An independent is someone who isn’t a member of a political party, right? Well, not always, because the Australian Independents are now a registered party with the AEC, and are thus distinguishable from the other three sets of independents on the Victorian Senate Ballot.
A brief look at their policy page suggests a lefty social justice-oriented party with a very broad range of interests, but their Group Voting Ticket has a few surprises on it. First preference goes to the Australian Democrats, but then we move straight on to the Christian Bloc, with Australian Christian, Rise Up Australia, Family First and the DLP. I think we know where this lot are coming from – have I found an actual leftist Christian political party at last? The DLP is followed by the Australin Sex Party, which they must absolutely love, and Australian Voice, and then we have a mix of small parties from both sides of the right-left divide, though Drug Law Reform and HEMP are both placed solidly in the early 30s. Do I detect a yen for harm mimimisation policies? One Nation is the next somewhat viable party to get a preference but the absolute bottom of the ticket is actually Labor, with the Coalition above it, and the Greens being the first of the three major parties. I think that’s the first time I’ve seen a party put Greens, Liberal and Labor in that order. Or at least, the first time at this election.
Their mission statement is not that dissimilar from that of the Australian Voice, though I think it’s better articulated:
We believe that by actively encouraging community involvement and participation in policy decision making, ensuring elected political representatives and politicians consistently and unapologetically represent their divisions/wards/electorates and eradicating politically driven personal attacks and hate speech from public life, Australians will ultimately acknowledge, and be drawn to, the benefits of reengaging with our Australian political system.
They continue on to talk about the need for MPs to represent their electorates, with the two particularly interesting provisos:
3. Any political representative or parliamentarian who cannot for any reason shelve their own beliefs, views or policy priorities in order to accurately represent the wishes, desires and policy directives of their division/ward/electorate, should resign or at least offer their resignation to their division/ward/electorate, where feasible.
4. Political representatives and parliamentarians are not primarily voted in to do what they perceive as being ‘right’ for their division/ward/electorate or the nation; they are primarily voted in by their constituents to do what their constituents perceive as being ‘right’.
I can’t decide whether 4 is an excellent thing or a terrible idea, to be honest. I’m not sure that I want my politicians to totally abandon all their personal beliefs and ethics the moment they walk into parliament, and I’m not sure I am in favour of quite such a dog-eats-dog version of democracy. However, the Australian Independents really have thought this through to its logical conclusion, and also state that “It is better to accept that the ‘majority’ will sometimes get it ‘wrong’ than it is to eat away at or allow for the abolition of democracy.” So points for consistency there. And here’s another one that could stand to be seen more in politics, especially after the most recent three years:
There are no ethically acceptable defenses for politically driven public personal attacks, assaults on character, slanderous comments or bullying from any political representative, parliamentarian or member of any political party towards another.
Take that, Question Time.
On to the policies, and I’m not even sure where to start here, because they have a *lot* of policies in a very diverse range of areas, and because they are all quite short, it’s difficult to summarise them. I might pick and choose the ones I find most interesting for commentary, and direct you to their policy page if you want more information. I will start by noting that the Australian Independents’ policy page is long on ideals and very short on how they will actually do things – they are ‘committed’ to all sorts of things, but haven’t said how they will make things happen or how they will be costed. I have to say, I feel bad writing that, because I suspect if I were writing out a list of my policies, it would look rather similar and I’d leave the costings to someone else… but then, I’m not a political party.
The Australian Independents want to end homelessness and poverty; they are in favour of an increased minimum wage, more public housing and better housing affordability, and they want to increase funding to charities. I note that all the charities named are in fact religious charities. They don’t like the recent changes to the Single Parents’ payments, which they feel ‘unfairly target already vulnerable women and their families’, and they want single-parent families to be supported ‘socially, financially and culturally’. Interestingly, they start their section on Families by acknowledging that ‘families come in many forms’. It’s difficult to tell whether or not this is a statement about marriage equality or even about same-sex relationships generally; I rather suspect this ambiguity is a deliberate choice given the demographic they seem to be targeting.
On health, they are very on the ball, wanting more fully-funded medical and nursing places (in fact, they want nursing places to be HECS free, which sounds like an excellent plan), more investment in preventative health, medicare funded treatments and programs for addictions of various kinds, and more mental health beds.
