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Will Australia have its own Brexit event on Saturday?

Angela Catterns
Friday, July 01, 2016

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By Angela Catterns

One more sleep to go. Then the Pandora’s boxes will finally be opened and we’ll get to unwrap what’s inside.

Like children after a big day out – and the longest campaign in recent history – we’ll need an early night come Saturday.

That will only be possible if Malcolm Turnbull’s dream comes true and he’s returned to government with a credible majority and a decent mandate with which to work.

Or, it could be a long, drawn out night, where the result is not clear by bedtime. In that event, TV commentators and election analysts will fill their airtime with endless blather, while we all wait patiently for the vanquished and the victor to make their respective concession and victory speeches.

I remember the election party I went to in 2010 at the home of a respected, veteran journalist. By mid-evening, everyone had lost interest in the coverage. The result – or non-result – was just too vague and equivocal. The coverage dragged on and on and even the politically obsessed journos started drifting away from the giant TV. Eventually, I was the only person still watching. Everyone else was getting into the actual ‘party’ part of the election night party. But the lack of a clear result was almost unbearable and when I finally went to bed that night it was with a feeling of uncertainty. That was the year Julia Gillard eventually formed a minority government with the 3 independents and a Green.

This Saturday, there’s a chance it might happen again.

It’s been Australia’s longest election campaign for 50 years and what a blessed relief it’s just about over. Commercial TV has been awash with political advertising. Now, there’s a style of marketing which must surely be ripe for disruption. It’s repetitive, cheap-looking and a complete turn-off. There has to be a better way for parties to plug themselves. The leaders, and one or two of their team members, have been spreading themselves like wet blankets across all media, flinging about numbers and figures like confetti at a wedding. I tuned out a while ago – it was making my head spin.

Malcolm Turnbull is performing well. Like an ambitious actor trying out for the lead role in an amateur theatre company production.

Bill Shorten has united his party, found his voice and started running – literally. All of which have made him a stronger contender than any of us thought he could be.

Will it be business as usual with one of the two major parties clearly winning the right to govern? Or, will a large bloc of Australians cast their votes against the status quo as they’ve just done in the UK and the US? These are people who’ve had a gutful of business as usual. They’re going for an alternative, a new bunch of politicians who just might do things differently.

My 94 year old mother needed assistance with her postal vote a few weeks back. The NSW Senate ballot is another tablecloth-sized paper, featuring 151 candidates vying for 12 seats. Most of the parties, groups and independents are wannabes who you’ve probably never heard of. Unless you care enough to Google them all, it’s going to be an interesting challenge for your garden-variety voter to tick 12 boxes, or more, below the line.

There are lots of candidates from parties based around famous people: Derryn Hinch, Jacqui Lambie, Pauline Hanson, Bob Katter, Clive Palmer, Fred Nile and Nick Xenophon. And there are numerous parties with names designed to confuse you into voting for them. Like the Health Australia Party in pole position on the ballot paper. They’re anti-fluoride, anti-vaccination and heavily into natural medicine. Or the Sustainable Australia Party, which you might think is into renewable energy, but is actually anti-immigration. Or the Australian Liberty Alliance, which is really the cranky old conservative, Angry Anderson.

And finally, there are the bleeding obvious parties. The Veterans, The Country-Minded, Arts, Animal Justice, Non-Custodial Parents, Mature, Sex, Progressives and Marijuana (perhaps those last four should group together next time).

When planning their legislative program, the new 45th Parliament should seriously think about reforming our Senate nomination rules. What’s the good of standing for election if no one has the faintest idea who you are, or what you’re on about?

As ABC election analyst Antony Green says, “If voters struggle to find candidates they know amongst the vast number of candidates, then there is something wrong with the nominations process. It is perfectly legitimate for an electoral system to have a hurdle to get on the ballot paper. Every electoral system in the world does. The question is how high the hurdle is.”

Right now, the hurdle is pretty low.

Nevertheless, grappling with the Senate ballot paper in a tiny cardboard booth is always entertaining. Personally, I love voting. Exercising my right - and obligation - to vote is something for which I always feel humbly grateful. It’s a heart-warming experience to walk to the local Primary School, say hi to all the neighbours and locals, pat their dogs, chat to the volunteers handing out how-to-vote cards to find out what’s the vibe and buy cakes at the P&C cake-stall.

And secretly, I even get a bit emotional.

It’s something about being lucky enough to be born in Australia.

Published: Friday, July 01, 2016


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