Politics: Federal Election – Meet the Australian Democrats

And I yearn for Cheryl Kernot… Democrat!

Actually, I gather that she’s running as an independent this time around, though sadly not in Victoria, but this doesn’t stop my brain’s almost Pavlovian response to any mention of the Australian Democrats with a rousing chorus of ‘My Heart’s in Peril, Cheryl!’.

Still, I’m looking forward to a little bit of sanity in this particular set of policies (and no GST). I admit to a certain fondness for the Democrats, and a certain sympathy – not to mention my feeling that, as a good conservationist, it is my duty to vote for an endangered species, which the Australian Democrats certainly are…

Their group voting ticket is a nice little roll-call of all the saner small left-wing parties: Carer’s Alliance, Secular Party, Australian Sex Party, and then the Greens and Labor. The somewhat loonier lefty parties follow (though the SEP is way down near the foot of the ticket – the Democrats, it appears, do not approve of revolution), and the bottom of the ticket is adorned by the Christian Democratic Party, Citizens’ Electoral Council, and last of all One Nation. In other words, I could vote above the line reasonably happily here, not feeling that my vote was going anywhere it shouldn’t.

(except that as anyone reading this post presumably knows, there is no fun to be had in voting above the line)

Their website informs me that the major parties are playing politics with my future, with quick fix, short-term stunts, the Greens refuse to negotiate, and I deserve better.

So, what does better look like?

Apparently, it looks like a whole bunch of PDFs to download. Why, why, WHY must so many political parties do this?

I am slightly, guiltily relieved to learn that some of them won’t open on my computer… actually, on second thoughts, since it’s all the really interesting ones that won’t open, I’m getting Andrew to download and send them to me. However, I am again going to summarise wildly, because I suspect you want to read their policies in 39 different areas about as little as I want to write about them.

The Democrats have a lot of health related policies, not dissimilar to those of the Greens. In general, they want to increase public hospital and medicare funding, and also get the famous electronic medical records system up and running. They want to improve inidgenous health, particularly by improving nutrition, maternal and child health (including antenatal outreach programs), and decrease family violence and preventable disease. These are all good things, though I note they don’t say *how* they are going to do this – I preferred the Greens here. Like the Greens, they want a medicare-like dental health scheme. They also have a policy on mental health that is more in depth than any of their other policies so far, which focuses not only on services and early intervention, but also on consumer voice, social inclusion, carer supports, and de-stigmatisation. Definitely a winning policy in my book. In Men’s health, they want to encourage regular checkups, but also to focus on challenging and changing attitudes and behaviour that lead to violence, starting in early childhood. They also want to increase funding for suicide prevention. Women’s health also talks about prevention of violence, as well as preventive care and birth choices, but in particular calls for improved involvement of women in health decision making, particularly indigenous, disabled, and culturally diverse women.

The Democrats are excellent on disability – they support the National Disability Insurance scheme and want a National Equipment Strategy to go along with it, want to make disability support more accessible (so to speak), increase supported accommodation, provide incentives for workplaces to employ people who have a disability, and they want to ratify the UN convention on the rights of people with disabilities. There’s more, but it’s all along these lines. Regarding carers, they want to increase the Carer allowance, and also make it easier to get, and also support flexible work hours and fund carer advocacy and research. Again, some good stuff here. They also want to improve aged care, by trying to attract nurses and specialists to the sector (currently, aged care nursing pays a lot less than regular nursing – they would like to equalise this).

In the category of Policies That Will Make You Unpopular With Certain Lobby Groups, the Democrats are also in favour of legalising voluntary euthanasia, in conjunction with better palliative care and advance care directives (ooh, look, Democratic death panels!). They want comprehensive sex education, free or low cost condoms in schools and universities, legalised abortion, unbiased pregnancy counselling and the availability of RU 486. They want to legalise gay marriage and adoption of children by gay couples, and ensure that sex education in schools is preventive against stigma and discrimination. And just in case that didn’t convince you that they were Godless Heathens, the Democrats also advocate separation of Church and State. Theoretically, we have this already, but they want to get religious education out of state schools, at least during school hours, and teach ethics instead. They also want to abolish Parliamentary prayers, which I think is very appropriate given that we have quite a mix of beliefs in Australia.

