While the world’s attention is being drawn to the debacle that is the 2016 United States Presidential Election, there’s a lot happening politically down under. Australia Capital Territory (ACT) is holding its legislative assembly elections on 15 October for twenty-five seats, five for each electorate. It may not be as dramatic as Trump and Clinton’s showdown but it holds just as much importance – not just for Australia, but for the rest of the world.
The Assembly holds responsibility for managing the state’s education, health, policing, and industry alongside local government concerns that most people might not even think about, like roads, recycling and waste collection. If that was not enough, the legislative body also has to investigate and discuss matters which are considered to be of importance to the public, keep an eye on the actions of the Australian government and supervise governmental financial matters. With such a degree of responsibility, the Assembly election holds the potential to have massive repercussions for the national and global community, which should make it a more pressing concern in the UK than the circus going on across the pond.
Not only is the outcome more intriguing, politically, at this point, but the voting system itself is an interesting affair. Whilst every election in Australia has a different arrangement, the ACT legislative assembly uses the Hare-Clark system, known in the UK as the Single Transferable Vote (STV). This is where a set proportion of votes needed to win an election, or a quota, is decided through an equation: dividing the total number of votes by the number of seats plus one. With the candidates ranked in order of preference, if first-choice votes do not cross this threshold, the candidate with the lowest amount of votes has them distributed according to voters’ second choice, and the process begins again. Once a candidate has fulfilled a quota, their surplus votes are distributed according to the voter’s next choice too. The process only ends once all seats are filled.
Obviously this is much more complex and time-consuming than First Past the Post, which is part of the reason why STV is not used very often. However, it can also lead to some interesting results which demand coalitions, which can be an exciting time politically. Not only this, but given that the five members for each of the electorates are not limited to being from five different parties, candidates actually have to battle against each other in order to be elected. If you were excited by the Labour Party civil war which has only just (sort of) been brought to a close, this is another election to watch – especially since a record amount of 141 candidates are competing this year.
If you were excited by the Labour party civil war . . .this is another election to watch. . . .
With this system comes a wealth of different parties and policies to choose from. Of course, there are the old traditionals: the Australian Liberals are the equivalent of the English Conservatives, and the Labor Party is, well, the UK’s Labour, Party, except without the in-fighting and attempted coups. Like the UK, however, these may be the more popular choices, but they aren’t the only options available.
The majority of these alternative parties appear at first glance to be single-issue parties, but just like UKIP, they are gaining in prominence and support. The Australian Sex Party, which has a rather self-explanatory title when it comes to what it stands for, is surprisingly one of the more complex of these. Whilst it has some of the more revolutionary policies which fit with its name, such as championing the ability of minors to have an abortion without the permission of a parent or guardian, it also tackles issues outside of its main goals, such as the decriminalisation of drugs, biodiversity and even opposition to the British monarch as the Australian Head of State.
Then there’s the Flux Party, which hopes to shake up the Australian political system with a more participatory brand of democracy. Once elected, Flux candidates would have their duties dictated by the people, with an app allowing Canberra’s population to select their views on certain issues and even select a new legislative representative if they feel that the present one is not fulfilling their role properly. It is hard to imagine this working in practice – or even if the party can gain any seats without a clear set of policies – but in an age in which Western societies feel disillusioned with politics, at the very least it offers a possible and attractive solution. Then, of course, there are the Australian Greens, who have split their policies up into five categories spanning democracy, social justice, peace, economic justice and ecological sustainability – target areas very similar to the Green Party of England and Wales.
It is safe to say that there will be no straightforward outcome. With so many candidates and a highly proportional voting system, it is most likely that the result will mean coalitions will have to be formed in order to have a functioning government. This is not to say that alliances cannot be predicted, though. The Labor and Liberal parties have very opposite ideologies – the less said about Medicare and claims around its privatisation the better – but that does not mean that they cannot join forces. Both have prioritised strengthening the economy and protecting the environment, and although there will most likely have to be compromise around set policies in these fields, there is scope for a level of agreement.
Nevertheless, it is more likely that coalitions will be formed amongst the smaller parties. The Greens, Labor, and the Australian Sex Party all have a focus on progressive policies which would mean a good partnership between them. However, a good balance could be struck if the right-leaning Liberals are willing to make concessions to these left-wing political branches. Whatever happens, there’s still a lot to come – and a lot of important decisions to make.