Voting in Wills – Candidates, Policies, and hey, are we a marginal seat now?

I feel like Wills has entered a new era in the last few years.

We’ve been a safe Labor seat since forever (setting aside that little lapse with Phil Cleary), and have been entirely ignored by both major parties, but in the last couple of elections, the Green vote has been creeping up, and I must say, it has borne dividends.  We got a new local member from the progressive side of Labor, we are suddenly being noticed in infrastructure planning, and in the last two weeks, I’ve been door-knocked by volunteers both for the Greens and for the Victorian Socialists. (The Greens volunteer seemed a little appalled by my interest in politics when we met at the tram stop and even more appalled when he knocked on a door that evening and yes, it was me again; the Socialist volunteer was absolutely lovely, and persuaded us to put up signage for Sue Bolton… and then nobody ever came back to us to deliver it, which is just such a classic Socialist Alliance way to behave – great ideas, no follow through.  Though having said that, Sue has been an excellent local council member.)

On Tuesday night I even got a phone call from my local Labor member, Peter Khalil. He is certainly working hard for my vote – the phone call lasted nearly half an hour, and ranged from climate policy and getting refugees off Nauru and Manus Island, to the need to raise pensions and fix the NDIS, the restoration of penalty rates, and solidarity with workers. He had a lot of good answers, was hardly rude about the Greens at all (!), and was actively positive about Sue Bolton… admittedly, she is also not much of a threat to him, but it was clearly important that she is solidly working class and unionish, unlike those suspiciously middle-class and thus untrustworthy Greens.  (I refrained from mentioning my own suspiciously middle-class background.  I suspect he guessed about my Greens-voting habits nonetheless.).

I have to say, I was quite impressed, and am seriously considering the unprecedented action of putting a major party first on my Lower House ballot.  I mean, if Labor is actually going to field good quality progressive candidates, we should really encourage them, even if it does mean risking sinking back into safe-seat invisibility.  But what a labour-intensive way to get out the vote.  I wonder how many people he could possibly have called?  Or do other people not take ‘what else do you want to know about?’ as quite the invitation I took it to be?

(Obviously, whatever my final decision about the Lower House, I’ll still be voting independents and tiny parties all the way in the Upper House.  I may be swayed by a persuasive local candidate, but I do have some standards…)

But the phone call led me to think a bit about the question of voting for a candidate versus voting for a platform.  In the Senate, where I don’t know the candidates, and am largely voting with the intention of adding variety (and a bit more socialism / action on climate change) to the Upper House, I’m generally going to vote for an attractive policy suite over a specific candidate, unless that candidate has shown themselves to be exceptional.

In the Lower House it’s a bit trickier.  For major parties, while it’s nice to have a good local candidate, you also know that they are bound by the policy platform, and it’s always difficult to know which factions are dominant and how much an individual MP is going to be able to push for what they believe in.  On the other hand, if they are able to have a say on policy, then there is a much higher chance of that policy getting through.

For minor parties, though, I think the quality of the individual candidate starts to become more important – possibly more important than their party platform.  I mean, for starters, recent history suggests that members of small right-wing parties, at least, have a tendency to leave the party and become independent, start new parties, or join different right wing parties.  But more importantly, if there are only one or two representatives from a small party, they have to be the sort of people who are really good at working with others, or no matter how good their ideas are, they will never be heard.

I’m not sure where that leaves me, to be honest.

So what do you do when you have an OK candidate for a minor party, and a really good candidate for a major party that you don’t entirely trust to let the good candidate get his way?  It’s an interesting question, and not one I’m entirely sure I have answered yet to my own satisfaction.  I do think that Labor is running on the most progressive policy platform we’ve seen from them for a while, and I want to encourage that, but I must admit, I don’t entirely trust them not to start getting scared of being too different from the Coalition once they are in power.  Which is why I like having a few Greens and Socialists around to keep reminding them that they need to work for the lefty environmental votes.

