Image: Wikipedia

If you’re an Australian citizen, or a Dutch person living in Australia who has the right to vote then this coming Saturday is an important date.  Need to get up to date?  Wikipedia has a great summary about the 2013 Australian Federal Election.

For Australians living in The Netherlands, you can visit the Australian Embassy Website – this week you can vote in person in The Hague.  Another website to visit is the Australian Electoral Commission which includes full information about for those in Australia and living overseas.

Here’s my own personal perspective on voting and Australian politics.  I’m always hesitant to begin political discussions in person or online as it often involves quite strong emotional response as well as conflict – which I’m not good at – but also feel that more people need to (politely!) join the political discussion for it to be truly representative of all citizens, so here’s my contribution.

I still remember seeing a TV programme at high school where we watched the Australian Parliment in session.  I was stunned – these adults bickering and throwing insults at each other were governing our country?

My next experience was turning 18 and knowing voting was compulsory so I registered and then headed down to my local school grounds to vote on the first election day.  Even after “citizenship education” at high school, and extensive (expensive) campaigns by political parties, none really stood out to me to be any better than the other.  Rather shocked by the almost-aggressive nature of rows of people thrusting flyers at me on “how to vote”.  They were particularly keen to encourage a “new voter”.  After a few years of this, I actually postal-voted several times to avoid that atmosphere on voting day.

Over the years as an Australian resident and citizen, I HATED election time.  People with boards on the side of the road with big faces – I don’t care what you look like, I want to know what it is you stand for.  Even when I did learn more about what particular candidates were keen to support policy wise – I had little faith that once in power, they would actually be able to fulfil these promises.  Even if they did, I had the impression that opposing political parties would tear it to pieces anyway – vocally and literally.  To this day, political advertising makes me cringe – the “shouty” voices and the usual focus on “what the others are doing wrong”.  Typing this in The Netherlands, I am actually really pleased I haven’t heard one single political campaign this year.  Particularly as someone with a marketing degree, I am shocked by the massive amounts of money spent on these tv/radio/press campaigns – and with what I feel is extremely limited effectiveness in reaching and communicating clearly with their target market.

Twice I’ve visited Canberra and been to Parliament House.  For one reason or another, all that really stuck in my mind was the “million dollar flagpole” (which I don’t even know the real story about!).  Either way, it was a nice building and city but I didn’t feel personally moved or connected to it as my country’s capital.

Back to voting – though I guess I shouldn’t admit this publicly, several times at elections, especially as a young adult, I found it too overwhelming and simply “donkey voted” – I ticked all the boxes.  So I was forced to vote, yet deliberately made my vote invalid.  I wonder how many do this?  I strongly believe that voting should be a right – but a choice.  How CAN you vote for one party or the other if you really don’t understand what it is you are voting for and the consequences of this?

Beyond all that, with all the antics going on in previous years with the Prime Ministers – Rudd then Gillard then Rudd…I’m not stupid – but I don’t understand, and trying to understand confuses and frustrates me.  Regularly, I felt like I should become more involved as a citizen…I’d start researching or talking to people but again it wouldn’t be long before I’d face a mental block – agggghhhhh, too much!!  It seems most are either in politics to fix the mistakes other parties have made and block them from future terms, or in a crusade based on some particular platform such as “stop abortion” or “improve education”.  Though I respect people’s personal political choices and goals, and do feel there need to be strong leaders and good standards of health, education and personal – overall, I feel there is enough complexity in the local, state and federal governments to thwart even the best intentions – and to this day, I really don’t feel that voting for a person or party who makes specific promises will ensure that these things happen.

That said, I have a huge amount of respect for people who choose a path in politics – if it’s for the right reasons.  As an outsider, it does seem to me that the entire Australian political environment is brutal and not something I would wish on my worst enemy.  I worry that anyone with true good qualities and intentions will meet such intense resistance in the media and from their own colleagues (not to mention the opposition) that I don’t believe any human has the personal strength to withstand.

Regardless of the nature of how it happened, I liked that a woman had the chance to be Prime Minister for a time – though this didn’t last long and I wonder when this will happen again.  No, it’s not about voting for the gender, but more giving some true chance for BOTH women and men to be represented at the highest level.

So that’s my morning rant from The Hague, The Netherlands.  This city is the seat of the Dutch parliament, though I don’t yet vote here and finding out more about politics is on my “to do list”.  My command of the Dutch language is rising to a level that I am starting to be able to follow a little of the proceedings here and my general attitude is that I like it a lot better than Australia.  Of course this could be a completely misguided and unfounded perception but I get the impression politicians here are a lot more trustworthy – but are able to be so as they are better supported by a more practical and much older system.  Parties seem to work together much more often towards common goals.  Because of course, regardless of who is in power, we all want a high standard of health, education, security and safety for ourselves and our families.  In the end, both The Netherlands and Australia do offer that and I am grateful.  You can disagree on some points and it’s healthy to do so.

So the solution?  Of course, it’s not easy, but in my humble opinion four things I think can help change the Australian political situation for the better is:

1.  Not force compulsory voting on citizens

2.  Politicians, people – and perhaps more importantly the media – need to realise politics should be much LESS about the person in power and more about their job.

3.  Once elected, those in power should be supported by the country to do their job well.  This would hopefully encourage more genuinely “good” leaders into positions.

4.  Individuals – myself included – need to take a more active interest in politics.

As mentioned above, I’m always rather nervous to invite political discussion as it stirs strong emotions and can get out of hand but I would be interested in your perspective in a comment below.

Renee