Election Countdown: The Ethics Of… Choosing Who to Vote For

After four weeks of grind, after this weekend Victorians will finally be able to vote and leave the election behind us once again. But for many, one big question remains unanswered: who the hell do I vote for, and why?

With ‘political donations’ (aka ‘legal bribery’) coming in thick and fast to our MPs, campaign promises worth less than the paper they’re written on (since we have no way of enforcing them after the election), and no requirement that political advertising actually be factually true in any way, it can be damn hard to make an informed decision about which party is offering the best deal. Just because Party A says they’ll do something you agree with doesn’t actually mean they will once they are elected – so how can you cut through the bullshit and make a decision this Saturday?

Well, this is one of those rare times that ethics can actually make life simpler, instead of hellishly complicated. Because while a political party might flow around when it comes to specific promises and policies each election, the one thing you can rely on is that they will always come back to their core beliefs. Now I’m not talking all that fluff they spout about their vision for the state, studded with catch-phrases and other meaninglessness – I’m talking about their actual beliefs; the ideas that drive them to get involved in politics in the first place, and form the foundation for everything they do.

Typically when it comes to this sort of thing you hear the terms ‘Left-wing’ and ‘Right-wing’ thrown around a lot. I’m going to avoid these, because they’ve been so overused and are so simplistic that they’re pretty much meaningless. At this point calling a party ‘Right-wing’ could mean anything from “We want to go back to the 1950s REAL bad”, right through to “We want to replace democracy complete with capitalism”. And when ‘Left-wing’ could mean anything between ‘tree-hugging hippy’ and ‘full-blown radical communist’, the label is a pretty pointless.

Nah, the proof in in the pudding, so a far better way of making a decision about which party to support this election is to look at the ideas that drive each party this election. For the sake of brevity, I’m only going to review 4 parties; The Labor Party (referred to henceforth as the Labs), the Liberal-National Coalition (the Libs since they basically run the show), The Greens (the Greens), and The Palmer United Party (the mad bastards. Oh fine; the Palmers).

**A big fat disclaimer at this point: in case it wasn’t blindingly obvious, I am a political animal and as such am biased as hell. I’m going to try to be objective, but if you think I’ve been unfair, call me on it, back your objection up with a reference preferably, and I’ll amend the article immediately.**

The Libs

Liberal party

Here’s their website.

The Libs have a reputation for good economic management, largely because the like private industry and dislike government spending. The rhetoric you often hear from them is about making the state/nation ‘business friendly or “open for business as the current national government recently put it”. The decrease taxes, decrease regulation and try to encourage investment into the state – the easier it is for businesses to start up and move it to the area, the better. By decreasing government spending and focussing on private business, Liberal governments also save cash – that magical ‘surplus’ they like to go on about is basically just the idea that they have cash in the bank for a rainy day. This also leads to economic growth (the success meter for any capitalist economy) and theoretically, more jobs.

This is all part of the idea of ‘economic liberalisation’, also known as ‘neoliberal economics’. This is a fancy name for what basically boils down to ‘you get what you earn – and nothing else’. To quote the Lib’s own website:

“Our party aims to provide an environment that rewards those who work hard, save and invest, and create employment.”

Of course the hidden flip side of this is that if you don’t “work hard, save and invest”, that’s your problem buddy. You see this in their policies as well; the current national Lib government slashing welfare, trying to add charges to doctor visits, and de-funding the ABC are all prime examples of this. And remember Work-Choices? The Lib’s said it would give greater flexibility for employers and employees to negotiate contracts, the sub-text being that good employees would get paid more, and bad employees would get less.

It all comes down to the same core idea that hard workers get rewarded, and slackers get what they deserve, ie. nothing.

And on paper that’s fair enough – I think we all know a loser or two that is quite happy slacking around and not putting in the effort to succeed; why should they get any of our tax dollars? – but the thing is that those ideal circumstances simply don’t exist. Not everyone starts life with the same advantages; either money, good parents, access to education or even just taught the ‘manners’ that a lot of people hold extremely important in business and life. Throw in even harder hurdles like physical disabilities, psychological conditions or a nasty injury and suddenly you are screwed without a government safety net.

As a result, for issues that require government intervention like the environment, workplace health and safety, and public services, the Libs are largely uninterested, seeing them as roadblocks to good economic growth. And this is largely true by the way – environmental management in particular often boils down to telling businesses they can’t do stuff, and that prevents profit being made. Since the Libs are all about profits and the economic growth they represent, these issues are unimportant at best, and a massive pain in the arse as worst.

