(Draft & looking for feedback/review) How to vote like an EA in the Australian Federal election

by MichaelDello 24th Jun 20169 comments

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This is the first draft of a piece that we (Hugo Burgin and Michael Dello-Iacovo) intend to share in the days leading up to the Australian Federal election (02/07) on which party to vote for to maximise impact. This analysis was intended to be significantly more rigorous than it is, but due to personhour constraints, this is the draft as it stands. It is incomplete and not as rigorous as we would like, but we are turning it over to the EA community for review. Please be as harsh in your criticism as you like, and we will take your comments on board before submitting this to the general Australian public. Here is a link to the Google Doc version to add comments.

Introduction

People often say that you’re unlikely to have any impact when voting, or that the impact of your vote is so small that it’s not worth thinking about, but this is only true if you only care about yourself. In Doing Good Better, Will MacAskill argues that the expected value of voting for a US citizen, when spread out across all citizens in USA, is around $5,200 US (~$7,000 AUD at the time of writing). That is to say, on average, $5,200 of the budget will be spent differently as a result of your vote. This means it’s very important to vote for the party that will spend the budget in the best way possible.

Picking the best party for you however, has an impact significantly less than $1. So unless you think you’re really, really important, you should probably vote for the best party for others in general.

By the best way possible, we mean the way that will improve the happiness and wellbeing of humans and non-humans alike globally, which means we also consider things like foreign aid budgets.

Because of this exceptionally high value of voting, it’s worth spending a reasonable amount of time deciding who to vote for. In the lead up to the Australian federal election, we wanted to do this transparently. In addition, it seems reasonable to argue that, if one is pretty sure they know which party is the best, they should encourage other people to vote for them as well to maximise their impact. This is our attempt at doing so.

If you disagree with anything we’re saying or our conclusions, we obviously want to know, because we’re trying to maximise our impact, so we urge you to tell us in the comments or contact us directly. This kind of analysis is exceptionally difficult because of the vast range of interrelating issues to cover, and we freely admit that this is not comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination. Unlike charities, we can’t run randomised controlled trials on governments. Also, policies can be changed, and promises can be broken, a fact which we’ve attempted to account for.  We’ve tried to break down policies into several key areas. There are also a lot of parties (57 total, not including independents), and we clearly haven’t covered them all. Please also let us know if a particular party is worth covering here.

On voting generally

First, it’s important to understand how the voting system works, which is summarised very neatly by Dennis here. The rules have changed ever so slightly since then, but the fundamental concept is the same.

http://www.chickennation.com/tag/dennis-the-election-koala/

So does this mean one should just vote for the party they wish was running the country? Not necessarily. Here is an example of where you wouldn’t do that. If there was a small/new party that focussed on a specific issue, you might assume rightly that they wouldn’t do a good job of running the country if they won the majority of seats. However, since they almost certainly won’t win a majority of seats, it could still be worth voting for them to try and get them a few seats so they can make progress towards that specific issue. As they gain popularity and funding, they might branch out into other issues in the future and gain the expertise necessary to cover all issues. So really we have to try and think about our marginal impact.

On to some policies.

Climate change

I’ve recently become less concerned about climate change (or perhaps more accurately, more concerned about other things), though I still think it is important to consider. There’s also the possibility that wild animal suffering (e.g. wild animals starving or being eaten etc.) dominates suffering in general, and that the effects of climate change might even be good for wild animal wellbeing overall, but I don’t think there is enough certainty on this to warrant reducing climate action.

Liberal

Liberal support a Renewable Energy Target of 23% of Australia’s total energy use by 2020 and will support a transition to clean energy through the $1 billion Clean Energy Innovation Fund and $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund. They claim they will double renewable energy in Australia over the next 4 years. Liberal have a target of reducing emissions by up to 28% by 2030 based on 2005 levels.

Labor

Labor have promised that at least 50% of Australia’s electricity production will be sourced from renewable energy by 2030. They will expand the investment mandate of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, provide $206.6m to ARENA to support solar thermal, establish a Community Power Network and Regional hubs ($98.7m over 4 years), implement an electricity emissions trading scheme and reinvigorate the Carbon Farming Initiative.

Greens

The Greens want a net zero or negative greenhouse gas emissions in Australia within a generation.

The Greens don’t support natural gas, which I believe is a mistake, due to its proven ability to reduce emissions in USA (Full disclosure, I have previously worked at an oil and gas company, and currently hold shares in several). They also don’t support nuclear energy, which on the whole is expected to have prevented significantly more deaths than it has caused. To put things into perspective, nuclear is expected to have killed less people per unit energy produced than wind and solar.

AJP

The Animal Justice Party have the following key objectives for climate change; to transform to a carbon free infrastructure, to allow reforestation by reducing grazing animal agriculture, to prohibit the expansion of fossil fuel industries, to implement a carbon tax for both coal and animal agriculture, to direct carbon taxes towards a number of climate change solutions, and to protect existing forests and marine habitats in general.

AJP also recommend that natural gas be phased out over the next 15-20 years.

