Election Day was a depressing experience

For political junkies like myself, election day is supposed to be something of a highlight. Actually living through a very long election campaign when you’ve made up your mind some years ago how you’re going to vote is not that much of a spectator sport. I just wanted it to end and for there to be a result – hopefully one that I liked.

But the actual process on election day was depressing, not just because I missed out entirely on a Democracy Sausage. For the first time ever I was handing out how-to-vote cards for a party other than the ALP. Following my decision to leave the party after more than twenty years as a member, I threw my lot in with the Greens. Particularly in the seat of Batman because of a particular dislike of the sitting member, David Feeney, a waste of oxygen from the ALP who was gifted the seat after being dumped from the senate. And a particular liking for for Greens candidate Alex Bhathal.

I was also roped into helping in the seat of Scullin, where I now live. And which is a very safe Labor seat. So for three hours in the afternoon I was handing out how to vote cards at a high school in Lalor. On the plus side, it was a fantastically diverse group of people there voting – I handed fliers to Kooris, folks of African extraction, retired migrants of a Mediterranean background, women in Hijabs, including a large number of feisty young woman, and a few in Niqabs. Lots of folks coming from works in the paint-cover clothes.

But then there was a fair percentage of folks who were completely confused by the whole process. Some were first time voters, tall teens who had never done this before. But a fair number were just perplexed, and were asking us, the how-to-vote folks how to fill in the ballot papers. I’ve always thought the voting process here in Australia was relatively straightforward, consistent between elections and explained a fair bit. But apparently not… We found ourselves explaining the two ballot papers, about how you had to number all the boxes on the green ballot, and who all the parties were. People were saying they’d only ever heard of Labor and Liberal, and were perplexed by all the other parties. I’m not sure what the percentage of informal votes where at the booth, but I suspect it was quite high. Which makes me sad that some folks didn’t get to express their preference.

The more depressing event was the two other how-to-vote folks there whom I ended up having a conversation with. The first was a chap from the ALP, who quite readily told me he was a member of the Labor right. The thing that impressed him the most while we were there was a Mercedes that pulled up. He was telling me how much it was worth. A lot, it would seem, the kind of money I would use if I had to have, say, half a dozen sponsor children.

Then I got into a heated discussion with a women from something called the Australian Christian Party. Her sole concern was her strenuous opposition to the Safe Schools Program. She told me an extraordinary stream of misunderstandings and lies about same-sex couples in general and the Safe Schools program. According to her one of the main creators of the program was a pedophile enabler. I asked her what on earth she was talking about, and she quoted me something from a paper this person had published. To me it sounded like the gist was “Teenagers who are same sex attracted, queer etc. need same-sex adult role models” – a perfectly obvious thing to say. But no, according to this mob that meant they were meant to sleep with adults. Other aspects of the program that made her angry: Role playing as Gay or Lesbians as a learning experience – this was teaching kids it was normal to be that way and no doubt converting them. That being LGBTI was being normalised, while claiming at the same time that there was nothing wrong with being gay so long as she could prevent anyone under twenty from ever hearing about it ever. Because of course no teen has ever been bullied for being out.

As you can imagine, she was vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage. Because, I kid you now, marriage is defined by god and science! She could not explain what that meant. I told that she was denigrating the relationships of some of my good friends, and that marriage was a social construct – which she didn’t understand.

And then the guy from the ALP chipped in that he too opposed same-sex marriage. Apparently all the religions he was familiar with opposed it. Which I would have disputed but I run out of breath and time. It seems words in a two thousand year old book, and indeed a 1300 year old book hold more import than the diversity of the modern world. Here I was reminded again why I left that political party… Which was confirmed firmly when I discovered they’d preferenced Derryn Hinch in the senate!!

I thought of my friends who are in same-sex relationships, or who a cross-dressing or indeed just not gender-bound. And I felt sorry for them, if this is the kind of frankly irrational opposition they face. I don’t have a problem with people being conservative, but I have a strong objection to people holding completely incoherent views that have no solid basis. I’m going to teach my kid how normal this stuff is in a fairly simple way – in fact I largely won’t need to, since he’ll be surrounded by gay and lesbian couples.

I upped sticks from that booth and headed over to a primary school in the seat of Batman. Happily the mood was different there. I stayed after the polls closed to scrutineer. In this seat the contest was been the Green, my candidate, Alex, the ALP and in distant third at Liberal candidate. There as a total of eleven candidates, but in the booth I was at some of them attracted all of eight to twenty five votes each.