When it comes to social issues, things get a tad messier however. The Libs are generally conservative when it comes to things like social justice, abortion, gay marriage and the like – driven by a generally older voter base they prefer things to either stay as they are, or else head back towards the ‘good old days’ of decency and manners, that never really existed in the first place, but whatever.

But there’s another faction within the Libs that actually wants to go in the other direction entirely; libertarians basically take the idea of economic liberalism and apply it to social issues as well. More freedom for all they say, and that includes the freedom to accept the consequences of your actions. Legalise everything: gay marriage, marijuana, cigarettes, whatever – the government has no place controlling how people live. It’s a far more popular idea in the USA with groups like the Tea Party, but hasn’t really caught on in the Australian Libs so far.

It’s also worth noting that the Libs’ idea of the freedom to succeed and to fail, also tend to mean they like tough law and order measures as well. Just as you are responsible entirely for your own success, so too are you entirely responsible if you commit a crime, and a harsh punishment is what you deserve – as I’ve written before, this approach is highly emotionally satisfying, but also pretty naive.

To summarise for the Libs: more business, more growth, more jobs for those that can compete. Fewer controls on business, less environmental protection, workplace protection and safety nets if anything goes wrong and you’re not wealthy enough to cover it yourself. Don’t give much of a rats about social issues, so nothing’s changing with them in government.

The Labs

Labor party

Here’s their website.

Traditionally, the Labor party is the opposite of the Libs which is not all that surprising given they’re the other major party in contention. They were formed by unions and have historically focussed on worker’s rights, often at the expense of businesses and the economic growth the Libs focus on. This has translated to the protection of social security services, occupational health and safety and worker laws.

Generally the Labs favour spending over saving, especially on infrastructure and direct investment to get the results they want. Big projects like the desalination plant, Eastlink and the North-South pipeline were put in place by the previous Victorian Labor government for example. This sort of approach is a lot quicker in getting the results the government wants, but also a lot more expensive and a lot riskier. Whereas a Lib government would remove regulation to encourage private business to build that infrastructure (or just sell off the asset for private management and development), the Labs throw cash at it until it does what they want. On the plus side, this means the projects tend to be more in the public interest than what private businesses would design (as seen with public transport in Melbourne), and at the end of the day the government owns the asset they pay for, so the public can control it to some degree.

On the downside, governments tend to have a pretty bad track record at getting these projects done on time and within budget. The desalination plant is a great example: over-priced, hugely over schedule and it wouldn’t even produce all that much extra drinking water relatively speaking. The Myki ticketing system was even worse, with over $1.5 billion on a system that other cities had already installed for less than a 100th of that.

On social issues and pretty much everything else, the Labs have generally been moderate to slightly progressive, likely to support issue like gay marriage, environmental protection and social justice issues – so long as they think they public will back them up. With the exception of workers right, which are core policy thanks to their union origins, social issues are a minor issue for the Labs, but they’re happy to go along with them as long as they see it helping their vote.

If this review seems a bit briefer than the one for the Libs, it’s because it’s really hard to say what the Labs stand for these days exactly. Once deeply founded in semi-socialist policies and worker’s right, they’ve been becoming more and more… well, wishy-washy about what they stand for as time goes on. In part this is because the Libs have been steadily getting more aggressive about their values, cutting deeper into public services, etc, and the Labs have sort of just drifted towards those policies as a result. Increasing the Lab’s economic approach is similar to that of the Libs – cut spending and encourage business, and a the Libs become more aggressive, the Labs adjust to the narrative and pay less and less attention to social issues and environmental protection.

To summarise for the Labs: The moderate party, basically defined as ‘not being the Libs’. More interested in spending money where the Libs would save, and concerned with worker’s rights, environmental protection and social progress as long as it’s popular.

The Greens

Greens party

Here’s their website.

Pinko, commy, poofta bastards, the lots of them, they represent everything that is wrong with this country I tell you what mate. Well at least that’s what both the Libs and the Labs would be very happy having you believe, as this third party looks on track to secure their largest ever vote of 15-17% this election.

From a one-issue protest party that was about environmental protection and nothing else, the Greens have pretty much capitalised on the Lab’s wishy-washyness and gradual slip towards the Lib’s values, and set themselves up as the socially liberal and economically conservative alternative.

