Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How should I vote?

In ten days, Australians over the age of 18 have to vote in a federal election. If you're confused, curious, or simply looking to confirm your views, check out this excellent new website, freshly launched a couple of hours ago. It's called HowShouldIVote.com.au and in about three minutes it can tell you how to order your preferences for the House of Representatives (Lower House). Just enter your postcode and answer twenty multiple-choice questions about your attitudes to a variety of issues, and this website will match you to the responses from your local candidates. Easy!*

The website is run by GetUp, an independent, not for profit group, who lobby all sides of parliament on particular issues (you can see their FAQ page here), and the questions have been endorsed by one of Australia's leading pollsters.

Of course, what the website doesn't do is tell you how to vote in the Senate. My suggestion is to watch this little video:

Did you know that while the Coalition have held a majority in the Senate, they have passed 100% of their own amendments and blocked 98% suggested by other parties? They have passed complex 500-page legislation within a day of its being tabled and have reduced the hours during which the Senate sits. If you think the Senate ought to be a genuine house of review, perhaps it would be a good idea to avoid having the same party control both Houses. NB It is basically impossible for the ALP to gain a majority in the Senate this election due to their poor showing in 2004 (only half the Senate seats are up for election every three years).
*In some electorates, only a few candidates have completed the survey. If this is the case for you, please return in a couple of days and try again.

30 comments:

David Starling said...

Byron,

In my opinion it is at best naive and at worst duplicitous to represent the people behind this site as simply "an independent, not for profit group", without telling your readers that they are (in their own words) "a political movement to build a progressive Australia".

I don't know who was the "leading pollster" who endorsed this flagrant exercise in push-polling; surely even the most obtuse of observers could have identified the skewing of the questions toward the agenda of the libertarian left.

If my aim is to think about politics with a Christian mind, then there is no way that I am going to let GetUp tell me what are the 20 issues that should determine how I vote.

I may not have chosen exactly the same 25 issues as the Australian Christian Lobby (http://www.australiavotes.org/policies/index.php) but at least (unlike GetUp) they declare their ideological pre-commitments up front on their voter-information website.

And at least they (unlike GetUp) consider that the legalised killing of 80 - 100,000 unborn children every year might perhaps be among the top 20 issues that I would be concerned about as a voter!

byron smith said...

Dear David,

Thanks for your honest response. I was intending to be neither naïve nor duplicitous in representing GetUp as an independent, not for profit group. Jessica has been working for them for the last few months and that is what they are. Independent simply means they are not beholden to any party and receive their income from members. This project (HowShouldIVote) is part of their democracy building goal, and simply aims to engage disconnected, confused or young voters in some of the many political and social issues faced by Australia. From the website: "This project is independent of any political issues based campaigning that our organisation is involved with." Part of a progressive Australia is a politically aware and involved Australia, and that is the goal of this website.

The "leading pollster" is Irving Saulwick AM, who "published the Saulwick Poll for the Fairfax organisation for 23 years and has worked with government, the private sector and academia for more than 30 years. He has worked with howshouldivote.com.au to ensure that the results that the system produces will be an accurate reflection of the voter's political views."

Since the answers to the twenty questions are matched to those of the candidates, I do not see how this is an exercise in push-polling. If you find yourself disagreeing with statements that reflect a 'left' position, then you will be matched to candidates with similar opinions.

I too was disappointed that there was not an abortion question, though I was also disappointed that there were not questions on water management, federal-state relations, logging, mining, religious freedoms and a wide range of other topics that I consider important. As I understand it, abortion was almost in the top twenty but didn't quite make it, perhaps particularly since there is little official difference in policy between the two major parties on this question.

If my aim is to think about politics with a Christian mind, then there is no way I am not going to listen to the concerns, fears, hopes and worldviews of 200,000 Australians, even if I subsequently critique various aspects of those beliefs.

Of course as a simple (perhaps even simplistic) tool, this site is far from perfect. Nonetheless, I warmly commend HowShouldIVote as a genuine attempt to assist people begin the weighty task of wrestling with our political responsibilities. I am sorry that this was not how you received it.

