If you are voting in the by-elections tomorrow, who should you vote for?
The key question is: “What do you want Australia to be?”
When you have a clear image in your mind of what you hope our future will be, you need to compare the candidates and ask which of them has the education, experience, tenacity, energy and intelligence to help make your vision a reality.
This is a Federal election. That means we are electing people to be part of the government of our nation. Local issues, and “What can you do for me?” should be a long way down the list.
I know that often they are not, and Liberal/National candidates are just as bad as anyone else at pandering to the notion of electorate X deserves more, without ever asking “More than who? Which electorates deserve less?”
The idea that Federal members are elected primarily to look after their electorate is not only alien to our history and constitution, it can have disastrous results. This is sometimes called pork-barrelling. It means that more needy electorates are neglected, or projects which would benefit the country as a whole are mismanaged or left undone entirely.
I will just add at this point that I am not a “rusted-on” Liberal supporter. I have never been a member of the Liberal Party. I did not vote for the Liberal candidate at the last Federal election, and sometimes when I have, it has not been with any enthusiasm, but simply because all the other parties and candidates were worse.
I am still not entirely enthusiastic about Malcolm Turnbull’s government. But in terms of candidates this time, there is one who is clearly more likely to form part of an effective, positive national government.
There are seven candidates in the Mayo by-election. Only two, Rebekha Sharkie and Georgina Downer, have any chance of being elected. Neither Family First nor Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives have a candidate this time.
There have been suggestions about both Sharkie and Downer that they do not belong, or are ring-ins. I don’t accept those arguments on either side.
Rebekha Sharkie lives in the electorate and clearly cares about the community. I wish she had sorted out her citizenship issues before causing this expensive and frustrating election, but now that she has genuinely revoked any citizenships other than that of Australia, she is clearly entitled to stand.
Georgina Downer’s family has lived in, worked in and been part of the Mayo electorate for over 100 years. She was raised here, went to school here, was married and had her early working and family life here. It is just silly to suggest she does not belong or cannot represent Mayo. By that argument, anyone who left Kangaroo Island for whatever reason; work, family, education, and then returned, would never again be a local or belong, no matter how long they had lived here, or what their family connections to the Island’s history. Some of those who make that absurd argument about Georgina would be rightly upset and angry if the same reasoning were applied to them.
I have never met Rebekha Sharkie. I get the impression from those who have that she is pleasant and well-spoken, and is genuinely concerned about the needs of the community. That is great. So is Georgina. At the same time, it is impossible to pin down what Ms Sharkie really believes, or what are her guiding principles.
She was a member of the Liberal Party, then deserted to join Nick Xenophon. That in itself is an issue, because apart from trying to stop poker machines, a cause in which he was completely ineffective, Nick’s political career seem to have been a mixture of self-promotion and following whatever issues he thought might win him votes. When Nick failed to get elected, Rebekha became an independent who votes mostly with Labor and the Greens. If you think Bill Shorten and Adam Bandt have the answers, then by all means go ahead and give her your vote. But think about what this means, both for the nation and for our electorate.
I will just give two examples of why this matters.
Small businesses include fishing, farming, tourism, medical practices, retailing and service. Small businesses are important. They belong to their communities in ways that big business cannot. They are responsive to their communities’ needs in ways that big businesses cannot be, and they employ locals when there are no big businesses to do so.
Small businesses are in trouble. The number of Australians employed by small businesses decreased by 330,000 (-7 per cent) between 2007 and 2016. High taxes, high energy costs and growing red tape have all contributed to this. A reduction of costs and of compliance burdens will help family businesses and help employment, especially in smaller communities.
The Treasury Laws Amendment (Enterprise Tax Plan) Bill 2016 reduced the tax burden on small businesses. Rebekha Sharkie voted against this. There are nearly 20,000 small businesses in Mayo. If she and the Labor/Greens alliance had had their way, every one of these businesses would now be worse off.
Ms Sharkie also voted with Bill Shorten and the Greens against legislation to tighten Australia’s immigration policy. This is not to stop legal immigration. No one has a problem with that. Most of us, if we are not immigrants ourselves, are the children or grandchildren of immigrants. The Migration Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 stopped people applying for visas which could lead to citizenship after they had arrived in Australia illegally. This is about security, fairness, and economic cost to legal immigrants and taxpayers.
Of course we have a duty to welcome genuine refugees and asylum seekers from neighbouring countries who are desperately fleeing war or famine. That legislation did not apply to those people, but to those who tried to shortcut the rules, enter the country illegally, and once here, apply to join a process leading to citizenship. That is wrong, unfair to Australia, and unfair to those who want to come, who have skills to offer, and who make the often time-consuming and expensive effort to do the right thing.
Rebekah voted against this amendment. If she and Bill Shorten and the Greens had won that vote, those who show no regard for our rules and attempt to jump the queue would have been treated better than those who show their respect for Australia by acting in accordance with our laws.
Because of these kind of votes, and because Ms Sharkie has so frequently changed her mind about her allegiances, it is not possible to have any confidence in her future votes or actions, regardless of how nice a person she seems to be.
There could not be a greater contrast with Georgina.
Georgina, as I have noted before, gained degrees in Law and Commerce in Melbourne and a Master’s Degree from the London School of Economics. She has worked as a solicitor and consultant, was a director of the Indigenous arts project The Torch, was a researcher for US Senator Chuck Hagel and for Baroness Howe of Idlicote in the House of Lords in the UK, represented Australia as a diplomat with the Australian Embassy in Japan, and has been a research fellow at the IPA, Australia’s leading free market, small government, evidence-based policy research and lobby group. And on top of all that has raised two young children, Henry and Margot. She has an exceptional degree of education, experience, commitment and skill.
What is just as important for Mayo and for her role in our national government is that she is clear and consistent about the principles that guide her thinking. She is committed to freedom of speech, to free markets, to small government and lower taxes, and to evidence based policy.
It comes down to this. What do you want Australia to be? Who of the candidates can you best rely on to make this vision a reality?