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14 Questions You're Probably Too Embarassed To Ask About The Election, And Their Answers

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I'm one of those people who thinks politics is one big snooze-fest, and no matter how hard I try, I just can't understand much at all.


But I also know that it's kinda important to at least know a little bit about the way our country is run, especially coming up to an election. No matter how many articles or explainers I read though, it all still goes over my head. And I'm always too embarrassed to admit how little I know. So I spoke to a huge politics nerd (sorry, Rob) to help me try to understand the basics.

1. What’s the actual difference between Labor and Liberal?

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Well, that’s complicated. In some areas, they’re very similar (asylum seeker boats), in other areas, they’re quite different (marriage equality). Both parties say they’ll do similar things - grow the economy while also lowering the deficit - but how they say they’ll go about it is very different. If you're interested, here's an explainer on where the main parties stand with marriage equality.

2. What’s a coalition?

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A coalition is where two parties agree to work together. That’s what the Liberals and the Nationals do at the moment, which is why Malcolm Turnbull is prime minister. Sometimes things can get a bit testy and they’ll pretend to fight, but mostly they believe in the same things so they get along just fine.

3. And what are all those other random parties? Do people actually vote for the Sex Party aside from immature 18 year olds?

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Pretty much anyone can form a party as long as they find 500 like-minded people to sign up. People usually form micro-parties so they can talk about their favourite issues (it could be anything from legalising pot to banning abortion). If there’s any issue you really, really care about, there may just be a minor party for you. And if enough other people care about your issue, you may elect a senator representing the party who can push that issue in parliament.


4. And is the Greens just the party that tells me to recycle?

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They used to be, but not any more. The Greens really, really want to be a party that can form government one day. It will take YEARS for that to happen, but they’re working at it.

That’s why they have policies in just about every area you can imagine - from the environment to the economy and defence. A lot of people say that Labor is too close to the Coalition these days, which is why the Greens are becoming more powerful, because they’ve filled that space on the left.

There’s a good chance they’ll have the balance of power in the Senate after the election, which means they’ll get the final say on a lot of important issues.

5. Obviously, marriage equality is a big topic this election. But what else are we voting on?

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Turns out, a lot. There’s heaps. Some of the big ones are:

Housing affordability. Lord, houses are damn expensive. Maybe the government can help with that.

University fee deregulation. This could make going to university a lot more expensive.

Health and education spending. This is about how much money the government will contribute to things like public schools, public hospitals, and disability pensions.

The Great Barrier Reef. The reef is in pretty bad shape, and the main parties are pledging different amounts of money to fix it, or at least stop it from getting worse. You can read more here.

Asylum seekers boat arrivals. Turning back refugee boats is a central part of both main parties' asylum seeker policies.

Medicare. Labor is trying to tell us that the other guys will privatise Medicare, which means we'll have to spend more of our own money on healthcare. Turnbull (the leader of the Coalition), is calling bullshit, and says nothing will change.

And of course, jobs and growth.

6. What even is jobs and growth though?

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It sounds kind-of sexual but that might just be my dirty mind. The Coalition is using "jobs and growth" as their main slogan. It basically means that they'll be creating more jobs, which will help address youth unemployment. This will lead to “growth” of the economy, because more people will have money in their pockets to spend on things, and so the economy turns. That means more revenue - mostly via taxes - for the government, which will in turn benefit the public in many ways.

7. OK, so what is the main thing that each major party is promising if they win?

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Labor’s big thing is marriage equality. Bill Shorten says that if he wins, it will be the first thing he does, and same-sex couples will be able to get married within 100 days of the election. Somehow I feel like we've heard that before, but OK.

The Liberal party is currently in power. Their big thing is a tax cut for businesses, which they say will promote jobs and growth. God, how many times have we heard that sentence, though? The government also wants you to know that things are going pretty OK at the moment, so if you vote for them, that will keep happening. Hmmm.


8. How do I know which party will be best for me to vote for?

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Obviously the best thing to do is to read literally ever single news article and watch the news on TV and be hella informed about everything. That's kinda impossible, and difficult to keep up with when you have a real basic understanding of what's happening. The ABC has an online Vote Compass which is actually a really good tool for understanding which party your views most align with. (Unless you're like me, and get an equal percentage result for each party. Thanks.)

9. Is it just whoever gets the most votes wins? What’s the deal with numbering your ballot form?

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Nah, you don’t actually vote for the prime minister, you vote for the candidate in your electorate. If enough people in your electorate vote for a candidate, that person becomes your MP. The party with a majority of MPs forms government, and the leader of that party becomes prime minister.

10. When we vote, we have to vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate. What the hell is the difference?

God I remember learning this back in Year 6 but I guess I forgot it all. We vote for parties to hold seats in both the House of Reps and the Senate. The more seats you have, the more power you have, and the less you have to rely on other people to agree with you.

The House of Reps (lower house) is the most important one, it's where the big debates happen and laws are introduced and written. They also decide who is the prime minister.

The Senate (upper house) then has final say on the policies that make it through into law. The party with the most seats and holds the "balance of power" so they pretty much get to decide what flies and what doesn't.

Here's a really good explainer of how to fill out both of those cards.

11. What happens if there's a tie? Can that even happen?

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Yeah, it happens. It actually happened back in 2010, with Julia Gillard. A party needs 76 seats to form a majority on its own (there are 150 seats in the House of Representatives), but if neither side gets to 76, they’ll need to ask a handful of independent MPs to give them support, so they can pass legislation. (MP = member of parliament.)

If that happens, it means one or two politicians from some place you’ve never heard of could end up deciding who the next prime minister is. (There’s actually a real chance this could happen again this year.)


12. What does it mean when someone is "low on a party's ticket"?

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Politics is like sport but for terrible people. There are only 76 seats in the Senate, and a shitload of people gunning for those seats. When some people vote in the Senate, they’ll just number a ballot in order (1,2,3,4,5, 6 etc), so the person at the top of the ticket (spot 1) will get more votes than the person at the bottom (in some cases, spot 12).

Each party draws up a ticket, with some members at the top and some at the bottom. So politicians compete amongst the members in their own party to try to get that coveted number 1 spot, which pretty much guarantees them a place in the Senate for the next six years.

13. What the hell is a cabinet?

Basically, the leader of a party chooses his or her favourite people and puts them into a "cabinet" and gives them special jobs.

The cabinet’s really important, it’s where all the big decisions are made. Let’s say a government wins 90 seats at an election (as Tony Abbott did in 2013), only a handful of those people will make into cabinet. Those people will each be given a portfolio (things like health, education, defence etc etc), and they’ll be responsible for getting shit done in those areas for the next three years.

14. If the government changes (*ie*, Labor wins), will anything really change for normal people?

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You won’t suddenly wake up in a whole new world if the government changes on July 2, but over time things will change. SO MAKE YOUR VOTE COUNT.

Whoever wins gets to make big decisions for the next three years, and those decisions can make a big difference for you down the track.