Grace & peace,
Byron

Jason Goroncy said...

Byron, inspired by your post, I have posted 'Thirteen Propositions on Voting' here: http://cruciality.wordpress.com/2007/11/14/thirteen-propositions-on-voting/

Gordon Cheng said...

If you think the Senate ought to be a genuine house of review, perhaps it would be a good idea to avoid having the same party control both Houses. NB It is basically impossible for the ALP to gain a majority in the Senate this election due to their poor showing in 2004 (only half the Senate seats are up for election every three years)

I'm sitting here scratching my head, thinking "Hmm, which way is Byron going to vote"??

I'm a bit slow but I think I've picked up one or two clues.

;-)

David Starling said...

Thanks Byron for your response to my earlier comment.

I should apologise for the way I speculated in that earlier comment about whether there was naivety or duplicity behind the way you described the people behind the website you were promoting. That was inappropriate on my part.

I still think that in the interests of clarity and frankness of communication, it would have been helpful to tell us that the website was run by GetUp, and that they are a political movement in their own right with a self-described policy agenda that is about creating a 'progressive Australia'.

The fact that they are formally and financially independent of the political parties who are standing candidates in the election doesn't mean that they are without strong party-political biases of their own. (The YouTube ad for the Greens, Democrats and ALP that they are funding is a case in point. GetUp may not receive money from those parties, but they are helping to fund their Senate campaign!)

Maybe I'm too cynical, but I find it hard to see how GetUp's HowShouldIVote project can possibly be construed as a value-neutral 'democracy building' project, independent of all their other political commitments. (They are not the first people to make that sort of claim about 'democracy building' activities!!)

As a Christian I am more than happy to pay serious attention to lobby groups like GetUp as I consider how to vote. I share many of their concerns and I have taken part in some of their campaigns.

But I'm not going to promote their 20 question quiz as the grid through which to evaluate everyone else's policy position.

byron smith said...

Gordon, here are some more hints: I'll be voting under the line for the Senate, and I won't be voting for the ALP first. :-)

Martin Kemp said...

I plugged in "Neutral" for every answer. My results were:
1. ALP
2. Greens
3. Indep.

I guess this means that my ALP and Greens candidates are the ones who care least about the issues, or at least have opinions which are not as strong as the others.

byron smith said...

David,
Apology accepted and you're forgiven. Thanks for confronting, not ignoring what you saw to be a lack of transparency. And thanks also for coming back on the frankness issue. I've now included a little more information on GetUp in the post.

No action or inaction is value-neutral, and the selection of any list of issues will always be contentious. As I said, while still being open to criticism and also not being the list I would have chosen, I think the breadth of issues covered by HowShouldIVote is a healthy mix, and a welcome encouragement to voters to consider more than single issues or to rely on hearsay. Since all the answers of candidates are public, it is also a useful tool in quickly summarising complex policy positions (which, necessarily, simplifies - alas, often too much to be particularly useful). But it is only a tool, and ideally is only part of the process of working out your vote. To this end, the website contains self-produced candidate profiles, links and encouragement to do more research for yourself.

Nonetheless, the Senate campaign* is, I believe, a good example of GetUp's independence and desire for democratic process and non-partisanship, more than an indication of bias (though it is no secret that many of GetUp's campaigns are 'progressive' in nature). The Senate campaign was the first time, I think, that a genuinely tripartisan action of this kind hsa been taken, bringing together parties usually at each other's throats (esp during an election) to make a point about democratic process. The Senate majority has been sadly abused by the Coalition, despite the promise from Mr Howard that it would be used "soberly, wisely and sensibly. We won't use it capriciously or wantonly or indiscriminately" (June 2005). For a summary of these abuses, see here. GetUp's Senate campaign is about avoiding having a single party controlling both Houses, whether Labor or Coalition. The ALP were included in the ad because it is impossible for them to win a Senate majority. The Coalition are the only party who could quite conceivably end up with majorities in both Houses, and so the ad's primary aim is to prevent this.
*For those not familiar with it, see the video on the main post and also here.