On education, the Australian Independents again want to increase funding, close the gap between private and public schools and between ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians’ (in inverted commas because that’s a lovely, respectful use of wording that beats ‘tribal’ hands down in my book). They want more fully-funded Uni and TAFE places, more money for research, and HECS-free teacher education.
Do you notice a trend here? The Australian Independents want to increase funding for pretty much everything. I would like to do that too, but I’m not sure where the money is going to come from, especially as they want to return the budget to surplus and reduce taxes, though they are apparently in favour of ‘responsible economic management’.
The Australian Independents want better public transport with better accessibility, and in fact, they have a whole raft of excellent disability and carer-related policies, including increased participation by people with disabilities in creating policies which affect them, as well as more money for disability support pensioners and carers, better opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in education, employment and the community in general, and an increase in respite support for carers. They want to improve the NDIS, which they feel is discriminatory (though they don’t say how), by removing the age limit, and they want to lower health insurance premiums (how?) and have a three year price freeze on electricity. And reduce waiting times in hospitals. And.. and… and…
Really, they want to throw money at everything, and it’s all good stuff, but again, I think they will have to choose. Other things they want to throw money at are affordable childcare, promoting healthy life-styles, paid parental leave (12 months!), the arts, and closing the gap between Aboriginal people and other Australians.
I quite like their policy on defence:
- The Australian Independents are for non-violent conflict management where feasible.
- The Australian Independents support the view that our military servicemen and servicewomen should only be deployed for defensive and peace-keeping purposes.
- The Australian Independents support UN military action to prevent military invasion of countries, genocide and human rights abuses.
- The Australian Independents are against the use of nuclear weapons.
- The Australian Independents are advocating for the rights of Veterans to increased financial, health-related and social support.
On Workers’ Rights, they are in favour of collective bargaining, and want safer workplaces and an increased minimum wage.
On reproductive rights… I’m going to let them speak for themselves:
The Australian Independents are pushing for all women to receive increased financial support and counselling in the event of unwanted pregnancy. The Australian Independents believe in genuine choice when it comes to pregnancy.
On the surface of it, this sounds great. I would, however, note that the phrase ‘genuine choice’ is one often used by pro-life crisis pregnancy centres – it often carries the subtext that if women really *understood* what they were doing, they would not choose abortion. So I’m a little suspicious, here. However, I will also note that the Australian Independents really do seem to have policies designed to help single mothers and children from lower-income families, or with disabilities, which is to say that if, as I suspect, they are pro-lifers, they are at least being consistent about it and not punishing women who do wind up giving birth in difficult circumstances. Though I’d also like to see some policies about helping women get out of abusive relationships here, too, as not being tied to an abusive partner is another fairly frequent reason for seeking abortion.
Speaking of abuse, the Australian Independents are anti-bullying, and proudly inform us that they have outlawed bullying within their ranks. They are committed to funding for programs to stamp out bullying. I’d love to see them unpack this one a bit more, because I’ve seen bullying defined in a variety of different ways, and some are more self-serving than others. Given their general leanings towards social justice, I’m inclined to assume that this is a genuine and good thing, but equally, given their unstated but clear Christian affiliation – and honestly, I’m not picking on Christians here, but there have been some remarkably mean-spirited comments emanating from the Christian Right over the years, particularly towards people with non-normative sexualities, and I think those of us on the left really need to distance ourselves from that – I’d really like to see what kinds of categories they consider bullying to fall under.
The Australian Independents have a whole collection of environmental policies, which I think are excellent. I am also amused to notice that they choose to grandly ignore the Carbon Tax – they say nothing for it, and nothing against it. I would suspect that this is a deliberate tactic to avoid burning bridges and enable them to work with whoever is in power on environmental issues.
Here are their greenie policies in full:
- The Australian Independents are for lifting the “Renewable Energy Target” to above 30% by 2020 and 75% by 2030.
- The Australian Independents are for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
- The Australian Independents are for renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, hydropower and biomass.
- The Australian Independents are for significant investment in the renewables industry.