They sort the lower house ballots into piles by first preference votes. There was three notably piles – ALP, Green and Liberal. And one other pile of note – the informal votes. This grew depressingly large. I watched the ballots that went into that pile. A number of them were people who clearly didn’t give a stuff, they’d left the ballot blank or crossed the whole thing out. But a large number of them really had tried, but they’d messed it up. Putting a tick or a cross in one box. Numbering only six of the eleven boxes, probably confused by the new Senate voting rules. The informal pile grew till it numbered nearly 10% of the total votes cast. Which depressed the hell out of me. Batman is likely to be decided by a margin of less than 1%, and here was a huge number of people who wanted to vote a certain way and failed.

The next step of the process is to distribute preferences. The three piles were roughly 1000 votes for the ALP, 450 for the Greens and 415 for the Liberals. The Libs were distributed between Green and ALP, because across the whole seat the contest would be between the other two parties. And so I got to watch still more votes head towards the ALP… The Liberal how to vote card had preferenced the ALP tenth and the Greens eleventh. So some 70% of them went in the ALP pile. There I was watching a party I intensely dislike deliberately sabotaging the chances of a party they intensely dislike. I know it’s not sabotage but it certainly felt that they hated the Greens more than they hated their traditional rivals the ALP.

I eventually headed home, despondent, and watched the results come in on ABC. And here I was bummed out yet again. I’ve spent that last three years watching in horror as the conservative government in Canberra has demonized minorities for their own gain, in the process enabling a number of racists to rear their ugly heads. And trying to destroy fabled institutions like Medicare and the ABC and the union movement, repealing working carbon reduction legislation, lying about their being a refugee crisis, nobbling the NBN and… Well, it felt to me like every day there was something new they were doing to get angry about. And here they were on election night in with a fighting chance. Rather than being dumped out office by an outraged nation, there they were sitting almost neck-and-neck with the opposition. Rather than having a prime minster having to make a humiliating speech of defeat, we had smug blue-tie wearing Liberals saying they were hoping to form government again in a few days. I’m not sure what the combination of rage and despair is called but that is what I felt. And to find that the senate is going to be worse than the last term. Pauline Hansen, the prototype racist nutjob is back. Derryn Hinch, a loud angry white man may be in there. Jackie Lambie will be back possibly with a friend. The next three years are going to be grotesque.

I had a fitful nights sleep. I’m going to be spending the next few days refreshing the AEC’s website for results.

Leaving the ALP

This is the letter I’ve just send to Bill Shorten, along with my membership card.

Dear Mr Shorten,

I am a long time member of the Australian Labor Party, having joined as a young man over two decades ago. I’ve been on branch committees, I’ve met many members of parliament and I come from several generations of rusted-on Labor voters.

However, of late I have found myself questioning my membership, and questioning the behaviour of the party itself. And I’m afraid the time has come for me to leave.

It has been a long time coming. I gritted my teeth when the last Labor government continued to invest in the dramatically late and extraordinarily over-budget F-35 fighter jet that the Howard government decided on for political reasons. I know this because I worked at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation at the time.

I was very angry when our last-but-one Labor prime minister refused to support marriage equality. Thus demeaning the relationships of many of my friends.

And I was incensed when I got to see firsthand the workings of the factional machine during the preselection for Batman on the retirement of Martin Fergusson (and don’t get me started on him!). I watched not one but two amazing local women put their hands up for the seat. Either of them would have been a great addition to the parliament and very representative of the local area. But no, a factional hack was parachuted in, on the votes of the many stacked branches in that FEA. I’ve seen the membership lists, there is no way there are that many Labor members with the same address and the same surnames in that area. So once again a very safe Labor seat is used as a token and a reward in a game that has nothing to do with the desires of the local people and the genuine local members.

I’ve watched with dismay as you and your fellow ministers have wholehearted gone along with this dreadful administration’s fear mongering about national security. Based on the desire to not be seen to be “weak”, you and the federal party have chipped away at our rights and our privacy. And tacitly endorsed the demonising of Australia’s peaceful Muslim community. You can wish everyone a happy Ramadan every year, but it doesn’t hide how this group are being treated as outsiders and as dangerous.

But for me the straw that broke the camel’s back has been refugee policy. Howard found he could win votes from those otherwise inclined to vote for One Nation by declaring those desperate refugees to be “illegal”. I can still hear him intoning, or dog whistling, “We will decide who will come into this country and under what circumstances.”

