (two years being the minimum amount of time needed to receive the Prime Ministerial pension - soz Tony) fell victim to a Liberal Party coup where crowd favourite Malcolm Turnbull emerged victorious. When questioned about why the Liberal party were willing to give up their Prime Minister and subsequent moral high ground that they’d claimed following the tumultuous ‘Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years’, Malcolm Turnbull pretty much responded that he believed the Liberal Party needed a better salesperson. Basically, they needed a more popular face in wake of the upcoming election.
How can we expect any party to build a cohesive, stable government when politicians are already fighting to keep their jobs before they’ve even had the chance to achieve anything meaningful?
Costs and Productivity
Elections are an expensive process. The Australian Electoral Commission pitched the last election at almost $200 million and this year being longest campaign period in history as well as a double dissolution, that number is sure to blow out much further.
This money does not include the massive loss of productivity during the campaigning process. Our short election periods and long campaigns mean that politicians spend much less time actually doing their job and more time convincing us that we should let them keep doing their job.
So with Australia’s plan to have a referendum on Gay Marriage over the next couple of years, I propose that we also vote for a total overhaul of our political system. Let’s have 5 year federal terms like many comparable Western Democracies do. Although it’s seems somewhat counter intuitive to have yet another vote on how often we should vote, a longer federal term will mean less money and time spent on elections, scrounging votes, scouring polls and endless party coups.
Let’s leave our elected representatives for a couple more years and let them do what we elected them to do - govern the damn country.