WITH the federal election in full flight you may have reached the stage where you’re fed up with election hype from all directions and just looking forward to it all being over.
Approximately 35 political parties and many independents are contesting the 2022 Australian federal election. As you will have read in the last edition of the Post, we have eight candidates in the Monash electorate alone. On the surface, that would be an indication of a healthy democracy. However, in total, political parties apparently have at the most a combined 350,000 members across Australia.
Surely these numbers are not the sign of a healthy democracy?
Our political structure, based as it is on a ‘government’ and an ‘opposition’, is by its nature confrontational and divisive. This is exactly how the public views our politicians and our parliaments. Little wonder that our Parliament is not representative of the diversity within the Australian population. Little wonder that so many young people, who view the world through a lens of collaboration and inclusion, are so disillusioned with our political system, which is almost guaranteed to dissuade their participation.
All these problems are exacerbated by the perception of powerlessness by voters. They feel the only way they can influence government is to get rid of one they don’t like and hopefully replace it with one they do. How negative a system is that!?
Not everyone is interested in joining a political party, but there are many things we as citizens can do to participate in our democracy. It may be too late for this election, but here are some ways you can participate meaningfully before the next one.
- Join the mailing list for your local member or hop onto their website or Facebook page. This will give you a better idea of what your candidate is doing and opportunities to let them know how much you approve of something they have achieved, or encourage them to push for something not yet achieved. Giving feedback to them doesn’t have to wait until you receive some sort of pro forma letter from a lobby group giving you what to say to this or that politician about a particular issue.
- If you need help, ask your local member and/or their office staff. That’s part of their role. Call, email or write to let them know how you got on, and that you appreciate their efforts on your behalf. It all helps to develop a more positive framework within which we can all work and strengthen our democracy.
- Subscribe to state and federal parliamentary alerts to notify you when parliamentary enquiries are coming up and how you can contribute in writing, or speak at a hearing. State and federal governments all have quite good and detailed websites, so it’s not hard to find out what’s happening without hearing it through media outlets that may be pushing their own barrows.
- Answer the call from the Electoral Commission to act as an official at a polling booth or any number of associated behind-the-scenes jobs for which you will be well paid.
- Help a candidate with their campaign. Even if your candidate doesn’t do well, you’ll learn new skills or apply existing ones, meet new people, work collaboratively for a common goal and ride the highs and lows together.
- Hand out “how to vote” cards at a polling booth. This doesn’t have to be onerous. Usually volunteers know others giving out cards for their own preferred candidate, or it’s a good opportunity to meet new people and hear about other parts of the electorate. What better way of participating in democracy at the coalface?
Our parliamentary democracy is not ideal. But at least we have the freedom to vote for our choice of candidate to represent us in Parliament. Or we can actually be a candidate. Within our democracy we have many other freedoms which are the envy of so many in other parts of the world. To name a few:
- freedom to criticise the government;
- freedom from arbitrary arrest;
- freedom of worship;
- the right to a fair trial;
- the right of assembly; and
- freedom of movement.
We need to be active participants in our democracy to make these ideals work in practice better – to make our democracy stronger, more inclusive and more responsive to the many challenges we face on planet Earth, in Australia, and in our electorate of Monash.