By Alana James
We don’t live in an ideal world. There are 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty, an estimated 26.4 million internally displaced people and an untold number of people fleeing persecution and seeking refuge.
However, here in Australia we are in a very privileged position. Australian residents have access to health care through Medicare, people can catch public transport without fear of bombs or attacks, there is access to support services and, importantly, we have the ability to vote and have a say in the political leadership of our country.
Every Australian resident can actively participate in our democracy. This is a privilege. Not a right.
If you need an example of why democracy matters so much, look at the current global attention focused on Nelson Mandela. He represents the pinnacle of freedom and democracy. Mandela fought for justice in South Africa, was in jail for 27 years, yet he emerged still fighting for the end of Apartheid and the right of all people, no matter their background, to be part of a democratic and fair society.
Politics can be difficult to understand at the best of times, but the Australian political climate in 2013 is, to say the least, messy. That said, using your vote is one of the most powerful things you can do in society. Throwing away your voice by filing a donkey vote is not only a waste of electoral workers’ time, it’s also a pretty good indication that you don’t care what the Government does with your tax money or your future.
Expecting more from politicians begins with holding yourself to a higher standard. A well-informed society is the best kindling for the fire that is a productive and fair democracy. We can whinge about the lacklustre debate, the name calling, the negative smear campaigns and the misinformation peddled by various politicians, yet this just helps to continue that behaviour. The most effective way to break the spin cycle is to inject positivity, draw attention to the great work that people are doing and articulate why you believe in certain policies and what their merits are.
The next thing you can do to improve the political landscape is to ensure you have a firm grasp on how Australia’s political and electoral system works and transfer that knowledge to others. Don’t talk about politics they say? Rubbish. Let’s create a culture where we can robustly discuss our future and our present. For this discussion to occur two things need to happen.
Firstly, you need to acknowledge that not everyone will agree with you, no matter how blindingly obvious and fantastic you think your opinion is. This is a good thing. Differences in opinion create open debate, give rise to many new ideas and address and represent a wide range of people, cultures and backgrounds.
Secondly, we need to become comfortable articulating why we care about issues. We must normalise that conversation. Take time with your friends and family to talk about your passions, what areas of society you’re interested in and the policy that relates to them. Make it a regular occurrence to chat about news articles and policy announcements; don’t leave it to ‘that really loud leftie guy with the funny hat’.
Let’s make a pact that we won’t bemoan the state of politics anymore. Instead we will celebrate the long-term vision of politicians, the inspiring ideas and the successes, whilst discussing the issues we want changed in a robust and engaging environment. Make your vote count this year and make your voice heard.
FIVE THINGS THAT YOU CAN DO TO ‘GET IN THE KNOW’
1. Check out the AEC (Australian Electoral Commission) website – aec.gov.au
Obvious choice, but it does have all the details you need to know about voting and the election. It’s also got some cool resources and fact sheets on tricky parliamentary jargon, like double dissolutions. Make sure you’re registered to vote too!
2. Chat to your local MP (Member of Parliament).
Find your Federal (or State) Member. Give them a call or pop into their office. Tell them you’re a constituent (that you are in their electorate) and you’re not quite sure what their policies are. MPs always want to speak to the people who will be potentially voting for them. It’s a good idea to take a few issues you are passionate about and ask them to clarify where they stand on those issues. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and if the answer doesn’t suffice, tell them you’re still unclear and would like more details.
3. Know who stands for what.
Read up on party policies and what things different politicians value and the goals they are working towards. A list of registered parties can be found on the AEC site, but Google is always a very handy tool.
4. Stay in the know.
Follow the news from all different organisations and media companies. Research issues further if you don’t understand. The internet is a treasure trove of information, use it wisely. One useful, and entertaining, website for decoding the comments that politicians make is PolitiFact (politifact.com) that rates statements made for their accuracy.
5. Learn more about Parliament, Government and our political history.
Two great websites are ‘Australia’s Prime Ministers’ (primeministers.naa.gov.au) and the ‘Parliament of Australia’ site (aph.gov.au).
Australia’s Prime Ministers – Put together by the National Archives of Australia, the site is a wealth of knowledge about our previous prime ministers and governance. It’s laid out in an easy to use format and has a timeline component. Learning about what has happened previously helps give context to current issues.
Parliament of Australia – An obvious choice perhaps, but this site has it all. I strongly recommend going to the House of Representatives tab and checking out the research and education resources as well as the daily program and the chamber documents.
This article was published in the On Campus section of the Virgin Voters website. For your chance to get something published and contribute to the public conversation, enter our Political Writing Competition.