Thursday, August 19, 2010

How to cast the perfect vote... and not cast the first stone

Final election comment
By Peter Hallett
Australian Christian Voter

Many voters will be hoping to cast the perfect vote on Saturday - one that represents the best policies, the best candidates and the best future for themselves and the nation.

Christians, and many other thoughtful people, are trained to be intentional and purposeful in all that they do, conscious of rights and wrongs and doing what is best in the eyes of God or their own conscience. This brings a kind of moral pressure to bear as we sift through the competing arguments from candidates and commentators alike.

Sometimes casting a vote almost becomes a battle to see who will cast the first stone - is there any among us worthy to pass judgement on the poor, political sinners scrambling exposed in the dust.

The hard, but relieving, truth is that the perfect vote does not exist, and never has because none of the parties or candidates are perfect. So if perfection is your goal, your are looking in the wrong place. I can think of Someone perfect, but He doesn't need your vote. He would appreciate a chat though...

So take the pressure off, sit back and read my summary of the various options based on years of journalism and a relentless reviewing of parties, policies and posting more than 110 articles on the election in the past two months.

Oh, and one thing I won't be doing is telling you how to vote... That's your decision.

Rev Fred Nile
Christian Democrats: Though not always enjoying being lumped together, CDP along with Family First are the parties most strongly aligned with the Christian community (I can hear the protests of a smallish number of left-wing Christian Green voters decrying this appraisal but I'm not talking about what you would like to see, but what is a reality, so get a grip). The CDP is led by wily Rev Fred Nile who many love to hate but who has a great deal of political experience, is a survivor and as tough as bricks. There's no doubt the CDP has suffered a loss of finance and personnel with the advent of Family First and this has shown to some degree in their organisation for the election. However they have in NSW a solid lead Senate candidate in Shoalhaven mayor, Paul Green, and also should put in a good showing in Western Australia with Trevor Young. The CDP approach is to use the Bible as their policy document and often their media releases and emails read a little like a Bible study or prayer newsletter. They champion a very Biblically orthodox, morally conservative range of policies which appeal to many Christians concerned with the breakdown of families and marriage and the moral undermining of society. They can be unpredictable in other areas and social justice and more marginal social issues are their weak point.  This is partly because they are very quick to take a black and white stance on issues many Christians see as on the fringe of Christian belief. In any case, I see good value in a vote for the CDP in that it reminds the big parties and Greens that there are many people who hold to Christian moral values and care deeply about the nation. If there is a miracle and they win a Senate seat, it will be a very colourful ride!

Bob Day
Family First: Born in South Australia when Assemblies of God pastor Andrew Evans won a seat in the state parliament, Family First has more recently sought to project itself as being for families and small business. This is a reasonable strategy in attempting to broaden its voter base but has come at the cost of alienating arguably its strongest voter base, the Christian community. Nevertheless, they are still strongly associated with Christian voters but it was Labor preferences that delivered the first Family First Senator in Victoria in 2004. That is unlikely to be repeated in 2010 - Senator Fielding has understandably had a tough ride as an inexperienced and lone Senator and the rise of the Green has seen a preference deal with Labor, shutting him out of re-election. Maybe it was desperation with this position that led a Fielding staffer to have conversations with the Australian Sex Party a few weeks ago. Although no-one seriously thought they would do a preference deal, even talking to them was a damaging political mistake. Family First also tick most of the morally conservative boxes and may have appeal to small business as well, although I doubt they have developed strong enough policies to build a support base there yet. While having a softer face than CDP on a range of other social issues, again they miss the opportunity to rally Christians for whom Millennium Goals and environmental issues are big ticket items. Family First's best chance is Bob Day for the Senate in South Australia. A very well known businessman who sits on various boards and organisations, he may climb up the preference ladder if he can get a strong enough first preference vote. Again, many Christians will find a Family First vote good value because it aligns more closely with their personal religious and moral beliefs and they have at least broken into the house on the hill, if briefly. Oh, and keep in mind, Senator Fielding, even if he loses, will hold his position until June so still may have some impact on the next government.