Science Party

The Science Party support carbon pricing mechanisms as their primary solution for climate change. They propose that more work needs to be done on mitigation and adaptation, and fund increased research for geoengineering (with the caveat that no major geoengineering will actually be undertaken until thorough research on its safety has been undertaken).

They propose zero net carbon emissions from electricity generation by 2030 and have plans to support this, and will seek to end all subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. They also propose small scale nuclear power generation to take place in Australia as a trial, with the plan to scale this up if successful. They also seek to support research on nuclear fusion. The Science Party propose some policies to improve animal welfare (discussed below), but do not recognise the role that large scale animal agriculture plays in climate change.

Nick Xenophon Party

The Nick Xenophon Party support a 50% renewable energy target by 2030. They have been against wind energy in the past for ungrounded fears about the health implications, but not without other good reasons.

Conclusion

 

To simplify this analysis, we suggest that, all else being equal, reducing the effects of climate change on humans and in general is a good thing. On this issue specifically, the Science Party and the Animal Justice Party have the most ambitious targets, but don’t have a proven political track record of effecting this change. The Greens have an operational track record, however support neither nuclear energy, natural gas or a reduction of livestock related emissions. Labor appears to have more ambitious policies than Liberal. The tentative recommendation here is to put AJP and Science Party 1 or 2, Greens 3, NXP 4, Labor 5 and Liberal 6.

Foreign aid

One of the areas where the value of your vote may have the largest impact is within Australia’s contribution towards overseas aid. Taking a snapshot of current figures, Australia currently spends $5.03 billion dollars on foreign aid, amounting 0.32% of our countries gross national income (GNI). Recent plans by the Coalition are to reduce this figure by almost a third placing Australian foreign aid at its lowest level for 60 years, while most other developed nationals contribute close to four times this amount.

Liberal                                  

It is unsurprising then that the policies found on the Liberal Party of Australia’s website contain no mention of contributions to foreign aid although they do outline how they have “restored integrity to the Refugee and Humanitarian Programme,” through the stopping of the boats.

Labour

 A mark above the Liberals, the ALP are supposedly dedicated to “Tackling inequality and disadvantage,” their policies include an immediate reversal of the $224 million cut to overseas aid outlined within the most recent budget including the on-going investment of $40 million a year to help Australian Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) deliver frontline service to some of the world’s poorest communities. All up, over a four-year period the ALP claim, that if elected they will provide around $800 million more for overseas aid that the Liberals. Additionally if elected Labour would improve the overall effectiveness of Australia’s overseas aid programs, legislating for transparency and accountability. I feel it is important to note that whilst providing a more comprehensive approach to foreign aid on paper, as with the Liberals the ALP have a history of reducing Australia’s foreign aid contribution.

Greens

Unexpectedly, the standout of the major three parties when it comes to investment in foreign aid is the Greens. With a number of policies ranging from assisting developing nations affected by climate change through re-settling and re-housing to the promoting of debt cancelling schemes for developing economies where debt re-payment results in increasing poverty. Additionally the Greens want to see: an increase to a foreign aid contribution of 0.7% GDI (on par with the UK and other western nations), transparency and accountability in the purpose of all Australian aid programs, non-commercial aid programs and the establishment of AusAID as an independent department with its own dedicated cabinet minister. On top of these, is the Greens policy to preference multilateral trade agreements, except where bi-lateral agreements may favour a developing country. I have skipped a few policies here and suggest you visit the Greens website for a comprehensive view of their policies.

Science Party

The Science Party want to see an increase in Australia’s humanitarian intake in proportion to other migration schemes. This includes additional places in the short term allocate to recognised refugees from Malaysia and Indonesia to reduce smuggling.

The Nick Xenophon Party

The Nick Xenophon Party provides no policy regarding to foreign aid on their website.

The Animal Justice Party

The Animal Justice Party believe in a compassionate approach to migrants and refugees while keeping the home grown component of our population growth at or below zero.

Conclusion

Once again, we are assuming that increasing Australia’s foreign aid and its overall effort to assist developing countries is a good thing. Based on policy alone the recommendation here is to place The Greens 1, ALP and Science Party 2 or 3, NXP 4 and the Liberals 5.

Existential risk

The impact a political party has on the likelihood of human extinction, even if very small, probably dominates all of the other factors (see this site for an explanation of why). Having said that, the impact of policies and parties on X-risk is significantly more uncertain than on other categories.

Increased research into the likelihood and potential solutions to X-risk concerns are likely to be the best way to have an impact in this issue, but no party to our knowledge is either for or against this work.

It seems likely that increasing international ties and cooperation/collaboration will reduce the chances of catastrophic extinction. Increasing foreign aid is a possible way of doing this, which has been discussed above.

It is expected that certain trade-related policies or other foreign relations policies could be a good way to increase (or decrease) international collaboration, but an analysis of these policies were beyond the scope of this draft due to time considerations, and the authors are very open to suggestions here.

Final recommendation

 

We have clearly missed out a lot of important categories. This was meant to be a more extensive project but due to the number of people involved and time availability, it fell short. From this limited analysis, however, we tentatively suggest voting in the upper and lower house in the following order; Science Party 1, Greens 2, Animal Justice Party 3, Nick Xenophon Party and Labor 4/5, Liberal 6.