How does the wise voter, accustomed to the party system, deal with this new force in Australian politics—the ‘Voices of’ Independents? Find out here!
I first became aware of the of the ‘Voices of’ community movement in the latter part of 2021. It begged the question: Why would anyone vote for an independent? I’m told that doing so is a wasted vote. And why would anyone put themselves forward as a candidate? After all, the chance of an independent being elected to the Lower House of Federal Parliament is slim indeed.
Over the last few months I have accessed everything I can find out about this movement and why it exists. I have scanned or downloaded several hundred news stories and opinion pieces and stored them in a searchable database. The audio from video programs and podcasts were converted into text through an Artificial Intelligence app and included in the database. From this material I have pieced together what this movement is about, what it is trying to do and why it is now being seen as a new force in Australian politics.
DISCLAIMER: I am a researcher, writer, occasional blogger—and a student of wisdom. At the time of this writing I have no affiliation with the ‘Voices of’ community movement or with any political party, past or present.
There are two parts to this study:
Part I ‘Voices of’ Independents—A new force in Australian Politics (separate blog post) examines the pioneering work of the ‘Voices for Indi’ community movement in the Federal electorate of Indi and the election of independent member Cathy McGowan.
Part II The Wise Voter and the ‘Voices of’ Independents (this post) explores political wisdom for both voters and elected members of Parliament and examines the role of ‘Voices of’ Independents in the forthcoming election.
DOWNLOAD The Wise Voter and the ‘Voices of’ Independents
This printable pdf document combines Parts I and II and includes references to information sources.
Mankind will never see an end of trouble until lovers of wisdom come to hold political power, or the holders of power become lovers of wisdom.
If we think of wisdom as good judgement about important matters, then it is reasonable to expect our representatives in Parliament to exhibit political wisdom. This means ensuring that decisions that restructure social systems—by new laws or funding allocations, for example—work for the betterment of everyone. Whenever a decision is made, a change must result whenever that decision is enacted.
Such decision-making is not easy. Barak Obama recognized that “finding the right balance between our competing values is difficult.” An example of this challenge, he says, is “to balance our collective security against the equally compelling need to uphold civil liberties.”
This dilemma was brought home recently in Australia with lock-downs introduced to protect the population from spreading the COVID-19 virus resulting in protests from those offended by their loss of ‘freedom’.
Currently there is an unhealthy disconnect in the relationship between electors of major parties and their elected representatives, the politicians who make changes to the lived environment and social systems. This is why it is said, “the system is broken”.
The System is Broken
We’ve lost wisdom. Wisdom was making decisions on how will this affect our people generations ahead. Now people don’t seem to care about generations in the future. It’s all about making money, struggling to live if you’re very poor, taking more than you should if you’re not very poor. And making money—the bottom line—making shareholders money—the next political campaign – me – now!
–Jane Goodall, English primatologist
The proof is this statement is the lack of trust in politicians, government ministers, media and political parties—an all-time low.
The 2021 Ipsos’ Global Trustworthiness Survey found that Australians rated doctors, scientists and teachers as the most trustworthy professionals and politicians and government ministers as among the least trustworthy.
Mark Evans, Professor of Governance, University of Canberra suggests without trust the connection between citizens and government leads to adverse outcomes:
Weakening political trust erodes authority and civic engagement, reduces support for evidence-based public policies and promotes risk aversion in government. This also creates the space for the rise of authoritarian-populist forces or other forms of independent representation.
If there was greater trust in government there would probably be no need for the ‘Voices of’ movement.
The Democracy 2025 Report released in 2021 provided greater detail on just how the Australian population viewed trust of governments:
Federal government is trusted by just 31 per cent of the population while state and local government performs little better with just over a third of people trusting them. Ministers and MPs (whether federal or state) rate at just 21 per cent while more than 60 per cent of Australians believe that the honesty and integrity of politicians is very low.
The study found that among the third of the population that are content with the existing system, they are most likely to be over 55, earning more than $200,000, vote for the Coalition—or are overseas born, are male and believe they are fortunate to live in a liberal democracy.
For the majority of the population lacking in trust, the major issues identified were:
- Politicians are not accountable for broken promises
- They don’t deal with the issues that really matter
- Big business has too much power
- Trade unions have too much power (more of a concern with older, male Coalition voters).
The study also found those critical of the major political parties are more likely to identify with minor political parties or independents, “to either secure greater resources for their communities or to register a protest vote against the two-party system.”
