This column is part of our ‘Why I’m Voting‘ series. We asked five politically-minded writers — some with official ties, others without — to convince us, in 1000 words, to vote for their party. Each writer worked to the same brief and submitted their column on the same day; the following article represents the writer’s views — not the view of the party, not the view of this website, and not the view of every single person who votes that way.
In my wider circle of 20-something friends, I’m the pseudo-conservative oddity, entertaining my Greens-voting friends at parties with tales of the rational right wing and the dream of a compassionate conservative state.
Chasing that dream, this election, I’m voting National.
Who Are The National Party?
The National Party, ruled by fearless leader Warren Truss, is an agrarian conservative party with a focus on regional and rural Australia. At a base level, the party support and try to develop regional areas, through regional-focused policy and decision making.
They’re not just “the small party in the Coalition”. They have their own distinct policy and plans, and offer an otherwise missing voice to Australia’s political discourse: that of regional Australia. At the core, that’s why I vote for them — they look after rural Australia.
Won’t Somebody Think Of The Farmers?
Okay, it’s about more than just farmers, but bear with me for a second. The agricultural industry contributes about $155 billion annually to the Australian GDP (that’s 12%), and exists almost exclusively outside of metro Australia. Add to that the mining and associated industries, and you have a huge percentage* of Australia’s economic output occurring outside large cities.
Yet, a lot of the money these industries produce isn’t kept in rural Australia, instead ending up back in cities. That’s reasonably fair, given that the weight of Australia’s population lives in metro areas. The issue comes when rural areas start to fall behind the curve.
That’s why the Nationals have a significant platform of regional reinvestment and development. This ranges from infrastructure as basic as roads, to hospital and school development plans and measures to support small business. The most recent step was Warren Truss’s announcement last week of a National Stronger Regions Fund, a plan to “build social and economic infrastructure missing in the regions” through $200 million a year from 2015.
As I grew up, my hometown was plagued by a seemingly inescapable drought, waning government support and increasingly poor health provisions. A closed hospital, locum doctor, many-hour drive for any kind of specialist and exceedingly expensive general healthcare made rural living a difficult choice for many families — and many left.
There are countless regional infrastructure programs that the Nationals support that I could link to at this point. But the most important for me are around healthcare, where the Nationals focus on providing infrastructure, staff and basic levels of support. Alongside supporting the NDIS, the Nationals have clear policy around providing adequate mental health services in rural areas, reducing rural deaths by suicide, and ensuring that general medical needs are available to those in rural and remote areas.
*Warren Truss said this is 97% of Australia in his speech at the National Press Club. I can’t find this number anywhere else, but who doesn’t trust a former farmer?
Future Proofing Regional Australia
Balancing Australia’s primary industries is becoming increasingly difficult. The power of the mining lobby (and the allure of piles of sweet, sweet, fossil-fuelled cash) makes it hard for many people — including farmers — to say no to the mining industry.
The most topical example of this is the Coal Seam Gas debate. The Nationals have a simple policy: prevent CSG development in residential areas and where it poses significant threat to the quality of water systems, and stop CSG development altogether unless it’s proven safe for the environment. While this means a stalling of mining development in some areas (including near my home in the Pillaga forest), investigating the long-term impacts of mining is more important than another bed made of money for Gina Rineheart.
The Nationals also advocate for increased research and development (R&D) for the farming industry, to develop sustainable strategies for enhancing food supply and production. As an industry heavily reliant on non-renewable resources, it’s imperative that this sort of development occurs, both for the industry’s long term sustainability and the health of the global environment.
I’ve also got to note that while a faster, FTTP NBN would provide a better long-term solution than the Coalition’s 25mbps plan, other issues — like mobile phone reception and reliability of service — are at the forefront for a lot of rural voters. The Nationals policy here advocates for a rural roll-out of 25mbps first, rather than the metro-focused NBN plan proposed by Labor. Farmers use Netflix too.
Isn’t voting National basically voting Liberal?
Basically, no. There are very few three-corner competitions in parliamentary seats (at least between Liberal, National and Labor). In the Senate, if you choose to vote below the line, you can vote National first, and Greens second, as I did.
When I vote for the National party, I’m not voting for the Liberal party. Two parties working in union doesn’t make them one party, and ideally ensures that at least some of the bastards are kept honest. If you vote National, you’re no more voting for the Liberals than Greens voters in the 2007 election voted Labor.
They’re not perfect, right?
Of course not. I believe in the rights of rural Australians, but the reality is that there are millions of Australians who live in metro areas that are not advantaged by the National Party at all. Plus, there’s the song in the video above, which is… not great.
In general, I’m pretty socially liberal. I have huge problems with many of the Coalition’s conservative stances on social issues. Intolerance and ignorance of basic rights — particularly to do with asylum seekers and marriage equality — are inexcusable. There’s no doubt that Australia’s welfare system isn’t as effective as it should be. And thankfully, The Greens are fighting that good fight – even if their rural-focused policy is in some places less than ideal.
I hope the Nationals will see the mistakes they make and the voters they lose by remaining steadfast on outdated social policy. Yet knowing some of the Young Nationals coming up through the ranks, I don’t think it’s far off. The community supporting the Nationals is changing, and so is the party. Slowly, surely, but it’s changing.
The Nationals are not perfect, and no party will ever be. But I believe they genuinely care about their electorate — and the majority are politicians of purpose, not career bureaucrats. And that’s important.
Alex Sol Watts is a writer, marketer and musician living in Sydney. You can find him on most of the internet as @solwat