- The Australian Independents are against Coal Seam Gas mining and are for an immediate ban on coal seam gas mining in Australia.
- The Australian Independents are for banning gas-fired power stations, fuelled by CSG.
- The Australian Independents are for outlawing uranium, its transportation and export trade.
- The Australian Independents are for protecting residents from toxic waste.
Note again, by the way, that this is what all their policies look like – a series of well-thought-out bullet points telling us what they are for and against, but no detail on how this would play out in reality. Hopefully they will start developing more concrete policies in the future.
On banking, the Australian Independents again want similar things to the Bank Reform Party – more competition, interest rate cuts passed on, and lower banking fees.
They have a whole raft of policies about animals which are fairly adorable and very humane – they are against puppy farming and puppies and kittens being sold in pet shops ‘as most end up being abandoned’; they want to promote vaccinations and fertility control for pets, outlaw caging of large birds such as cockatoos, and come up with “creative ways of dealing with bothersome native animals (i.e. kangaroos in Canberra), as opposed to mass culls.” They are anti-whaling, want harsher penalties for cruelty to animals, and they have my absolute favourite policy so far this election:
- The Australian Independents are for reducing oceanic noise pollution to prevent whales from becoming disorientated, stressed and beached.
Awwww… (I did tell you they were adorable).
The Australian Independents want to ban political donations from unions and corporations, and stamp out corruption in government. They also seem to be a bit confused about how to vote cards:
- The Australian Independents are pushing to save tax payers billions of dollars by banning all electoral advertising and How-to-Vote cards at polling booths.
- The Australian Independents are for all candidates to have the opportunity to place one of their How-to-Vote cards in polling booths.
I’m guessing that the how to vote card in the polling booth would replace the people handing them out outside? I also like this:
The Australian Independents are for one booklet with all candidates and their policies in it being distributed by electoral commissions (to replace electoral advertising) to households
Because it would save me writing all these posts!!
Their refugee policy is, I think, problematic. On the one hand, they want to increase our refugee intake to 50,000 per year (I think that’s about double our current intake), and would encourage asylum seekers to secure employment and accommodation in rural and regional areas, which is a great idea, because that actually is where we need more people. But on the other hand, they think that refugees should be processed in or near their own countries, and I can see a lot of practical problems with that. They also want to transport anyone who arrives by boat back to their own country for processing, and to raise awareness for asylum seekers of the locations of processing centres in their own countries.
Look, this all sounds good in theory, but I really question whether the sort of situations which cause people to seek asylum – war, persecution, famine – are conducive to the sort of orderly processing centres that politicians would have us believe exist around every corner. In particular, if someone is being persecuted as an individual, isn’t it entirely possible that some of the people running these processing centres might share the prejudices of the people doing the persecuting? And sending people back to their own countries to be processed risks sending them back into the often life-threatening situations they fled in the first place. I’m trying to find the article I read last week following up on a number of failed asylum seekers who were deported in the last few years and will link to it here when I do, but the upshot was that many of them were dead – killed by the very situations they were claiming asylum from.
Edited to add: Drat, the article is only on FaceBook! It came via the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, and they will be posting more information down the track. Not too helpful now. Here’s some information from a previous round of studies following up on deported refugees.
So no, I don’t like this policy one bit.
The Australian Independents have some nice policies for keeping the legal system running smoothly – more rehabilitation for drug and alcohol-related crimes, harsher sentences for crimes of violence versus property crime, and so forth. Nothing especially startling in any direction that I can see.
And that’s about it. It’s also the end of my lunchbreak, so time to wrap this up!
The Australian Independents are an interesting party, and reads like a kinder, gentler version of Family First. It does lean further to the left than the other Christian parties on the ballot, and it definitely has a few more feminist tendencies, but with those policies on asylum seekers and their emphasis on ‘genuine choices’ for women, I don’t think I can say that they are the left-wing Christian party I was faintly hoping they would be. Their model for how MPs should work is an interesting one, but open to manipulation, and I can’t help noting that it has, historically, been Christian groups who have been best at mobilising their members to lobby on the issues that they care about. While I think it’s actually quite a good thing to encourage a more grass-roots and participatory model of government, it risks being held hostage to extreme voices of all stripes, at least in the short term.