When Prime Minister Abbott says things like “Australians have made it clear by their vote, they want us to carry out our promised policies” in referring to the Coalition’s plan to scrap Labor’s carbon tax, I want to point out a few key things to Australians and to our politicians:
1. When Australians turn 18, they are given the opportunity to enrol to vote. If they do not enrol, they are not able to vote and they won’t be penalised. As soon as they do enrol, they cannot un-enrol, and they must participate and vote in each election, or suffer a $72.00 fine. We are one of only 10 countries in the world who enforce these rules. In 2013, approximately 14.7 million were enrolled to vote – about 93% of whom ended up voting in the Sept 13 elections. A record 3.5 million people chose to vote in the week leading up to the official election day. 400k people between 18 and 24 didn’t enrol in time to get a say. Perhaps they were all taking a GAP year…
2. Our voting system requires us to choose a preference for every single party running in the election. This means we cannot NOT vote for a party, or our vote will be marked as invalid. This, combined with the 2 party preferred vote means that at some point, the full value of our vote goes to one of two major parties who have been in control of our government for a century: Labor or Liberal. In some ways this is great as it means you can still vote for a minor party, while having just as much of a say in the major party that is likely to run the country – however, the general feeling among many Australians in the lead up to the elections, was that they didn’t really like or trust either major party…but they didn’t really feel they had a choice.
3. It was obvious that the Australian public punished (and rightly so), the Labor government for their severe internal leadership struggles (regardless of all their achievements). They made their voices heard by doing what they could to show their concern and disgust: changing the number on that all-important piece of green paper. This resulted in a clear swing toward the Liberal party, and a much higher than average trend toward voting for minor parties or independents. But…does that behaviour (driven I’d say, more by Australian’s NOT wanting Labor vs. WANTING Liberal), really provide the Abbott government with the support of the Australian people for ALL its policies?
4. Let’s look at it another way. Only 70% (75% if you assume 7% didn’t turn up) of the 14.7 million Australians who voted, or 64% of the 16 million Australians eligible to vote – used their primary vote for Labor or Liberals. And the split was:
- 4,803,862 primary votes to Labor (approx 35% of total voters)
- 5,445,378 primary votes to Liberal (approx 40% of total voters)
That means, across Australia, a total difference of 641,516 chose to vote for one major party instead of the other. That’s not even the quarter of the population of Melbourne.
Now, I am not saying this to suggest Liberals didn’t win fair and square – what I am pointing out is that in governing a country, you have to remember that you represent ALL Australians, and sure, in the two party preferred system, 53% of the country voted for them…but 46.82% did not. And therein lies the challenge of governance. In a simple game of footy, we’d see that as a win – done deal, game over. But that’s not how it works when you’re managing an entire country!
Remember also, the government represents a further 6.68 million Australians who make up the remaining 29% of our population.
Then add to this the fact that regardless of the party you vote for, individuals will have differing views on the range of the policy stances taken by the party and these change over time. For instance ABC’s poll of over 1 million Australian’s revealed that 61% of Aussies actually think the government should be doing MORE for the environment – not less. And on the carbon tax, in July this year a new poll revealed 62% of Aussie’s wanted to KEEP the tax.
So here’s a major dilemma: the new Government based their election campaign around opinions from 12 months ago. How did this shift in perception happen? Fear drives negative opinions before legislation is enforced while people think a tax on polluters will mean a direct hit to their hip pocket. But once legislation is implemented and people realise they’re not out of the streets and homeless as a result, the care-factor goes down a notch. So now Liberal Party’s key policy…is not so “key” for the Australian people anymore.
Now, let’s forget about any argument on whether or not climate change is, or is not real – I mean, I wouldn’t recommend calling this out as a point to Mr Abbott given that in 2009, he was quoted as saying he thought Climate Change was quote, “absolute crap” (interesting that Mr Abbott doesn’t seem to require the same level of proof of the existence of God but that is a matter for another time!).
