leadership

Federal election 2013: The right of the people

Colin Benjamin /

Well it’s over, or rather we have the half-time score. The people, and the media, have spoken and the people have voted for change.

Nearly a quarter of the electorate voted NOTs (see earlier columns) in the Senate, indicating clearly that they did not want either of the majors to have the absolute power to displease.

Senators on salaries and allowances of more than two grand have been preferred and selected by less than 1% of the voters on single issues and very little scrutiny by any of the media for months before the polls.

As we wait for the final wash-up, we find that Clive is seen as more interested in Fairfax, minority parties have broken the ALP/ Greens block vote in the Senate, and four or more lower house seats are shifting with less than a thousand votes in the direction of the exit polls.

In Indi, Cathy McGowan has tipped out Sophie Mirabella from a sitting start at a meeting in Wangaratta with 55 table-talk sessions to allow DBMs to mobilise for change, and Adam Bandt’s well-financed campaign defeated Cath Bowtell’s equally community-based effort in Melbourne.

The NOTs and the DBMs have shown that they have the power to shift the nation’s direction, give Labor its lowest vote for more than a century and restrain the LNP in the Senate for the next six years.

The post-election reviews and the rush to block the emergence of minor parties shows that there is still the view that group-think and money should determine our governments.

An informed choice, however, without the overt campaigning of those with more money (billionaires Clive and Rupert) on advertising may need to be extended to publication of exit polls designed to ensure that everyone goes to the ballot box on an equal basis. In an earlier column, I asked is it time to ban pre-polls that are designed by media owners to create a bandwagon effect for their commercial objectives.

Some of the feedback suggests this is an attack of freedom of the press and, even worse, on free speech. Others have argued for an extension of the advertising blackout for a couple of days before the election.

If we want to believe that the individual vote counts, and that 50% +1 should determine the democratic majority, then we need to ensure that electors know what they are looking for and also what others are going to do so that their vote has an impact.

This is the basis for the Morgan lunchtime exit poll and the declaration of the election result in the Eastern States by the media commentators at 4:39pm, before South Australians and Western Australians have even reached their ballot boxes.

An election silence operates in some countries to allow a period for voters to reflect on events before casting their votes. During this period, no active campaigning by the candidates is allowed. Often polling is also banned. The silence is generally legally enforced, though in some countries it is just a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ between leading parties.

The US Supreme Court has ruled that campaigning can only be limited on election day to a small area around the polling station. Any broader ban on speech would be unconstitutional.

The independent Morgan Reactor to both the debates and the dreadful ads, as distinct from the fanciful robo-polls of the media moguls (that were out by percentages greater than the margin for error), clearly showed:

(a) one in five voters were fed up with the major parties;

(b) were either gaming or ignoring the pleas of the pollsters; and

(c) were willing to go to a range of alternatives that are going to make the job of governing more sensitive to the interests of those outside of the capital cities and dominant commercial interests.

If we are to have an open platform for those who are seeking more transparency, we should have a mandated national forum and a series of debates through a National Informed Debate Commission that ensures that all of the candidates have 250 words in both national and local press, and we follow the US practice of giving a fair go to all national leaders in media on the free-to-air channels.

That would make the election more than a casting of stones and more of an exercise in desired and preferred futures.

What it really comes down to is the right of people to know what other electors are intending to do so that they can maximise their power to throw out a mob that they don’t like without having to have an ‘Australian Spring’ or the media-managed misinformation.

Dr Colin Benjamin OAM is the chairman of Cultural Infusion Ltd and director general of the Life: ‘Be in it’ Australia charity.

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