On Voting and Jesus, Part 4

This post is part of a series

Election Principle 4 – You don’t just vote on economic issues

Last post I suggested that just voting on “moral” issues was a lazy way for Christians to vote. Today I want to push back against that a little bit and speak to a different group of people – the economic ideologues. Today I want to suggest that if, when you vote, the only issues you consider are the “economic” issues (e.g. taxation, workers’ rights, big or small government, quarantine, childcare rebates, government welfare, economic stimulus, the baby bonus), then there’s a problem. Again, I keep thinking back to Romans 13:1-7 as a useful text for thinking through this issue. Paul tells his readers that it is appropriate to pay tax (sorry Liberal Democratic Party) because governments are God’s servants. But we owe these taxes because they are God’s servants for the administration of justice.

Governments are meant to administer “justice”; they are meant to keep their constituents safe; they’re meant to make sure their citizens aren’t exploited; they’re meant to nurture the poor; they’re meant to commend the good and punish the evil (Romans 13:3). So ideologues – I want to encourage you to put down your economic ideologies (and I know this pains you to do so) and consider the whole field. What shape of government is going to defend the cause of the fatherless and the widow best?

This Election101 – Polls and Worms

I don’t know whether it’s just because of recent events, but I feel like this election, more than previous ones, is all about the polls. Everyday the media are running stories about little else (to get a feel for the sheer prolificacy of polls this election check out the pollbludger).

Interestingly also this year the worm (the squiggly thing at the bottom of televised Prime Ministerial debates) was divided by gender (which is funny because I was fairly certain worms were hermaphrodites).

Polls (of which the worm is a very specialised version) are dangerous things. The are the kind of story that self-perpetuate. The polls, for which the average punter rarely knows the sample sizes and exactly what questions they asked were to come to their results, are then reported as news. The stories are usually framed in terms of discontent (either for the government of the day or the opposition). Discontent feeds on itself.

The trouble with polling is that it is not a tool able to weigh up the benefits of policy – rather it is a tool that weighs up the strength of the PR companies the elected governments are employing. That tells us very little because respondents can only answer on the spectrum (you know… Strongly Disagree through to Strongly Agree).

In many ways it was these polls that toppled the Rudd Prime-Ministership. As was widely reported, a Senior Labor figure suggested Rudd, “… never bothered to build a base in the Party and now that his only faction, Newspoll, has gone, so has he.”

What are we to make of this? I think it’s important for us to remember that we have a system designed to topple governments that don’t listen to the people – they’re called elections. The proportional sample of an election in Australia is second to none. There we hear the will of the people, there the consequences of being responsive or irresponsive should be felt.

What can you do? Well I think the most important thing you can do is buck the trend and vote on issues, rather than on popularity. I mentioned a bunch of webtools in my previous post to help you figure out what the issues of importance to you are and which parties best align with those issues. Don’t be fooled into feeding on discontent. Find your own good reasons to be discontented! 🙂

Policy Area Mental Heatlh

I want to focus specifically on mental health, not because I think the healthcare system in Australia is perfect except for this one area but because it’s of specific importance to us as Christians, given sheer numbers of people who suffer mental ill-health in their lifetime. Conservative figures suggest that 1:6 people will suffer mental ill-health in their lifetime (I’ve seen figures as low as 1:4). I don’t have to think very hard to list ten friends of mine who are suffering mental ill-health and receiving treatment for it. Sadly many, many people in our churches and communities do not receive any or adequate treatment because of their inability to access services, particularly in regional areas.

According to the National Mental Health Summit (NMHS), mental illness affects over four million Australians every year. Mental illness is estimated to cost the Australian economy around $30b each year. In spite of this mental health is allocated 6% of the health care budget, but represents at least 13% of the health care burden.

Again from NMHS, every day:

  • 330 Australians presented to Emergency Departments with serious mental illnesses are turned away with less than 1 in 15 referred to any other service;
  • Over 1,200 (!) Australians are refused admission to a public or private psychiatric unit;
  • At least 7 people die as a result of suicide in Australia, with more than a third involving people discharged too early and/or without care following hospitalisation; and
  • Another 180 Australians attempt suicide and of these 84 are hospitalised.

We have to do something about this. This is a disaster in slow motion.

But what can you do?

– Go to this part of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) website and get the emails of the candidates standing in your seat for the house of reps. Send them a two line email, asking them whether, if they were elected, they would commit to working for lifting funding in this area. Tell them their answer will factor into how you vote this election. Generally candidates are very good at getting back to these emails (especially if you add the last sentence).

Post below if you have any success stories!

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8 Comments

Filed under Election 2010, Politics

8 responses to “On Voting and Jesus, Part 4

  1. Katie

    Wow, you actually went with my idea on mental health! Sweet!

    But more seriously, it’s such a big issue and it really irks me that it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It seems that the only way you get adequate care is if you have private health insurance (and top cover at that!), and unfortunately, mental illness does not discriminate based on whether you can afford proper treatment or not. So everyone, get writing to your candidates!!

  2. steveboxwell

    I forgot to mention, the Polls are even running for office itself with the Senator On-Line party. This party is offering to run polls on its website for every senate vote and they’ll vote with the winners. This is madness – just watch the Today show polls!

      • steveboxwell

        Ohh believe me Ben, if the majority of the electorate were thoughtful, weighing up the cogency of arguments I’d be all for direct democracy (it has worked for brief periods in places like Guatemala). But in a country like ours with an aging, Alan Jones listening population, I’m a bit spooked off it.

    • Benjimin

      Can we have this discussion *after* you read the section on arguments against direct democracy?

      • steveboxwell

        Harsh Ben! That was the only chapter I *did* read. 🙂
        Believe me, I want to be in favour of direct democracy, but I feel Verhulst and Nijeboer are overly optimistic.

        I have another argument that I’m trying to think through at the moment Ben, perhaps you could help me: “Direct democracy, because of its form, will always favour those in urban contexts rather than rural contexts.” Discuss.

        I’m not sure Verhulst and Nijeboers’ section on the voice of minorities quite covers this special case.

    • Benjimin

      So how is your argument valid against people being qualified to make decisions on any one current issue, if the exact same argument wasn’t equally valid against older/black/female adults being qualified to see through all the rhetoric and predict which politician’s actual future responses to all possible emerging issues would produce the better overall outcome? (And what about their empirical evidence that direct democracy does work and that people are better for it?)

      I won’t claim voting systems are politically neutral: conservatives might rationally favour less public campaign funding, less transparency and larger electorates. But why, specifically, do you want greater power for rural people? (This is not consistent with concern for the environment nor equality.)

  3. katierae

    I sent an email to my House of Reps candidates last night (Im in the marginal seat of Lindsay).

    I’m impressed with the speed of the Greens reply, although feel it was a little non-specific.

    “The Greens and myself personally are absolutely committed to turning the tide on mental health underfunding.

    The key focus for the Greens in health generally and in mental health in particular is on prevention. Early intervention in mental health within our community will help prevent the chronic problems that arise.

    Homelessness, loss of social skills, unemployment, drug abuse, isolation and social exclusion are all long term additional problems for people who are not given timely support and treatment.

    Both major parties are now talking about more money for mental health. This is entirely because the Greens keep up the pressure on the 2 old parties in the Senate. We ask that you vote for the Greens in the Senate to help us keep the issue of mental health on their agenda – and not just before an election.”

    She them went on to ask me to volunteer to hand out fliers for her on Saturday which I thought was a little odd.

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