Why is there a disconnect between politicians and their constituents?
One reason for the disconnect is because party system demands that MPs vote along party lines. This means that the particular needs of an electorate may be ignored—as was the case of the Indi electorate prior to Cathy McGowan’s win. Only rarely are MPs given the opportunity of a conscience vote.
Another reason is the unbalance in access to politicians and ministers. There are currently 673 lobbyists and 323 firms registered on the official Lobbyists Register, maintained by the Attorney-General’s Department. A report from the Grattan Institute warns that the access to politicians gets results:
There are there are plenty of examples of interest groups successfully lobbying for policy changes to be put on—or taken off—the table, which look contrary to the public interest.
Kate Griffiths, a senior associate at the Grattan Institute, says mining industry lobbyists are particularly active in federal and state governments.
A report from InfluenceMap goes further to claim that the “fuel sector’s monopolization of climate lobbying is clearly delaying Australian climate policy.”
The real concern is that Australia is heading towards being an oligarchy, if it isn’t already one. According to the dictionary, “An oligarchy is a small group of people who control and run a particular country or organization. You can also refer to a country which is governed in this way as an oligarchy.”
In Australia’s case there is substantial evidence available that powerful corporations and affluent individuals have a significantly larger influence on policymaking than ordinary citizens. That’s not how a democracy is supposed to work.
Biotechnological and biomedical sciences specialist, Dr Keith Mitchelson, recently wrote an opinion piece on the evidence of the rise of oligarchs in Australia:
The wealth of many Australian magnates is underpinned by a government dedicated to creating highly favourable laws and tax breaks for their business, to the point where many pay zero tax. Occasionally the venality of Australia’s oligarch political-regime axis is seen when a line is crossed that the rest of the world finds objectionable—Rio Tinto’s legal dynamiting of irreplaceable 46,000 year-old Indigenous rock paintings at Juukan Gorge caves, and the bugging of Timor-Leste’s government to favour Woodside’s commercial oil and gas objectives are examples of notoriety. . . . instead of fallout harming politicians, it’s the whistle-blower who is prosecuted, it’s the newspaper offices raided and individual journalists and defence lawyers prosecuted for ‘handling state secrets’.
Here, political opponents are taken to court, or enquired into, while the Murdoch ‘News Corp’ media, an apparent extension of the Coalition government’s propaganda machine, literally scream ideological venom against all who question Australian miners rights to dig and pump and sell carbon dioxide.
If the Coalition should win the next federal election, perhaps we shall see overt repression against climate protesters, alternative news media and public critics to levels more associated with regimes such as Putin’s. If we want to save our livelihoods and our planet and save our souls too, we need to restore political integrity.
However, one of the big issues in lack of trust, particularly for female voters, is due to the lack of women in Parliament.
Women, Wisdom and Politics
Politics is an art and not a science, and what is required for its mastery is not the rationality of the engineer but the wisdom and the moral strength of the statesman.
–Hans J. Morgenthau, political scientist
In politics, if you want anything said, ask a man; if you want anything done, ask a woman.
Participation by women in politics is a human right. It is enshrined in both the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Historically, parliaments around the world have been male-dominated and females have been looked upon as ‘space-invaders’ into their (white) boys club. For example, the new Parliament House on Capital Hill in Canberra did not include a child-care centre. Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, in her recent Set the Standard report found there were many issues within Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces:
[W]e heard that these workplaces are not safe environments for many people within them, largely driven by power imbalances, gender inequality and exclusion and a lack of accountability. Such experiences leave a trail of devastation for individuals and their teams and undermine the performance of our Parliament to the nation’s detriment.
It is unclear at this time just how many of the 28 recommendations from her latest inquiry will be acted upon.
Currently, the low number of women in Federal Parliament and in leadership positions is a problem, especially with the Coalition parties. In the 46th Parliament which was dissolved on 11 April 2022, only 31 per cent of the 151 members in the House of Representatives were women. While 42.6 per cent were Labor MPs, only 21 percent were Liberal Party and 12.5 per cent National MPs.
There are benefits in having a more balanced female-male representation. In 1921 Edith Cowan was elected as a member of the Western Australia state parliament and was the first woman to be elected to any Australian parliament. She held the view that, not only was it a right for women to be in parliament, there was a need for women to be involved.
