This is the second post in a two-part piece on how Christians might approach voting – you can read part 1 here.
Secondary issues of considerable importance
Secondary issues are those that are significant in nature and should have an impact upon your decision as to who you should vote for. Given that, if you accept my previous outline of the fundamental issues, there will likely be some candidates and parties who will be excluded from your consideration altogether – thinking through some of these secondary issues should help you decide who the best candidate or party is out of the remaining options.
While these issues are not necessarily questions of fundamental principles, their importance is largely derived from the fact that they have a significant impact on the well-being of real people. The Christian’s imperative to love her neighbour as herself should affect how she votes to a large degree.
Sometimes a party’s position on an issue that would normally fall in this category could be so bad that it violates one of the fundamental principles I discussed in the last post. This would naturally mean you need to consider it one of those “single issues” that disqualifies a candidate from your consideration. However, as a general rule the following policy areas are quite complex and require something of a balancing act to get right. Therefore parties and candidates who address these issues can easily elevate one set of principles that are important to them at the expense of other important factors when articulating their position. Amongst Christians, there would be a great deal of unity on some of the important, basic principles a party’s platform should cover in these areas, but many of us will have different ideas about how exactly the policies should be fleshed out in practice to bring about the best outcomes.
Here are some examples:
Immigration/Border Protection and Refugees
The issue many Christians will feel most strongly about from this category, has been an issue at virtually every federal election since 2001. How the federal government manages immigration, controls Australia’s borders and treats asylum seekers is an incredibly complex policy area and is one of the most vexed issues in Australian society.
I recognise that for some Christians, how a party treats asylum seekers easily becomes a “single issue” for them and they will choose not to vote for a party with harsh policies in this area. I understand and respect that – however I believe this issue should not be one of the primary issues that determines how Christians vote at this election (or future federal polls). This is because:
a) I believe the issues discussed in the first section are of more fundamental importance and should be considered before getting to this one.
b) Opposing a party’s policy on this issue is not necessarily the same as having a viable alternative.
c) The two major parties have equally hard-line approaches and thus the election must be decided on other matters.
Let me focus on point b) for a moment. Many Christians in Australia are rightly concerned with current government policies related to the processing of asylum seekers in offshore detention. The problem is, many of our responses are simplistic and do not take seriously the range of complex issues at hand. If you have an alternative it must provide appropriate preventative measures to stop deaths at sea and halt people smuggling. It must also address the processing inequality that arises from giving any priority to the claims of asylum seekers who arrive by boat over those who languish for years in UN refugee camps while they wait to hear whether countries like Australia will take them in.
I hate the way that politicians and the media use the lives of asylum seekers as a cheap campaign token or sensational news story. I wholeheartedly agree that they all need to be held to account for the way they handle these vulnerable human beings. I believe there is considerable goodwill towards asylum seekers and refugees amongst Christians and that we should keep encouraging the government to increase the national annual refugee intake significantly and ensure asylum seekers are well treated. But I fear there is no easy solution to this issue and we are potentially playing into the hands of the opportunists if we treat it as an election-deciding issue in any significant way.
For the Christian voter, social welfare isn’t about propping up dole bludgers and wasting government resources through careless spending. How the party or candidate you vote for proposes to treat the disadvantaged, disabled and disempowered in society will impact the lives of many real people. We will never all agree on the nitty gritty of who gets what payment under what conditions, nor whether everyone is getting the support who needs it vs. too many people getting benefits they don’t really need. But any party or candidate that shows a lack of concern for struggling Australians – like the homeless, the destitute, the poorly educated, the mentally ill, the children affected by gambling, drug and alcohol addiction or domestic violence – should have a proportionate lack of our support.
Healthcare will always be a significant issue in every election. Like the above, we should recognise that the quality of health services in Australia affects the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people every year. We should think particularly of our elderly neighbours and those in regional or neglected areas that may be severely impacted by a lack of relevant funding. Again, there will likely be disagreement on the various details of any proposed health program, but a party’s commitment to improving health services may lift its standing in our considerations.
