Why swinging voters need to keep politicians accountable

Sometime in the next 14 months, Australians will elect their next federal government. So, it’s a good time to begin discussing Australian politics, and what’s important to Australian voters, especially swinging voters.

ABC’s Vote compass at the last election, estimated two thirds of Australians associate themselves with a political party. Of those, there may be many who would be surprised to find their values don’t match up with the politicians they support.

While I now see myself firmly perched on the left of politics, I used to be a hard-core Liberal voter (don’t hold it against me!). That changed for me around my mid-30’s, when I realised Liberal in Australia didn’t actually mean, liberal. So, I began to look deeper into the policies and values of the major parties.

Now, you’d think a party’s website would be the best place to find their policies and what they represent. But I found that while many major Australian parties provide vague information they lack substantive detail. Plus little effort is given to addressing issues that interest the voter.

And that bugs me, because how I am meant to make an informed decision on a fluffy sales pitch?

Instead, we’re forced to filter our perception of the parties and their policies through junked-up media. And like faithful puppy dogs catch those how-to-vote cards on election day and obey our masters.

The next Australian election

On or before May 18, 2019, Australians will head to the polls to decide who will be in charge of our country going into the next decade. Although, technically we don’t get to elect the leader of our nation, just his or her party.

Australian polling booth banner
Australian’s heading to the polls again soon. © Nils Versemann | Dreamstime.com

Picking the next Prime Minister happens at the party level. When that party doesn’t fully support their leader, our Prime Minister can change overnight, when someone else decides they want to wear the shoes and have the party numbers.

At the moment, with just over a year to go, it looks like our next Prime Minister will either be Malcolm Turnbull (again) or the current leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten. Former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott appears to still think he has a chance to lead the Liberals (god forbid).

When an Australian election is called, there’s usually at least six weeks before voters head to the voting booths. During that time, politicians parade themselves around like peacocks prothletising their agenda. Yet last week, without a formal election announcement, Labor started announcing their policies.

What party policies?

With just days to go before the Batman by-election, Labor announced their intent to rescind the ability for people with no tax liability to claim imputation credits as refunds.

Here’s the announcement:

It was surprising to hear Labor announce a federal policy so far out from the next election (whenever that may be). With Batman predicted to be a tight race between Labor and the Greens, it was a gutsy move. And it paid off.

However, go to the Australian Labor Party (ALP) website and there’s not even a mention of it on their campaign page. So, if you want to know the nitty gritty details you have to rely on this video or sift through biased media.

This black hole of policy communication is a consistent flaw across all parties, even at election time. Either they’re :

  • Too lazy.
  • Lack the resources to publish every policy.
  • Don’t want people to know the finer details and may not know themselves.
  • Want to have the opportunity to amend policies that aren’t favourable.
  • Making polices up on the fly to appease voters.

But perhaps, the lack of transparency reveals a deeper agenda. In the recent Tasmanian state election, the Tasmania’s Liberal Party withheld hundreds of policies from the public. Returned to power, they claim a mandate to act on all their policies, not just those released on their website.

Swinging voters create governments

Swinging voters and new voters create governments. The power of their vote topples one party and replaces it with another. When there’s no policies to direct the decision making, previous performance, party dogma, popularity and fear rule the day at the election booth.

And how does all this information about the parties come to be in our heads? Through:

  • Targeted advertising crafted with data mining and paid for by political and lobbying groups,
  • News and commentary published by biased media organisations.
  • Our education systems which still echo sentiments of last century’s White Australia policy.

On polling day as we take our democratic walk towards the election booths, placards and how-to-vote cards thrust into our hands paint our elections as little more than popularity contests.

Party volunteers hope to change the minds of swinging voters
Outside a country polling station in Mossman. Party volunteers wait for voters with placards and how to vote cards. © Filedimage | Dreamstime.com

The rise of the informal vote is indicative of swinging voters and first-time voters whose minds remain undecided in that final second. Either swinging voters must choose to number the ballot paper to select a winner, or show their distaste for politics by choosing no one.

At the very least a swinging voter might give their vote to a party with a name that resonates with their own values.

Misleading party names and missing choices

If you choose a party by its name, you may as well close your eyes and play a game of pinfinger.

One of the reasons I voted Liberal for many years was due to my ignorance that the Liberal Party stood for freedom, progress and reform. But in this topsy turvy land of Oz it is the opposite. A more fitting name for the Liberal Party would be Conservatives or Protectors of the Past.

And what about the Greens? Could a political party name be more damaging to their ability to persuade and collect votes? While it adequately represents their passion to protect the environment, it also paints an image of radical hippies who will stop at nothing to enact reform.

Surprisingly, the Green’s website presents a superior pitch for general policies than either the ALP or Liberal Party. However on election day their representation disappoints. How can you elect a local Green representative to the lower house when your ballot paper draws a blank?

Senate ballot box and voter
Australian voter pushing Senate ballot into the ballot box.

And so, swinging voters give off mixed signals. They may vote one way for the House of Representatives and another for the Senate. Both the Greens and Democrats due to their failure to attract candidates for both houses, have encouraged voters to split their endorsement as a way of keeping the government honest.

Transparency in government begins with party platforms, policies and campaigns. Those that hide their true agenda behind misdirection have no legitimate standing to claim a mandate. Knowing who and what you’re voting for is a right not a privilege.

Political parties target swinging voters

Over the next fourteen months, the parties will unveil more policies and campaigns targeted toward swinging voters and our youth. While announcements may provide some information on policy formation, integrity and trust comes with publishing policy details.

If you’re like me and a swinging voter, you’ll be interested in what the different parties and independents offer and how that relates and measures up to your concerns and interests.

Rather than being persuaded by biased news stories, memes and targeted social media advertising, let’s take a closer look at what the politicians write about their policies and campaigns. And when it’s non existent keep our politicians honest by asking for the information.

People who tick the same boxes on election day never push for change. It’s those of us who weigh up the policies and campaigns that have the power to create and topple governments.

Join the discussion

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.