State of Play:
At the moment I am restricting myself to one post per week, since we have a good seven and a half months until we reach the crux of this election. This far out from the election it is very difficult to make a prediction; there has been no real exposure to campaigning, no developments in strategy (except Gillard's play for a long game, probably hoping to capitalise on Abbott's abrasive nature) and no polling. In fact, we won't even have a clear idea of who will be running until August 12.
Yet somehow, none of this matters. Many people have already made up their minds as to whether they will vote for Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott. The problem with this is that only a tiny percentage of these people (roughly two thirds of a percent) will actually get to vote for either Gillard or Abbott, and no-one will get to choose between them. Very few people (I would estimate even less than two thirds of a percent) actually bother to learn the individual views of their local members. Instead they decide between the leaders of the two major parties and vote accordingly. In both Houses.
Now it is broadly true that people in the same party hold similar view points, so a party leader may serve as a reasonable proxy for your local member when determining your allegiance – if only people picked their politicians based on policy. Unfortunately people place as much value on personality, perception and even fashion sense (especially when judging female politicians).
Now just because the leader of a party is a slimy, arrogant, vacuous irritant does not mean your local member is a slimy, arrogant, vacuous irritant; they may be a charming, arrogant, vacuous irritant.
Furthermore, there is still a pretty broad scope of opinions within each party. Fortunately not all members of the Liberal Party think like Cory Bernardi. Also, while Labor typically scoops up the majority of the left-wing votership, it is still dominated by its (relatively) right-wing faction. If you were insulted when Gillard ousted Rudd or when the relative no-name Don Farrell outstripped Penny Wong for number one place on Labor's South Australian Senate ticket, you can blame the Labor right faction. I cannot help but wonder if the left faction might not be the stronger of the two if people actually knew who they were voting in. After all, public outcry (yes, there was an outcry for those who didn't hear it) was certainly strong enough to force a reconsideration of the senate ticket and boost Ms. Wong into first position over Mr. Farrell.
The other thing that annoys me about this Gillard or Abbott mentality is that it perpetuates the two-party mindset. If you are wondering why we always end up with politicians who fail to reflect the opinions of the public [cough] legalise same-sex marriage [/cough] perhaps you might consider checking out some of the other options. Sure, they're unlikely to get a majority in either house, but that's not the point. They can vote independently on various bills, negotiate with major parties, hold the balance of power (especially in the Senate) and propose new laws or amendments that otherwise wouldn't even be discussed.
Australia has compulsory attendance for state and federal elections. This is actually a rather unusual system, and not one I am overly fond of – but that's another post. It is also a system that the major parties (i.e. Labor and the Coalition) defend to the hilt. Why? Because most people just can't be bothered to do the research, and almost all are completely fed up by polling day. Many people walk into their booth thinking “Gillard” or “Abbott” (or whoever the two main leaders are) and vote according to the Labor or Liberal tickets. This is great for major parties who then secure large swathes of the public vote (and thus most of the House seats and a fair chunk of the Senate). I'm not so sure it's great for determining leaders democratically, based on the opinions of people who actually care, though.
Fun fact: the last Prime Minister not a member of the Labor or Liberal party (including the Liberal party's predecessors)? Alfred Deakin, 1906. That's 105 years ago people!
After August 12 I will start providing an easy-to-use guide to the various candidates you can choose from to make your decisions easier. This guide will be factual, simple and fully referenced so you can do your own research and not be swayed by my biases. In the mean time, here is a highly unreliable, tounge-in-cheek guide to the major parties* in this years election:
Other recently significant but now defunct political parties include various incarnations of One Nation – who divided the nation – and the Democrats – who lost popularity after undemocratically supporting the GST.
*A major party here is defined as any grouping of politicians formally registered as a party with the AEC and currently holding at least one seat at the federal level or two at the state level or higher. Parties that act as one for all practical purposes have been combined.