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Feeling Uninspired About Voting? Political Editor Samantha Maiden Has Some Advice

Hint: It doesn't involve following your parents advice.

One year after Australian women including Grace Tame, Chanel Contos and Brittany Higgins started a national conversation on sexual assault, voters are weighing up a change in government.

It’s a powerful reminder that it is everyday people who ultimately decide the fate of our nation. And sometimes they even start conversations that cannot be contained and quashed by politicians.

It’s easy to be disappointed, disillusioned and disengaged from politics. But it would also be a mistake. Change won’t arrive if women don’t stand up to have their say.

Hard-fought reforms in Australia – including changes to allow the importation of the abortion drug RU486 – only came about because women across the party divide plotted together. If it had been left to the blokes, it may never have happened. History shows that the reason Australia failed to offer a choice to surgical abortion for many years was because then-prime minister John Howard imposed a ministerial veto at the request of senator Brian Harradine.

This decision to deny women access to reproductive health choices was a condition of Harradine’s support for – wait for it – legislation to sell off Telstra. As a result, RU486 was completely unavailable to Australian women from 1996 to 2006. The ban was lifted only after a rebellion of Liberal MPs and a conscience vote in 2006, shortly after Harradine retired. It’s proof that disengagement from politics vacates the field to others who won’t always have women’s choices front and centre.

Poll booths
(Credit: Getty)

This election, a new generation of voters battered by the pandemic will have their say. While Covid-19 has led to an improvement in work-life balance for many, it’s young people who have borne the brunt. From universities that have shifted online – destroying campus life – to casual workers laid off for months from hospitality jobs, finding a silver lining hasn’t been possible for everyone.

At the last election, a major study found that the economy and health were the real drivers of election outcomes for most voters. However, for younger people it was the environment that was top of the list. The big issue for many, however, remains housing affordability and the prospect of rising interest rates. There’s a reason why one of the most famous political observations is, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Interest rates will rise regardless of who is elected, but economic management will play a crucial role in the trajectory.

Why are our politicians such a turn off? It’s partly about leadership. Or – to be more precise – a lack of leadership. That’s why the uprising of Tame, Contos and Higgins a year ago seemed so jolting and inspiring. Leadership is about courage, and the women who started that national conversation had that in spades.

Real reform, however, is tougher than inspiring speeches alone. It’s messy, imperfect and tough. Mistakes will be made and lessons learnt.

That’s why it is important you have your say on Saturday, May 21. Whether you vote Liberal, Labor, The Greens or the Star Wars Party, don’t forget to vote. And don’t ever fall for the idea that your vote doesn’t count.


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