How a party approaches education is not usually a life and death issue, but education does play an enormous part in determining the life opportunities of our young and future generations. Christian voters should want Australian children from wealthy, “average,” or economically disadvantaged families to at least have access to the educational opportunities we ourselves have received.
We should want to see educational opportunities that equip young people to enter society and the workforce as well-informed, civic-minded adults with the skills to contribute positively to the community.
How a party prioritises education funding is important, but so is its ideological vision for education. At this election, federal support for the “Safe Schools” program is rightly an issue of concern, as are any other attempts by one brand of politics to indoctrinate the young people of Australia with a slanted social perspective. Christians should take an interest in what parties propose to teach the nation’s children and what the desired outcomes of these programs are.
Managing the economy is important, because the health of the economy affects millions of people for better or worse. I personally don’t think Christian voters should be wed to the neo-liberal, free-market, economic rationalism of the Liberal Party or the naïve, ideological socialism held by some on the Left of politics. Instead, out of the options available to us, we should cast a vote for a party or candidate that will manage the economy responsibly while seeking the best interests of all Australians. No party, major or minor has a perfect economic philosophy, so this will mean weighing up how a particular party’s policies might affect people positively or negatively (both short-term and long-term). Contrary to popular presentation, the particulars of economic policy should not be at the top of your list when deciding who to vote for!
Last, but definitely not least, Christian voters ought to take the welfare of Indigenous Australians seriously and it may be necessary to listen closely for where this fits into someone’s political priorities. Indigenous affairs is an area almost as controversial as immigration policy, so I would expect a degree of disagreement between Christian voters as to what policies and approaches are appropriate and which are unhelpful. But I know many of my brothers and sisters will agree that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must not be neglected, marginalised or denied opportunities that many of us take for granted. Initiatives such as Closing the Gap and addressing areas of indigenous disadvantage are things we should be behind.
Tertiary issues of lesser importance
These issues are not necessarily unimportant – some of them relate directly to things that affect our daily lives and benefit our communities. But in keeping with a triage model, I think there are a range of policies and promises that shouldn’t affect how we vote at an election, unless you’re down to an evenly balanced shortlist of otherwise good candidates and one of them is better than the others when it comes to some of these areas. There are areas in politics that have a considerably lower negative impact on people if someone gets them wrong and which don’t significantly improve people’s quality of life if the issues in the above section are insufficiently addressed.
Here are some examples on things that should be lower on the list of priorities when it comes to determining your vote as a Christian.
Infrastructure (eg; NBN, stadiums, roads, bridges etc;)
We need government to be on the ball when it comes to infrastructure projects. The country would be a mess if successive governments neglected important infrastructure like roads, telecommunications and public facilities.
But when it comes to a party’s promise to deliver faster internet speeds, road upgrades, new sports stadiums etc; there are just so many factors we should be considering before these ones. The NBN issue is the classic example at this election. It does matter if Australians get the best possible internet speeds in the coming years, because reliable and fast broadband does affect things like business and education. But the difference between two party’s policies on this issue pales in comparison to many of the issues highlighted above.
Arts, Sport and Entertainment
At the risk of inviting the criticism that I’m reinforcing the tendency for Christians to under-appreciate the arts – I’m more than happy to defend including this policy area in the category of third-order issues. It’s nice when parties find a way to fund arts, sport and entertainment for the enjoyment of the community, as they each have the capacity to contribute to the flourishing of society. But none of them are essential in comparison to other matters and should therefore be pretty low on our list of determining criteria.
I hope that even if readers have some different ideas about how to approach some of these issues, the triage model will lead to fruitful considerations of party policies this election. What I’ve written isn’t comprehensive, but hopefully I’ve surveyed enough of the issues to be of some help.
 Douglas Miller ballot_box_1.jpg (CC BY-ND 2.0)