You say you have agreed and supported some GetUp campaigns and disagreed with others. So have I. That is part of the aim of GetUp - to act an umbrella under which a variety of campaigns are run so that individuals can participate in one's they care about/agree with. That is part of why it is a movement, not a party. Maybe you won't be convinced to support this particular campaign (the HowShouldIVote website), and there are certainly faults in it, but I don't think it can simply be written off as hopelessly biased just because it is run by GetUp.

The FAQ page on the GetUp site is a useful summary of many of these issues if you haven't already seen it. Thanks again for this discussion.

Grace & peace,
Byron

Martin Kemp said...

Re the senate youtube vid:
1. I would hardly call the co-operation between three left wing groups "genuinely tripartisan". Sure there are different shades of red, but it's not really in the spirit of what we would normally call "bipartisan" which would involve opposite sides of the chamber.
2. Is there anything in our constitution about the necessity having majorities from different parties in either house? What if the population want one party to have a majority in both? I'm assuming this is what the result of the last election indicates. Saying that this add is about democratic process is a slap in the face of democracy itself; basically it amounts to "you people who put the Liberal/National parties in don't know what's good for you, or about how parliament should really work". The Lib/Nats got the majority because the people gave them one. That's democracy folks. Opposing parties should get the votes or deal with it. And votes should be gathered on the basis of policy and capability, not cries of "it's not fair".

byron smith said...

Marty - (1) I suspect that there are more significant differences between these three parties than there are between the ALP and the Coalition.
(2) As I discussed back here, elections are fairly peripheral to a functioning democracy. The key is not the ballot box, but parliamentary debate. O'Donovan has some very insightful things to say about this in Ways of Judgment, but to simply say "this is what the people wanted" is insufficient. The outcome of the 2004 election has been an undermining of Australian democracy through the muzzling of the review function of the Senate.

Martin Kemp said...

If parliamentary debate is the key, then the right argument is to say "The coalition has not been responsible" (which you do say), but not also to say "We need to ensure that either party is kept from a double majority". If you have a problem with a double majority in and of itself, then you have a problem with the constitution which enabled such a state of affairs, so that's where the criticism ought to be focused.

Martin Kemp said...

elections are fairly peripheral to a functioning democracy. The key is not the ballot box, but parliamentary debate.

You have to admit that saying elections are fairly peripheral to a functioning democracy sounds fairly suspect. Peripheral to the parliamentary decision making process, yes, but to a 'functioning democracy'? That's a big call Byron. O'Donovan's own cultural background is in a system sufficiently different to ours, with life-long members of the House of Lords etc, so you have to ask whether he's defending his own there...

I would suggest that an election is what enables parliamentary debate to happen, 'casue every three years we're the ones keeping the 'em honest. If parliamentary debate has failed to materialize, then how else do you fix it except by an election? Lobbying? Perhaps, but unfortunately the lobbyist's power only has bite when the lobbyist is seen to represent a significant voting block. Maybe an articulate lobbyist could convince a politician humble enough to listen, but when they don't? Vote 'em out! The people are the check, and so elections are central, especially when the parliamentary process goes off-course, as you seem to suggest it has.

byron smith said...

Yes - voting still has some importance (I wouldn't bother linking to this site if it didn't), but it is not the key. Is there a problem with O'Donovan defending his own? He also notes that in our contemporary western consumerist society, we are reduced to no other viable method than voting to ensure representation, but the goal of having a democracy is not that the people get to vote, but that there is genuine parliamentary debate to ensure laws which have had significant thought and critique. As you point out, voting does play a role in providing that, but a fairly peripheral one (and not the only conceivable means) in comparison to what it aiming to secure.

If you have a problem with a double majority in and of itself, then you have a problem with the constitution which enabled such a state of affairs, so that's where the criticism ought to be focused.
The constitution enables many possibilities which are far from ideal. We could have constant deadlock and double dissolution elections in which the same candidates are returned and keep making the same decisions. It is not a criticism of the constitution that it doesn't cover every conceivable less-than-ideal situation. I do have a problem with a double majority government, but I also have a particular problem with how this one has conducted itself (in comparison to, say, the Menzies double majority a few decades ago - the last time there was a double majority).

byron smith said...

