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Local bi-election highlights the demise of democracy

One of the benefits of voting early was that both candidates were outside the polling booth. For the first time I had the chance to ask my “demise of democracy” question directly to candidates, and even better, two at once. Both has the opportunity to answer immediately, but instead both faltered and failed to answer the question.  

The demise of democracy question

The question is quite simple:

What policy do you think your party has gotten wrong?

It’s a simple question. All they have to do is tell me where their opinion differs to the party line.

But the party line always wins

Straight away one candidate said they thought that their party had really good policies, and started to list them.

The other candidate felt compelled to chip in with some of their exceptional policies.

Both missed the point. I didn’t want to know where they thought their party had it right, but where it had it wrong.

They didn’t understand the question. They are so used to being asked what the party policy is that they didn’t know how to answer a question about their own opinion.

Attempt 2: Take it to state or federal policies

I know that these guys are only there because of the party support, and if they made too much noise they would not be candidates. They can’t voice a strong independent opinion because neither party wants another One Nation rising up in their midst.

So I thought I would make it easier for them, and ask them about state or federal policies. That should have been far enough removed.

Then I had the funniest answer from one of the candidates who led it with the disclaimer that they don’t follow federal politics too closely (fair enough, this is a council position) and spoke out against the proposed Super changes and how he disagreed with them. There was only one problem, that was the opposition’s policy.

So strike 2, still no independent thought.

Does it matter?

We live in an age where the media will jump onto any hint of disagreement and blow it up into the apocalypse. All someone has to do is sneeze, and they quote it as a leadership challenge. I can understand why these guys are hesitant to say anything.

But there is one huge problem – if they win they will be helping to shape future policies. 

I want to know the quality of the person and their real opinions before I vote for them. Just because they are in a particular party does not mean they agree with their policies. 

It's just like 1984

By “1984” I mean the book by George Orwell, not the year.

Half way through the book we have the awesome scene where there is a huge antiwar parade and the crowd is hyped and chanting slogans against the other country and half way through they suddenly discover…they had it wrong and they are at war with a different country. 

There have been numerous examples of this total backflip in Australian politics over the years. One of the most devastating ones is the continual reversing of our attitude towards global warming. We were making great inroads into change and then WHAM change of leader and next minute we get special mention by Obama as to how bad we are. (And WHAM they have a change in leader and do a backflip). One minute the whole party is for fixing the environment, then it is a hoax and the economy is most important. The change is so fast it almost gives you whiplash.

The same-sex marriage debate went the same way, where party politics smothered democratic speech. Just to be clear – I’m commenting on the policy backflip.

What's the alternative?

Political candidates should be able to, and be expected to, state their own preferences on the big issues. It should be clear where they would vote when determining their party policies.

The only problem is that they wouldn’t be able to stand up in public and proclaim how amazing the party’s policy is, because they would be on record for disagreeing.

And so we should have a culture that supports free speech on the majority of issues, and not party politics. Voting along party lines should be the exception, not the norm. 

And face it, when it comes the really big votes like the budget, there is so much in it that it would be reasonable to say “I disagree with parts, but overall it’s the best solution”. 

And that would be democratically elected representatives doing their democratic duty.

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