Whether it is your first or twenty-first time voting there is always something new to learn, from how to make sure your vote counts to where parties stand on issues that matter to you. For a lot of Australians the voting experience starts and ends at a polling booth. This is not how it should happen!

The first step in voting should start much earlier, when you decide what issues are important to you. Is it marriage equality, refugees, the economy, education funding, rural health, environmental issues or gender equality? Or is it something entirely different? For most of us it is a combination of issues and each of us value them differently.

But on the ballot sheet you can only vote for candidates or parties. This is the crux of voting. How do you go from “what” to vote for to “who” to vote for? There are thousands of places to start, from the ABC’s Vote Compass to party policies or even the evening news. When doing your research always be aware of possible bias. This doesn’t mean you should ignore it completely but know where the information is coming from and how that might change the views expressed.

A bit of Terminology

Left Wing - The left or left wing is used to describe policies, parties or people that advocate for social equality. This is opposed to a social hierarchy or social inequality. Often this involves policies such as the provision of services such as health care and education that is available to everyone, gender equality and anti discrimination.

Little “L” Liberal - In Australia this term is particularly confusing. The term liberal tends to refer to a “free” political philosophy including civil rights, democracy and free press. Little “L” liberal is used to prevent confusion with the Liberal Party which is generally a Conservative party (the opposite of liberal). In the US for instance liberal refers to left of centre.

Right Wing - The right is general in opposition to the left and as such supports a social hierarchy. The means they are less likely to support public schools or taxing the rich as this would ‘upset’ the hierarchy.

Although the reality is more complex, right and left are generally seen to be part of a spectrum. Many people support policies of both sides. You can also use a 2D rather than a 1D representation, to compare economic beliefs with social beliefs. If you are interested in where you might fall or to learn more head over to


The Big Issues

These may not be your big issues but they are a few that look to be a big part of the 2013 federal election. We look only at the three major parties here, but there are a whole host of minor parties - from the Sex Party to the Pirate Party to the Bullet Train for Australia Party. 

The Budget Deficit and the Economy

The budget deficit is a hotly debated topic. Many people might agree that debt is a bad thing but the problem is not that simple. The world was hit by an economic crisis in 2008 and Australia pulled through surprisingly well. On a global scale our debt as a percentage of GDP is one of the smallest in the world and our economy is doing much better than many. In order to reduce the deficit taxes must increase or funding on services such as health, education, infrastructure and defence must be cut. Here is what the parties have to say.

Australian Labor Party - Predicts a budget surplus by 2017 but in the meantime wants continued investment in infrastructure, education and the National Disability Insurance Scheme among other things.

Coalition - The Coalition is backing off their commitment to a surplus in their first year in office. They propose “living within our means” as a way of reaching a surplus but are yet to release a credible strategy.

Greens - The Greens state “While government finances must be sustainable over the long-term, it is appropriate to stimulate the economy during economic downturns and save during economic booms. Government financing should be responsibly managed so as to minimise intergenerational debt”.


The Carbon Price

Climate change is a big issue globally and within Australia. Currently the major parties agree that climate change is happening. The question is what to do about it. Under Julia Gillard a carbon price was implemented in order to reduce Australia’s emissions. Where do the parties stand?

Australian Labor Party - They introduced the carbon price and plan to change to and Emissions Trading Scheme in 2014. They also started the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to invest in renewable energy.

Coalition - The Coalition has pledged to remove the carbon price instead proposing a carbon buyback scheme to pay polluters who reduce emissions. They also plan to scrap the CEFC.

Greens - The Greens supported the Carbon Tax introduction and its continuation and continue to support the CEFC.


Education Funding

One of the big issues, especially here at uni. Many were happy to hear about the Gonksi Reforms for schools being funded but a bit let down when they decided to take the funding away from universities. The Gonski Review was designed to look at how to improve primary and secondary education in Australia. It suggested that schools needed an increase in funding so they could provide more resources and a better education. However in order to fund this they have cut $2.3 billion from tertiary institutions (universities) as well as cutting the discount for paying HECS upfront, and converting Start-up Scholarships to loans. Part of this debate is economical but it also comes down to investing in the future thinkers of Australia.

Australian Labor Party - Has plans to increase school funding but some of that is tied to the states also increasing their funding. After the initial period funding will be indexed annually. They support a national curriculum and extra funding to support students in learning trades.

Coalition - Says it will continue Labor’s planned funding in the short term but without providing a way of funding it. They also want a national curriculum and are supporting state schools becoming independent schools.

Greens - Support the Gonski funding model and pledge and extra $2 billion to start it off. Needs based funding means less funding for well off private schools and more for the schools that need it. They want to increase funding to universities, the student living allowance and, in the long term, return to free university education. They want more teachers in schools to raise standards instead of tests like NAPLAN.