PS I could be wrong about the recurrent double dissolution situation; I'm not familiar enough with the constitution to really know. But perhaps a more relevant example is that there is nothing in the constitution (nor do I believe that there should be) to prevent Australia electing an entire parliament composed of Anglo-Saxon males. This too would be a less than ideal situation, not because a man is incapable of representing a woman (or vice versa) or because a member of one racial or cultural group is disqualified from representing another, but simply because parliamentary debate is generally enhanced by having more diversity.

Anonymous said...

value neutral 'democracy building'???

I know what you mean though, David Starling. Please pardon my pedantry, I'm just getting a nervous tic from this prolonged election campaign! If Martin Kemp is right [sounds like he's at least Right :) ] about his neutral response experiment, then one suspects the Get Up advice is skewed to the Left. It would be difficult to be too 'skewy' given the design of the scheme however, so methinks the reactions of some are more connected to their own political bias than anything else.

Re the abortion issue -- I'm wiv ya bruvvas. Thinking about other issues that barely manage a blip on the radar, but which are of interest to evangelical Christians, let's hear two-and-a-half cheers for Rudd's policy commitment of raising the amount of development aid we give as a country. I believe the target is 0.5% of GNI by 2012 - so still less than the 0.7% 'Milennium Development' goal, but massively more than the Howard government has promised. If the Libs raised it to 0.7%, well, they'd have my vote, such is the importance of this moral issue (I'd vote for them in spite of their very many immoral acts and decisions over the last decade... don't get me started!).

[adam]

Anonymous said...

Curiosity got the better of me and so I had a go at entering 'neutral' for all 20 questions. Results? Labor, Democrat, Greens (which is probably the expected order in terms of 'centrist' rating). And you know why? The Get Up site was very transparent about it all: the other candidates had not completed the survey, so no matter what my answers were, I would have had the same three candidates in my top three matches, just in varying orders with varying 'likeness' ratings. As well as the information that particular candidates had not completed the survey, there were also links to further information on each candidate. So it is skewed Left, but only 'cos the Righties hadn't entered in their views on the questions posed. I guess one could also cry "bias" over the choice of questions, but really now...

[adam]

Martin Kemp said...

If Martin Kemp is right [sounds like he's at least Right :) ] about his neutral response experiment, then one suspects the Get Up advice is skewed to the Left.

The only thing I think we can assume is that the results reflect the responses of the candidates themselves, not that the process is skewed.

But your results are interesting, esp as the other candidtaes had not responded to the survey. Are Get Up being responsible by publishing results that will only yield a result for parties on one side of the spectrum? I guess you have to trust that the kids will read the fine print and see that not all parties responded...

As for my Right bias...
Once the people at Church thought they heared me calling John Howard the Devil during a sermon. Right online, Left in the pulpit...I like to keep people guessing.

byron smith said...

Are Get Up being responsible by publishing results that will only yield a result for parties on one side of the spectrum? I guess you have to trust that the kids will read the fine print and see that not all parties responded...
Good question, and one that GetUp has been wrestling with for the last week and a half. The launch of this website has been constantly delayed, partially through candidates dragging their feet. All 1058 or so candidates have received four reminder emails and at least one phone call about this site prior to its launch and more reminders since. If they have taken no action, it has not been through lack of effort by GetUp. Furthermore, GetUp made changes to the website since the launch to highlight the "fine print". It is now at the top of the results page and rather than being a footnote, it now says next to each candidate who has not responded that the site is still waiting for their answers. Nevertheless, while about half the candidates continue to refuse to play, it does make the game less fun and the website less useful.

byron smith said...

If anyone is concerned by the lack of response from one or more candidates in your area, you could always contact them directly to ask them to take five minutes to fill it in. :-)

David Starling said...