Bob Brown
The Greens: Leader Bob Brown has very cleverly ridden the wave of environmental concern that first began having electoral impact 10 to 20 years ago and now may well break resoundingly on the beach of widespread electoral success. The Greens are a reasonable chance of winning Sydney and  Grandyler in NSW and especially Melbourne, all inner city seats. These areas are dominated by 20-30 somethings, highly educated and largely unattached. This is important because it is easier to vote on a purely ideological basis when you are not trying to raise children or run a business. It's amazing how more immediately pragmatic people become when personal responsibility grows. It will happen to many of these inner city voters, but not before they possibly give the Greens their best yet electoral win. Not that other people shouldn't be concerned about the environrment. I know there are Christians voting Green because they believe acting quickly and directly on climate change is more important from a social justice and environmental perspective than the moral quicksand that may accompany the Greens. Likewise, their embracing view of asylum seekers and call for an increase in aid to 0.7 per cent of GNI rings the right bells. Perhaps if we could morph Bob Brown and Fred Nile we'd have a very interesting prospect for the broader spectrum of Christian voters... One thing I'll say to the Greens (and some Christian social justice organisations): sounding sanctimonious about environmental righteousness has gone a long way to turning many Australians off the whole climate change debate. There's one thing worse than being wrong, it's being right and smugly bitter.

Tony Abbott
Liberals: One thing we can't forget is that six months ago no one gave Tony Abbott a chance in this election and since then Labor fearfully deposed its leader and installed a new Prime Minister who is having to fight tooth and nail to keep Abbott out of the Lodge. My guess is that he won't win overall although he will win in some states. But that is far from an air tight prediction - there is little predictable about this campaign other than Mark Latham making a goose of himself. In terms of policies, I think the Liberals have failed to communicate why some of theirs are better than Labor, even though they might be in some cases. And on the economy, I think they have relied too much on past glory and suffered from the need of Oppositions to be reactive to government decisions, even when they are not that bad. That has left them looking a bit thin on economics, even though I feel a strange comfort when I hear Andrew Robb talk finance, compared to a mild panic when its Joe Hockey. In some ways, the Liberals seem to appeal to the left more than Labor. They are against a mandatory internet filter which Labor has championed and many Christian groups applaud. And they have announced they will appoint a Minister for International Development, a key social justice initiative. Their paid maternity leave, if it had come from Julia Gillard, would have been lauded as a great feminist victory - but the chattering classes can't quite bring themselves to celebrate, because it's Tony afterall. On balance, I think Tony Abbott could develop into a Tony Blair kind of leader, and find himself delivering further useful innovation, if he continues to grow and change as a person and thinker. As a devout Catholic, it is assumed that beneath it all, he would remain more in line with most Christians than his main opponents on moral and family issues. However, if he loses, there is every chance he will be dumped and after a bit of argy bargy, Malcolm Turnbull will emerge to lead the Liberals more to the 'wet' side of Liberalism.

Julia Gillard
Labor: When Julia Gillard became Prime Minister many thought, including myself, that the parliament's most competent politician had moved to the fore. However within a week she started looking out of her depth and to have made several serious tactical errors. I am still to detect the Julia I thought I had come to recognise when she was Education minister but she has gamely weathered the early storms and is probably just in front. Labor has worked hard to shore up areas of concern to many Christians such as school chaplaincy, non-government school funding and marriage definition. Labor's continued support for an internet filter is applauded by many Christian. When Penny Wong, the gay minister for climate change, came out in support of the traditional view of marriage, it was either a remarkable piece of doublespeak, or Labor showing they have genuinely found moral ground for accepting this position. Or perhaps everything will be different after the election, something the more suspicious Christian organisations are claiming. I think Julia Gillard is right - if we are going to take action on climate change, a greater level of consensus is needed on when and how to do this, because to say there is only one view of this is arrogant and polarising. A citizens assembly is not likely to work, but good leadership might. If Julia does lose, don't be surprised if Kevin Rudd says a little more than 'I told you so'...

There are a variety of other minor parties, and I know some Christians are quite supportive of the Democratic Labor Party, but I've overstayed my welcome already - links to all the parties and various Christan checklists are available in the right column of this site.

In summary, if the Greens win 10 Senate seats, which has been predicted by a Morgan poll, it will mean that all legislation, whether from Liberal or Labor, will need their support. This could mean many changes to Liberal or Labor policies as we now see them. And if the less likely scenario of a hung parliament in the lower house occurs, we may well be back at the polls within two years.

As I approach my vote on Saturday, having thought and prayed, I'm looking at which party or candidate in the lower house most closely aligns with my core values. I then make sure my next couple of preferences stay as close as possible to that position. I can tell you now there is not a candidate or party that aligns with everything I would choose personally, so apart form standing myself as an independent, my vote will be guided by majoring on the main things.

In the Senate it is the same, but I'm also considering the importance of a broad range of voices involved in the review of legislation and the opportunity and responsibility this brings. I  try to consider which voice, that is important to me, is likely to be unrepresented in the Senate unless people like me vote for them.

I always number below the line in the Senate to take complete control of my vote and besides, it gives me more time to savour the wonders of our amazing democracy and the freedom to vote safely which we invariably take for granted.

Happy voting on Saturday.

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