Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On Marriage.

or, How to Win an Election Without
Slandering Your Opponent, Kissing Babies*, or
Making Promises Only to Break Them as Soon as You Get In.

Here's my 10¢ worth of free advice to the major parties: legalise gay marriage. Simplest thing in the world. I'm not saying it will get you my vote, or even my preferences — it's already the policy of the three parties I actually support, and there are much more important reasons why I'll never preference Tony Abbott — but it will win you a lot more votes than it loses you, and at this point that's all either major party needs to win power.

All the reputable polls suggest a considerable majority of Australians support the broadening of marriage laws to apply to gay couples. I'd wager that even the conservative Liberal party (were they ever little-L liberal?) could win an election on this policy. It's true that more Liberal voters oppose gay marriage than other voters, but it's almost certainly also true that more people vote against the Libs because of the gay marriage issue than vote against any other party for that reason. So while they stand to lose more core voters than Labor, they also stand to win a lot more swinging voters and even more than that in the way of preferences — I'd wager the Greens owe a lot of their primary vote to their support of gay marriage, and at present most Greens preferences go to Labor; even if not many voters swung from the Greens to the Libs on that basis, plenty would preference the Libs where previously they would have preferenced Labor. The whole thing would be even easier for Labor, as the slightly left-of-centre party, to pull off.

Of course this rests on the assumption that only one of the two major parties made the move. If both did, it could be a potential disaster, as the bigots who would swing away on the basis of a party legislating for gay marriage would have nowhere else to go short of Family First, who'd remain in most cases the only party on their lower house ballot paper without their most-hated policy. I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with that prospect, and this is the part where I usually start railing against democracy in general and demanding to know why my thoroughly-thought-through opinions are worth no more than those of bigots, morons and ignoramuses.

More on marriage next time.

*Does anyone else find the idea of kissing strangers' children as a campaign tactic kind of, well, creepy? If yes, which is creepier: the fact that it is used as a campaign tactic, or the fact that it works as one?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

This All Happened Before.

Senator Steve Fielding has threatened to block supply in the Senate if Labor wins government. This means he would vote against any money bills in the Senate. Since the Senators we elected last Saturday don't take office until July 1 next year, he'll still be there long enough to block next year's Budget. The government — and I mean the entire federal public service here, not just the governing party — cannot operate if the Budget doesn't make it through Parliament, and the only option if it's clear that a necessary money bill won't make it through the Senate is for the Governor General to fire the lot of them and call an early election.

Seem a bit familiar? It's pretty much what happened in 1975, when Labor controlled the lower house and the coalition had the Senate majority. The Libs had had the Senate since Labor was elected, but they finally decided they didn't like the way PM Gough Whitlam was running things, and refused to let a crucial money bill through. The resulting election gave a huge victory to the Liberals.

What galls me the most is Fielding's excuse for this threat. He thinks the election result means we don't want Labor in power any more. Why he thinks it means we want the coalition, who got fewer primary votes and failed just as completely as Labor did to win a majority, is confusing at best. But do you know which party lost 100% of its seats in Parliament as of this election? Oh wait, that would be Fielding's conservativer-than-thou Family First party. Last I looked, a lot more people wanted Labor governing them than wanted nutjobs like Fielding holding any sort of power. It's not like we didn't have the opportunity; FF fielded candidates in every seat as far as I know. We'd have elected them if we wanted them. The bastard's just bitter he didn't get re-elected (although we all knew he only got there in the first place on a preference deal that backfired) and this is his one last effort to cause trouble before we're rid of him.

Maybe this gives us an opportunity. I don't consider it at all probable, but hear (well, read) me out. Fielding holds the Senate balance of power along with the Greens and Nick Xenophon. If the rest of the crossbenchers made the same promise as regards a Coalition government as Fielding made as regards a Labor one, we'd be certain of going back to the polls within a year. Maybe before Christmas. Maybe the major parties would like a second chance at getting a majority, but the backlash from calling another election would hurt whichever party won government this time around and had its supply bills blocked. Is it too much to hope that the major parties could actually work together, like the colleagues they're supposed to be, rather than continue to be bitter rivals who've forgotten what they're fighting over?

