What's the Point?

It's the eve of the May 2022 election. God alone knows what will happen tomorrow.

Hopelessness has been the theme of our time. There are those who say it's not worth voting, or not worth caring how we vote. Thank God, there is also a big counter move this election. Many people are becoming alert to the power that we have to vote effectively for change. I've never encountered so much interest in how preferences work, how independents and small parties can contribute to good governance and what the various candidates' policies would mean in practice for us Australians. But you have to listen carefully. On the surface, it's business (of political manipulation) as usual.

As usual, the media has done its voodoo magic, trying to make a Labor win happen by talking and writing big for weeks before The Day.

As usual, we are hammered with ridiculously biassed phone surveys. No way they would be valid statistically, even if the questions weren't so tilted. The surveys are not even confidential: they have our phone numbers! They are mostly undertaken at a particular time of day when a particular segment of the population is unable to talk on the phone. There is no check of the veracity of data gathered; I could call myself 18-25 yo and skew the results in a moment.

I care about the concept of 'secret' ballot, so I don't answer such surveys. I suspect that many who refuse to divulge their election intentions to a robot just might lean towards the conservative side of thinking. If so, that would lead to a bloated Left/ALP count. Why should we trust any published survey results anyway? The media & politicians lie and distort information - especially statistics - in so many ways. Why would they feel any need to be truthful about their pre-election research?

There is only one poll that counts, and it happens tomorrow.

We are a commonwealth, and we are all responsible for the 'common weal' - that is the shared good future of our nation. We all benefit from Australia's culture, structures and services (even though they're not perfect). The flipside is: there's no such thing as a free lunch. We are responsible to our neighbours, our children and our grandchildren. We are responsible to those who lived and died before us, to give us this remarkable nation.

Australia is one of the world's earliest experiments in universal suffrage. It worked amazingly well for an amazingly long time. It keeps working only if each of us accepts the weighty price of freedom.

Only if each of us takes up our pen(cil) and votes with all the knowledge, foresight, understanding and solemnity that we can muster.

Only if we - like our great-great-grandparents - take the time and effort to learn how preferential voting works, what the Westminster system is, why it is that way, and why common law matters. Only if we recognise that talk of the '2 party system' is a furphy. We can have 3 or 5 or 10 influential groups within government plus a bundle of independently minded statesmen (a non-sexist suffix pronounced mn), without breakdown of functionality and order. It's also absurd to suppose that everyone in a group of likeminded people should vote the same on every issue; or that the various groups should oppose one another on almost every matter. What a trivial view of wise counsel and council.

Our choices matter. Think before you (don't) vote. If we 'give up' on intentional voting because it's all too hard or we'd rather go out and play or 'they're all tarred with the one brush' - 'they' will be only be too happy to take the burden of choice from us.

If everyone voted informal, what would happen? I've been told - but I can't confirm - that we would get 3 more years of the same government. If you vote 'donkey', you aren't making any effective protest either. It just looks like you chose the candidates in that order. It functions that way too, as a valid vote for real candidates. If you don't vote at all, the fines get expensive after a few elections and guess who you hand over your cash to? The Government which you profess to despise. You become their cash cow. I'd rather be a pro-active voter than a donkey or a cash cow.

Researching candidates is time-consuming. But IT HAS NEVER BEEN EASIER. If we can find ourselves a jet ski or a plumber or funny cat videos online, we can use exactly the same skills to find out about almost every candidate on the ballot paper.

Even if you can only order a miserable bunch of candidates from the least bad to the very worst, vote in that order. It is a step in the right direction for Australia. A lot of small steps will get us a long way.

Our forefathers and foremothers managed to comprehend Australia's clever, fair preferential voting system with less formal education than most of today's population. They made it work. We can too. It might take many of us a few elections before we fully get the hang of things. But that's better than never.

Whatever is worthwhile often carries a degree of difficulty, commitment, perseverance, a battle to learn how - and then a sense of achievement.

Let's get out there and vote intelligently. It is a privilege that we can vote, and privileges are not to be taken lightly. Let's learn to use our voting rights & responsibilities to the max, so that our parliaments at state and national levels can operate as they should: houses of debate for the common weal of Australians, not rubber stamps for party policies shaped elsewhere for others' weal.


More musing: I read some earnest documentation tonight about the 'difficulty' of preferential voting for NESB people or the less educated. High nos of informal votes in a high-migrant-population electorate, were interpreted as votes from NESB migrants struggling with our 'complex' voting system. What's the corollary to that? Bring on the socialist revolution so they don't have to vote at all! Undo our preferential voting and replace it with first-past-the-post (a boon for major parties). Or introduce non compulsory voting, & tell these hypothetical NESB strugglers not to even try?

Is this NESB narrative just more post-modern victimhood mythology & stereotyping, as well as a deliberate potshot at Australia's electoral system?

Let's be truthful. It does not require colossal literacy and numeracy skills to number from 1 to 7, or 10, or even 14 on a House of Reps paper! Anyone concerned that they might make a mistake (which is all of us) can copy numbers from their favoured party's how-to-vote card, or take in their own homemade card. Anyone can vote very simply above the line in the Senate if they wish. Below the black line, pencilling in the minimum numbers for a formal vote is not arduous. It's just 1-12 for the NSW Senate in May 2022. Anyone can ask for help from a family member, friend or polling official either before they vote or while completing their ballot paper.

The Australian Electoral Commission publishes voter information in multiple languages. No one has to leave it until polling day to find out what the ballot papers look like & how to vote. I even suspect that before someone becomes an Australian citizen, they might be appraised of how to find basic information about voting. It's a requirement of all citizens. But maybe I am wrong about that.

Wherever there are significantly-above-average counts of informal votes, there is a problem. Let's investigate the causes; not assume them. Here are a few starter ideas:

  • Could the standard instructions by polling staff handing out ballot papers, confuse voters with low level English skills?
  • Informal votes could be boosted by counters' error. I've heard testimony of valid below-the-line Senate votes repeatedly discarded by counters and tossed back in by scrutineers.
  • What about staff-assisted votes in nursing homes? Many aged care assistants are immigrants who might never have voted in Australia. If staff training is inadequate, they could inadvertently 'assist' residents to vote informally. IE there could be a single local source for many of the informal votes.

I'm glad someone noticed a correlation between informal votes and high NESB population in some electorate or electorates; but we need to respond thoughtfully, not with the woke 'identity' mentality that lazily attributes every incident to race, gender and the rest.

Written & authorised by Diane Sutton, 413 Stewartfield Rd, Bolaro NSW 2629

20th May 2022