The state election looms large. And yet, for many voters, the decision regarding who to vote is historical rather than based on policy. 

“My family is blue collar, we have always voted for Labor” is a common basis for casting the all important vote on election day. Others vote according to personality, the “he seems like a reasonable sort of person” approach. Others simply follow the how to vote card handed out on the day which seems to work for them at the time. 

Is this the way we should approach an election? Can we afford to base our voting decisions on anything less than policy, and previous track record? The coming state election needs to be taken seriously, and a deliberate, informed response is called for. The future of the state of Victoria, at least in the short term, is in the balance, and voters must make sure they are informed regarding party policy and the implications of balance of power issues.

"Of great interest is who the major parties intend allocating their preferences to. This is critical information for the discerning voter."

An important election issue relates not so much as to who will win outright power, but rather, which party will gain the balance of power in the Upper House. As it stands, the battle is being fought between the Greens, and relative newcomer to the political scene, Family First. Is this balance of power concept important? More so than most politically indifferent, even semi-interested voters could possibly realise. 

Changes in the composition of the Upper House mean that whoever wins balance of power will be in a position to control critical legislation. That’s how important this election is, not just in the battle between Liberal and Labor, but the seemingly secondary, yet possibly more vital, struggle between two relative political minnows.

What are these changes? From this election forward Victoria's new Upper House will be comprised of 40 members. Victoria has been separated into eight electoral divisions, each represented by five Upper House members, thus totaling 40 representatives. Based on the preferential voting system, in a nutshell, any candidate who receives 16 percent of first preference votes will be elected to sit in the Upper House. This makes party preferences of vital importance in the whole process. If the balance of power in the Upper House is to be decided on preferences then the issue boils down to who will receive the most preference votes, the Greens or Family First. 

Of great interest is who the major parties intend allocating their preferences to. This is critical information for the discerning voter. Who will really receive my Liberal or Labor preferences when I vote on election day? As it stands the Labor Party has allocated preferences to the Greens, while the Liberals have directed their preferences towards Family First in metro areas, and firstly to the Nationals, then Family First in country areas. From this perspective voters need to understand what they are voting for if the Greens win power and ultimately have a controlling vote in the Upper House.

For a start the Greens should be commended for their environmental policies regarding greenhouse emissions, climate change, energy use and research, water, biodiversity and agriculture. These are all key areas which will impact Victorians for years to come. These issues are bread-and-butter for the Greens, the type of stuff they surged into the political arena riding on. The other parties can learn from the Greens in this respect, adopting their understanding regarding the delicate balance in nature and our responsibility as consumers given responsible dominion over God’s earth. The Greens certainly have a balanced outlook in terms of policy across these areas.

Unfortunately, it seems that once they step outside their traditional domain of the environment and sustainability they get somewhat lost and tend to produce policies which can be described as dubious at best, and downright destructive at worst.

Of great concern is their policy regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Their policy document lists 31 goals the Greens intend working towards in this category. The list is both outrageous and frightening. 

Reading these goals one could be forgiven for thinking that the Greens might be exploring the possibility of a name change. Their seems to be more focus on pursuing gay rights, same sex marriages and adoption of children, eliminating homophobia, bi-phobia, trans-phobia, and just about any other phobia known to man, than on their mainstay policy regarding the environment. It seems incongruous that a minority lobby group is able to influence a major political party to such an extent. Add to this the recently unveiled liberal approach toward decriminalising abortion and the plot thickens. From a Christian perspective it is difficult to vote for the Greens, or any party who allocates their preferences to them, on this policy point alone.

The Greens even have a separate policy regarding animals, noting that “animals have intrinsic worth separate to the needs of humans”, aimed at reducing the exploitation of animals. A disturbing aspect of this seemingly harmless policy is the proposed legal change replacing the status of animals as “property” to that of “beings” with legal rights. Does this mean my pet dog could take me to court for making her sleep outside? Yes, this is a ridiculous example, but a policy which elevates animals to the same legal status as humans is also ridiculous. Again, it appears that the Greens are pandering to the lobbying of a minority group, that being animal liberationists. Whilst some of their policies in this regard are commendable, one does wonder where it will all end.

The policy problems continue. Do we want a political party holding balance of power that supports the provision of free heroin to addicts, and abolishes criminal sanctions for drug users? Their Drugs Policy goal 3.2.2 opens the door for injecting rooms similar to those already in New South Wales. While their approach is termed 'harm minimisation' one wonders what this term actually means. It seems illogical to believe, let alone pursue as a political policy, that providing addicts with free heroin minimises harm.

Those in business should also be anxious regarding a Green vote. Their policy includes the idea of shorter working weeks without loss of pay, and an obvious empowerment of unionism. Other worrying signs emerge as their policies are investigated closely. No more new dams to be built, an interesting approach given the drought we are currently experiencing. The possibility of power stations being closed also looms under a Green government. While holding balance of power doesn’t necessarily mean all this will come to pass, it does mean a controlling vote and an influential position from which to negotiate and bargain,

On the other hand, Family First have constantly argued for an increase in jobs, higher wages, and a reduction in bureaucratic red tape for business. A perusal of their policies (a vastly shorter document than that of the Greens) reveals a positive approach and a distinct lack of policies which may be seen as controversial or destructive. For instance, Family First want cheaper petrol, a reduction in poker machine numbers, more doctors for Victoria, new dams to secure water supplies for the future and provide extra jobs, a focus on education which includes salary packages designed to keep top teachers in schools and the development of new technical schools, the removal of stamp duty for first home buyers, and support for carers of people with disabilities. 

Family First want to protect marriage, promote positive values in the home and in schools, and tackle issues that matter to ordinary families rather than issues raised by minority groups for their own benefit. On the surface at least, these policies seem to be directed towards making Victoria a better state, and would reflect values upheld by most Victorians.

So, who should we vote for, and who do we want to receive these vital preference votes? If either of the main parties is directing preferences to a second party we as voters wouldn’t vote for in the first instance, then why vote for that primary party? An informed voter considers preferences. If you are not comfortable voting for a particular party because their policies are dubious, then don’t allow your preferences to be distributed to that party. In effect, you are casting a vote for a party you don’t support. Yes, illogical, but many voters are simply ignorant about the preferential system and allow their votes to go to parties they would never vote for outright.

Once upon a time a vote for the Greens meant a vote for the environment. Anyone who was concerned for the environment and preserving our natural heritage and resources voted Green. However, in recent years voting for the Greens has become a vote for much more than the environment. The two questions voters need to answer as they prepare to cast the all important ballot are: what are the implications for Victorians if the Greens receive balance of power and what are the implications should Family First gain balance of power?

A vote for the Greens endorses their policies and ideology, as does a vote for Family First, or Liberal, or Labor for that matter. Voters who choose to align themselves with the Greens via a vote on election day are condoning what the Greens stand for, and the long term results if they achieve balance of power status. Similarly, with Labor preferencing the Greens, a Labor vote also means a Green vote. 

So, what to do? Analyse policy, read the political reports in the newspapers that you normally flick through due to the boredom factor, make an informed decision, and vote for the party that reflects your values and will work towards building the type of state you want to live in, and desire for your children. Understand that through distribution of preferences you may end up voting for a party you disagree with. In the end, whilst not wanting to be overly dramatic, the future of Victoria is in your hands. Vote wisely.

Publication of this article is authorised by David Adams, editor of Sight magazine