Five things for first time voters to consider

By Joanne Monisse and Rachael Merritt | @JMonisse  @rachael_liz_m

For students in their late teens and early 20’s, your university experience is all about celebrating the small milestones: first lecture, first overseas travel, first fire evacuation from Building 80 and first time voting in a federal election. Whether you’re a stranger to the world of politics or consider yourself a Prime Minister in the making, here are five things first time voters should consider before dropping your ballot in the box on the big day in May.  

1.Vote for policies, not the personalities

Like any party worth attending, you need more than one person to get the party started. So don’t be fooled by the antics and appearances of the party leaders. You are voting for the policies of the party, not the personality. As we’ve seen over the past decade in Australian politics, leaders frequently rise and fall. Australia hasn’t had a PM complete a full-term since John Howard’s departure in 2007. If current trends continue, the PM we vote for in May won’t even make it to the next election. Do your research, compare the policies of each party and think carefully about how they will affect you. After all, democracy is about having your say.

2. Sweat the small stuff

A federal election is not a two-horse race. It’s easy to forget this as the two-party preference seems to have the majority of media attention. It’s imperative to look at the minor parties because a federal election is a tight race and minor party vote preferences can influence who gains power and which policies get passed. Remember, minor parties with enough seats can have major power, so always check the preference system of your chosen party to see who is indirectly benefiting from your vote.

3. Get your priorities straight

As demonstrated by the number of protests we’ve seen in Australia over the past year, social issues are hot topics with millennial age voters. But same-sex marriage and climate change are equally as important as economic opportunity, employment, housing affordability, health system and taxes. While negative gearing and capital gains taxes may not mean much now, they will in a few years time. Think about the ‘big picture,’ not just the next three years.

4. Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric

It’s easy to be sucked in by the theatre of politics, the three-word slogans, banners, tour buses, public appearances and politicians kissing babies, but remember they’re just ploys to grab your attention and distract from the reality of policy. A political campaign is like a performance, the actors are well rehearsed, scripted and looking for a glowing review from the critics. Instead of a five-star review, politicians are after your vote. Every speech, appearance and action is deliberate, little is coincidental. Research widely and from a vast range of sources to make sure you’re seeing the whole picture. Journalists are not policy experts and policy experts are not always independent. Anyone can smile for photos and shake hands with local business owners but it doesn’t mean they’re the top person to run the country, it’s all comes back to the importance of policies.

5. It’s about YOUR choice

It seems everyone is an expert when it comes to politics. There always seems to be a friend or family member who is only too eager to tell you which party you should or shouldn’t vote for. But at the end of the day, it’s important to remember it is your democratic right to choose and vote for the party which best represents your values, lifestyle and priorities. By all means, don’t ignore the advice from overzealous friends and well-meaning aunties, but bear in mind the policies that suit them won’t necessarily be the same ones that suit you. Don’t be a political sheep and follow the herd, having the ability to disagree and respectfully express your own opinions and views is touted as the basis of a robust and thriving democracy. Besides, if society was constantly in agreement about policy and politicians, what is the point of having an election in the first place?

Although your vote represents just one voice among 16 million other Australian voters, it is by no means insignificant. Whether you are engaged in politics or prefer to watch from the sidelines, heading to the polling booth and casting your ballot is about being a functional member of a democratic society. Often, the type of change younger generations want to see on issues such as climate change, education and the environment begins with government legislation. So think long and hard, do your research, know your facts and reward yourself with a democracy sausage at the local polling booth sausage sizzle.

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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