And how much do you weigh the fact that you actually really do rather like a candidate as a person?  I know I tend to give this more weight than I intend to at times – I mean, even with this blog, I tend to find myself giving the benefit of the doubt to otherwise dubious political parties whose members have been polite and informative in my comments section, and they wind up higher on the ballot than they would based on policy alone.  Is this a matter of letting my emotions override my judgment?  Or is the behaviour of a party’s candidates a useful and meaningful standard by which to judge that party?

Or is the better measure how a party treats their good candidates?

(Incidentally, it seems worth noting that with this election, Wills has candidates from the Victorian Socialists, Animal Justice, the Greens, Labor and (sigh) United Australia… but no candidate for the Liberal Party.  He got disendorsed a couple of weeks ago.  So with the exception of Palmer, it’s really a choice between left, further left, slightly loopy left or environmental left.  Just how we like it here in the People’s Republic of Moreland.)

P.S. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you balance policy versus people, but I also know that I have friends who are helping to campaign for at least two, and maybe as many as four, of the parties above.  So let’s not make this about which party is the best, and let’s especially not make this about how the other parties are hypocritical/ineffective/not in Solidarity with the Workers, because all that’s going to do is make me cross.

I wasn’t going to do a Eurovision song, since this wasn’t even going to be a post until it metastasised out of a different post, but now I’ve realised that I have the perfect excuse to put one of my favourite Eurovision songs ever here, so I’m going for it.

Another thing I’ve been pondering is what, exactly, our candidates and politicians hope to achieve with door-knocking and phone calls.  I mean, yes, obviously they hope that we will vote for them.  But what is the mechanism?  Is it about making a personal connection with the voter?  Is it about showing a voter that your policies are in line with their interests?  Is it about telling us your track record? Or is it just about reminding us that you exist?

(And is it or is it not the most horrific job interview process in the world?  I mean, imagine applying for a job by cold calling everyone on the board of the organisation and trying to get them to talk to you so that you can tell them how awesome you will be in the role.  I’m cringing at the very thought…)

Iceland was definitely not singing about politics back in 2012, but I’m pretty sure their lyrics would strike a chord with most incumbents right about now.

Never forget what I did, what I said
When I gave you all my heart and soul
Morning will come and I know we’ll be one
Cause I still believe that you’ll remember me.
This one’s for you, Peter.

14 thoughts on “Voting in Wills – Candidates, Policies, and hey, are we a marginal seat now?

  1. I had this dilemma when I first moved to McMillan (now Monash).
    The Liberal sitting member was (still is) Russell Broadbent, who was one of the few Liberals around willing to take on his party on refugees, to the extent of crossing the floor.
    I knew that while Labor might run a candidate with good personal views on that issue, they would never cross the floor (immediate expulsion in Labor, whereas the Liberals will tolerate some floor-crossing). Plus Labor had a tendency to run candidates from the Shoppies union (the useless right-wing union who do dodgy deals with big employers while running a Catholic right agenda in the party – they wouldn’t cross the floor on refugees, but they’d almost certainly use their conscience vote the wrong way on same sex marriage or abortion).
    In the end I went with the national picture rather than the local. I voted for a nice left-leaning independent, and preferenced Labor ahead the Liberals – although I did put Russell ahead of the candidates of some micro-parties who I would normally favour ahead of the Liberals.
    Russell ended up being one of the four people who voted against same sex marriage, so that made the decision easier this time (plus Labor finally preselected a decent progressive candidate).

    • I honestly have more respect for Broadbent than for the ones who left the room rather than vote, because they couldn’t bring themselves to either follow their conscience or follow the will of their electorate against their conscience. I disagree with him on a lot of things, but he has the courage of his convictions and is morally consistent.

      It’s an interesting one for me, and it’s so individual – my husband, for example, has a different commute to me, so he has seen the Greens candidate out and about quite a bit at train stations and has formed a positive impression, where as I have never spotted him at all. But my husband hasn’t had any interactions at all with our local member, whereas I’ve had several, not to mention quite a few with his minions at different times.

