On Voting and Jesus, Part 1.

This post is part of a series

Alright here we go! These posts are going to be longer than my <350wd usual maximum but I hope you find them stimulating.

Election Principle 1 – You don’t vote for yourself.

I know others have made this point but it bears repeating. Christians are meant to think of others before themselves. This is true for the little things (they can have the last Tim Tam) and the bigger things (I’m going to put a promised tax break to myself below promised welfare to my neighbour). This is totally counter-cultural. Everything about this current election is appealing to self-interest. The Christian is to be different. We are to consider the welfare of others. This means we consider how our vote could best serve those most disadvantaged in our society: the indigenous, the carers, the refugees, the elderly, the recently born, the unborn, the disabled, the mentally ill.

This Election101 – The Senate

In this section I’m going to be channeling that bit of information you learned on your year 6 Canberra trip and promptly forgot.

Alright, this election is going to be most interesting because of the outcome of the Senate (or upper house) race. It’s important to have the right balance in the Senate because of how laws are made. If any one party holds an absolute majority in both houses of parliament, then they can push through more extreme elements of their policy platform (as we saw with Workchoices in the final three Howard years) without it being properly reviewed and the hard edges shaved off. Likewise, it’s dangerous to have one major party controlling the lower house, and the other major party controlling the upper house. The danger is that the party controlling the Senate abuses their power. The best situation is that, in the Senate neither the government nor the opposition has control – a third party does. This is called the balance of power. My pick is that the Greens will win the balance of power in the Senate and I think this is a really good thing (and I’m not alone h/t Steve Kryger for passing on this link). Have a look at Anthony Green’s Senate summary here.

The tricky thing about voting for the Senate is that the paper is so massive and it can be utterly overwhelming. You’re handed a scroll of paper and told you can either put one mark on it or around 100. Most people vote above the line to save the confusion.

But I want to suggest this isn’t the best strategy. Here’s some things to consider:

– Do your research early. You can now see who all the candidates for all the parties are on the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) website (go here for NSW).

– Vote below the line. I know this can seem a bit daunting (and will mean it takes you an extra 5 minutes to get out and get your sausage sandwich from the Rotary club BBQ) but it’s the best way to ensure your vote goes where you want it to. If you vote above the line the parties do this work for you (through their preference deals), which is OK, except it means that your vote can have unintended consequences. It was preference deals like this that got Steve Fielding into office even though his popular (actual) vote was very small.

– Vote with an idea of who you want to position first, last and put everyone else in the middle. So personally I’ll be prioritising the Greens quite highly because on the whole I like their policies, the Australian Sex Party last (because of their opposition to the Greens policy of ending human sex trafficking) and the other parties somewhere in between.

– My advice is, unless you know the independents personally, don’t vote for them highly. Independent candidates are great because they aren’t tied down to party positions, but they’re not so great because (like any of us) it’s harder to know how they’d react in a full variety of different policy situations.

Anything on the Senate I missed?

Policy area – the Environment

This might seem an odd place to start for a Christian discussion of politics but it’s as good a place as any. In elections gone by organisations like the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) and indeed the Australian Christian Values Institute (ACVI) have declined to take a position on environmental policy because Christians disagree on it. This, I would argue, is a dumb way for Christians to develop a voting ethic because Christian morality is not herd morality but heard morality. As we listen to the word of God in the Bible we work out what His priorities are and live our life to serve Him. As it turns out, God cares a fair bit about our stewardship of the world (you’ll find it on page 1). God’s intention for us was to have a good relationship with Him, with others and to take care of creation as stewards.

As individual Christians, we can take big steps towards acting sustainably ourselves, but as voters we have the potential to make this stewardship stretch further. The onus is on us to choose a government that will protect the environment for us, and for the sake of generations to come because God made it and wants us to. This governmental stewardship takes a number of forms (how we generate our power; how we regulate industry to prevent corporate environmental destruction; how we protect and fund our national parks and gardens; how we regulate the importation of products that damage the environment of others; how we get people to their workplace – i.e. public transport; how we reward individuals, communities and businesses that act in an environmentally responsible way).

This election the ACL has made some advancement in this area, asking all the parties to comment on their position on climate change (though the question is extremely non-committal about whether climate change is actually real). Let me suggest some things for you to think about as you trawl through those responses:

– Fixing environmental problems will cost us. It may even slow our economic growth. Sometimes doing the right thing will cost us (cf: Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery. The British GDP dropped by 10% following the Slavery Abolition Act 1833). Wanting the problem to be fixed without it costing anything is at best naive and at worst disgraceful.

– Climate change is by far our biggest pressing environmental challenge but it isn’t our only pressing environmental challenge. Firstly, there are a disproportionate number of minor parties including both the so called “Christian” parties (Christian Democrats and Family First) who take a sceptical stance on climate change. This is embarrassing because of the overwhelming scientific data. But there are other matters to be considered and let me give you one example: Mining. Mines like the Lake Cowal goldmine regularly spill cyanide, threatening waterways; gas mines like the one in on the Burrup Peninsula threaten aboriginal rock carvings 6 times older than the pyramids; natural gas and oil mining in East Timor and West Papua by Australia robs them of their natural resources and threatens the local fishing industry. I’d like to hear more from the ACL on these issues at the next election.