I don’t think they’d get on too well with the DLP, do you? I, on the other hand, am liking them more and more.

Their humanitarian and social justice policies are also pretty good. They want to increase humanitarian aid and cancel third world debt. Refugees are to be processed in mainland cities, not offshore or in desert detention centres. Skilled immigrants are to be encouraged only as a means of overcoming genuine skills shortages – but holders of temporary visas must have at least equal employment conditions, and must ‘under no circumstances be used for cheap labour’. They suggest reducing our immigration quota to make room for refugees. I’m torn about this – I just like wide open immigration, but this is probably less practical than I would like to believe.

In tax, they want to increase the tax-free threshold dramatically so that people earning less than $25,000 are not taxed at all. I like this. On the other hand, they want to take away my FBT, which I do not like at all! Apparently, I don’t mind a tax that makes my house worth less, but draw the line at losing large chunks of my take-home income to stay the same, thanks.

I like their defence policy, which focuses on peace-keeping, clearing mines, and a peace and non-violence commission to provide non-military solutions to conflict and security issues and to revive disarmament. This might be what gets them my vote, actually. Not surprisingly, they are anti all things nuclear, from weapons to nuclear power, which leads me into the environmental section of their policies..

The Democrats want to protect biodiversity, and like the Greens, advocate indigenous involvement in biodiversity conservation and land management. Also like the Greens, they have a policy on animal welfare, though it doesn’t contain the bits that were worrying me with regard to medical research. In particular, they want a UN convention on Animal Welfare. They also want much stricter labelling so that people can know whether food is completely vegetarian or vegan, and in the case of animal products, how the animal has been treated. While they don’t actually have a policy against battery farming, they argue strongly against it, and point out that most Australians would prefer free-range eggs anyway. And speaking of labelling, they are concerned about GMOs, and want these to be treated with caution and above all, labelled. I’d say the Greens are stronger in this sector.

They have a whole bunch of reasonable-looking policies relating to Peak Oil, Climate Change (“All the watered down changes negotiated with the Coalition reversed”), switching to solar and sustainable energy, protecting coasts, seas and forests – but providing “restructuring assistance to forestry workers and communities affected by the phase out of logging of native forests” – in short, quite a lot like the Greens, but less detailed, and weaker on the Mining Tax (which they want to ditch in favour of their superior plan, which I don’t understand very well, and this time I can’t even blame it on being female, because the Dems have pretty good policies on the Status of Women).

Ooh, here’s a nice, frivolous one – they want to establish a living wage for emerging artists and extend work experience and training to include the arts. I have no idea how this can happen, but I like it a lot. And they have a nice education policy – more teacher training, more funding for public schools, and funded pre-school at 20 hours per week.

The Democrats want a republic. They also want to regulate the public service and the level of donations to politicians (at last, something on which they and the DLP can agree!). They are also in favour of transparent government, and direct democracy, allowing for the possibility of citizen-initiated referenda. I’m trying to decide whether I think this is a good thing or a bad thing – on the one hand, I’m in favour of greater participation in government for regular citizens; on the other hand, I’m living in a country that voted for John Howard at four consecutive elections. Can the electorate be trusted? And if not, can our politicians…?

I’m not sure I want to think too much about that.

The question is, do I like the Democrats more than the Greens? I honestly don’t know. The Greens, if our local Council is any sample, can be rather naive and bad at compromise – the Democrats, on the other hand, have been known to compromise rather too much (G-S-T, OK?). They both have some lovely policies, but neither is perfect.

Can’t I have both?

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