Nothing combines banality and malice, opportunity and hope quite like an Australian election campaign. The hours are running down on the febrile shambles of doorknocks and phone banks, polls and press conferences, doorstops, stunts and scandals. And here we all are, pencils poised — at least those of us who didn’t already get it over with at prepoll — to pronounce judgement on six years of Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison.
First published at Junkee
Also Joyce, Dutton, Christensen and Abetz, and that guy from the Nationals that nobody can ever remember the name of. And Hockey, and Brandis, and Hanson — I think I just threw up a little in my mouth — please can we bring the hammer down on this hot mess once and for all?
Unless you’re a narc lurking on Junkee for undisclosed reasons, you might be hoping that there is a change of government on Saturday, or maybe even an electoral avalanche that fires the Liberals, Nationals, white supremacists and actual nazis as far from executive power as its possible to blast them.
And while it’s easy to imagine that this is the main game, there is a second, equally important opportunity here. Because for all the talk of climate elections and climate emergencies, whoever we vote for, on Sunday we’re going to wake up with a Prime Minister who is still committed to expanding coal, oil and gas burning.
That’s a big problem. We’re completely out of time for politicians who say they care about the climate but are still taking donations from the people who are burning the place down. There’s a reason why climate movements worldwide are taking to the streets, circumventing Parliaments and Congresses that have been paralysed by fossil cash. Australia is a terrible example of what happens when extractive industries get major political parties in a headlock.
But we do have one thing our friends in the US and UK don’t have: a responsive electoral system that makes space for minor parties and independents. The trick is to place people who actually get that the world is on fire at the top of your ballot paper, and then Labor, and then depending on your degree of despair, the LNP and the nazis and other weirdos right at the bottom. That way, if your first option doesn’t get elected, maybe your second will, or your third, until your vote lands on the Labor candidate. There’s no risk that your vote will inadvertently end up supporting the Morrison shit-show or anyone associated with it.
Major upsets in Kooyong or Warringah might be an advance sign of these changing times, but the full consequences of this kind of voting might not be evident on election night. Winning a Lower House seat against the financial and organisational firepower of the major parties is a steep challenge. The major parties together commanded only 77% of the vote in the 2016 election, but still won 97% of the seats in the House of Representatives. Ask Adam Bandt or Cathy McGowan — it’s possible to break the duopoly, but never easy: if you don’t have the bloated budgets of Clive Palmer, the only way to do it is with people power.
If this election is close, with the ‘Independents Day’ surge in traditional Liberal and National seats, and the Greens in real contention for lower house seats in Victoria, Queensland and the ACT, we could see a return to a fascinating — and highly productive — hung Parliament situation. You might recall this was the case in 2010, when there were enough House of Representatives cross-benchers to be able to negotiate meaningful concessions including, most significantly, the Clean Energy Act of 2012.
The Senate is just as interesting, given that the voting system makes it far more representative of the population as a whole. In the Senate in 2016, the major parties polled 65% between them, resulting in them holding 73% of the seats — a much better fit than the House. This means that no single party can just ram through laws without negotiating with the other kids, which is the whole point of having a Parliament in the first place. And therein lies the real power of your vote: by voting for progressive independents and minor parties before the major parties, you increase the numbers of people who aren’t in hock to those industries spewing destruction into the atmosphere. They get staff, they get a platform, and they get a vote.
The combined major party vote has been in a state of decline for two decades, as disaffection with compromise, corporate capture and mediocrity has seen voters shedding to the left and right, and one in 10 voters either not showing up or voting informally in 2016. This election, that trend has culminated in a swathe of independents and minor parties running serious insurgencies right across the board, and if enough of them get across the line, the 46th Parliament could actually be forced to step up to the climate emergency with the urgency it absolutely deserves. That’s not up to the politicians: it’s up to you. A lot rides on this one, and every single vote counts. Please let’s make the most of this.