      Nobody has seen the UAP candidate, or the Liberal one even before he was disendorsed. But then, the Liberals never send us their best and brightest…

  2. Unlike many of the other seats in the country, you’re actually pretty spoiled for choice in Wills.
    Peter is a great MP: represents the community well and engages with the community constantly, and he works really hard. I’ve had a great experience with him attending a quarterly STEM meeting in the are that is up-and-running, and he is always really enthusiastic and generous with his time. I have never heard him disparage The Greens or SA, which is always nice.
    Mine, and likely many other people deciding within the battlegrounds of ALP v GRN territory, is whether a progressive candidate in the ALP is going to lead to better outcomes than a progressive candidate from the Greens. Personally, I’m pretty abhorred by a lot of ALP policies in regards to asylum seekers, Newstart and ParentsNext (their commitment to welfare in general isn’t ideal), and I believe the best climate policies are with The Greens. Would an elected Greens have a greater impact on changing those policies than a ‘left’ Labor candidate? I would think so, but Cooper will be a good litmus test come the next election.
    So, Greens is where my vote went in Wills when I lived there. The current candidate, Adam Pulford, is great as well and is as engaging as Peter, in my opinion. Very good candidate.
    The other policy, which is close to my heart, and I suspect for many other’s, is the commitment to science funding, which Labor has pledged to reach 3% of GDP by 2030. This was signaled to me quite a while ago but was pretty disappointed looking through the costings Labor recently released to find that there didn’t seem to be any plans to implement that in the near future. I don’t have a great deal of experience navigating costing documents though so may have misread or misinterpreted; hopefully someone else knows better.
    I don’t have a lot of experience with Sue but have heard very good things. Not sure about Animal Justice Party but their medical research policy makes it a tough sell for me.

  3. Thanks for all your work on Wills and the Senate, Catherine.

    I’m in the same boat as you. I basically exclude certain parties based on policy platforms but with the parties they are left if there is no obvious frontrunner I like to look into the backgrounds of the candidates.

    I am definitely putting Sue Bolton #1 to hopefully send a bit of money their way, they deserve it after an excellent state campaign last year.

    I’ve heard a couple good things about Khalil but I am a bit confused about where he sits in terms of factions. — this article seems to say that Wills candidates are picked by the “Right” faction under a stability pact but perhaps they selected a relatively progressive candidate to suit the electorate?

    • Interesting! I had the distinct impression that he was from the left – I don’t think someone on the right would be quite so positive about the socialist candidate, who he clearly liked a fair bit. Also, he mentioned working with Ged Kearney, who is definitely on the left.

      Now, Kelvin Thompson was definitely
      Labor right, but I think Labor has realised that in seats with a strong Green vote, they can’t win with right candidates.

      • Khalil is definitely part of the Right – Wills is reserved for the Right under the stability pact currently in operation within Victorian Labor. It’s interesting that he is behaving more like someone from the Left though – perhaps a tactic to make sure the Right keep hold of Wills after they lost Batman/Cooper when David Feeney imploded.

  4. I gained exactly the opposite impression from his office’s response when I called them with concerns over the sudden (and to my mind, still inexcusable) backflip over the Assistance and Access Bill (i.e. the anti-encryption bill). They took my call, added my name to their email list, and… that was it. Still no response to this day.

    I don’t actually think Peter is *that* good a local candidate, and I think the reason you got that call is just that he’s scared of losing his seat to someone who *is* that good a local candidate. In my opinion, Adam Pulford would be an excellent addition to the lower house. I don’t think he can win (quite) this time, but I don’t believe Peter has earned the right to count Wills as safe. Who knows – if we can keep him scared, maybe he’ll continue to care what we think throughout the term of the coming Labor government?