Alex said

It would be difficult to be too 'skewy' given the design of the scheme however, so methinks the reactions of some are more connected to their own political bias than anything else.

A couple of quick responses:
- If there's a skew in the system (as I suggested there is) I think it is in the selection and wording of the questions. Of course a determinedly right-wing voter could answer them the 'wrong' way, but that's not the point. For an undecided voter, deciding what questions are important is almost as determinitive of the outcome as deciding what the answers to those questions are. That's what politicians love to tell us what the questions are (eg. "Who do you trust to keep interest rates low?") as well as how we should answer them.
- as for my own political bias, I think I'm genuinely double-minded! On some issues I have views that are strongly left-leaning, on others I have views that are strongly right-leaning, and on others I'm somewhere near the middle of the road. I suspect many Christians who think seriously about politics find themselves in the same (frustrating!) situation.

byron smith said...

Of course a determinedly right-wing voter could answer them the 'wrong' way, but that's not the point.
I'm not sure I understand what you mean. I think the statements were worded so that a determined 'left' or 'right' voter would agree with about half and disagree with about half.

Do you have specific criticisms of the wording of particular statements? Any other issues (along with abortion) you think should have been in the top twenty? (and which shouldn't have been)

Anonymous said...

Martin -- loved your comments about being 'Right online, and Left in the pulpit'. Then I read down further and saw your comments David, about being 'double-minded' and split L/R on different issues. I agree totally with your observation that Christians who try to seriously wrestle with political issues from a biblical viewpoint, often end up with a schizophrenic (from a secular p.o.v.) political outlook. Which makes it frustrating to know who to vote for sometimes -- how to weigh it all up. Frustrating too, that many of the overtly Christian political parties are overtly Right wing. Unless I've missed something -- would love to be wrong about that.

Sorry (to Martin & David) for my presumptuous stirring re political bias -- thanks for not taking me too seriously there. Loved all your comments.

[adam]

David Starling said...

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. I think the statements were worded so that a determined 'left' or 'right' voter would agree with about half and disagree with about half.

Yes, of course, and that was what I was happily conceding! The issue is not with how the site would be experienced by determined 'left' and 'right' voters, but the way in which it would tilt the muddled or middle-of the road or undecided in one direction or the other.

Do you have specific criticisms of the wording of particular statements? Any other issues (along with abortion) you think should have been in the top twenty? (and which shouldn't have been)

Fair question!

OK, two quick examples to do with the choice/wording of questions:

1. The only question on indigenous affairs is to do with whether the govt should apologise.
So if you are someone who thinks there should be an apology, but you also support the kind of measures taken by the Federal govt in the NT intervention, your views on sale of alcohol policies, child protection, etc, never come into play, and you simply chalk up a compatibility point with Labor and the Greens.

2. The question about the rights of same sex couples is couched in terms of 'rights' and of parity with heterosexual de facto couples. So if you're not in favour of same-sex marriages but you answer 'yes' (thinking in terms of superannuation laws, insurance payouts, etc) your view on same sex issues will register as being the same as the Greens, when there is in fact an ocean of difference between their view and yours, which would have been clear had the question been different.

On the question of which issues should have been included, I grant that there is never going to be universal or easy agreement in drawing up a top 20. We could all suggest half a dozen other issues we would like to have seen included and half a dozen that we wouldn't mind cutting.

But I still think the abortion omission is no small detail, to be brushed aside as a minor flaw in an otherwise good list. If a group doesn't think that it even ranks in their top 20 then there is a huge, fundamental difference between what they view as important and what I do.

What are we to say: "Sure, Party X may think that killing unborn children is a legitimate form of birth control, but I kinda like their policies on dental care and the republic, so I think I'll vote for them"??

Granted, there is no difference on this issue between the official platforms of the two major parties. Nevertheless:
1. Individual local candidates will have views on the issue, and that will become important in a conscience vote
2. My vote will influence which party forms government, and who will be the next health minister; the ideological and religious biases of the health minister will inevitably influence his/her policy initiatives and exercises of discretion
3. There are differences on this issue between the major parties and some of the minor parties (eg. the Christian ones) and the independents.

byron smith said...

