Due to the move of the blog to Wordpress posts from Jan 2012 onward will have commenting disabled (when I remember to do it)
Cheers - AE

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Well, that was interesting.

If only it had really been that exciting. So, first experience of voting here and my impressions are mixed. First you had the task of running a gauntlet of assorted party drones, and rather than simply being something breathing and suitable to have a rosette pinned to it as in Britain these people are there to hand out leaflets on how to vote. Sure, Australian political parties aren't unique in not trusting voters to get it right but they're so bloody blatant about it here. It also proves that the idea of preferential voting removing a need to vote tactically is pure bullshit as the How To Vote leaflets are all about ordering your preferences so as to put your party's main opponents as low down the order as possible without putting an even bigger bunch of fucknuts ahead of them. If that's not tactical I don't know what is.

Having blanked as many of the How To Vote drones as possible and grunted monosyllabically at the rest we joined the queue, which was out of the door of the polling station. In hindsight compulsory voting and the fact the polls close at only 6pm means there probably isn't a really quiet time, but the queue moved pretty quick and inside it seemed a pretty efficient and high speed operation to me. It was a school of course, but no grubby old pasting tables and plywood booths - the whole lot was colour co-ordinated and made pre-fab from thick reinforced cardboard, even the ballot boxes (though they had seals on it seems a little odd having a ballot box that could be opened with a quick kick through the side). The whole lot probably flattens down and fits in the back of a Transit van. The queue lead to a few of these desks (cardboard) on one wall where names were checked and ballot papers handed out, while two whole walls were lined with polling booths (cardboard).

No wonder the queue moves quickly, and it needs to because, as I've mentioned before, effectively you are made to vote for everybody. This means numbering candidates for your MP in order of preference, which isn't too bad as there are only a handful and the ballot paper is about the size of a narrow leaflet. By comparison the Senate ballot 'slip' is like a roll of fucking wallpaper - sixty candidates from twenty parties (and a handful of independents), so hardly surprising that the majority of voters choose the relatively simple option of putting a 1 in the box of their preferred party instead of trying to remember who the fuck John Smith is, what his party is about and where he should go from 1 to 60. However, unless I misunderstand it putting a 1 by a party doesn't mean you're voting only for that party, it means you're allowing that party to decide for you what order to put them all in. So for example, a vote for Labor means your next preferences go to the Greens thanks to a deal for preferences the two parties agreed weeks ago, and presumably they would go on to assign preferences to all the remaining candidates for you. I'm reasonably happy that the Liberal Democrats probably wouldn't have ordered my preferences that differently to how I'd choose but if you're for the ALP but are also a warble gloaming sceptic then handing your vote to Labor might well be less satisfactory than doing all 60 yourself. And there's still the problem that the system does not allow you to rule out entirely one or more candidates in either election. Ultimately one or both my votes will probably end up going to one of the main parties despite the fact that I support neither.

So having filled in my ballot papers I followed Mrs Exile over to the ballot boxes (I did mention that they're cardboard?). Just as in the UK when a General election coincides with local elections or locals coincide with European elections there were two boxes, one for the small green slips for House of Representatives votes, helpfully labelled in green, and one for the white Senate wallpaper rolls. On the way out from there we passed a large bin (colour coordinated cardboard again) full of of the How To Vote leaflets that previous voters had had pressed on them by the party drones outside, leaflets that would have been in their possession for maybe half an hour at most. It could have been a coincidence but when we passed most of the discarded How To Vote leaflets were from the Greens, but hopefully they only pulped trees that were prepared to die in a good cause.

So what do I think? Well, it felt a little odd voting on a Saturday instead of a Thursday, and it certainly seems better organised than the UK. But since the polls are open for less time than the UK and they'll expect better than a 90% turnout it really needs to be better organised. Other than that it was an exercise in annoyance. I don't like people telling me how to vote, I don't like having parties actually decide how I vote if I don't want to spend ages working out a preferred order of several dozen candidates, and most especially I don't like being made to go and vote. That's the real piss boiler. Australia can hardly claim that its citizens all have the right to vote when for decades they've been herded to the polls under threat of fines and presumably prison if someone refused to pay on principle. Ultimately, if someone went that far and also resisted their eventual arrest for it, the threat is probably of violence. As the Liberal Democrats put it:
The right to do something implies that you have a choice not to do that thing. It would be absurd to say that Australians have the “right to pay tax”. Paying tax is not a right, it is a legal obligation. Under current laws, voting is also not a right but a legal obligation.
On top of the fundamentally illiberal nature of compulsory I've never made any secret that I think compulsory voting means politicians have less incentive to be worth voting for. I'd almost be tempted to pay the twenty dollar fine if there wasn't at least one party committed to returning to voting which is free in every sense.

* Mrs Exile explained that this means people who are from out of the area, maybe even another state, but are here on election day for whatever reason. Even if you're out of the country they expect you to vote, so being elsewhere in Australia certainly isn't going to get you out of it. Apparently they'll make up ballot papers for anyone who comes in to cast a vote in another constituency, though I have no idea how they get the papers back to a count that might be going on a couple of thousand miles away. Maybe they just fax them through or something.
Related Posts with Thumbnails