Quit Ransoming Yourself

The Australian federal election came and... well, never really went. Since the nation delivered a decisive verdict of uhhh..., we have a hung parliament and people seem alternately excited and angry about it.

To put it simply: we have 150 seats in the House of Representatives. Whichever party has most of them forms the government. Since no party actually achieved this, we don't have a government. But without a government most Australians cannot exchange oxygen with the surrounding air (or so you would think), so we need the few independents to figure out what side they're on and form a minority government.

One recurring complaint about this situation is that these independent politicians are holding the country to ransom.

But as far as I'm concerned, complaints about Australia being "held to ransom" by a few independents are completely misplaced. If anything is holding this country to ransom, it is the fact that we have two major parties who would rather sit and pout at each other than do anything to govern.

What Your Vote Really Does

Disclaimer 1: I am currently assisting in the campaign for the Australian Democrats (of which I am a member) in Western Australia. I also used to be a member of the Australian Labor Party, and served as a scrutineer for them.

Disclaimer 2: I banged this out pretty quickly, and I intend to go back and make corrections, add references, etc. later on. You know, when I don't hate democracy for stealing all my time.

So the aforementioned federal election is almost upon us, and last week the Labor Party's crazy-accumulator, Mark Latham, suggested that voters should hand in a blank ballot paper.

This is known as an informal vote. There's nothing illegal about it, and many people do it to protest compulsory voting (attendance) in general, or to protest the specific candidates or government of the time. See, while it's necessary for enrolled voters to attend the polling place and have their name checked off, they're completely free to do whatever they want with the ballot paper after that. While most of us are putting numbers in boxes — and while I'm trying to figure out how I numbered 55 boxes with 57 numbers — some people write messages in large letters, draw pictures, leave teeth marks... that is, generally render their vote uncountable in some way.

But there are good reasons not to do this, and it basically comes down to this: your vote does more than elect the government.

The Democrats vs The Greens

With a federal election lurching drunkenly towards us, I figured it would be a nice idea to channel my usual undirected ranting into this website I seem to have. By now, most people who know me are painfully aware that I am an avid supporter of the Australian Democrats. "But," my friends might say, in their braver moments, "why the hell would you support the Democrats when the Greens are... you know... actually holding seats."

Well, you inflammatory hippie, I'm glad you asked!

I will grudgingly admit that it is a good question. The Democrats and the Greens appear similarly aligned on social issues, political standards, and issues affecting democracy itself such as censorship and voting processes. If the most important things in the world to you are social equality, environmentalism and how to interpret repeated numbers on a fully populated senate ballot, then you'd be hard pressed to see a reason to go Democrats over Greens.

To start with, just look at the Greens' policy page. It's... wonderful. Breathtaking, even. It puts the major parties to shame. It kicks hell out of the Democrats, that's for sure. Painstakingly detailed, well organised, clear and concise and motivated by ideology.

And yet, completely irrelevant.

The Greens are, at their core, an environmental party. But should a rational environmentalist really support the Greens? For reasons of culture and history, environmental activism carries with it the rather unshakeable baggage of technophobia and animosity towards business. Unfortunately, as far as I'm aware, the only realistic way to tackle the environmental issues we face is through science and business: world-class research and development, brilliantly clever engineering, and absolutely hands-down mercenary marketing of the results.

Terrorist Link to Aussie Hockey Victory

There is something about this that is so very characteristically Australian. The ABC posted a story about an imminent terrorist threat in New Dehli. It starts with:

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) has issued a warning to Australians to avoid markets in New Delhi, India.

The department says it has specific and credible information an attack could be imminent.

...and yet, somehow, ends with:

The run-up to the field hockey World Cup in February and March was overshadowed by concern that some teams might pull out, with one British team source telling AFP that the team only decided to attend at the last minute.

Ultimately, the tournament went ahead with a heavy police presence and passed off without incident, ending with an Australian victory in the final.

It's nice that they managed to work that in there.

Sanity Now Statistical

Our modern tradition of trial-by-evidence is easy to take for granted. Having only just edged out trial-by-ordeal and gladiatorial combat to take its place amongst pillars of modern civilisation, it now attracts some suspicion when someone proposes that a person be convicted based on popular opinion, and this is a point which I may come to appreciate even more in my later life.