What! Did I just describe THE GREENS as economically conservative! Well, that’s because they are – focussed substantially less on letting the market drive growth and much more on the basic approach of saving money through government taxes (taxing more from those who have more) and spending in to get the results they want. The are very keen on regulation as a way of getting the results they want – strong (even aggressive) environmental protection, ambitious targets for climate change prevention, and waste, water and energy efficiency, uncompromising workers’ rights and standards for businesses to meet, as well as heavy penalties for those that break the laws.

This flies right in the face of the Lib’s approach to economic (less tax, less regulation, encourage business at all costs) which is actually quite radical when you think about it. The risk of the Greens’ approach of course is that it doesn’t exactly make for an attractive investment option for business; it’d be far less profitable to operate in such an economy, and this in turn would lead to less money, less jobs and less happiness. The Greens counter this by basically rejecting the Lib’s theory of economics: tougher regulations and higher tax may indeed drive off some business, but they will be replaced by others who are willing to accept these conditions – the state of Victoria is too large a business opportunity to ignore. Combined with direct investment by the government for beneficial industries, the Greens argue that this will lead to a healthy economy for the state.

In all likelihood the truth probably lays somewhere in between the two. While the Libs (and Labs for that matter) claim the Greens in government will spell economic collapse, this is extremely unlikely – not government is going to destroy the economy because A. they don’t really have that much control over it, and B. it is absolutely not in any government’s interests to do so. The Greens are in for the long haul, having waited decades for the opportunity of just one or two lower house seats; they are not going to throw that away for pure idealism.

On the other hand, I have zero doubt that the economy would perform worse under the Greens than either of the major parties. Not necessarily because their economic approach is wrong exactly, so much as because it just doesn’t fit in with how the international economy works (it’s capitalism all the way, baby).

Socially of course, the Greens are hardcore progressives, operating basically on the principle of ‘do what you want so long as it doesn’t hurt others’. This means marijuana, gay marriage and free speech (with some conditions) are in, but hate speech, bullying and other aggressive measures are out. As you can imagine, this conditional approach to social freedoms pisses the Libertarian faction of the Libs right off, as they go for total freedom or nothing. The recent attempts to water-down the Victorian Racial Discrimination Act were a perfect example of that – the Greens favour free speech that doesn’t hurt anyone (ie. bigotry), whereas the Libs say 100% free speech at all times, no matter the consequences.

To summarise for the Greens: The new alternative for people that think the Labs are becoming too much like the Libs. Big on regulation, social issues, and the environment, and far less concerned with the economy than either the Libs or the Labs. Nowhere near as crazy as most people seem to think.

The Palmers

Palmer

Here’s their website.

God knows. Seriously, if anyone has any insights into what Clive Palmer and his party are all about, please let me know, because it’s clear as mud to me.

This is a totally new party as of 2013 and so far we only have their federal performance to go by, which doesn’t help at all since they change their minds every few weeks. One week they back environmental protections, the next they change their mind and say they’re bad for business. The party has a clear policy statement against politically lobbyists, while ignoring the fact that their founding member, Clive Palmer, is a mining magnate that has previously spent enough cash on political lobbying to rebuild the Titanic – something else he actually is planning to do (no, seriously).

Palmer is nutsHe also built a dinosaur theme park. No, we don’t know why. Neither does he.

Incidentally, this is the same guy that told the media that the Greens were conspiring with the CIA (yes, the spy agency) to undermine the Australian mining industry for the benefit of the USA. Which is insane on a number of levels, the most obvious being that the Greens are nowhere near well-funded enough for that.

All in all, there are two potential options when it comes to the Palmer United Party’s values:

  • Either the leader is just bonkers and has no real idea what he’s doing at any given time (and his candidates are just along for the ride), or,
  • Clive Palmer is all about Clive Palmer – specifically, accumulating as much power as possible purely for power’s sake, and getting his mug in as much media as possible.

Of the two, I’m inclined to go with number 2. Neither is a good basis to vote for a political party however.

To summarise for the Palmers: No god damn idea. Either way, don’t vote for them. No, seriously, I know he’s entertaining in a slapstick kinda way, but jesus guys, really. Vote Sex Party or something.

So there you have it people; you’re slap-dash guide to what each party believes in, broadly speaking. By looking at these values and comparing them to your own beliefs and ideals (and preferably, any and all relevant evidence) this should make it just a little easier to decide who gets your vote on Saturday.

 

 

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