Sigh. Of course it is.

Update: the coalition has acted to neuter Fielding's threat. They will not block supply in the Senate if Labor gets in. Finally they're doing something right. Of course, I'm sure this is mainly because they don't feel like they'd win the ensuing election rather than out of a spirit of coöperation, but I don't care so much so long as it robs Fielding of his power and gives us a more stable government.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

...And I Just Need To Rule It.

Also, since when was democracy, especially the sort we have in the West today, such a wonderful idea in the first place? Sure, it's less oppressive than most other systems that have been tried, but is it necessarily any better for us? Is it necessarily any more stable than the alternatives? Communism lasted less than a century, but stable monarchies have lasted for millennia. Ultimately Western democracy rests on many of the same fallacies as libertarianism, the main one being that if we all choose what we think is best for us as individuals, we'll end up with a system that more or less approximates to what is actually best for us as a group.

Problem 1. Most people don't know what's best for them. Even worse, most people would rather be told what's best for them than spend time and mental effort figuring it out for themselves. After all, if someone else has already figured out what's best, why should I bother repeating their effort when you can cut straight to the results? The problem is that different people have come up with very different results, and if you don't want to put in the effort to get your own results, you probably won't be inclined to put in the effort to figure out who else's results to trust.

Problem 2. What's best for individuals is not necessarily what's best for society as a whole. The Prisoner's Dilemma suffices to establish this. This is why organised societies exist in the first place; the whole point is that we make some sacrifices in the spirit of coöperation because this leads to a net gain. If it didn't, then organised societies would have been at an evolutionary disadvantage compared to lone opportunists.

Related to both of these points is the fact that people tend to find it a lot easier to sacrifice a long-term benefit for a short-term one, especially if the responsibility for that sacrifice is diffused. Politicians know this, and are subject to it themselves. When was the last time a politician planned more than an election ahead? Sure, there are long-term projects, but the only ones that go ahead are the ones that are perceived to have short-term tangible benefits.

Don't get me wrong. I like some aspects of democracy, and I like most political systems a lot less. But just because it may be the best we've got doesn't mean there isn't a whole lot of room for improvement.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What Was All That About, Then?

That was...interesting. We all knew it was going to be close but surprisingly, given there were three quite safe independents already in the lower house, there was almost no talk of the possibility of a hung parliament in the last days leading up to the election. Now all of a sudden we're realising what happens when both major parties campaign on a platform of "the other party sucks" for long enough. There's very little definitive difference, at least as far as the general public can tell, between the major parties.

Their leaders, sure. Abbott's an insane religious conservative who I wouldn't trust to balance a home budget. Gillard's unmarried, to the left of the majority of her party, and a lot less self-assured. But as far as actual party policies, they've been growing closer together for as long as I can remember and now it's Labor, the supposed left-wing party, that wants to filter the Internet and has no interest in ending legal discrimination in marriage laws. I actually voted for Stephen Conroy last, after even Steve Fielding, because of the Internet issue.

This is how I see things happening in the short term. The ABC's tipping both Labor and the coalition to wind up with 73 seats. Bandt, the Greens MP from Melbourne, will probably ally with Labor. (If Wilkie takes Denison, I expect he'll do likewise, but either way the seat would be either a Labor MP or a Labor ally.) Katter, the crazy anti-science independent from Queensland, despite what he says, will almost certainly not coöperate with Labor on a policy level. That gives them 74 each and practically speaking leaves the choice in the hands of the two remaining independents, Windsor and Oakeshott. Even if Katter, Bandt and Wilkie all surprise me, five men, with maybe 2% of the national vote between them if they're lucky, will wield the greatest amount of political power in the country.

They call this democracy.