Having gender diversity is important in arriving at better decisions. According to a recent paper in Frontiers in Psychology, “Women and men have different relative strengths in wisdom, likely driven by sociocultural and biological factors.” After conducting a series of tests for wisdom, the researchers found that women achieved higher scores on compassion-related domains and self-reflection than men. On the other hand, men scored higher on cognitive-related domains and higher in decisiveness than women. The authors contend that “compassion is the single most important component of wisdom” and that the differences the relative strengths in wisdom are likely due to biological and socio-cultural factors.
Asiedu et al., in a report studying developing countries found that “women parliamentarians are more likely to pass comprehensive laws on sexual harassment, rape, divorce and domestic violence.” The report stated:
Including women in the political process engenders political and economic benefits. Politically, it increases the number of women in the parliament, curbs corruption, improves policies outcomes, and promotes the inclusiveness of minority groups in public spheres. Economically, it considers women as actors of development, encourages the integration of women in the labor market, and promotes economic and development growth.
Fixing this gender imbalance in Australia is overdue. Almost all of the ‘Voices of’ Independent candidates are women.
Independents—Wasted Vote or Wise Vote?
A wise man changes his mind sometimes, but a fool never. To change your mind is the best evidence you have one.
–Dr Desmond Ford, Australian theologian
Dr Dilip Jeske is an American neuropsychiatrist and author of ‘Wiser: The scientific roots of wisdom’. He has published a number of influential papers detailing the neural activity associated with wise behaviours and decision-making, including voting wisely. He says when we vote in an election for Parliament, for example, there is no unanimity.
The vote will be split. Politics is a matter of opinion and everyone has their own. But in at least one way, I think we all mark our ballots with this singular desire: That our choices be wise and our elected leaders be wiser. . . . As voters, but more importantly, as members of a wondrously sprawling and diverse society, we seek wisdom in our leaders to help ensure we might all lead rich and fulfilling lives. We can actively work to make ourselves wiser. Voting and voting wisely is an act of practical wisdom. If we choose wise leaders, they will help make the rest of the society wiser too. Then everyone wins.
So how do you go about making a wise choice when voting?
Reflect. In his book, ‘Wiser’, Dilip Jeste says reflection “gives the brain time to pause, to untangle and sort through the myriad observations and experiences that wash over [you].” He also goes beyond reflection of our external world:
Self-reflection is the exercise of introspection, the examination of our own mental and emotional processes to better understand their fundamental nature, purpose, and essence. It’s a profoundly important and obvious element of wisdom. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” wrote Plato in ‘The Apology of Socrates’, a recollection of the speech his mentor gave at his ill-fated trial.
Some questions to ask: Is the Government delivering what you, your community, the nation and what the international community needs? What are the gaps and how can they best be addressed?
Listen with an open mind to what others are saying. As Jeste notes, “You cannot be wise if you lack empathy and compassion—for others and for yourself. Compassion and self-compassion should be balanced.”
This is exactly the path taken by the people who came together to form the ‘Voices for Indi’ movement. They reflected, came together to listen to what others in their small group were thinking before expanding into the Kitchen Table Conversations in the wider community.
Kitchen Table Conversations
This was achieved in the Voices for Indi movement through initiating what became known as The Indi Way, involving Kitchen Table Conversations, selecting a candidate, recruiting and training volunteers and in doing so inventing a new social system.
The process for conducting Kitchen Table Conversations is well documented in the book, ‘Kitchen Table Conversations’ by Mary Crooks AO and Leah McPherson for the Victorian Women’s Trust. ‘Voices of’ groups throughout Australia are employing the use of KTCs kits in their community consultations.
The same process commenced in the Kooyong electorate in Victoria in early 2021 when 50 locals came together. They had found each other on social media during the COVID-19 lock-down and all believed they were not well represented by their existing MP. They founded the Voices of Kooyong which grew to 800 members by the end of the year. The stated aim is to “improve the quality of democracy in Kooyong, to provide a way for residents to engage and make their voices heard.”
Kitchen Table Conversations (KTCs) took place and a survey of constituents took place in the July – December 2021 period. In A 22-page report of the findings, Kooyong Speaks, has recently been published.
In November 2019 Cathy McGowan and Kerrie O’Brien spoke at a community meeting and on 11 December 2021 at the Hawthorn Arts Centre Dr Monique Ryan was announced as the Voices of Candidate Independent candidate.