    • Oh, that’s interesting. That wasn’t a topic that occurred to me to ask about. I do wonder how they decide who to call in the electorate, too, and how much time a call of this kind typically takes. I suspect not normally this long, or it would be an incredibly inefficient strategy. (Well, except that having kept the poor man on the phone for the better part of half an hour, I feel a bit more obliged to consider him seriously as a choice for the top of my ballot. So there’s another tactic – human connection, discussion of policies, and guilt…)

      I’m still thinking, to be honest. The Greens have had my vote (or at least, my ‘realistic’ vote – I can never resist a good socialist) in the House for a long time now, and I’d never actually considered Labor as a first preference option, until my conversation with Peter made me realise how painful the contrast was with the frankly uninspiring interactions I’ve had with the local Greens campaign this time around, which led me onto this entire line of thinking about candidates versus party policies.

      I will say, on a purely practical level, Peter struck me as someone who was very capable and on top of the issues, and who would be competent at getting things done. The critical question, of course, is what things he actually wants to get done. Better, fairer and more efficient processing of refugees and coming up with longer term strategies for coping with climate refugees and refugees from other catastrophic events seemed to be pretty high on his priority list, and he seemed to have a pretty detailed idea of the steps required to make that happen, so that’s a start. Action on climate change was also on the list, though not as much as I’d like. The Greens really do have the advantage there.

      Still figuring this one out, to be honest. My tendency to like just about everybody who will let me do so, and to be influenced by that liking, makes the decision harder.

  5. This is somewhat off-topic, and clearly ignorant and naive, but can you please clarify for me the definitions of working class vs middle class? I had always assumed lower class = poverty = unemployment or hideously underpaid, probably eating irregularly and insecure living; middle class = employed, well enough to do anything from eat several times a day and sleep under a roof all the way up to able to afford paytv and drive-through coffee; upper class = employs people to take care of hiring people to do actual work to make you rich, able to eat pretentious meals and pretend to like them. The second paragraph above suggests a distinction between working class and middle class. I guess as a decendant of a century or more of farmers married to teachers or nurses, I’d always figured “person who gets dirt and manure on his hands” was the class equal of “person who gets chalk, paint, blood or vomit on her hands”. I don’t see “manual worker” as inferior to “professional”, they’re just categories (and pretty pointless ones, given the amount of gross motor or fine motor skill required for ‘professions’ like surgery or geology, and the amount of intellect required for ‘manual labour’ jobs like farming). Dad never went to university, but he can calculate the volume of an odd-shaped grain silo in cubic feet in his head, then convert that to metric volume or work out how many acres he’ll be able to seed from it next year.
    Please enlighten me. Do we live in a four-class society?

    • Honestly, I’m not clear on this myself. I don’t think the phrase ‘upper class’ even gets used in an Australian context – I think we tend to stop at ‘upper middle class’ in our rankings, perhaps out of a fear of sounding too elitist (since it’s pretty clear that there is a tier who, financially and in terms of power, have a lot more than even the most upper of upper middle class people). ‘Lower class’ sounds pretty perjorative, and doesn’t get used much either. (To be honest, ‘middle class’ also sounds perjorative to me, but maybe that’s because most the people I talk politics with have socialist tendencies…)

      I also get the impression that ‘class’ has been moving away from being associated with particular professions and is more associated with income or ‘lifestyle’ – I mean, blue collar work certainly used to map to working class and white collar to middle class, but in terms of income, there are a whole bunch of white collar jobs that don’t pay anywhere near as well as a lot of tradie jobs.

      So short answer – I actually don’t know. I’m not sure whether that’s my personal ignorance, or whether it really has become unclear in Australia. I don’t like classifying people generally, and I agree with you regarding manual workers versus professionals (fun fact: surgeons used to be considered working class for the very reason you state – a gentleman would become a doctor, not a surgeon, and that’s why surgeons are still sometimes called ‘Mr’). I really only used the phrasing I did because it was the term that came up in conversation.

    • (Also, I trust it was clear from my response that I don’t think that your question is either ignorant or naive? Or if it is, that I share both your ignorance and your naiveté.)

  6. Khalil is definitely from the right – his preselection was delivered by the odious David Feeney, although I do think he’s pretty decent on most of the issues.

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