Politics is at quite the low ebb at the moment. Most of us get pretty frustrated from time-to-time about the way in which the major political parties are heading. We even get frustrated about certain issues that we wish the political party we most identify with would deal with in a way that we and the public overwhelmingly want. Essentially, we choose one of the two main parties, Liberal and National (Coalition) or the Australian Labor Party. Most of us don’t overwhelmingly agree with the platform of the party we vote for, whether that vote is delivered by first preference or flow of preferences.
This raises the question of the role that we play in the political process. Do we play a role entrenched in one of the political parties as a rank-and-file member? Do we seek committee or organisational representation within a party?
Or do we influence the political debate from the periphery? Is this influence from the outer limits of the political process at the ballot box? Or is it closer to the political discourse in the form of representing sectional interests trying to influence public policy?
Most importantly, what is best and most influential, change from within, or attempting to affect change just a little step away from political machinations?
This is a debate than will again be raised as a result of the public discussion entered into recently, particularly over the last week, but also for some months prior by the always intriguing and never dull Clive Palmer.
In recent times, the outspoken billionaire has both spoken strongly in favour of the Coalition stance on government taxes and then, more recently, strongly against the stance of both sides of politics on the charged issue of asylum seekers. Then there is the small matter today of a donation to Together Queensland to compensate workers sacked by the LNP administration.
Now, Clive Palmer isn’t one to be reliably taken on his word. He promised us he would run for Lilley, Wayne Swan’s seat, then elsewhere in Queensland but has since reneged on both counts, the latter supposedly over asylum seeker treatment by the Liberal and National Party at the federal level.
But let’s think the best of him and take him on his word that this is the legitimate reason he chose not to seek pre-selection for a parliamentary seat in Canberra. It’s not the first time he’s made a foray into the often ugly debate over some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.
But is it best for him to not at least attempt to seek a seat in the parliament where he could have influenced the debate from within? Admittedly his stance over asylum seekers would have probably provided somewhat of a stumbling block, a big hurdle to get over in winning the chance to represent the LNP in the electoral race.
Put that aside for a minute. If there were enough like-minded people that chose to get so heavily involved in the process, and it’s a sure bet there would be a number of people, socially liberal in nature, then change could be influenced from within.
Even if it were just one person, Clive Palmer, or a small number of people, like in the parliamentary debate on refugees and asylum seekers at present, then engaging in the t0-and-fro with an honesty, forthrightness and passion would begin to influence change from with. Yes, the progress might well be slow, but it starts people talking.
But there is a role for those at the ballot box. More importantly in some ways there is a role for those organisations that directly engage in the political goings on.
Because people at the ballot box generally vote for a number of issues that a political party stands on, it often becomes blurred, even completely obstructed as to just how far that endorsement of the policies of any one political party goes.
Voters can attempt to force change by writing letters to their local MP or Ministers, can protest or can show their opinions on any particular issue through polls on topical issues. But these fora are not the best way to get involved in the change process. They are helpful but will likely result in even slower change than people massing from directly within.
Then there is somewhat of a middle ground of influence. That middle ground exists in engaging in special interest groups which often have direct access to politicians, bureaucrats and government and can therefore have a greater impact on the evolution of political debate. In truth, lobbying groups are much closer to having a direct influence on government policy than the middle ground on the scale between everyday voters and actually being in the parliament.
It’s clear that the closer you are to the political process, the more impact you can have on change. Mr Palmer, despite some of his failings, everyone has them, would have been best to continue his fight to pursue change from within. He undoubtedly still will, behind closed doors within the LNP organisation and through the media, but not directly through attempting to get into parliament. His independent voice, if it continues, might help attract more like-minded people into the party organisation and that is a positive.
Change from the boundaries while not the best, will still result in the shifting of minds over time, though the depth of this shift and the time taken to achieve change from this perspective is likely much shallower and will take much longer to foment.
We must realise as voters that our selection at the ballot box will likely be misinterpreted by government as a full endorsement of their policies. It is not and all possible action must be taken to let government know just what we think about everything that our elected representatives do.
To not engage fully is to be a passive participant and an enabler for the occasional, sometimes often, horrific decision which can be made by governments.
Politics at the federal level in this country is at a low ebb, no doubt about that. That’s not to say that Australian politics has been or ever will be as popular as MasterChef. But politics under this 43rd parliament and the first minority government since wartime. These woes for politics certainly have a lot to do with broken promises and relentless aggression.
The lack of desire for the leaders of both sides of politics, despite the clear election winning position of the Abbott-led Coalition means, in terms of the Prime Ministership means it will not be the usual “who do you trust”, with trust so clearly lacking in politicians, but “who do you trust the most”.
More interestingly, in terms of party leadership it looks more and more certain every day that the equation will be “who are you dissatisfied with the least?”
Now of course in Australia we don’t elect our Prime Minister directly, the political party that takes government does that for us and as such, it doesn’t particularly matter what the electorate think so much of a leader, they’re almost always from a very safe seat for their own party. But when it’s close in the vote that’s a clearly different story with the leadership position all the more important. Ordinarily it can be expected that the choice of and performance of leader does have an impact of some repute on which party voters choose at the ballot box.
At the next election, it’s basically certain, pretty much lock it in Eddie, that the Coalition will win with Tony Abbott becoming the next Prime Minister of Australia and the Liberal and National Party coalition seizing the government benches.
In terms of voter dissatisfaction with the leaders, Newspoll has seen the Prime Minister languishing at levels of unhappiness with her performance in the Labor leadership at around 60% or thereabouts for many months.
The news regarding this same measure for Tony Abbott, despite being very competitive, even ahead at times in the preferred Prime Minister stakes is not a whole lot better with dissatisfaction in his performance as leader of the Coalition at levels consistently in the mid to high 50s on percentage terms.
Consistent Nielsen poll results show very high levels (over 50%) of voter dissatisfaction with the performance of both leaders. The last four Nielsen poll results show Prime Minister Gillard not having moved from a level of dissatisfaction in her performance of 59-60%. Again, that’s more than half saying they are not happy with the way things have gone.
Again in the Nielsen poll results over the same period Tony Abbott enjoys (though that’s quite the oxymoron because the results are still extremely poor) a lower level of unhappiness with his performance than that which the Prime Minister has experienced. For those same four Nielsen polls, Mr Abbott has seen a dissatisfaction level which has moved between the low 50s to the mid-to-high 50s, that’s again over 50% who aren’t too pleased with his performance as leader of the Opposition.
We are likely to see these trends continue until the next election with voters not particularly liking either leader in terms of their performance. But after all, in our two party system we ultimately pick between two political parties and at the next election, the voter disdain at the performance of the Opposition Leader will not count for much when such a large swing is on the cards. All in all it will surely be a case of who do you despise the least.