And what do I find from the party I belong to? A compassionate treatment of asylum seekers? Attempts to build regional consensus about how best to help these people? No. Far from it.

I tried to look away when Keating introduced mandatory detention. I gritted my teeth when Gillard created the Nauru and Manis Island detention centres. No, let’s be honest, they’re prison camps. And I was furious when Rudd then excluded the whole of Australia from the migration zone.

The way these people have been treated is not just immoral and cruel, it’s moved into violations of international law.

So imagine my disgust when I found that one of the worst policies of this current federal Coalition government, headed by a man capable only of parroting the same three word slogans over and over, was being adopted by the ALP at the most recent national conference. I’m talking of course of turning back the boats. Or, to describe it more accurately, sending people away to die elsewhere.

I shouldn’t need to tell you that seeking asylum is not illegal, it is a basic human right. It shouldn’t need stating that this nation does not have a refugee crisis by any measure – more people cross the Mediterranean in a day than turn up here in a year. And let’s look at Syria’s neighbours, who have absorbed four million people, the population of Sydney, as refugees in the last few years.

So it is with great disappointment that I return my membership card. The ALP could have drawn a line and said enough is enough, we will accept these people into our community, we will work with Indonesia and our other neighbours to, say, create a regional processing centre where we can assist these desperate people without them having to risk their lives in unseaworthy boats. The ALP could have made far better use of the huge amounts of money being wasted to imprison small numbers of people in another nation.

You may form a government which reduces unemployment to record low levels. But you will still be locking up babies in mouldy tents.

You may preside over an administration that introduces a working carbon trading scheme which reduces our huge greenhouse footprint. But you will still be putting refugee women in serious danger of rape and assault, and knowingly putting children in danger of being abused.

You may undo some of the extraordinary unprincipled things this current government has done, a list far too long to make here. But we still won’t know who killed Reza Barati, nor will you be able to guarantee the safety and appropriate medical treatment of anyone on the island camps.

You may renew the place of unions in our society, but you will still be condemning already traumatised people to a dangerous limbo, whilst our bureaucracy drag its feet for years, processing asylum claims. Or simply condemning them to some other dangerous part of the world by towing back the boats.

This nation of ours is paradise. It is safe and prosperous, the envy of the world. And we used to be a compassionate nation. We resettled thousands of refugees from Vietnam, who have gone on to great things in their adopted nation. Now, we seem content to use innocent men, women and especially children to political ends, to win a couple of votes in Western Sydney and far north Queensland. The ALP used to be a landmark of compassion, a bulwark against the ruthlessness of the right. But no longer.

Despite the fact that there are good people in the party – Tanya Plibersek, Lindsay Tanner, Daniel Andrews, Jenny Mikakos, Chris Couzens, the late and sorely missed Joan Kirner – I find it is time for me to leave.

I don’t expect to get anything other than a form reply to this letter. In fact, I doubt you’ll read it at all. But know this, despite my utter disgust with the Abbott government, I will vote for other parties and actively campaign against you and your party whilst these immoral and illegal refugee policies are in place.

P.S. I wrote this before the decision to admit an extra twelve thousand refugees from Syria was made. While commendable, this action throws into sharp contrast the extraordinary hypocrisy of locking up thousands of other, equally worthy refugees in off shore camps. This double standard must cause you headaches from the cognitive dissonance.

Tony Abbott is the Ctrl-Z of Australian Politics

I’m sure you’re all familiar with Ctrl-Z, the “Undo” command on most computers. I use it ever day when I do something I didn’t mean to do.

Tony Abbott has moved into the Prime Minister’s office and has basically been going “Undo undo undo” on everything that the last government did. The new coalition is entirely devoid of new or constructive ideas, all they can do is remove things they’ve decided they don’t like. Or, more likely, that their corporate donors have decided they don’t like. Rupert Murdoch apparently hates the NBN, it being a threat to his Foxtel business. Undo undo undo. The big miners don’t like the mining tax – or the mineral resources tax to give it it’s full title. Undo undo. Some percentage of the ordinary Australian population have been persuaded that Climate Change, or to give it the name that they don’t like to use, Global Warming, is not real. So a big Undo on the Carbon Emissions Pricing scheme, otherwise known as the carbon tax. I wonder how they then explain that the Arctic will soon be free of ice in the summer for the first time ever? Perhaps we should pop Tony on an iceberg and see how long that lasts.

