Bennelong By-Election

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While I'm not standing for the By-Election in Bennelong, I still feel the inclination to stick my oar in. Perhaps you'll find what I have to say of interest.

Introduction

Both others in the pirate party and myself wanted me to contest this by-election, but we could not get our resources together in time. We wanted to be sure that we would do a better job this time. And we were unable to get enough people to commit. Still, I'm hopeful that - with a bit of notice - I'll be contesting the next election as a pirate party candidate.

Having lived in the area for quite some time, and having contested many elections, I thought I'd put in my views out there. I have the punter's experience, coupled with the perspective on politics generally and Bennelong in particular I've developed over several years. Be warned, I do ruminate and cover a lot of ground. Much as I have my inclinations when it comes to candidates, at the same time, things really are not as simple as are put forward by any major political party. And, well, most people, really.

Many candidates

This by-election is an accidental result of the laws around the nationality of candidates. And, as a result, a great many candidates - 11 - have thrown their hat in. According to Ms. Keneally, that's the result of a dissatisfaction with the Turnbull Government - well, maybe, but the door swings both ways. The presence of the Australian Liberty Party and the Australian Conservatives suggests some Australians are dissatisfied with the Liberal party not going far enough, rather than having a frustration that would direct them to the Labor Party. And some of the groups tossing their hat in represent a radical charge into the distance, hardly representative of a push away from the Libs towards Labor.

It is the hope of Labor, I guess, that Bennelong will be a lightning rod for frustrations about the Turnbull Government that be directed towards Labor. It must also be the hope of other political parties that Bennelong will be a lightning rod for more general frustrations with the political system and the options provided by Labor, Liberal or the Greens, pushing in quite different directions.

Certainly, as a past Pirate Party candidate, I hoped to attract this vote. I appreciate those who have voted for me in the past - it does show a certain spirit with Bennelong to embrace broader alternatives. And if you've voted for me in the past, perhaps you'll find something of interest in what I write.

Nevertheless, this willingness to embrace alternatives is limited, much as it has never stopped me throwing my hat into the ring. I'd suggest that it's not just about having radical solutions, but also about having a history on the ground; something I've tried to emphasise. So, on the one hand, I will sing the praises of other minor parties for at least opening up the space of possibilities. But I'll also talk about the two horse race in most people's minds - the one between Keneally and Alexander.

Same Sex Marriage and other divisions

There's Same-Sex Marriage. While a majority in Bennelong answered "no", in Abbott's own seat, Warringah, the majority answered "yes". This suggests to me that while the Liberal Party may see every vote for them as some sort of ringing endorsement of everything they're about, in fact people often vote for them as some sort of rearguard action - thinking that they're better than the alternative, the least worst option, better economic managers, or whatever - but not embracing the whole package. The Liberal Party would be blind to this, because they never stopped to ask people what they thought of the different parts of their policy, and mistakenly saw every vote for them as more of an endorsement than it actually was. So, the results of the survey would have, in some cases, come as a shock.

But, if you think about it - rather than focusing on the good and grand things the Liberal Party are doing, much of their argument is about the "dangers" of Labor. So, at some level, they must also intuitively grasp this reality.

But the question then remains - to what extent is the issue of Same Sex Marriage a "deal breaker", or just something you'll be annoyed about while ultimately you still cast your vote for a party that goes against your inclinations? I don't know the answer to that one. Might people nominally against Same Sex Marriage be willing to vote for a party that goes against their inclinations, because of other factors? Hummmm....

But SSM / Conservatism is not the only divide in Bennelong. We have a large migrant community, including refugees. And much as refugees is an important policy to be nuanced about, it can be dangerous to play emotionally. And how will the migrant community react to the conflicting ideas about refugees and migrant policy? I don't know, but it is interesting to think about.

Keneally, the Labor candidate

There's been criticism of Keneally's involvement with the Obeid's legacy in NSW. Keneally says she testified before ICAC against Obeid, and her evidence was well regarded. In fact, I'm impressed with Keneally for having the courage to face the electorate in the wake of Obeid. NSW Labor sure had problems. And Keneally's job was not to win the election, but rather to do her best to contain the damage. I think it takes courage to accept that sort of challenge.

