An Exhausting Vote (2004)

I may let my vote exhaust before my preferences reach either major party.

Despite the accession of Mark Latham to leadership, Labor has still failed to turn away from being Thatcher Light.  Despite Latham’s occasional tactical wins, Labor has so betrayed both the common people and common decency.  The other lot are worse, so that left only the option of not numbering all squares of the ballot.  To be honest, I don’t even know if failing to number all squares would cause my ballot to be deemed informal – it doesn’t in the ACT, but I’m not sure about nationally.  Certainly it shouldn’t, because that would frustrate my clear voting intention.

The major parties respond only to one thing – the loss or potential loss of a lot of votes.  Something in the range of ten to twenty percent seems to be enough to induce a substantial shift in priorities.  The most recent demonstration of this was the rise and decline of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party.  The Coalition was severely shaken when One Nation started scoring double figures in state elections and some national electorates.  Before long they had taken over One Nation’s key policies, to the detriment of Australia.

It’s no use giving my first preference to the Greens or Democrats and then letting my preferences trail back to Labor.  Labor is counting on that.  They make a few token concessions to environmental and social concerns, just enough to make them slightly less odious than the Coalition, and count on the votes ending up with them anyway.  What counts in the end is two-party preferred, not first preference.  So, my vote has to fail to materialise in the Labor column.  That’s the only thing that will get their attention.

A lot of people seem to react with horror at what I am contemplating, at least if they care about voting at all.  Wouldn’t it be a waste of my vote?  Wouldn’t I be abrogating my democratic responsibility?  Do I want John Howard for another term?  Well, I’m not wasting my vote and I’m not abrogating my responsibility.  As I’ve already explained, I would be exercising my democratic responsibility to send a clear message to the major parties:  you have to change fundamentally before you’ll get my vote.

Neither do I want John Howard for another term.  However I don’t want Howard Light either.  Is Mark Latham just Howard Light?  I think that’s a question worth debating.  As a backbencher, I thought Latham was warmed-over Keating, arrogant and dedicated to Thatcherite economic policies that routinely subvert the social welfare policies they try to paste over the top.

I did read Latham’s latest book, From the Suburbs, and I was pleasantly surprised to find some innovative social thinking and an evident concern for common people.  What most impressed me was Latham’s inclination to return responsibility for social welfare to local communities.  However his uncritical acceptance of neoliberal market ideology remained a concern.

When Latham gained the Labor leadership, and his fresh approach and outspoken ways gave Labor’s prospects a major boost, I began to reconsider.  I especially liked the way he refused, for a while, merely to follow Howard’s agenda, and instead defined his own ground.  That’s when Howard was rattled.  Latham’s economic policy might be misguided, I thought, but perhaps he might be open to innovative possibilities.

However a couple of missteps later, combined with the incessant chorus of the usual suspects – the Howard ministers and their legions of media minions – joined this time by the openly meddling U.S. government, and Latham has been reeled in, to be held now on a tight leash by the visionless, valueless Labor numbers men.

Chant the meaningless but magic words “anti-American” a couple of times and Labor scuttles for cover.  Latham resisted for a while but ultimately capitulated.  Kim Beazley, American sycophant, perpetrator of Labor’s Tampa betrayal and the reason I decided to cut off my preference flow, is back in a senior ministry.

It’s true that Latham tactically outsmarted Howard over some details of the so-called free trade agreement, but it made little difference to the outcome.  The agreement is another huge loss of sovereignty for Australia, and it will accelerate the degradation of our society and environment.  It’s amazing to me that nobody seems to have noticed how the U.S. switched its strategy from the difficult approach of multilateral negotiation to the simpler approach of seeking bilateral agreements.  Being the biggest bully in the schoolyard, they can easily knock us off one at a time.  The goal of extending American corporate and financial power is even more transparently on display.

Why did Latham go along with the “free trade” agreement?  He had already said it was a bad agreement, and virtually every knowledgable independent person agreed there was little net benefit in it.  Evidently he wasn’t ready to take on the same Greek tragic chorus – Howard and the press – and be tagged anti-American, anti-business and (the other mantra) a poor economic manager.  However by yielding he not only lost the initiative again, he lost most of what differentiated him from the Coalition.

I don’t think its enough to settle for ruining the country more slowly.  We have to start rebuilding Australia as a decent society that doesn’t trample underfoot the unfortunate and the merely less rich.  We have to start seriously reversing environmental destruction.  We have to reclaim our sovereignty, our right to run our own affairs.

We have somehow to get a party into power that will seriously change our direction.  Permitting Labor to be a little less ruinous will not accomplish that change.  Perhaps Mark Latham in power would be more adventurous, but the signs are pointing in the other direction, and governments tend to spend their time scrambling to put out fires.  Perhaps, instead of just hoping, we have to cut off Labor’s political oxygen until they change, or implode and leave room for the Greens or someone to take over.  Perhaps we just have to suffer the other lot for a while longer, painful as that prospect is.

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