We were up early on the Saturday morning of election day here in Australia – yes, you read that right… a Saturday. Hoping to beat the lineups? Wanting to be first to snag a snag (more on that in a minute)? Sadly, no. Our residency status means that we cannot exercise our democratic rights to vote in this country. We could still vote in Canada, if an election was called; but after 5 years of non-residency status there, we’ll lose that right, too. This is the first time that we have watched a campaign from the sidelines, gearing ourselves up to live with the consequences without having a say. Well, not a formal say… but we’ve always got the blog! That and our garden, where we did some digging in the dirt this past weekend before the mud-slinging was set to begin the post-election news coverage.
In truth, it’s probably a good thing that we can’t vote until we become citizens. It takes a long time to figure out the system here in Australia, so I’m sure that a few years of preparation are what we need to prepare for future ballots. First – election day is on a Saturday. What’s up with that? In Canada, you can arrive at work late or leave early to ensure you have a solid three-hour window for voting (yes, that’s the law). Even then, you don’t have to vote if you don’t want to; you can head straight to the pub under the pretense of voting (though your employer might not like that). Here in Oz, voting is mandatory! Well, unless you don’t register; they have to find you to fine you, after all. The fine is small ($20) and you may not face a penalty if you have a good reason. Yes, there are pros and cons to compulsory voting, but many people we’ve met have been envious that we don’t have to vote. On election day, in places like the butcher shop and the hair salon, people would ask “have you voted yet?” and we would say that we aren’t allowed to vote. The standard response was “You’re so lucky! Wish I didn’t have to.” What? We WANT to vote. Something’s wrong with this system…
On the day, political party workers can give voters a “how-to-vote” card. Now, in Canada this would be a simple little box with an “X” in it beside a handful of names. Here in Australia, the system is not that simple. There are websites, newspaper ads, and many other helpful places to go for help in deciding whether you’ll vote above the line or below the line and (if the latter) how to ensure that all your boxes are ticked. There are two ballots – a small, green one (House of Representatives) and a larger, white one (Senate). According to the “Below the Line” website, the green one “is easy: you just number the candidates from one to whatever, and if your number 1 choice doesn’t make it, your vote goes on to your number 2 choice and so on down.”
However, the white ballot is the kicker; you can either “vote ‘above the line’ — just plonk a 1 in a box somewhere above the thick black line then go out and claim your sizzled sausage [more on that in a minute]. The problem is that you’ve just left your voting preferences up to the party whose box you just put a 1 in.” Each party files a “preference ticket” prior to election day. This means that the Labor Party might give preference to the Family First party, if they think that the Greens are a major threat (yes, this happened, in 2004 – with quite an upset on election day). So, leaving the preferences in the hands of your chosen party may NOT be what you want to do. This means that you are stuck having to mark down every single preference below the line. In Victoria, the ballot was so large and so full of names that the state had 40,000 magnifying glasses on hand so electors could clearly see all names! It’s not that bad where we live, in Riverina, but there are still a heap of candidates to consider – including a guy who ran for the “Bullet Train for Australia” party (though he lives in Papua New Guinea and has never been to the Riverina). Damn! Now we really wish we could have voted! In NSW you’ll also find the “No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics” party, the “Voluntary Euthanasia” party, the “Fishing and Lifestyle” party (though they might take some votes away from the “Shooters and Fishers” party) and the “Help End Marijuana Prohibition” party — all with pretty flash websites! Gee – I wonder where Tony Abbott’s Liberals placed these parties in the preferences list? And, of course, don’t forget about the “Australian Sex Party;” they have some of the best ads around. In total, there are more than 80 parties across the country.
As in Canada, you’ll also find your fair share of protestors and agitators active in the weeks leading up to the election. One of our colleagues at the Uni is very active in “knit your revolt!,” for example, which garnered national press last week. They were inspired by the Australian media’s coverage of former PM Julia Gillard knitting a kangaroo for Kate and William’s new little prince. The “misogynist knit-wit” was elected, in the end, so we’ll await their continued protests. And then there’s the “sweary guy” who posted this lovely comparison (not for the faint of heart – click here at your peril, but do take a moment to read the “open letter” for a post-rant update after the site received threats!) of Labor/Kevin Rudd and Liberal/Tony Abbott policies on everything from the NBN to the environment and gay marriage. Yes, our new PM is quite the character… renowned for his “budgie smugglers” (shudder!) and opposed to gay marriage, despite the fact that his sister is a lesbian. He also really loves women, as evidenced by his appeal to Australians to vote for one of his female candidates due to her “sex appeal” and to vote for him because, well, he’s the candidate with the “not bad looking daughters.” Yes, our new PM really said this. We wonder if the daughters should feel sad that good ol’ dad didn’t give them a more ringing endorsement? Is “not bad looking” a compliment? Shouldn’t he say “really hot”? But we digress…
What we don’t have in Canada (but we should!) is the ritual of the post-election snag. Now, many people may head to Timmy’s for a post-election Timbit (or twelve, or twenty); but, here in Australia, the snacks come to you. Each polling station comes complete with its own sausage sizzle. This, for many, is the highlight of the day, with the Saturday morning DJs on Triple J referring to the day as “sausage fest” rather than election day. They were even having listeners call in to report on how good or bad the sausages were at their polling station. This is an important fact to note because unlike in Canada, where you must vote at a specific location in your city, voters here get to choose their polling station. Some callers said theirs were supplemented with lamingtons or other tasty cakes prepared by… who exactly? The scrutineers? The election party workers? We need more time in country to figure this one out — but in our estimation this all just leads to mayhem, as polling stations attempt to woo voters with their savoury snacks. And, of course, there’s an app for that! In modern Australia, you can now surf for the tastiest treats and decide where to cast your vote by the quality of the nosh (and yes, you can filter by “cake stalls” if you have a sweet tooth). Of course, with Tony Abbott’s slow internet plan, even the election snag surf may be a thing of the past. So, compulsory voting with free food afterwards? I think that could sell in Canada.
Well put guys! Have shared with my American friends who could grasp “sausage fest”.
Is there vegetarian sausage? Sadly, here in North Carolina, our legislature is proudly taking us back to the 50s by making it harder to vote so that Republicans stay in power. Mandatory voting would just get more uninformed people out. The sausages and snacks might be good for the hungry people though. We are in the top 5 states for the number of starving people. Now Oz doesn’t look that good either 😦
yes there were reports of vegie sausages, but they were probably only in the big cities. Out here in the bush, it is all about meat.