Multi-issue analyses of which party is the best one to vote for from an objective point of view are seriously lacking. In fact, we couldn’t find a single one for Australian parties in the lead up to the 2016 federal election, which prompted us to perform this research.
In this article, Hugo Burgin and myself have attempted an analysis of which of 6 parties are the best to preference, and what order they should be placed in, based on how their policies make the world a better place generally. That is to say, we have attempted to select the party that is ‘best’. We say ‘attempted’ because such analyses are incredibly complex (which is possibly why none exist), although we believe that some attempt at picking the best party is better than no attempt.
We intend to sway your opinion, though we ourselves are open to being swayed. If you believe we have erred in our analysis or missed something crucial, we want to know so we can change our analysis and our own vote. Thus, this will be a living document until the election. Please also leave any comments below that you believe are useful or add to the discussion.
The parties analysed are:
- Animal Justice Party
- Science Party
- Nick Xenophon Party
This is a long piece, and we suggest reading the policy by policy summaries or skipping to the conclusion if you are time poor (and trust us).
Important edit: There seems to have been a bit of confusion from some people about what we’re trying to prioritise here. A lot of questions have been of the nature “Well, it’s all well and good that some people care about animal issues, but I don’t, and you haven’t really convinced me that working on animal issues or foreign aid will increase the wellbeing of Australians.”
This kind of response misses the point. We have not chosen to focus on these issues solely because of the impact they have on humans. We chose to focus on animal issues because of the enormous impact they have on animals. We chose to focus on foreign aid because of the enormous impact they have on foreigners. We didn’t choose these issues just because of the impact they have on Australians (although both have positive flow on effects for Australians anyway, e.g. human health and climate change for animals, and international relations and security for foreign aid). Animals and foreigners alike can experience wellbeing just as Australians can, and so we should consider their wellbeing too when thinking about who to vote for.
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 simplistically estimates that the expected value of voting for a US citizen, when spread out across all citizens in USA, is around $5,200 USD (~$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 (see the appendix for a more detailed explanation of why this is so). This means it’s very important to vote for the party that will spend the budget in the best way possible.
The impact of your vote on you personally, however, is worth significantly less than $1 (see the appendix). 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.
As we have said, 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. 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. We do urge you to use rational, evidence backed responses where possible. If you disagree with, say, a left-wing policy or party, you should have a brief rationale for why that policy in particular is bad.
Please also let us know if you’ve changed who you’re voting for because of this work. We love measuring impact. If you agree with our recommendations, please share this to increase your impact even more. If you don’t, tell us why ASAP!
One more disclaimer: Whilst we have taken an Effective Altruist approach to this, the research and recommendations made here don’t necessarily represent the opinion of the Effective Altruism community in general, or of any organisations that we are affiliated with.
On voting generally
First, it’s important to understand how the Australian voting system works, especially since the rules for voting for the upper house have changed recently, so check out this video or this article.
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 – “What is the impact of my individual vote?”
We also highly recommend you plan your vote before arriving to reduce the chance of you being swayed by a smiling face with a ‘how to vote’ card at the booths, or to make an uninformed decision due to pressure or forgetfulness. This is a tool to plan your senate vote.
To judge the parties, we use a utilitarian approach. That is, we pick the party that we believe will lead to the greatest wellbeing for the greatest number of individuals. We do this on a policy by policy basis, then attempt to weight these policies against each other to come up with a final recommendation. We have covered 3 broad policy areas which we believe are the most important for increasing wellbeing. These are:
- Non-human animal policies
- Foreign aid
- Climate change
On to some policies.
The amount of suffering experienced by (non-human) animals as a result of human activity is enormous, and probably many times greater than that experienced by humans. Around 60 billion land animals and 90 billion marine animals are killed annually (including by-catch from fishing this is argued to be over 1 trillion by some), most of which experience an enormous amount of suffering. If you care about animals close to as much as you care about humans (which most people do judging by the way they treat their pets, and which you should because they have a capacity for suffering and wellbeing that, while not equal to humans, is in the same ballpark), you should care about what your vote does for animals.
The issue of where to vote for non-human animals is complicated by the distinction between animal welfare (wellbeing vs. suffering) and animal rights (giving animals the right to not be exploited). I personally argue that the thing that we should be valuing for animals is wellbeing (or a lack of suffering). Giving animals the right to not be exploited might be the best pathway to this (or it might not be – there is still much debate here), but the fundamental goal should be to reduce animal suffering as much as possible.
No party has a primary policy of promoting or encouraging a vegan lifestyle (the closest to this is the Animal Justice Party). That is to say, most parties encourage reducing the suffering experienced by farmed animals rather than stopping them from being exploited in the first place. It is difficult to say whether welfare reforms make lives better or worse for animals in the long run. They arguably make them better in the short term, by improving their living and slaughter conditions, but they may make people more comfortable with exploitation, thus prolonging their use and therefore suffering. For the sake of recommending the best party for animals, we suggest that the party with the best intentions towards actually eliminating animal suffering for the sake of animals (not for any flow on effects to humans) will be more inclined to change their mind with new evidence in the future.
