Former special forces operative Heston Russell is stepping down as leader of the Australian Values Party citing the oversimplification of political debate in the country.
The Australian Values Party ran candidates (many with military backgrounds) in the May 2022 federal election, as well as the recent Victorian state election where the party did not manage to win a seat.
At the time the party was established, a spate of alternative new political entities (on both the left and right spectrum) were set up largely due to dissatisfaction with the current state of politics.
While left-leaning parties—like the Australian Greens and “teal” independents—managed to fare well promising action on climate change, those on the right or “freedom parties” made minor inroads while siphoning votes from the major centre-right Liberal Party.
Media Exploiting Voters, Says Russell
Russell’s immediate reflection on politics was the “preference to polarise” people on every issue rather than pragmatically planning and working together.
“The majority of debate and decisions seem to be focused on progressing party interests and political point scoring as opposed to helping the people,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
The former Australian Defence Force operative also said media outlets were a key contributor to these problems.
“The preference seems to be to exploit the ignorance of voters and perpetuate a competitive team-vs-team mentality,” he said, noting Australia’s compulsory voting system meant many individuals voted based on “campaign marketing messages” rather than “credible policy promises.”
More recently there has been wall-to-wall media coverage of current New South Wales Liberal Premier Dominic Perrottet due to the emergence of a photo of him wearing a Nazi uniform at his 21st birthday party—the premier is now 40 years old.
Perrottet was forced to front the media on Jan. 12 to apologise for the incident saying he was “deeply ashamed.” The state election is in 2023 and New South Wales remains one of the few Australian states not governed by the centre-left Labor Party.
While the media focused on the issue, New South Wales residents and businesses face pressing issues such as inflation, rising energy costs, worker shortages, and spiking rental costs due to the influx of new migrants.
Democracy in a Lackluster State
Meanwhile, Russell also said more Australians needed to be encouraged to engage with politics rather than remain apolitical.
“I believe that the current tendency of many to simply save it for election day leaves us in the position of reaping the dwindling returns of this lackluster approach to democracy in Australia.”
I have formally stood down as Leader of the Australian Values Party
Please have a read of my statement for the full details
— Heston Russell (@HestonRussell) January 11, 2023
Former Liberal Senator Eric Abetz—himself seeing value in a compulsory voting system but with optional preferential voting—said such systems could be gamed if political parties perform better at marketing their message over having good policies.
“Imagine a party calling itself the ‘Teach Joe Biden a Lesson Party’ which then also suggests allocating preferences to a Democrat candidate,” he wrote in The Epoch Times.
Abetz also noted that compulsory voting created a dynamic where “major parties can effectively ignore their own constituencies because their voters must vote even if they are not motivated or do not believe any party is worthy of support.”