This time tomorrow, we will hopefully have at least some idea what our new government will look like. Myself, I’m hoping it won’t look like Tony Abbott, and that the Senate will have a distinct greenish tinge (not the kind one gets from contemplating the prospect of the Mad Monk as PM, however).
Between now and then, if you are Australian, there’s something quite important you should be doing. Please, remember to vote.
Yes, voting is compulsory here. Or rather, turning up to the polling booth and getting your name ticked off is compulsory. Nobody actually stands over you to check that you are actually voting, rather than covering your ballot paper with little flowers.
I think this is a good thing. It tends to balance out the fanatics at either end of the political spectrum with those who care less, and might not care enough to bother in a country with voluntary voting. And, you know, I think it’s good for us, as citizens, to at least think about how we are governed once every three years.
Part of me would like to jump up and down and say ‘Vote Green! Or if you won’t vote Green, for heaven’s sake, at least don’t vote Liberal. Or Liberal Democratic Party.’ Because, as anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at my journal recently knows, that’s the way I swing.
But that’s not what I’m going to say, because that’s not what I really want you to do.
Here’s what I want you to do.
When you go to your polling booth, take your ballot paper, look at it, and think. Or think before you even go to the polling booth. Think about what you want the government to do in the next few years. Think about what the parties have been saying and doing, and what you believe they are likely to do next. And when you’ve thought about that, think about who is most likely to achieve the things you’d like to see happen, and put them first. Then number your way down from there. Or, alternatively, work out who is absolutely the worst possible candidate in your eyes, put them last, and number upwards from there. Admittedly, that’s how it often works.
When you vote in the Senate, think about voting below the line. The party that wins is going to be making a lot of decisions on your behalf over the next few years – do you really want someone else to make this decision too? If you do, that’s fine – vote above the line, and make sure it’s formal. Or if you are worried about skipping a number below the line and ending up with an informal vote, by all means, pick your best option above the line and go for it. If you do vote below the line, have fun. Enjoy exercising your democratic right to rank all the parties – the dull, the exciting, the crazed, the sane, the inspiring, the terrifying – in whatever order you see fit. This is not an opportunity that comes along so very often, after all.
And on your way out of the polling booth, buy a sausage in bread. Or some biscuits. Or a slice of cake. Or a pinata decorated with the face of the politician of your choice. Or a raffle ticket. Because half the fun of election day is the inevitable school fête that occurs at every polling booth. You might as well enjoy it.
Here are some things I don’t want you to do.
Don’t vote informal. Really, don’t. It’s a waste. There is always one option you like least, even if there isn’t one you like most. Work from there. At least if you vote, you have the right to complain about the government afterward. If you don’t vote… well, you had your chance to do something about it, and didn’t even try. How does this give you the right to complain?
Don’t donkey vote. This is worse than voting informal, because you are sending whichever person is at the top of the ticket your vote without thinking. And if that person is a complete nutjob and gets in, you are partially responsible.
Don’t forget to vote. That goes double if you’re handing out how-to-vote cards. I gather the number of people who spend the whole day looking after a booth or handing out cards, and are so focused on this that they forget to vote themselves is quite high. Don’t be part of that number. You’ll want to kick yourself if you are.
And please, don’t absent-mindedly put the ballot paper in your pocket and walk out with it, or deliberately toss it in the bin. This last isn’t even about democracy, it’s about the poor blighters who have to count the votes in your booth. If, when they’ve tallied up all the votes, the total doesn’t match the number of people who voted in that booth, they have to tally them all up again. And if it still doesn’t match, they have to start going through the rubbish bins on the voting site, looking for the missing ballot paper. If you didn’t know that before, that’s OK, but you know it now, so please don’t make the vote counters’ lives miserable unnecessarily. Believe me, if you want to torture them, voting below the line will do the trick…
The only comfort for me back in 2004 when Howard won *again* was the knowledge that I’d been standing right there when they counted the votes, and that people like me had done the same thing all over Australia, to make sure the votes were counted correctly. The result was horrible, but at least I knew it was the result the Australian voters wanted (this is a somewhat mixed comfort, admittedly).
Tomorrow, if we are particularly unlucky, we could end up with a Prime Minister who scares me more than Howard ever did. If your conscience or beliefs tell you to vote Liberal Democrat or One Nation – well, in all honesty, I find that hard to understand, but I’ll still be glad you’ve voted. Not everyone thinks correctly like me, which is possibly why Winston Churchill described democracy as “the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”.
I’d rather you voted for someone I can’t stand than that you didn’t vote. Because apparently the beginning and end of my patriotism is this: you need to care enough to spend five minutes every three years thinking about who you want to run this country, and make the best decision you can. This is your legal obligation; I believe it is a moral obligation as well. You can be as apathetic you like for the rest of the three years, just so long as you care for five minutes tomorrow.
So please, remember to vote.