There is not a political party or personality that is above criticism. There will almost always be flaws and concerns that can be raised, always problematic positions and actions that should be challenged. You can be the strongest supporter of a party or person, but if you fail to acknowledge their failings then your support isn’t admirable, it is blind and narrow loyalty.
With that rather scathing critique, let’s add the necessary nuance that is required. The Labor Party here in Australia has introduced incredible legislation regarding healthcare, education, and (to an extent) the environment when they’ve managed to get themselves into power. They pulled us through the Global Financial Crisis with one of the best functioning economies in the world and a relatively trivial debt that the Coalition has more than tripled with their “good economic management”.
There is no doubt at all that a Labor government is preferable to the current Coalition mess, and I will happily defend that position against anyone who does discredit Labor to the point of refusing to vote for them. The way our political system works, it is not realistic to try and deny that one of the two major parties is fundamentally the better choice when it can so clearly be proven.
But there are more than two parties. There are more systems than one that only facilitates two powerhouses that endlessly try to build and tear apart various legacies. There is a reason there are so many disenfranchised voters out there, and belittling and condemning them for thinking that a choice between red and blue isn’t good enough doesn’t help your cause and only serves to drive them further away.
I see no harm in arguing that Labor is better than the Coalition – that is simply fact. Anyone who disagrees, or think that both parties are the same, or equally as bad as each other, are misinformed or just moronic. Anyone who refuses to vote or in some way wastes their vote is an idiot and has absolutely no right to complain about the outcome of an election or criticise any particular party. However, this does not mean you have to vote for either of the major parties during an election.
I have had people, some who I value and respect the knowledge and opinions of, berate others (including me) for “wasting our vote” by placing the Greens and/or decent Independents above Labor. This was surprising coming from a particular politically savvy YouTuber, who went as far as accusing the Greens of “eating into Labor’s share of the vote”, but many others agree with the sentiment. It’d be a fair point to make if it wasn’t false, or blind to the reasons why that may be the case.
Firstly, we have a preferential voting system. That means that you can put whoever you want first, but unless you’re a “fringe” seat or have some really strong pushback against a major party with a publicised Independent (such as Zali Steggall taking Tony Abbot’s seat), you will end up with either a Coalition party or Labor MP. If, as you are supposed to, you number all of the candidates, if your first preference does not make it into the two ‘major’ parties of that electorate, whichever of those two you put above the other will receive your vote.
For three years, my votes have gone to Independents and Greens, followed immediately by Labor. Now, in most seats the Greens have zero chance of making it into government, and I would assume a majority of Greens voters would preference Labor first – any who don’t, or who donkey vote as a “protest”, I regret the fact logical people have to be lumped in with immovable idealists. The Greens may be ideal, but realistically it is clear how we must approach the system we have, and that cannot change if you neglect your role in our rather limited democracy. Alas, being a Queenslander, my Federal MP is a safe LNP seat, so it means nothing anyway.
So, as a result, my vote has always slipped down to Labor in three elections so far, two Federal and one State. Next year in the upcoming Queensland State election, you can bet despite my bitter distaste towards our current Labor government, they will be place directly behind the Greens on my ballot. Again, even with all criticisms accounted for (I’ll go into that below), QLD Labor is immensely better than the LNP and Nationals, objectively. We are, however, beginning to see a split of those who think Labor has become too dangerous and those who think they aren’t going far enough. They are too complacent and timid to challenge from a centre position, and the spectrum keeps shifting slowly right.
I think there are many valid criticisms that can be made of Labor, even from a position of support, and dismissing those or getting defensive because someone disagrees with you is pathetic. For example, QLD State Labor has severely cracked down on protestors, rushing new laws through in response to the Extinction Rebellion disruptions without much debate or consultation from the public. Freight company Aurizon was given a chance to talk about how protesters were bad for business – the business of transporting fossil fuels and deals with Adani. Unions actually lashed back at Labor, saying that these laws could damage Union actions and that an LNP government would drastically worsen these conditions.
The laws passed with a single MP opposing it – the Greens’ Michael Berkman. My right to protest for environmental causes has been targeted by a Labor government.