I was very impressed with some things that Keneally did. The Medically Supervised Injection Centre achieved permanent status. Ethics education in schools was also given its blessing ( see also a co-written article at the time, here). It was all the more interesting in the light of Keneally's Catholic background. At the time, I observed that Catholic Keneally made positive secular initiatives, and while Gillard was an atheist, you wouldn't know it. Gillard did not embrace the inquiry into institutional child abuse - rather she was dragged kicking and screaming into agreeing to it. At the time, as President of the NSW Humanists, I sent Keneally a letter congratulating her.

While there may be reasons for voting for Keneally, they are not the reasons the Labor Party puts forward. It is not that simple.

Issues and threats

For me, the threats we face essentially involve the past catching up with us. We have more pollution, traffic congestion and accommodation is becoming less affordable. We have trouble maintaining our infrastructure - country bridges are forever having their load downgraded rather than being repaired or replaced - and our own water system suffers from reduced maintenance and exercising of valves. We have to travel further the access the jobs that are available, and the jobs which are available represent precarious employment - in no way do the jobs as good as those of decades ago.

For sure, it is better to have a job than no job, but you don't want to lose sight of the fact that the quality of jobs are in decline. And so you have the "jobs and growth" mantra of the Liberal party. But it's more complicated than can be encapsulated in a slogan - it is not just jobs and growth - but the quality of the jobs and the growth.

Into the bargain there's the upwards pressure on the costs of utilities, suggesting we have not kept pace with the needs of the city - whoever might be to blame.

Other parties and policy issues

There are many things that need to be done differently - but one issue which does address this larger tsunami approaching us is removing negative gearing. It is addressed by the Greens and the Affordable Housing Party.

The Greens do not have a nuanced understanding of the economy, as does the Pirate Party, and are not as strong on civil liberties. Nevertheless - at least at state level - I've been impressed with their commitment to holding paedophiles in the Catholic Church and elsewhere to account, along with their past bills attempting to advance voluntary euthanasia and women's access to abortion. The world is not as simple as some would like to make out. They've more recently made a hash of dealing with sexual abuse in their own ranks. That needs to be acknowledged. But, unlike many who would think that one wrong their opponents make as completely trumping any good they have done elsewhere, and in the meantime looking the other way on the sins of their own side, I prefer not to be so simplistic. The Greens may have their problems, but have also stood up for important things.

And there's probably a bit of an echo in my concerns with the Sustainable Australia party. Trouble is, they challenged my credentials in this area when I stood for the Secular Party a few elections ago, much as I hosted a related speaker at an event I had ran; it remains difficult for me to take them seriously. Still, their presence does say something about a broader concern with more than just "jobs and growth" that fits into a simple Liberal / Labor dichotomy.

Now, Mr. Alexander is having a go, and I don't want to be too critical. I understand he is engaging with the details around affordability, and that's positive. Nevertheless, he is a part of the Liberal Party, a party that is paralysed by internal dissent and simplistic, partisan ways of looking at the economy.

Business has an important part to play. We can celebrate personal initiative and enterprise. However, we make a mistake in thinking that just because our business initiative - for example, running a restaurant - is doing the community good, then every business initiative must also be doing overall good. Just let those developers rip. It's all good. It's all business. Which we know must be positive. In the face of organised Labour, historically, business has bound together, mistakenly thinking that it has more in common than it actually does. And that is what the Liberal Party is. Rather than having a nuanced approach to business, it builds on a naive foundation and represents what's left after all the business interests that can flex their muscles have had their go.

Labor have themselves looked into the abyss for too long and have become the thing they hate. They are equally unable to develop a nuanced understanding of business and the economy, and they struggle to communicate what they have been able to grasp. And so, in the campaign, they talk about the "threat" of the Liberal Party, and the need to "send a message".

In this vacuum of genuine engagement with the issues of the world and the economy around us, the Pirate Party does have that nuanced engagement. Having been the victim of over-reach by both government and business in the past, and being informed by improved understandings of the world around us, we do have that appreciation for human sovereignty, including personal business initiative and a genuine contribution of business to the world around us. But ... hang, on ... yes, that right - I'm not standing in this election, am I? Nevermind, I'll get on with it ...

Communications from Mr. Alexander and Ms. Keneally

Like many in Bennelong, I received a letter proclaiming that it had "Important Election Information Enclosed". On opening, it was a letter from Mr. Alexander, talking about voting being compulsory and providing the necessary forms for a postal vote. Just as well he pointed that out to me, it might have slipped my attention. Mmmm.

Apart from what seems to me a manipulative way of getting me to open the letter - well - the claim by Mr. Alexander that he genuinely thought he was an Australian citizen and entitled to stand in parliament - I'm willing to take him at his word on that. Just as I'm willing to accept Ms. Keneally's claim that she had nothing to do with Obeid.

