Saturday, June 26, 2010

Democracy - we haz it

Ok, so Australian politics has had a wee bump this week. A fairly historic one, all things considered. Poor old Kev is the first Labor PM not to make a full term, and Julia is our first female PM. [Warning: what follows is probably utterly uninteresting to non-Australians.]

So what are we hearing in the pubs, at the water cooler (does anyone actually have conversations at water coolers?), and at the school gate? Great angst about how this isn't democratic. About how we didn't vote for Julia. Well, no, I didn't. I voted Green. And then I gave my preference to Anthony Albanese, on account of he's my local member. If you don't live in K.Rudd's electorate, you didn't vote for him either.

Does no-one in this country know how our electoral system works? (Ok, almost everyone I know on Twitter does, but the media doesn't seem to be listening to them.) A brief reminder, in case you were wondering:

We vote in local representatives. We have an awesome electoral system involving preferences which really allows you to express your opinion. I'll get to that later. So my local rep is Anthony Albanese. That's who I voted for (after preferences). That's who my electorate elected. Your electorate chose someone else. (And kudos to you if you live in Maxine McKew's electorate, you rock!) When all those MPs, elected by their local constituents get together, they form a government based on how many from any given party got elected. Once that government is formed, that party elects a PM. They are free to change that election at any time. Really. No-one votes for a PM in this country. If you wanted to vote for a figurehead, you should have voted "Yes" in the referendum for a republic.

So this has been entirely democratic. And if you re saying, "But factional leaders shouldn't be determining who is our PM", well, who else should be? In this case, Labor Right have pushed for a Left candidate, and the unions have supported her. I can't imagine a better example of party-wide support. And I ask you, was there something that made the ousting of Turnbull in favour of Abbott more democratic than this?

So back to how to vote given that we understand how our PM is chosen (NOT elected). We have one of the world's best electoral systems. When you come to vote, you choose who you really want to represent you. But we live in the real world. If you want a minor party candidate to represent you, you probably aren't going to get that. Therefore, you can make a second choice, and a third an so on, until you vote for someone who gets down to the last 2 in the race for your seat. In the senate, it works much the same way, but there are a number of seats available per state, rather than one per electorate. So how does this work? You make your first choice, the person you really want to represent you. If that person doesn't make it to the final 2, your vote gets re-allocated to your second choice. However, your primary vote is registered, and the electoral commission allocates funding to parties based on their primary votes. So it is worth voting for the party you want to see stronger, even if you know they have no chance of being elected this time.

If, however, you don't exercise your right to allocate all your own preferences (by not numbering all the boxes in the lower house, or voting above the line in the upper house), you give your preferences over to the party you voted for. In other words, if you voted for a Labor candidate who couldn't win, your vote will be cast based on that Labor candidates preferences. If you are thinking this is no big deal, I have two words for you: Steve Fielding. He got elected as a result of a preference deal. If no-one had voted above the line in the Senate, he would never have been a senator.

So I say to you: Who did you vote for? If it was Labor (before or after preferences), who is your representative? If you really think they've chosen the wrong leader, take it up with them. But in the end, you cast your vote to entrust them to choose our PM. You did NOT vote for the PM.

For mine, Julia Gillard is the best leader Labor has to offer. Kevin Rudd was an order of magnitude better than Howard, and Australia will forever be in his debt for ousting Little Johnny. (A tribute post to him is in the making.) But please, when judging the options available to us, consider who will make the better leader - the red-head with the bogan accent or the mad monk? How she came to power is so much less important than how well she will lead her party and our country. I think she'll be shit hot.

And in the end, you are voting for a local rep, not a PM.


  1. Great post -- I love our electoral system too, and I hate that so many people don't know how it works. In fact, a lot of those people are willfully ignorant -- they don't WANT to know. :/

    I have one minor nitpick though:
    If you wanted to vote for a figurehead, you should have voted "Yes" in the referendum for a republic.
    The model for a Republic that we voted for in 2000 was actually one where the President would have been appointed by a 2/3 majority of parliament. While I personally would have been happy with this model and voted yes, I know a lot of people who voted no because they wanted a directly elected President.

  2. Where's the like button? :-)

  3. Good point Beppie. Shows how much I care about an elected representative. I voted "yes" in that referendum too. :)