By tomorrow evening, we will hopefully have at least some idea what our new government will look like.
Or not. I started a post this way three years ago, and look what happened then.
Myself, I’m hoping it won’t look like Tony Abbott gets control of both houses of Parliament, and in my ideal world, he wouldn’t get either of them. Ideally, I’m hoping that the Senate will maintain a distinct greenish tinge (though not the kind one gets from contemplating the prospect of the Mad Monk as PM). There are many things we cannot afford as a country, and a PM who doesn’t think that science is real is one of them.
But all that is in the future. Between now and then, if you are Australian, there’s something quite important you should be doing.
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 right now and say ‘Vote Green! Or vote for an Independent! Or if you won’t do that, for heaven’s sake, at least don’t vote Liberal! Or – please – the Liberal Democratic Party!’
Because, as anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at this blog knows, that’s the way I swing.
But that’s not what I’m going to say, because that’s not what I most 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. Better still, 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, and we have a great wealth of truly awful candidates to choose from this time around.
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 OK – 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. Or you could do both! No, I’m not being facetious – it’s actually a good form of insurance if you think you might have lost count below the line to also pick a party above the line. Your below the line vote will take precedence if it’s formal, but if you muck up and it isn’t formal, the AEC will count your above the line vote instead, and won’t lose your vote. Trust me, the AEC *wants* your vote to be formal, and will count it if they possibly can. (Depending on who you picked, the scrutineers staring over their shoulders may not want your vote to be formal, but in the end, if your intent is clear, your vote will be counted.)
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. No point whingeing about it now.
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 in Victoria, the Senate Ticket starts with Rise Up Australia, so ‘complete nutjob’ is actually an understatement – 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. And your feet and legs will be hurting enough without the extra work of all that kicking.
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).
(Incidentally, there are times when I think we really should be grateful, as a country, for the apathetic middle – the ones who are always going to vote either Liberal or Labor, because they are the only two ‘real’ choices. True, I’m not too fond of either of these parties right now – you may have noticed I’m a bit of a fancier of tiny, crazy parties – but the major political parties do have the virtue of mediocrity. They may not rise to the inspiring heights of the better Independents, or even of Bullet Train for Australia, but they also don’t tend to sink to the heroic awfulness of, for example, the Shooters and Fishers or the Liberal Democratic Party. I find this comforting.)
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 still 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.
Well, ten minutes, if you are voting below the line…
So please, remember to vote.
(And just in case my arguments don’t sway you, here is a rather brilliant piece of advertising created by Method Studios for the Gruen Transfer, reminding us why voting is something we really are very lucky to do.)