The Liberal party does not have a formal animal policy, however they do have some policies that affect animal welfare. They propose a plan to ban the sale of new cosmetics tested on animals. They don’t support an Independent Office of Animal Welfare or an end to live exports. They advocate for a removal of tariffs on exports of dairy, beef and seafood, which is expected to increase the exploitation and suffering of animals.
Labor, like Liberal, advocate for a removal of tariffs on exports of dairy, beef and seafood.
Despite having a detailed animal welfare policy, the Greens don’t advocate veganism or a push towards encouraging veganism to reduce animal use. Instead, they focus on increased regulation and legislation to protect animals from suffering, including:
- “An end to cruel or unnecessary use of animals for teaching and research purposes” (as argued by Gary Francione in Rain Without Thunder, there is reason to mistrust the use of ‘cruel’ or ‘unnecessary’, as all research can be argued to be necessary)
- “Make any act of animal cruelty subject to criminal penalties”
- “Regulate conditions for the captivity, transport and slaughter of animals”
- End the “export of live animals for consumptive purposes”
- “The establishment of an independent national regulatory body to provide national oversight and coordination of animal welfare”
Despite the overarching party policy, we suggest that voting for certain senate candidates within the Greens over others may be effective. For example, from conversations with senator candidate Jody Moate (SA), she is interested in supporting pro-vegan campaigns despite the Greens themselves not explicitly supporting them. Senator candidate Lee Rhiannon (NSW) appears to support similar campaigns for reasons of animal suffering, public health burden and climate change. We suggest that preferencing Moate, who is not the primary candidate for Greens in SA, might be an impactful thing to do.
The Animal Justice Party have a large number of policies relating to animals. In summary:
- AJP claim to advocate a plant based diet (their candidates must all be vegan or vegetarian), but it does not appear to be a key policy, or well planned for how this will happen
- AJP is open to supporting cultured meat, which is expected to be a positive, but there are currently no strong policies in place to do so
- AJP advocates an end to live animal exports
- AJP appears to be against animal experimentation as it is misleading to extrapolate animal testing results to humans. As an interim, they advocate for reducing the suffering of animals in research.
The Science Party has a number of policies relating to animal welfare, including:
- Supporting in vitro meat (lab meat) production to reduce animal use
- Establishing an Independent Office for Animal Welfare
- Restricting (but not eliminating) live exports
- Ending the use of battery cages and sow stalls
- Improving regulation around animal use in racing (but not necessary abolishing it)
- Improving food labelling
- “The Science Party supports the use of animals for scientific and research purposes.”
Nick Xenophon Party
The Nick Xenophon Party does not have an animal welfare policy, but support strict controls on live animal exports, and prefer that meat is processed in Australia and exported chilled.
It appears that no party is currently advocating for a reduction in animal suffering as much as they could be, though this could be a strategic move (too hardline a stance may mean losing votes). In terms of perceived intentions towards non-human animals and promises, we recommend the preferencing Animal Justice Party first, followed by Greens, then (closely) followed by the Science Party, followed by the Nick Xenophon Party/Labor then Liberal last.
Also, a brief summary of animal policies for 21 parties is available here.
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).
The policies found on the Liberal Party of Australia’s website contain no mention of contributions to foreign aid. However, recent plans by the Coalition are to progressively reduce this figure by almost a third to 0.22% of NDI placing Australian foreign aid at its lowest level for 60 years, while most other developed nationals contribute close to four times this amount. Additionally, during their most recent term the Liberals have introduced performance benchmarks for national aid programs, incorporated AusAID into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and prioritised aid spending such that the priority of foreign aid expenditure shall be ‘Australia’s national interest’. The benchmarks are expected to be a positive, as they come with claims of being more outcome oriented.
A mark above the Liberals, the ALP is 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 Labor would improve the overall effectiveness of Australia’s overseas aid programs, legislating for transparency and accountability. We 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.
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. Please visit the Greens website for a more comprehensive view of their foreign aid policies.
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.
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, Animal Justice Party 4, NXP 5 and the Liberals 6.
While climate change is a highly important issue, I think several other issues (e.g. those listed above) are more pressing and have a larger impact on wellbeing, even after considering flow on effects.
Liberals support a Renewable Energy Target at 23% of Australia’s total energy use by 2020. They 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. And Liberal have a target of reducing emissions by up to 28% by 2030 based on 2005 levels. These are modest targets, but are low compared to the other parties.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, Labor 4, NXP 5 and Liberal 6.
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.