David, thanks for your further comments and examples. They are very helpful. I realise that as I considered my own answers to those two questions I struggled with the very things you raised, though when I first glanced at the draft list, those things didn't jump out at me. I think GetUp should have sent you the list when it was at draft stage for feedback! I suspect that it is too late now make changes to the wording (when hundreds of candidates have already replied), but I think the process for the next (probably a state) election will be considerably refined. I think GetUp have been receiving a lot of feedback about the site (both positive and critical, with some constructive suggestions) and will reflect on the process once the election is over.

I also agree that there is a lot more to the abortion issue than the fact that in practice, neither major party has 'done' much about it. I think you make excellent points, and as I said, I think it should have been on the list. I was suggesting why I think they made the decision they did. If you haven't already done so, I think it would be great for you to offer some written feedback to GetUp about your experience of the site, and particularly raise the omission of the abortion issue. I'm sure many other issues are being mentioned that ought to be have been on the list, but the 'volume' of requests (and the quality of the arguments, one would hope!) for particular things will also probably help them make future calls on the relative importance of such matters in the minds of Australians and GetUp members.

Mister Tim said...

"As I discussed back here, elections are fairly peripheral to a functioning democracy. The key is not the ballot box, but parliamentary debate."

I missed your previous post on this issue, and I'm late getting at this one due to being away on holiday, but...

That's crap. Your argument is nice in theory, but it's not true in practice.

Do you know anything that was actually said in a Parliamentary debate in Australia in recent times? Can you recall any specific point of debate? Can you recall it making any difference, even before the current Government had control of both houses?

Parliamentary debate in Australia is merely posturing. Nothing really gets decided in Parliamentary debate. Nobody changes their minds. It has next to no impact on legislation. Even Question Time, which is the most interesting bit, has no impact on legislation and is only about the sound bites.

It's disappointing - you read old and great speeches from the UK or US Parliaments and other political gatherings and you realise the power of speech. There were men (because they invariably were back then) with the strength or their convictions and the power to sway others' minds and decisions on the basis of their words and the power of their speech. But you don't see that in Parliament today, and certainly not the Australian House of Representatives.

Anything of import is done behind closed doors and is decided outside of and quite apart from the actual debate in either house of Parliament. In fact, it may be far truer to say that opinion polls and an independent press are are the keys to democracy, followed by lobbying and the ballot box, with parliamentary debate somewhere way down the list.

Sorry if that sounds harsh. It's something I'm a bit passionate about because the current system disappoints me, but it's unlikely to change any time soon even if the Government (whoever that might be after next week) doesn't have a majority in the Senate.

byron smith said...

That's crap. Your argument is nice in theory, but it's not true in practice.
Exactly. I totally agree, and that is why it's important that we focus on how to (re-?)create genuine parliamentary debate and not be fooled into thinking we have a functioning democracy just because elections are held every few years.

Mister Tim said...

Ok - fair enough.

I think that create is the better term, since I don't think it has ever really existed - even if we look back at times when debate was better, there were other problems.

Personally, I think it's a lost cause - you'll never get an ideal democracy, but I agree that that shouldn't stop us trying.

byron smith said...

On the Senate, I find it ironic that Costello has been warning of the dangers of a lack of checks and balances if Labor win because there will be "wall-to-wall" Labor governments. I kept waiting for the interviewers to point out the lack of checks and balances at a federal level this term.

byron smith said...

Personally, I think it's a lost cause - you'll never get an ideal democracy, but I agree that that shouldn't stop us trying.
Idealism is always a lost cause. I liked what O'Donovan said: "what is the best course of action that is actually available?"

byron smith said...

One more thought on the double majority: the undesirability of a double majority is reflected in the changes to the Senate elections made a while ago to change from first past the post to proportional voting, which has made it much more difficult to gain a Senate majority (by either side). I think the present system reflects a good hesitation towards this possibility without trying to make it impossible.