So instead, to help Mr Abbott out, let’s look at some influencing factors that are a little more concrete and immediate:
- Defense and International Security
- International Relations
You are forgiven for thinking – huh? What does the Australian Defense Force have to do with any of this? The ABC reported that Australia’s national Security Strategy sees climate change as a key challenge, and a May 2013 Australia Defense force white paper found global energy, food and water resources were under pressure from population growth, rising affluence and climate change. Research shows that unexpected flooding or heat as a result of climate change has been proven to exacerbate civil unrest. So, is Tony Abbott really going to ignore the advice of Climate scientists AND our national defense force? It seems like a rather illogical position to take.
On the International Relations side of things, we’re headed for more hot water. After agreement to renewable energy targets and a 5% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, the new government is set to roll back on those commitments. Climate Change is an international issue, not just a national one. Our cooperation with peers in the Asia Pacific region, as well as leadership amongst other OECD countries is crucial to how we are seen on the world stage – affecting a raft of economic factors, including investment.
A new report ranks Australia 16th out of 19 countries on a scale of preparation for a low-carbon world. The only countries below us? India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. With the second being a country that is barely able to hold democratic elections and the third being the ONLY country in the world that still doesn’t allow women to vote, we’re not exactly in good political company.
As Australia prepares to take its position as President of the UN Security Council in December 2014, we risk significant damage to our international reputation, as our peers leap ahead of us in their dedication to maintaining a safe future for humanity. Again – regardless of any personal belief in climate change – Australia does not, and cannot live in a silo when it comes to this issue. When international politicians and media leaders are calling our new Prime Minister a “Gaffe prone conservative” (LA Times), and a “bigoted air-head” (British MP), Tony Abbott needs to be more mindful than ever of the perception he casts to the rest of the world on Australia’s behalf.
But how could Abbott “save face” if he were to consider an about turn, when scrapping the carbon tax was the centerpiece of the Liberal Party’s campaign? ABC’s latest poll on what people thought should be Abbott’s main priorites in the first 100 days as Prime Minister clearly show this psychological gap – where Environment is just as big an issue on the minds of Australian people as the Carbon tax brought in to protect it.
So what we’ve established is that the scrap carbon tax policy doesn’t represent the majority of Australian’s views, the majority of scientist views, the views of the Australian defense force nor the views of international country leaders, and certainly not the views of the millions of Australian children who couldn’t vote, but will be the people that will have to deal with any fall out if the effects of carbon pollution do come to pass. So it seems while leading a majority government, Mr Abbott’ party stance is in fact in the minority on a variety of fronts.
How does Tony escape this dilemma and keep projecting his image as strong leader which was carefully crafted throughout the 2013 election campaign?
Perhaps he doesn’t. Perhaps he attempts to push the Carbon Tax repeal through, he succeeds, and then only with the benefit of hindsight will the consequences be fully appreciated: because if we accept the information so far, then we can only assume this action is being taken and acted upon outside of the true spirit of democracy.
All I hope for, is that Australian leaders realise (whichever major party is in power) that our ballot cards only allow us to vote for leadership, not each policy, that community opinions change faster than governments can take action, and that NO party, can say that they have been “bestowed” the right to implement their policies and carry out the views of all Australians simply because 24%* of the total Australian population actually popped them as the number 1 preference on their vote card.
*Calculated as: 22,680,000 / 5,445,378 (Total AU population / Total primary votes for Liberal)
- What next for Australia’s climate policy? (theconversation.com)
- Australia: Abbott government begins process to repeal carbon tax (au.news.yahoo.com)
- Australian gov’t faces carbon tax backlash at poll (kansascity.com)
- Comment: Parochial Australia needs to take its blinkers off (sbs.com.au)
- Let Abbott scrap carbon tax: Labor MP (sbs.com.au)
- Labor MP to let Abbott repeal carbon tax (bigpondnews.com)
- Abbott government begins process to repeal carbon tax; says pressure on Labor to ‘honour’ mandate (abc.net.au)
- Tony Abbott’s carbon price referendum was a flop | Alexander White (theguardian.com)
- Australia: Carbon tax fight takes shape (au.news.yahoo.com)
- Australia’s new gov’t vows to scrap carbon tax (news.yahoo.com)