Australia’s Impending Election (11)


What are elections these days? Are they not all about a political choice to be made in the wake of many promises candidates make about the forthcoming Parliamentary disbursement of public funds? Of course Parliament has to approve funding but the political debate is not just about what it will cost, but about what “it” is that is so costly. How does “it” contribute to just governance?

But this election certainly seems to be about MPs and prospective MPs roving their electorates handing out competing promises of how much will be spent on this and that. And so, after election day the seats of Parliament will be filled by “representatives” who have the electorate’s permission (50% plus 1 vote in lower house elections after preferences are distributed) to bring in legislation that will regulate the disbursement of the promised public funds.

We electors are besieged by efforts to obtain our endorsement of these promises. The mass media love this. They track voter response, one by one to the different promises, and provide “data” about “How much the parties are spending”. But are we, the electors, actually capable of assessing the promise, (of $Xm for this and $Ym for that and on its goes)? Besides what from what underlying policy does it derive? How does it fit into the proposed legislative agenda? What is the ongoing political programme from which it has arisen?

So, do we really need all these election campaign funding promises? Surely there is a better way of “doing elections”! Surely there is a better way of developing a system of democratic parliamentary representation! Shouldn’t Parliament be the place where the political views of the electors are pitted against other political views of other electors? Of course such debate will also be about the way Parliament sets priorities for the spending public funds, but is governing the country simply about finances? Shouldn’t elections provide an opportunity for citizens to cast a vote about how they want their political views to be represented in the Parliament in order to ensure the ongoing just governance of the country!

What do we have instead? Rival book-keeping and alternative ways of understanding the need to balance the accounts. And those who have political views and do not see themselves represented by left-and-right options in the national accounts may very well find themselves non-represented by “their” electorate’s successful candidate.

The incessant and obsessive appeal to the electors in these rarified fiscal terms, still leaves us in the dark with respect to how such a promise of funds relates to a coherent political platform. Why is such funding for such a project needed and how does such funding advance just public governance? The proposed disbursement and suggested legislation for the next parliamentary term are all mashed together in these announcements, one after the other, as if good government is simply a matter of the disbursement of funds and the balancing of books.

Does it not seem strange that we, the electors, are effectively being asked to cast our votes on these budgetary matters, when in fact it should be the competent elected members of Parliament with such accounting acumen, from whatever party or political philosophy, who should be arguing about the prudence and financial wisdom of such disbursement of funds. Could it be that this election is telling us that those orchestrating the campaign are no longer confident about Parliament being the place where, elected representatives debate these fiscal matters effectively? Are they not presuming that the citizens are to be entrusted with such decision-making authority? But in assuming this both “public relations firms” have long since departed from engaging in effective education of the electorate about the challenges on our political horizon that a genuine political party would have done. And so, are we to conclude that election campaigns have been hollowed out politically as elected representatives, and those aspiring to be parliamentary office, try to convince us that it will be our vote that will determine how they will spend public money?

Besides, are we not still in the thrall of a 2007-2008 financial crisis that reminded us of the utter fragility of money world-wide? A few voices have been raised about the world-wide dominance of “casino capitalism” and this, it seems should have been a key theme of this election. But no, such voices cannot be heard. It is as if we are being asked to put all these promises of funding for worthy public projects together and add them up in order to have a sufficient basis upon which to make a political judgement – we are being encouraged much as a croupier would encourage those standing around a casino table will encourage us to place our bets.

At some stage in our recent political history we began to develop the idea that a citizen’s contribution to state-crafting is simply a gamble based on our fears about how much a government should or shouldn’t spend. And the rival left-and-right options that are struggling to sell themselves in this 2016 election campaign have arisen out of this self-same presumption. It inflates and ignores the importance of finance so that money management can advance at the expense of genuine political debate.

4.6.16 (up dated 5.6.16)


One thought on “Australia’s Impending Election (11)

  1. Allan Carter says:

    Yes, the great mantra of the moment is ‘fiscal rectitude’. Over the years the ‘hip-pocket nerve’ has been the great motivator for election promises. I sense that this is changing as people become more concerned with issues of morality (e.g. treatment of asylum seekers) and the increasing gap between various groups in our society. People are being transformed by technology, but not in a good way. Governments should be concerned with mental health and education. Instead, millions are being poured into submarines. Is this a new bottom-of-the harbour scheme? Once we used to have pollies with a conscience and principles. Now, more attention is paid to their hairstyles and the beaming smiles of their wives.

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