Ideas@TheCentre – The Centre for Independent Studies


Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table.  3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.

Pre-polling doesn’t prove democracy is in decline

Simon Cowan

17 May 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

If you were a naysayer, the unprecedented level of pre-poll voting for this year’s federal election, could be yet another entry in the folder marked ‘the failure of democracy’.

Anecdotally, there is a sense of exhaustion with this election campaign. No doubt in part this stems from the feeling of perpetual campaigning and inherent instability of minority government — something Australia has experienced several times in recent years.

Though neither convenience nor frustration are legitimate reasons to pre-poll in Australia, in the current environment it is perhaps easy to understand why increasing numbers of voters choose to effectively opt out of the election early and pre-poll.

AEC data compiled by the parliamentary library shows that, with 12 days to go to the election, pre-polling had almost doubled over 2016. Nor is the historical trend promising in this regard: pre-polling seems to be increasing exponentially, having almost doubled at this same stage in each of the previous three elections.

But an increase in pre-polling is not, by itself, inherently negative.

There is no doubt that nearly two million voters casting their vote prior to the last week of the campaign will have an effect on future campaigns.

Parties will have to lay out more of their election platform earlier in the campaign, which will allow both for greater analysis of the issues in the media, and for the parties to more robustly test each other’s claims and costings.

It will also reduce the effectiveness of baseless scare campaigns launched in the last week of the campaign, where they can be difficult to combat with facts. It is bound to make the leadership debates more interesting as well.

There is merit in everyone voting on the same day, in possession of the same facts, but there is also something to the idea that voters will form a fuller picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the parties’ platform over the course of three years. Not every last minute decision is a sound one.

Religion test out of line

Peter Kurti

17 May 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

Ten years ago, religion barely featured at all in daily public life or discussion. In a country where over 60 per cent of us claim a religious affiliation, there was a general acceptance that religion was a person’s private matter.

How times have changed. Since then, religion has barely been out of the news. We’ve argued about the right of Muslim women to wear a headscarf or face covering. We’ve argued about faith-based exemptions to the new law permitting same-sex marriage. And now, during an election campaign, we’re arguing about an individual’s right to state their beliefs in public.

For the most part, the religious beliefs of our political leaders have always been considered a private matter.

Yes, Tony Abbott was comfortable with people knowing about his Roman Catholicism as Prime Minister. And when Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister, he regularly used the church steps to showcase the religious principles of his government.

But whether a Prime Minister was a Protestant or Catholic – or an agnostic or atheist – was held to have little bearing on how the electorate judged his or her suitability to lead a government.

However, in the late days of the 2019 election campaign, one party leader attempted deliberately to make the religious beliefs of another party leader a matter of political contention.

By declaring that Scott Morrison’s religious beliefs made him unfit to be a “prime minister for all people”, Bill Shorten deliberately flouted one of our key Aussie principles of fair play and decency.

The question concerns, of course, Christian teaching about homosexuality – and we know enough now to see that Christians, themselves, are divided about whether the Bible is pro-gay or anti-gay.

But we also know that what someone believes about God cannot – and must not – have any bearing on their suitability to serve as prime minister of Australia.

Section 116 of our Constitution states explicitly that there is to be no religious test imposed as a qualification for public office under the Commonwealth. But Mr Shorten’s remark imposed just such a test.

He decried the “madness of division and toxicity” that he thinks is “eating” the nation. And many Australians have, indeed, become concerned about the tenor of recent political debate.

But by questioning Mr Morrison’s suitability for office on the basis of his Christian faith – and thereby flouting the Constitution – the Opposition leader is stoking, rather than dampening, that madness.

Parallel poll universe

Greg Pulscher

17 May 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

I for one won’t be voting on Saturday! That’s not really much of a protest since I can’t yet vote in Australia anyway… but I will witness my first Australian federal election since moving from the United States. And I am certainly hopeful for a Democracy Sausage.

Although the election is tomorrow, I have found a tremendous amount of similarities between the US and AU in how we interact with each other leading up to the poll.

For instance: last weekend I set out for my usual long run, this time from The Spit to Manly and back (I hear whispers that the area is in a somewhat contested seat this year).

Along the path I passed by hordes of walkers; some who knew the correct side of the path to stay on, others needing a bit more persuasion. Unable to tell what their twitter handles or political mythologies were, I was unable to throw at them their deserving epithets as voters of the wrong tribe.

Triggered as I was, I reluctantly treated every walker as a human, tolerating their ignorance of taking up an entire path capable of fitting us all, and their grotesque political tribalism.

“Excuse me…runner on your right…ta…thanks”… I couldn’t believe what I was saying. These people could have been voting for the wrong tribe! What if I passed a Nazi in need of a punching?

Afterwards, I went to snag a timely Mother’s Day present for my wife (and was very glad to have a Sunday running ritual  the best cover for having forgotten the present in the present!).

At the florist, much to my chagrin, there were no political signs, or tribal slogans, not even a “#” to nudge me in the right direction. Just flowers that came in red, blue, green, yellow, and hundreds of other colours. Thousands of blossoms were blooming, as they say.

Just like in the US, the social media escalation of threats and slogan chanting would have you believe the end is nigh tomorrow with this election.

However, outside the so-called ‘social’ media, what I saw this past week were thousands of people around me going about their daily business, trading, exchanging, and even fraternising with the enemies that we find (or have already blocked) on our social feeds.

It’s as if in the US and AU there is a world that exists where we already tolerate each other, cooperate thousands of times a day with each other, and slowly improve our small communities around us by looking inwardly — not demanding of others.

Do these people I meet every day in the US and AU not realise how much they are failing to personify the evil we supposedly have to be!? #auspol