Problems with democracy and how to combat them before you vote

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Image: Supplied by SBS

Across Australia, we witness angry voices, students striking, millennials in despair, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people fighting for basic rights. I don’t know about you, but I sense a vibe that most of us are not happy. While democracy is the way forward, (no doubt Australia’s system of governance is better than a brutal dictatorship or communism), that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Socrates, a philosopher in Ancient Greece (the birthplace of democracy) was actually very critical of it. With the Aussie election creeping up on us faster than we think, here is a reflection of democracy’s disadvantages, and how we can lessen them before May 18. 

Ignorant voters.

In Australia, everyone has to vote. But is everyone fit to vote? Gursewak Singh, 21, told ABC News “Young people sometimes don’t really know the difference between the … political parties. Not caring about politics is sort of ‘in’ right now.” He’s not wrong. Alarming stats show millennials have the lowest enrolment rate compared with other age groups. One third of them also said they wouldn’t have voted at the last election if it wasn’t compulsory. This being said, young people are very active when it comes to political issues that interest them. But what is the point if you don’t know which party is better to vote for? Voting is a huge duty that should be taken seriously. It’s the process of literally deciding who is in government. People who don’t educate themselves on the different parties and their policies risk casting a mistaken or misled vote. Moreover, many who don’t take a vested interest in politics end up choosing from the two major parties (the coalition Liberal and National parties or Labor). Or they vote for the same party every election. The problem? Party members change. Policies change. Even if it’s slightly. Labor isn’t exactly how it was 20 years ago. Neither are any of the parties. Don’t vote blindly!

Socrates stresses that democracy is a skill that needs to be developed. We don’t innately know who should lead a country – it’s something we have to educate ourselves on. Education and knowledge about party policies acts as protection against propaganda and electioneering.

Tip: Educate yourselves and others on social and political issues. Analyse the side you don’t usually agree with. A practical tip for those who are educated in current affairs and issues, but are unsure who to vote for, is to use VoteCompass. This quick survey lines up your views with the policies of the different parties and gives you an idea of who stands for you.  

It considers every person fit to run a country or be a cabinet minister. No special skills are required.

Socrates compares running a country to being a captain of a ship. Who do you want sailing your ship? Someone with extensive knowledge on how to best move a ship, or any old person ready to give it a shot? I’m hoping you said the former! So, why then do we give the privilege and duty of being a politician to anyone? This way we will never get the best person to lead us, but just some generic, already famous guy *cough* Tony Abbot for Special Envoy of Indigenous Affairs instead of an actual Indigenous Elder *cough*. Have a listen to Pauline Hanson’s 1996 Maiden Speech. A fish and chips shop owner, a racist, a believer of reverse racism worried about being “swamped by Asians”. Should she not have had some sort of cultural sensitivity training? Should she not have been briefed on hate speech and white privilege? In short, the Education Minister, for example, should have extensive experience of education. The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs should have thorough experience working with immigrants and other nationalities, and not someone who can’t distinguish personal prejudices from their job. This will ensure educated and appropriate leaders. 

Tip: Use the ABC’s election guide (candidate section). It provides a list of everyone running. This way you can do some research on every candidate and find out what they are all about.

It breeds corruption through electioneering.

Australia’s a representative democracy, which means whoever’s in government should be representing the views and interests of the majority. If all parties uphold this duty, then why are there so many parties with so many different and oftentimes opposing policies? Is this not a sign that they’re ignoring the public’s interest and implementing their own principles? For example, 75 per cent of people see climate change as an important issue. So why are some parties still doubting that climate change even exists? One Nation’s climate change policy states: “If there is global warming, then we say it should be reflected in a large number of places in different climate zones but in Australia that appears not to be the case.” This shows that not every party holds Australia’s best interests at heart, and therefore not all campaigns and advertisements can be trusted. 

Many election advertisements are hilariously (yet dangerously) exaggerated. During the the election campaign, it becomes less and less about the good of the whole, and more about winning. Politicians will say anything to get votes, from Australia being close to becoming a country with Sharia law (One Nation), to the Chinese communist party taking over our airports (United Australia Party). It’s difficult to cast an informed vote with so much (mis)information, scare tactics and exaggeration. It’s scary how simply a charming smooth-talker who is seeking a position of power can take advantage of the public’s desire for easy answers.

Socrates urges us to imagine two candidates: one like a doctor, and the other like a lolly-shop owner. The lolly-shop owner could say, ‘look at my opposition, (s)he hurts you with needles, gives you disgusting elixirs, tells you not to eat your favourite foods. (S)he won’t give you glamorous banquets and unlimited sweets like I will!’ How do you think the doctor could respond to this? An honest reply: ‘I do these undesirable things in order to help you’, would cause an outcry amongst the public! This is why debates, electioneering and promoting can be dangerous. Stick to the policies – everything else is a distraction. 

Tip: Check out the Stop and Consider Campaign. It leads voters to the source of information they may hear, as all communication may not be honest. This way you can sort through the BS and cast an informed vote. 

 

That was a handful! So in summary?

In summary, democracy is a good way to have the voice of the people heard. But let’s not forget that it’s only as good as the education that comes with it. Make May 18 the most informed election in Australia’s history – and remember it’s not too late to change your mind! 

 

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