Keneally did in fact have a card which involved no deceit - with an agreeable, smiling Kristina on the one side, and claims about Medicare, cuts to TAFE and so on on the other. But, not to be outdone, there was a letter from Keneally which had no indication it was from the Labor Party - at least there were no claims there was "important election information enclosed".

And then I've received an automated call from Mr. Alexander, which I didn't really listen to. Well, I am taking a look at the material they sent out! Interesting they've been bothered this time around.

I've been trying to nut out the detail of the claims by Mr. Alexander and Ms. Keneally. And it has not been easy. It is very easy to make the claim that there have been a litany of cuts, but where is the detail? I've looked around for a site that would detail these claims, but can't find it. And maybe there have been cuts to medicare services, but where are the statistics? We have had swords crossing a bit, but no detail. Have waiting times been cut in queues by telling people to come back at another time?

As my teacher used to say :

You need to show your working

And something I've said in the past :

If you wish to worship at the temple of statistics, you must go in with a pure heart and good intentions

And, in the respective letters, we have emotive claims : Alexander says Bill Shorten becoming prime minister is "dangerous" and "We just cannot take that risk". So what if it were "risky" to vote for Keneally, but a risk worth taking, one that people making a mature assessment of the risk would ultimately embrace. Ummm ...

In contrast, Ms. Keneally talks about "Mr Turnbull being seriously out of touch" and "sending Malcolm Turnbull a message".

Labor claims to be up against a well financed Liberal campaign, and ask for donations. I certainly acknowledge the business interests associated with the Liberal Party flexing their muscles. But, at the same time, it strikes a bad chord. Like, rather than claiming "victim" status even before you even enter the ring, you should just get on with it and try to fight the best fight you can.

But it's not like the Libs are immune to abusing fact and their interpretations, either ...

As Dire Straits used to sing Two men say they're Jesus ... one of them must be wrong ...

Go figure.

Alexander and Turnbull

However, there's one area where I'll give Mr. Alexander a nod. He has taken an interest in the local area, and helped people with their problems. Some have just chucked rocks at his sporting initiatives, but I think he's been making a genuine effort. Not earth shattering, but I mean, what were you after?

However, having said this, exactly what are we voting for? The electoral commission just want us to vote .... they don't give us any instructions. Our local member may well help us out and make his impact on the area, but why are we sure Keneally would be unable to deliver in the same way? Further, Alexander is part of a party, which gets to determine policy when in Government. And just what is this party that we would be buying into?

Turnbull does bring his experience outside of politics to the job, which is a good thing. But he is at the head of an unruly mob, and has had to make too many deals with the conservatives to get into power. And when he says things like "there are the laws of mathematics, and the laws of Australia" ... I just shake my head. Look. A Labor Prime Minister would certainly say some stupid things from time to time. Nevertheless, the overall picture is not promising, much as it is not totally negative.

The Turnbull Government has made a hash of internet censorship, personal freedom and similar. Their talk of "meta-data" suggests they don't really get the internet, which is only reinforced by their ignorance of encryption. Sort of like watching a toddler playing with a power saw. Their Centrelink debt recovery initiative was a dog's breakfast, and they shared confidential information with Fairfax media along the way. And then they want to be granted a "good faith" defence when it came to citizenship; but how would Centrelink recipients have gone with that?

Still, these are not things which the Labor Party are really shining a spotlight on. To me, that suggests that a vote for a minor party, even if you might ultimately put Keneally ahead of Alexander, would send a better "message" than just voting for Labor as Keneally seems to be encouraging you to do.

The preferential voting system is your friend.

Conclusion

There's a lot more carry-on than there was last election, so both sides are clearly taking it more seriously. I'd suggest Turnbull really is under pressure. The sad thing is, it is not Abbott, because if it were, he'd have an opportunity to understand how Gillard felt when she was under pressure and he was the cause. Labor really would be better served if Abbott were PM. But way back when it was a string of lefties who were encouraging Abbot to resign or in some way have Turnbull take over. Be careful what you wish for. Talk about self inflicted wounds. Abbott was like the commander who used germ warfare on the enemy. Initially effective, the contagion eventually spread back to his own troops. Sigh. Never mind.

Anyway, be good, go forth and vote with your conscience!

Yours in fraternal voting, whoever you might vote for,

John August