Voting in Australia is compulsory. At elections, referendums, and plebiscites, all Australian citizens over the age of 18 are expected to cast a vote. This shouldn’t be news for anyone living in this country, but given how many voters fail to form opinions on political matters, there is a need to remind the populace of this every few years.
Your vote matters and you need to know what you’re voting for.
The UK referendum on EU membership has seen a tremendous global backlash as the victory of the Leave movement impacted the British and international economic markets. The British stock exchange has had its greatest-ever single day fall, with the pound falling to levels not seen since 1985. Prime Minister David Cameron has stepped down, there is a new push for Scottish independence, and global markets have suffered sharp losses. The Brexit vote was a victory for misinformation and ignorance as the bigotry of those on the far right was put ahead of the interests of the United Kingdom. Yet, within hours of the result being finalised, those behind the push to Leave the EU had conceded that everything they had promised to come from the Brexit was a lie. UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage admitted that the pledge of $350M per week for the National Health Service (NHS) was “a mistake”. Former London Mayor, face of the Leave campaign, and possibly the next British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, accepted that leaving the European Union wouldn’t mean “pulling up the drawbridge“, and that immigration would likely continue unabated.
Many commentators looking at the Brexit wreckage are now speculating that, as UK referendums are non-binding, the Parliament could refuse to bend to the will of the public and take the Brexit issue to an early general election.
One Leave voter told the BBC that he was “quite shocked” as he didn’t think his vote would have counted, echoing the shock of many who voted Leave without considering the ramifications of their actions.
It seems as though denial was the order of the day as Britons turned out en masse to issue a protest vote that none expected to succeed. Only, succeed it did. And with the success of the Leave campaign in the Brexit referendum comes a powerful question:
Is this what happens when the general public doesn’t care about a major political issue and its consequences?
This week Australia goes to the polls, choosing our next government and our political fate for the next three years. If, as pundits believe, the Coalition form government for a second term, there will be a national plebiscite on the issue of same-sex marriage. Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed that, even if the plebiscite does pass, it will be non-binding with Coalition MPs then being allowed a conscience vote on the matter.
If the ALP form government, Bill Shorten has said that he will move for a free vote on the matter within 100 days.
The difference here is important. If Australians elect Bill Shorten and the ALP, there will be no plebiscite, there will be a vote on the floor of Parliament as MPs do the job they were elected to do.
If, however, we choose to keep the dysfunctional Coalition government, we will be returning to the polls in the next year for a taxpayer-funded $160M opinion poll, that the Prime Minister has already committed to ignoring. Whether or not you personally support marriage equality, needless waste such as this must be prevented.
Many are now calling on the Coalition to scrap the plebiscite altogether, with all legitimate polling showing that Australians overwhelmingly support marriage equality, despite much of the Coalition being against it. The plebiscite may simply be one more way for the Coalition to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century, but it is being exposed as a weapon of hate, a wasteful exercise in economic mismanagement, and we now know it will be disregarded by the government that called for it in the first place.
It must be said, even with a free vote, there is no guarantee that same-sex marriage will pass the Parliament. The Coalition are far more likely to close ranks and vote against marriage equality out of spite if they lose to the ALP at the election, again prolonging the issue.
The best result for Australians supporting marriage equality would be scrapping the plebiscite AND a free vote for Coalition MPs. Though, it would take an enormous grass-roots movement to secure this result from the Liberal party, especially with über-conservative Scott Morrison waiting in the wings.
If, like 11% of Vote Compass respondents, you’re neutral on the issue, you’re also part of the problem. In a plebiscite or referendum there is never an additional option titled “Meh”. You need to form an opinion. In this instance, either you support gay marriage, or you don’t, it’s that simple.
It doesn’t stop there, political apathy, as seen in the Brexit, is seeing many Australians lining-up to issue protest votes based on their dislike of the big-two parties, Labor and Liberal. Pauline Hanson is in with a chance at being elected to the Senate, an anti-vaccination group has a chance of picking up the protest “donkey vote” because of their position on the NSW Senate ballot forms. These are not acceptable results. The economic meltdown that came from the Brexit is not an acceptable result. People need to start paying attention to the substance of politics instead of claiming to not care about politics at all. The last thing you want is to wake up the morning after an election, as many did after making Tony Abbott Prime Minister, wondering where it all went wrong.
Your vote has real world consequences, you need to make sure it counts.