A Growing Movement
In spite of the negative press, the ‘Voices of’ movement is gaining traction. There are thousands of individuals volunteering to help these Independent candidates. The latest polling shows that three times the number of voters from the 2019 election would vote ‘1’ for their Independent candidate.
Many of the ‘Voices of’ candidates’ campaigns are being partly funded by Simon Holmes à Court’s Climate 200 fund-raising entity.
Independent candidates normally will sign something similar to the Politician’s Pledge for respectful, ethical behavior during and after their campaign to become an MP. It was developed by Simon Longstaff from the Ethics Centre.
Some prominent individuals supporting the ‘Voices of’ movements include:
Chris Barrie, AC, retired head of the Australian Defence Force, Admiral:
I think that voters throughout Australia must take responsibility for how they cast their vote. If the next Parliament fails to grapple with climate change effectively, we will not have the opportunity in 2025 to recover from this dire situation. Moreover, the legacy we will leave for future generations of Australians will be an ugly one, and there is no one we can blame for this but ourselves.
Fred Chaney, AO, former Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party:
I don’t think the political system is going to reform from within. I think we are past that. And so it does need a shake.
Carolyn Hendriks, Associate Professor, The Crawford School of Public Policy, ANU:
[Cathy] McGowan’s two community-driven electoral campaigns provides evidence that competitive elections can be successfully won when candidates focus on issues and people, rather than parties and personalities. Her ongoing attempts to communicate and empower her constituency demonstrates that political representation can be activated well beyond the goal of re-election.
John Hewson, AM, former Leader of the Liberal Party:
In my view there has never been a more compelling case for increased representation of community-based Independents in our politics and government at the next election. Indeed, I can see the possibility of Independents pulling electoral support from the major political parties to actually hold the balance of power, or should I say the power of the balance, in both Houses of our Parliament. Collectively they could then work to ensure better government in the interests of both their communities and our nation.
Simon Holmes à Court, former member of the Liberal Party and Chair of Climate 200:
This election, voters in over 20 electorates are being offered a new political choice, a viable option for breaking the political deadlock on vital issues. These communities have the opportunity of a community-backed independent candidate. These candidates are genuine community leaders, not career politicians.
Barry Jones, AC, former Labor Minister and National President of the Labor Party:
Only an active citizenry can prevent sliding towards authoritarian or populist democracy with its endless appeals to the short term and self-interest.
Ian Macphee, AO, former Minister in the Fraser Liberal Government and Member for Goldstein:
I believe that she [Zoe Daniel] will enrich the quality of federal Parliament because she will listen to the electorate and represent its views on important issues in Canberra. That is crucial to the functioning of our democracy.
Malcolm Turnbull, former Liberal Prime Minister:
Clearly a lot of traditional Liberal party voters feel the party has moved way off to the right on a bunch of issues, in particular on climate, and they are frustrated by that . . .[and are] now getting the opportunity to vote for the sort of candidates that share their values.
Accusations about the ‘Voices of’ Independent’s campaigns
Many accusations are being made about the Independents by the Liberal Party and are often being amplified by an unquestioning media. How many are true or are gross simplifications, not telling the full story and therefore misleading?
What’s the truth behind these accusations? The wise voter might wish to find out:
- Why are the Voices of Independents targeting Liberal-held seats?
- Why is voting for an Independent candidate a wasted vote as is being claimed?
- Is it true that an Independent MP will achieve nothing unless there is a hung parliament?
- In the case of a hung parliamentwhich party will the elected Independent support and why?
- Will a hung parliament result in chaos? Why?
- Where will the Independent’s preferences go?
- Do the Independents in Parliament really have a record of voting for Labor most of the time?
- Are the ‘Voices of’ Independents ‘Labor/Greens puppets’ and members of the ‘hard left’?
- If an Independent candidate had voted for Labor in the past does that mean they are “Labor stooges” or just discerning voters?
- Why aren’t the names of donors disclosed?
- Are the ‘Voices of’ Independents a political party?
The wise voter might also apply a similar critique of the opposition campaigns and ask if they have signed up to the Politicians’ Pledge.
In conclusion, during this 40 day period of the election campaign you might like abstain listening to the noisy electioneering media and use this opportunity to quietly reflect before casting your vote.
It’s your vote—think about it and don’t waste it!
DOWNLOAD The Wise Voter and the ‘Voices of’ Independents
This printable pdf document combines Parts I and II and includes references to information sources.