The seven things we hate most about Australian federal elections

Election year is here: at some stage in 2016, Australians will head to the polls to deliver their verdict on Malcolm Turnbull’s government.

But first we have to endure up to 10 months of electioneering.

From the scare campaigns to the sloganeering, the propaganda ads to the preference deals, here are seven of the worst things about election years. 1. The election date guessing game

Will it be March? August? September? October? Pre-budget or post-budget? A normal half-Senate election or a double dissolution? Before the football grand finals or after them? While Jupiter is ascendant or when Saturn is in Aries?

Julia Gillard never made it to her predetermined election date in 2013. Photo: Andrew Meares

While many states now have fixed four-year terms, under the federal system election timing is still at the prime minister’s discretion. So unless Malcolm Turnbull does a Gillard and names the date early – thereby surrendering an important tactical advantage – prepare for many months of speculation about when he’ll pull the trigger. 2. The scare campaigns and personal attacks

Thoughtful, mature debate hasn’t exactly been a hallmark of Australian politics in recent years. But in election years, things get much worse.

A Liberal TV ad from 2004.

The rhetoric ramps up and facts fall by the wayside. Politicians become even more inclined to lie, obfuscate and make promises they have no intention of keeping in a bid to win votes. The negative scare campaigns intensify and personal attacks become fair game: the GST is going up, penalty rates will be cut; Malcolm Turnbull is a Satanist, Bill Shorten is a death robot.

And so on. 3. The advertising

The election will fill acres of newsprint and put politics at the top of the nightly news bulletins. But even if all you want to do is watch My Kitchen Rules you won’t be safe from the propaganda.

The major parties will bombard the airwaves with their mostly facile, intelligence-insulting advertising; and the government will even get taxpayers to pay for its “public information campaigns”.

A Liberal Party election ad from 2010.

Worst of all, the ads are rarely clever or interesting; more often they’re cheap, rote and amateurish affairs.

Political advertising at the 2007 election. Photo: Peter Rae

And it won’t stop at your television and radio: more than ever before, politicians will be reaching into your social media feeds. 4. The campaign

All of this gets even worse during the official five or six-week campaign.

The last two federal campaigns – Gillard v Abbott in 2010 and Rudd v Abbott in 2013 – were among the worst in living memory: cynical and fearful, full of slogans and short on policy.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd campaigns with Bill Shorten in 2013 Photo: Chris Hyde

Malcolm Turnbull has indicated he wants this to change. He wants a new paradigm, a genuine contest of ideas. Australians want to believe him – but don’t be surprised if this year’s campaign is ultimately every bit as negative as those that preceded it.

Whatever the case, if you’re heading to your local shopping centre take some hand sanitiser and keep your babies out of sight.

Former prime minister John Howard campaigns during the 2007 election. Photo: Andrew Taylor

And if you’re in a marginal seat, maybe just stay home altogether. 5. The debate debate

No campaign is complete without it: the debate about the debates.

There’s no standard debate structure, so every campaign inevitably degenerates into a tiresome back and forth between the major parties: How many debates? When and where? What’s the format? Should we invite the Greens (hahahahah, just kidding)? Who should moderate and who should ask the questions: journalists or ordinary voters? What is the opposition leader afraid of? Why is the prime minister in hiding? Etcetera.

John Howard and Kim Beazley watch moderator Ray Martin flip a coin at the 2001 debate.

And then comes the anti-climax. When the debates finally occur they are invariably overly scripted and painfully dull, full of talking points but devoid of spontaneity, policy substance or, well, actual debate. 6. Voting day

It only takes an hour or so from your Saturday. That’s a small price to pay for democracy right?

Voters are greeted by political advertising on polling day. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

True, but nonetheless many Australians hate going to the polls. With local, state and federal elections – not to mention a plethora of planned plebiscites and referenda – it’s little wonder many people consider it a hassle. What’s more, compulsory voting means people have to drag themselves to the polling booths no matter how uninspiring the candidates, and no matter how disengaged or ill-informed they are about the issues. 7. Preference deals

After all that pain and suffering, at least the election result accurately reflects the will of the people, right?

Well maybe not. The arcane preference system means your vote can end up in some unlikely places, supporting candidates you’ve never heard of or don’t agree with. Micro-party candidates take advantage of this system to win seats – potentially giving them enormous crossbench power – after attracting just a handful of votes.

A metre-long Senate ballot from the 2013 election. Photo: Joe Armao

For example, Ricky Muir won a Senate seat in 2013 with just 0.51 of Victoria’s primary vote; on the other hand, Nick Xenophon’s running mate Stirling Griff missed out on a spot even though the pair won 25.7 per cent of South Australia’s primary vote.

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