We have clearly missed out a lot of important categories, and haven’t addressed the economic, political or social viability of any of the policies (the likelihood they will be implemented successfully). 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/Animal Justice Party
- Nick Xenophon Party
A suggestion has been made that, since the Animal Justice Party and Science Party are unlikely to elect many or any members, despite being ranked 2/3 you should still list them 1/2 and Greens 3. If a party receives at least 4% of ‘1’ votes, they receive extra funding for every ‘1’ vote. Further, if the AJP or Science Party don’t win, the vote will just go to the Greens. We think this is a valid way of strategic voting, and so would suggest voting Science Party or AJP 1, followed by the other and Greens, even though we think the Greens party has a more comprehensive and better overall policy than the Science Party and AJP.
Also, to be clear, this is a relative listing. That is to say, we think Labor is better than Liberal, but we don’t necessarily think they should be your 4th and 6th preference. We think that there are likely many more parties not covered here that are better than Liberal, and that you should probably these parties above them to minimise the chances of a Liberal member being elected.
This ranking is based qualitatively on the following ranking system of policies in terms of relative importance.
- 1 – Existential risk
- 2 – Non-human animals
- 3 – Foreign aid
- 4 – Climate change
You might note that a discussion of ‘jobs’ is broadly lacking. This is because we believe that, relative to the other issues here, jobs per se aren’t a particularly important policy. This is sure to rustle some feathers, so for a brief analysis of why we think this is the case, please see the appendix.
Not all of these parties have candidates in each state. If you are unable to vote for a party recommended here, we suggest simply moving to the next on the list. If there are other parties that you think would benefit humans and animals generally, we would recommend placing them between the Animal Justice Party and the Nick Xenophon Party. Please also tell us about them in the comments.
Thanks to those who reviewed early versions of this work and provided useful input.
To get in touch either leave a comment or send me an email at email@example.com.
A lot of people have been quick to criticise me of being biased. This is possible, but for what it’s worth, I am not a member or volunteer of any political party (nor have I ever been, I make a point to not get involved to retain partiality), and I have changed my personally preferred party several times since starting this analysis.
Appendix – The value of voting
The estimate of the value of voting being $5,200 USD as calculated by MacAskill is briefly described here.
Political analyst Nate Silver, Professor Andrew Gelman (Statistics) and Professor Aaron Edlin (Law) calculated that the odds of an individual changing the outcome of the 2008 USA presidential election was, on average, around 1 in 60 million, which is a low probability, but we have to also look at the potential impact.
Estimating simplistically that the benefit per person of the $3.5 trillion annual US budget being spent 2.5% more effectively ($1,000 per person per 4 year election term), the benefit that you would expect to receive personally over an election term based on your vote is 0.0016 cents. However, looking at the benefit received by all Americans ($1,000 multiplied by 314 million), the expected value of voting is $5,200 ($314 billion of value multiplied by a 1 in 60 million chance of swaying the outcome).
This is further simplified by the fact that the policies of parties aren’t always opposite, and there is significant overlap, however it does demonstrate that the value of one person voting, when spread over the population of a country, can be big.
Appendix – The value of jobs
The number of unemployed Australians as of August 2015 was just over 800,000, or around 6.3 %. A target of spending part of the budget on ‘jobs’* might be to bring unemployment to 4% (the lowest it’s been since at least 1980), a lofty goal indeed. Let’s now suppose that the government spends $20 billion of the budget in making this happen. Therefore they will have created one job per $68,478**. And let’s now that having a job increases an Australians’ wellbeing by double.
For a comparison, the world’s top rated charity focusing on poverty/global health, the Against Malaria Foundation, can save a life for around $4,000 AUD. That’s 17 times cheaper than the job creation. And these lives saved tend to last a while, whereas jobs are often lost again quite quickly (national average tenure in a job is around 7 years). While AMF is an exceptional charity, and many charities are orders of magnitude less effective, this example should at least highlight that foreign aid (let alone the two policies listed above it in importance) is arguably much more impactful than a focus on ‘jobs’***.
*In reality governments tend not to spend money just on ‘jobs’, but jobs come about as part of other spending which might be focused on jobs.
**A point was made that, if you come at this analysis from another direction, and argue that one could create a job if given $X, you could arrive at a similar answer to our estimate.
***We also recognise that there are flow-on effects of ‘jobs’, but there are flow-on effects for everything, and so we have ignored them to simplify our analysis.
Edit 1 (8:20 pm, 28/06) – After reassessing the individual policy recommendations, we adjusted the final recommendations from Science Party 1, Greens/AJP 2/3, NXP/Labor 4/5, Liberal 6; to Greens 1, Science Party/AJP 2/3, Labor 4, NXP 5, Liberal 6.
Edit 2 (3 pm, 29/06) – Several miscellaneous points added.