In Victoria, police have used incredibly violent tactics against peaceful protesters outside the IMARC AGM. This includes the use of pepper spray, batons, horses, and physical violence and restraining. Video footage of a man being punched, surrounded on the ground by officers, set off extreme criticism on social media. There was a photo of blood on the same spot afterwards, allegedly from the man’s injuries. A student journalist, who was not actively participating in the protest but was doing her job, got pepper sprayed.
For a state that is consistently flagged by dodgy mainstream media outlets as being a den for “African gangs”, the images and videos of the Victoria Police’s actions this past week very, very clearly show a gang mentality. There is a difference between doing your job and violently suppressing protestors, and looking at the faces of some of the officers, it’s clear what path they seem to be taking. What will the Victorian State Labor government do in response? We shall see, but there are people out there cheering for the thuggish behaviour.
And on a Federal level, again, I am not saying that Labor is not exponentially better than the Coalition – even on environmental concerns. But what has happened to the “Opposition” recently? Well last year they voted for the Assistance and Access Bill and kept silent on the insane military spending the Coalition has roped in for the next week years, trapping a chunk of the budget torn from public services in outdated technology. You can very well justify this by saying that they were avoiding bad press for looking “weak” on security and defence, but what kind of excuse is that?
Okay, we are scared negative propaganda against us, so let’s fuck over privacy laws and rights to pave the way for a surveillance state and let the budget be thrown into more disarray? They’re the “Opposition”, damnit, they are supposed to oppose things, take a stand! Instead they stayed quiet, played it safe, and still got bashed by the media for letting it fly through. And they lost the election too, setting into motion quite the capitulation on some of their pre-election policies. Again, sure, you can justify that by saying that “they have to, they lost and need to regain traction” – and again it’s a shitty excuse.
Part of the reason so many people I know turned on Labor, or did not like the direction Labor was taking, is because it was difficult to tell what their stances were on certain issues. You can argue all you want about the good policies that they do have, but when you flounder around after an election loss and are seen to be weak and prone to backflipping, it will not help your image. Where’s the conviction? Where’s the firm stance defending people’s rights to privacy or protesting? Where’s the radical – yes, radical, not just decent – environmental policy we need to combat climate change?
A lot of Labor’s work after the Whitlam era has been good, but it is all common sense – stuff that should be taken for granted. Credit is certainly owed to them for doing that, especially as a major party, but it is not wrong to call for more. More rights for workers, more public services for those who need it, more aid for refugees and better international relations. People are right to be more than happy with the Labor Party – as they were before this year’s election, at least – but when we could do so much more, why not fight for it?
It has never been my intention to disregard Labor as a valuable and valid option, but it is folly to believe that they are the only good option, or the best option, for that matter. When I vote Greens and Independent, with Labor as my preference after them, I do so to send a few messages. The first is that we must break away from the two-party system, which, even in Australia, always drifts in an unsavoury direction. Voting third party or the like gives notice that there are those in the electorate who want to change the status quo. It also lets the major parties know that what they are doing is not enough. The Greens are, supposedly, “eating at Labor’s votes” – why is that? Voting Greens and preferencing Labor shows my support for Labor, but firmly expresses the fact that I do not see them as the ideal end goal as they stand.
Does that mean I expect Labor loyalists to vote Greens or Independent with me? Not at all – everyone is entitled to criticise the Greens as well, so long as it is valid. False accusations and claiming the Greens are a bunch of cons is just ignorant. Personally, I am probably more extreme than the Greens in some areas, particularly considering I’m opposed to any corporate or State power in an ‘ideal’ system. Realistically though, the Greens are the only party that represent me in the slightest, and Labor only further alienates me from them.
Idealism grounded in reality is a major drive for positive change, and criticism of the system and parties we currently have is not always a dismissive stance, merely a wish that they do better. I want Labor, rather than the Coalition, to be in power. I want Labor to be better and do more for the Australian people. I want a government or opposition with a real vision for the future of not only our country, but the world.
I just do not see that in Labor anymore, on a Federal level or a State level here in Queensland. We can all do better.
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