Marriage Equality

This is a topic that has been the subject of intense debate both in parliament and in communities. Put simply it is about equality: does Australia treat all its citizens equally? Currently we are being left behind by many developed countries. Many polls have suggested that Australians do support marriage equality but it is the leadership that is stuck against it. Our new PM Kevin Rudd has recently lent his support to the idea, so we will see where it goes after the election.

Australian Labor Party - Kevin Rudd has pledged a marriage equality bill in the first 100 days in parliament.

Coalition - Tony Abbott is a strong supporter of not allowing Marriage Equality

Greens - The Greens support Marriage Equality and have been a driving force behind it in the past.


Refugees promise to be an important issue in the coming election as they have been in the past (it is an issue that politicians get highly emotive about so try not to get too caught up in that). For many people the main issue is about human rights and saving lives. Under the UN Refugee Convention Australia should accept legitimate refugees – people who aren’t in fact breaking laws, but are fleeing persecution – that arrive here and should not treat them differently based on their means of arrival. The numbers of people arriving by boat is is under 3% of total immigration and 90% are found to be legitimate refugees. How do the parties feel about this?

Australian Labor Party - Mandatory detention for refugees arriving by boat and resettlement in Papua New Guinea. Offshore processing and excision of Australia from its migration zone. Coalition - Operation Sovereign Borders by the military to turn back boats when safe. Mandatory detention and offshore processing of refugees.

Greens - Abolish offshore processing, increase refugee quota to 30,000 annually (from 13,750), restore Australia to its migration zone. Release refugees after 30 days of detention. Regional programmes to speed up processing.


But... What are you voting FOR?

How To Vote

When it comes to the actual voting it gets a lot easier. You have a couple of options of how to vote. Postal Voting or Early Voting must be applied for before the day. If you are going to vote on the day (Saturday September 7th) then you should just make sure you are enrolled to vote in the right electorate.

House of Reps (Lower House) Voting for the House of Representatives is done by electorate: Armidale is in the New England electorate. This means that every candidate runs in one electorate and the first to get over 50% of the vote will represent that electorate. Each party will put one candidate (or none) forward or candidates will run as independents. You must number ALL candidates in order of preference (1 being the top preference).

Senate (Upper House) Voting for the Senate is done on a state basis. Each ‘state’ elects 12 senators and each ‘territory’ gets 2. In this case a candidate must get over 14.3% of the vote (1/12th) in order to get a seat. There are two ways to vote for the senate.

Above the Line: Voting above the line is voting for a party. You select your top preference party and then that party allocated where your preferences go if they don’t get in.

Below the Line: Voting below the line allows you to preference each candidate. In this case however you must number all 110 candidates! On the up side, you, not the political parties, say who your vote goes to.


How preferences work

Preferences make votes count. Many people worry about voting for a minor party because they think this will waste their vote. This is far from the truth. In Australia it is not just the two large parties in government, in fact there were several independents and smaller parties holding the balance of power in the House of Representative last term, and 11 in the Senate.

But more important is how your vote gets counted if your first preference doesn’t get elected. If no party has a majority (or enough for a seat in the Senate) then the votes of the lowest scoring party get redistributed according you your second preference. This continues until every seat is filled, and in effect means that every vote is not only counted but counts towards the final outcome.

Two more important factors are your ability to influence policy and to influence funding. If a major party wins but sees a portion of the primary vote going to another candidate they might change their policies in order to represent that portion of their electorate. Also, the next time an election comes around the funding for each party is based on the number of votes they got last time – about $2.50 for every person that voted ‘1’ for them. So if you want your favourite party to do better next time, put them first and allocate your preferences later.



• Use ticks or crosses • Write your name or anything else • Double up on a number • Forget to number a box


Party Preference Allocation

Party preferences can be seen here:

Preference allocation for parties is a big issue. Recently there has been some debate as to how they would be allocated. Summed up briefly:

Greens --> Labor -> Liberal/Nationals

Liberal/Nationals -> Labor -> Greens

Labor -> Greens -> Liberal/Nationals



How does it all work after that? The two votes are to elect people to two different ‘Houses’: the House of Representatives in which each member represents their electorate, and the Senate where each state and territory has representatives.

The House of Representatives is who decides on the Prime Minister. While there is much formality and voting it is usually the leader of the party that can form majority. They become the face of Australia for their term. In some cases neither party forms the majority and they must

enlist the support of independents and other parties in order to gain a majority. Unlike a president you can’t directly elect them but you do get to elect the ministers who will decide the vote.

The Senate provides a bit of stability in politics as each time it is elected (barring a double dissolution) only half the seats change over. This prevents rapid changes in government that might otherwise be destabilising.

In order for legislation to pass it must be put forward in one house and pass through both houses before being put into law. Each house may also amend it. “Supply” refers to government expenditure and must also pass through both houses although it must originate in the House of Representatives and cannot be changed in the senate. Blocking of supply by the Senate can prevent government from being able to function.

by Tadeusz Davenport

Editorial - September 2013

Politics from the Homeland: Electioneering in the New England Heartland