Why Election 2016 is not The Matrix

In the 1999 sci-fi blockbuster, The Matrix, the protagonist Neo (Keanu Reeves) is offered a life-changing choice by the enigmatic Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). He is told that his future will be forever affected by whether he picks and swallows the blue pill (which will let him go back to an ordinary life of blissful ignorance) or the red pill (a gateway to a confronting, difficult and dangerous “reality”). Two choices: blue or red. Each with consequences. No turning back from either.

Red_and_blue_pill[1]

When it comes to voting, many Australians believe that our political “reality” dictates a similar choice. A simple choice between blue or red. Liberal or Labor. Without pushing the analogy too far, some of us feel that this choice does have enormous, potentially life-changing ramifications. And some may even feel it’s a choice between comfort and blissful ignorance and dealing with the hardships and realities of everyday Australian life.

But the choice is between the two. Only Blue (Liberal) or Red (Labor) can realistically form government, so voting becomes about swallowing the pill that is likely to lead to better outcomes for me, my family and perhaps a set of causes I’m passionate about.

What if I told you there was another way to vote?

Yes the next government will be led by either Malcolm Turnbull or Bill Shorten. That is virtually impossible to change. But the duopoly between the Coalition and Labor will continue forever unless Australians stop seeing their vote as a choice between the blue pill and the red pill.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pose for a photo together at Pentagon on Jan. 18, 2016. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Clydell Kinchen)(Released)
[2]
Bill_Shorten_DSC_3004[3]

 

People need to wake up from the cleverly crafted, illusory narrative that says you should automatically vote for one or the other, because you have no other real choice. The major parties want us to think this way, because having one major opponent to defeat makes life easier for them. It’s easier to poke holes in one, main rival’s vision and plan for the nation that to have half a dozen or more to compete with.

At a time when the leadership of both major parties is incredibly lacklustre and uninspiring, there’s no better election to send them a message and start to curb their control of public life than this one. Because if the Coalition and Labor go unpunished for their choices of leader and their nebulous principles and policies, things are only going to get worse from here on in.

If you’re a Christian voter you may feel (as I do) as though the choice between the major parties is a choice between bad and worse – or two equally unpalatable options. Malcolm Turnbull represents the worst aspects of his party – the harsh economic rationalism of free-market neo-liberalism and the “progressive” social liberalism held by a minority (but growing force) of his colleagues. Bill Shorten and Labor hold positions that are increasingly disturbing if you approach social issues from a Christian standpoint.

So how should we actually vote, if we don’t want to treat the two majors as our only options? I’ve noticed Christians are already chatting about this, directly or indirectly, on social media. Articles like: “Should Christians vote for a Christian party?” and “Can a Christian vote for those godless Greens?” have been doing the rounds lately.

While my short answer to the former question is: “Possibly, but not necessarily” and “Not in good conscience” to the latter – those issues themselves will have to wait for another day.

I’m encouraging people to vote for the best candidate or party available to them – placing them ahead of the major party candidates when they fail to fall into that category.

This will mean a few things practically:

1) Not being a lazy voter

Australians are renowned for apathy – particularly in the political sphere. And while we are prone to frequent complaining about the quality of our politicians, many of us are too lazy to do anything about changing the system – or even to find out what parties and candidates stand for, beyond slogans, soundbites and smiles. To vote for the best candidate or party you actually need to know which one is the best! That means doing at least a little bit of research as to what the substance of their values and policies are. With the internet, that’s much easier to do now than it once was. I hope to look at some of the key issues for Christians and Australians in the remaining two weeks of the election campaign and where the parties stand on them, as a way of helping people think through the options beyond blue and red.

2) Understanding the new Senate voting rules and maximising your Senate vote

The Senate ballot is the best and easiest way for you to vote for a party that better represents your values and objectives than the major parties. Queensland voters will have a choice of candidates from 37 different parties, along with around 20 independent candidates. That’s way more choice than blue or red!!! The new Senate voting rules mean you number at least 6 boxes above the line (party group tickets) OR at least 12 boxes for individual candidates of your choice below the line. While you don’t need to know the ins and outs of every single party and candidate, you have plenty of options to explore if you’re dissatisfied with the major parties. Each of us should be able to find at least one or two parties or candidates that better represent our views and values than the usual suspects.
The new senate rules do make it more difficult for minor parties and independents to get elected – but some probably will, and it’s down to our vote to decide which ones will be successful.

Sample Senate Ballot (2)

The role of the Upper House in reviewing legislation means that your vote for a distinct voice there is an important one. Better senators means better scrutiny and evaluation of every bill that comes before parliament. Your senate vote can make a difference.

3) Putting the Coalition or Labor further down your House of Representatives ballot than a better candidate (assuming there is one)               

On your green ballot paper you need to number every box in descending order of preference. In the vast majority of seats, a candidate from the major parties will end up winning and your preferences will go towards the winner or runner-up. However, if enough dissatisfied people vote for a different candidate, things can turn out quite differently. These hiccups send a powerful message to whoever forms government in Canberra. Likewise, even if your first preference candidate doesn’t get elected and your second preference goes towards the winning candidate – nothing provokes soul-searching for parties and candidates than a significant decrease in their first preference votes.

Sample House of Reps Ballot (2)

Despite what the major parties would have you believe, a principled vote or even a protest vote is not a reckless or wasted vote. It’s a declaration that you don’t feel Blue or Red is worthy of your primary vote. Even if they benefit from your preferences, you’ve told them that you’d really prefer someone other than them to represent you.

It’s time to change the political reality of Australia for the better by voting for something better. Yes we’ll still get a blue or red government for the next 3 years – but you and I have the power to choose to weaken their control of parliament and the direction of society, instead of strengthening it.

To stick with the false dichotomy of blue or red is to choose a bad future with two power-players that think they can continue to have a turn at sitting in the good seat in parliament every few years – despite continuously under-delivering on policy and leadership. Let’s find a better option and vote for a better future.

[1] W Carter “A Red pill and a Blue pill” CC-BY-SA 4.0 wikimedia commons
[2]  DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Clydell Kinchen Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia, visiting the Pentagon on 18 January 2016.CC BY 2.0
[3] Peter Campbell “Bill Shorten MP” CC BY-SA 3.0

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