Friday, July 23, 2010

The Ignorance of Democracy

There will be a federal election on August 21 in Australia where voting is compulsory. The perennial debate surrounding the apparent contradiction between the concept of democracy and the mandatory call to 'have your say' never gets satisfactorily answered, but who cares. Where is the tidal wave of opposition to this imposition which forces people to vote when they either don't want to, or they do not give any thought to how they use their vote? Is this a decision which the citizens of Australia take seriously?

People might spend three weeks on the purchase of a new car. Perhaps months or even years on the huge choices involving the purchase of their first home. There are women, and men, who probably spend more time thinking about what they are going to wear on any given day than they have done in their whole adult life, considering who to elect as Prime Minister of the country. Generally speaking people do not invest time in the decision making process come election time. There are a number of reasons for this.

Some, as already mentioned, simply don't care. Some can't see the point, either because they see very little difference between the major parties or because they live in a safe seat. A seat which has always been held by a particular party is unlikely to change hands. They believe that after they vote, nothing will change, and more often than not they are right. Even at the national level. Changes in government rarely result in massive changes to the lives of ordinary Australian, and thank God for that. Change happens very slowly in Australia even when the need for change is universally recognised and urgent.

Even if we do care, and we do want to vote, most of us will not find the time needed to because it does not seem worth the effort. Investments are made readily when a good return on those investments is, at least a possibility. What difference will it really make if I spend an hour a day for the entire election campaign researching and ruminating on the issues?

What do we know about the policies of the parties and their representatives who woo our votes with the fervour of teenage boys chasing girls? What do we know? What can we know? If we want to make an informed choice and properly consider the issues, where do we find that information? Not from nightly 'tabloid' news programs which include the half hour of alleged real news. Not from sound bites on radio news bulletins. Not from propagandist advertisements on television, radio and in newspapers. Not from commentators like Alan Jones and Piers Ackerman who have made axe grinding an art form. Not from our politically savvy friends who spout the ideas of others in convincing monologues. The nature of this problem should be clear to the reader by now.

To get to the truth of political spin and sloganism you have to dig deep, and that requires an investment of time which most of us unwilling to make. It is imperative that we use the brains God gave us and make up our own minds.

Here are two suggestions: Firstly, watch full interviews with politicians on television programs like the ABC's 7:30 Report, or listen to them on the radio where again the ABC, on programs like AM and the World Today, offer some very enlightening content. This way you will hear what the politicians have to say in context, and how they respond to questioning. Secondly, research the issues on the world wide web. When in doubt, Google it! Make an informed choice Australia.

In my 24 years as an adult, an Australian citizen by birth, a proud Australian, I can recall very few decisions made by our government which have radically altered my life, and none at all that have messed it up. Life goes on, we vote for politicians because we have to but we want to believe their promises, we want to believe in the system. We cherish the concept of democracy but ignore the practice of it. I think we want to believe that our vote will make a difference. We cling to this hope even though it seems to fly in the face of reality. The absolute rubbish we are bombarded with nowadays is appalling in its superficiality. I need only offer one example: 'Turn back the Boats'. The fact that the arrival of illegal immigrants by boat to Australia is a major issue in this Federal election is a damning indictment on the intelligence of our democracy. It's embarrassing!

Do Australian's take their right to vote seriously? Generally, no, they don't. What about you? Use your freedom wisely.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dave
    I appreciated your comments and encouragement for us to be thoughtful and committed voters...but can you expand on why the "turn back the boats" platform is a slight on our intelligence? I am not asking because I don't agree but because I would like to understand more....look forward to your thoughts.