The best resource I’ve found to help you easily digest the carbon policies of the major 3 is the Climate Institute’s very pretty polluto-o-meter.

Any other thoughts on the environment?

More to come all this week.

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14 Comments

Filed under Election 2010, Politics

14 responses to “On Voting and Jesus, Part 1.

  1. steveboxwell

    On the Senate thing, check out https://www.belowtheline.org.au/ an excellent site for making voting below the line easier!

    • Peter

      I voted below the line last election, but it wasn’t a properly informed decision. I’ll check the belowtheline website out. Thanks!
      Thanks also for reminding us that we are to be good stewards of God’s creation (and not to be like Lord Denethor!). We have been looking at ways to reduce our carbon footprint and I for one have been impressed with the government’s initiative regarding solar energy.

  2. Elizabeth Fong

    Thanks Steve, that was really helpful. Not sure who/how to vote yet.

    • What do you think about the Greens not even bothering to answer some of the ACL’s questions? Even the sex party answered the questions, even though they knew it would be against what the ACL would think…

      • steveboxwell

        I think, without wanting to sound overly defensive, it may have been a case of “once bitten, twice shy”. The ACL and the Greens have something of a history of antagonism towards one another, so I can appreciate why the Greens didn’t want to get involved.

        Even in recent history, in its first edition of “Viewpoint”, the ACL invited Bob Brown and another journalist to write an essay each for the publication. You can read them here: http://www.viewpointmagazine.org.au/index.php
        Angela Shanahan’s essay draws striking resemblance to a Lathamesque, projectile bile spit. Her critique is spurious, her facts dubious and her reductionist view of what the “Christian issues” are is obvious. I guess if they didn’t feel like they were going to get a fair representation, the Greens might have been standoffish.

        And just on the Australian Sex party, they did “participate” but you’ll note that on several occasions they don’t answer the question delivered (e.g. a question about Shariah law is met with an answer about banning the burqa).

  3. “the Australian Sex Party last (because of their opposition to the Greens policy of ending human sex trafficking”
    I don’t know where you got that idea! We are working with Scarlet Alliance the national sex worker rights org on traffiking. I have personally advocated for greater protection for OS sex workers in this country. Our policy is about getting rid of the traffikers. Without blowing my own trumpet I have worked on this issue for many many years, have a good understanding of the issues and worked with the Scarlet Alliance on a number of submissions as well as making my own to the federal governmeny over the past 10 years!

    • steveboxwell

      Hi Fiona, welcome to the Boxpop.

      When I referred to your party’s stance on trafficking I was referring to your drive by attack against the Greens candidate Kathleen Maltzahn. I got the gist of it here: http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/07/20/a-tale-of-two-press-conferences-parallels-between-abbott-and-the-s-x-party/

      Her work against human trafficking is extremely admirable and to suggest she should be avoided because she doesn’t share your laissez-faire approach to the sex industry robs you of credibility.

      That said I acknowledge I overstated my case. Good job working with the Scarlet Alliance for the rights of trafficked women. But I still intend to vote for your party last and will encourage others to do so (not just on this policy area but on others as well).

  4. heard not herd. clever, good, true. nice!

  5. Pingback: On Voting and Jesus, Part 3 « The Box Pop

  6. Pennee

    I have a problem with advocating that having the Greens holding the balance of power is a good thing, particularly as a Christian. They support gay marriage, free sex changes, death duties, shutting down coal fired power stations… none of which really reconcile with a Christian world view. Even if those policies don’t get up, they are the ones who will be negotiating with the major parties to change legislation to one that suits their agenda. Over and above this, the Greens have no economic policies, and support drastically increasing taxes, which does not seem like a group who embody responsible stewardship, which is really what I’d have thought a Christian would be looking for.

    I’m also going to disagree with you that welfare is a good thing or that Work Choices was bad (I’ve just gone through a new EBA process and it was actually worse).

    • steveboxwell

      Hi Pennee

      Thanks for your thoughts. I have a few in response:
      a) You won’t find a party that, as a Christian, you agree with entirely. If you do, then you need to reassess your Christian faith because Jesus transcends politics. He cuts across all human culture and all human preference because he’s God.
      b) While I concede your point on gay marriage (and I agree with you), you’ll need to show me their “free sex changes” policy.
      c) I’ll need you to explain to me how shutting down coal fired power stations conflicts with our Christian worldview.
      d) (again, this isn’t meant to be a Greens love in but) they do actually have economic policies (you mentioned two of them). I’d be interested to hear from you about how taxing the highest earners and corporations at a higher bracket conflicts with the principle of stewardship.

  7. of course, the other benefit of voting below the line is that it’s a great warm up for the 3 hour exams coming up in November.

    • steveboxwell

      but that’s the best thing about the belowtheline website. I pre-polled today and was out of there in 4 minutes because all I had to do was fill in the numbers from my piece of paper to the ballot paper. Genius!

      Wait… we have a 3 hour exam in November?

  8. Dave

    Interesting. You showed your cards as promised. But I can’t stomach voting for a party with a gay leader that supports homosexuality, gay m, marriages and abortion. They will not be pro Christian and probably remove the privilege of teaching RE at schools etc. I could not trust them enough to give the balance of power to them.
    I’ll stop reading now

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