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your survival guide to this year’s federal election
illustrations by Pilgrim Hodgson

your survival guide to this year’s federal election

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Playing politics.

The day of the democracy sausage is hurtling toward us, which means it’s time to have a think about the issues that matter most to you, and how the political parties are (or aren’t) addressing them. The lead-up to an election is always a bit of a circus: pollies roll into towns across Australia and attempt to dazzle voters with varying stunts (some of which involve hard hats and hi-vis, but thankfully no lycra). To help you figure it all out – and most importantly, make your precious vote count – we consulted former triple j Hack host Avani Dias, journalist and Shameless podcast researcher Justine Landis-Hanley, and Guardian Australia’s Full Story podcast presenter Laura Murphy-Oates.

WHAT SHOULD I PAY ATTENTION TO?

The campaigns Before you mosey over to your local polling joint, it’d help to know what the major parties are focusing on. In a nutshell, the Liberal Party and the National Party – jointly known as the Coalition – are likely to centre their campaign on Australia’s economic recovery as the pandemic rages on. The Labor Party’s focus, meanwhile, is on reviving Australia’s manufacturing industry and creating jobs (including through renewable energy). “Scott Morrison is stating that ‘securing Australia’s economic recovery’ is the number one issue. One of Labor’s major election policy announcements – pledging extra university and TAFE places – has been framed as a way to help rebuild industries hit by the pandemic,” Laura says.

The issues you care about Worried about climate change? No surprises to learn that heaps of other people are in the same boat. Avani has heard these concerns firsthand, from farmers working in regional areas who say they’re “happy to shift to more climate-friendly practices”, to young climate strikers who demand better policies. “At the same time, we’ve heard from a few young Australians whose families have worked in coal for generations, who feel like they might be abandoned,” she notes. “They don’t want an industry like coal to just disappear overnight. They want that transition to happen slowly so they can be skilled in different areas.”

No one wants to risk the vote by pushing ambitious, potentially job-killing climate policies, which partly explains why neither major partys emission reduction targets are ground-breaking. Labor has set a target of 43 per cent by 2030 on 2005 levels, while the Coalition’s target is to cut 2628 per cent by 2030 on 2005 levels. The bottom line? “Scientists agree by and large that we need to be reducing our emissions by 75 per cent by 2030,” Justine says. “So neither party is getting us there. But Labor is definitely the one that’s making a more aggressive target to cut greenhouse gas emissions.” Will the parties announce more concrete climate policies? Not according to Laura. “Talking about climate in Australia is not a particularly popular thing for a major political party to do, and we’ve seen scare campaign after scare campaign whenever a party does announce an ambitious policy.”

Another policy area to keep your eye on is housing affordability. This issue doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves from the pollies, partly because they can’t figure out how to address it without significantly upsetting wealthier, older voters, whose savings are tied up in investment properties. “House prices are going up way faster than household incomes,” Justine says. “For many young people, the only way you can buy a house is if you can live with your parents while saving up, have a high income, or can borrow from family. Housing affordability is a complicated issue – it’s really going to be on the parties to offer clear solutions in a way that young voters can understand.”

Avani reckons it’s worth watching for policies on mental health, particularly after the attention it’s received in recent years. “Even though the federal government has increased the amount of Medicare-subsidised psych appointments you can get, we know that this is still not enough for some people,” she says. “Sometimes our mental-health system is getting in too late; we hear from young people that they want more access to a diverse range of services. So it’ll be interesting to see how targeted the policies are to them.”

Meanwhile, federal corruption (aka political parties using their power to do dodgy things) is a big issue we should care about, according to Justine. “It’s important because we currently don’t have a federal corruption watchdog. The government has been reluctant to legislate for one that actually has the power that a lot of experts think is necessary. Having mechanisms in place to deal with federal corruption is something that affects so many areas, like how our taxpayer money is spent.”

The smaller parties Despite their size, minor parties can play a big role in government. “The smaller parties, as well as independent MPs, sit on the crossbench in the Senate and the House of Representatives and can be incredibly important,” Laura says, “especially when a party wins an election with only a slim majority. Often the ruling party will need their support to pass legislation.” After multiple lockdowns, concerns over vaccine rollouts, a slew of scandals and a lack of attention given to other important issues during the pandemic, a lot of people are feeling pretty fed up with the major parties. It’s possible that smaller parties and independent candidates will gain more votes this time round.

The influence of big donors Political campaigns don’t fund themselves. It’s worth taking note of political donations to better understand why a party may have a certain policy or view. Every year, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) releases data on donations to different political parties, which shows that the major parties get a lot of their moolah from big business and the fossil fuel sector. “There are allegations that companies try to buy influence, and that making these donations means you can get a conversation with an MP,” Justine says.

WHAT CAN I IGNORE?

Staged photos and announcements Expect to see loads of images of high-vis-wearing pollies chatting with friendly (or not so friendly) locals over the coming months as they attempt to masquerade as ‘one of us’. Sometimes these media opportunities gift us golden missteps, like Tony Abbott chomping into an onion, but Justine reckons it’s safe to ignore the whole charade. “We need to think of politicians as advertisements, particularly around campaign time,” she says. “Don’t pay attention to what they’re wearing or where they’re announcing things because they’re only trying to make things seem more palatable.”

Scare campaigns “You’ll see a lot of fear-mongering around the election,” Justine says. “It could be language like, ‘The federal government is going to destroy the climate,’ or, ‘Labor is going to do a deal with the Greens and you’re actually going to get a Greens government.’ This language is designed to play to your emotions, so you want to try and steel yourself against that as much as possible.” The best thing you can do, Laura advises, is to properly question any policies the parties are peddling. As always, it’s important to read the fine print.

Political advertisements Can any ol’ chump with a bag of cash create a nonsensical ad and blast it onto our screens? Basically, yes. Unfortunately, there aren’t really any solid laws to stop political parties from lying in their ads during election campaigns. “The interesting thing is that the politicians need to make the rules to make it harder for misinformation to come across in political advertising,” Avani says. “But they’re probably not going to make things harder for themselves. That leaves it up to young people to really think about it critically on their own.”

Social media How do you do, fellow kids? The pollies are online and doing whatever it takes to get eyeballs, so don’t be surprised to see them goofing around on TikTok (they’re already there, making memes and parody videos). Avani notes that it’s conservative politicians in particular, who are using social media to reach voters. “The Facebook posts of Pauline Hanson and Craig Kelly get more traction than most media organisations in Australia on a daily basis,” she says. “I think we’re going to see the major parties and some of the smaller parties mobilise the digital space to appeal to younger voters in a big way.”

Read the rest of this handy guide (which covers everything you need to know about voting as well as some nifty resources to check out) in issue 106