And they’ve decided to do away with the school kids bonus – an undo that will eat up whatever savings are passed on to families via repealing the carbon tax.

And then there was the charming tightening of eligibility for disaster relief for those affected by the unprecedented bushfires around Sydney in October. Rules that were changed while the fires were burning. Undo undo undo indeed. They then went through the farce of saying that climate change wasn’t a contributor to the fire, despite the Department of Environment website saying as much. Here’s a tip folks, Ctrl-H is the command for “find and replace”.

Christopher Pyne is still bitter about his days as a student politician, so the Student Unions are going to become voluntary again. He also had the genius idea of privatizing HECS debts – which will put us back into the early 1970’s in terms of paying for University. Undo undo undo.

Financing energy efficiency through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is apparently a bad idea, even though it could be argued this fits into their “policy” of direct action on climate change. Undo. And while we’re on the subject, they clearly don’t need independent advice on the subject, so no more funding for the Climate Commission. They had the last laugh, however, resurrecting themselves as a non-profit that I have donated to.

And then of course there was the budget crisis, a pile of lies they created themselves. That vanished within seconds of them gaining office. I bet they’d like to to a big fat Ctrl-Z on the last three years of statements by the people in their economic portfolios. This suffered the same fate as the debt crisis, another of their inventions. What did they do? Raise the debt ceiling by an unprecedented 33%.

Then they gutted the CSIRO. One can only assume they have no need for science, which would explain why they didn’t appoint a science minister. Clearly they can find out what they need from the Wikipedia.

Undo undo.

Oh, and who can forget the repealing of those parts of the Racial Discrimination Act that caught out Andrew Bolt a few years ago. Undo! Clearly political correctness has gone too far. By the way, anyone who starts a statement with “Political correctness has gone too far…” is about to make a racist, misogynist or otherwise discriminatory statement. If you’re lucky it’ll be racist, misogynist and homophobic all at the same time. This is the worst undo of all, because it serves absolutely no useful purpose. Of all the things they could have been concerning themselves with in the two or so months since they were elected, they chose to go after a small part of one act that protects peoples rights. A very mean undo.

I have yet to hear them articulate one new idea of any kind, not one proposal that isn’t a reaction to something the stinking lefty Labor government has done.

The shitty thing is a lot of this stuff took years and years to put into place. It took loads of hard work by dedicated people, and genuinely bold decisions by successive governments to get them going. And now will have to start over, which may take a decade or more. Here we are, once again, looking like a large coal mine masquerading as a nation. A banana republic, a weenie nation of no importance on the bottom of the world. We have an ignorant fool as our prime minister, we now have an image we project to the world – pedaling backwards at the behest of Tony’s rich mates.

An Ungrateful Nation

I’m watching the election count. Waiting for the various speeches to me made, although I’m liable to throw things at the television when that grinning Abbott’s face is on it.

I hoped up till today that there would be a minor miracle – it only needed to be a minor one – and the ALP would get back in. Or, in fact, any other outcome that prevented Abbott becoming prime minister, however unlikely.

With gritted teeth I voted today, I voted for David Feeney, a man I dislike, a man who won the preselection for Batman against not one but two feisty local female candidates. I gritted my teeth, ate my election day sausage, and put a 1 next to his name. Then I did the same with the senate form, putting at 1 against the ALP – eschewing my usual policy of filling in every box below the line. My sausage was getting cold, there were ninety seven boxes, and my seven month old son was getting restless. I thought long and hard these last few weeks about how to vote, despite being a card-carrying member of the ALP. And decided in the end to vote in the way that made a Liberal victory the least likely.

(At the time of writing, the ALP has held this here seat of Batman by a healthy margin.)

I’ve been following politics since, I’m told, I was four years old and quite angry about the dismissal. So I’ve seen many a government, state and federal, come and go. Some governments deserve to lose, some governments have the stink of death about them. Joan Kirner, a lovely lady who I’ve met, lead at dead-man-walking state Labor government which lost to Kennett back in… was it 1992? The state was a shambles, the budget was a mess, you could see clearly why they lost. The same goes for when Howard lost in 2007. The last nail in that government’s coffin was Work Choices. People had clearly had enough of them. Then there was the Nationals in Queensland when they were finally swept from power after the Bjelke-Petersen years.

And so I puzzle at this loss. What terrible thing is it that this federal ALP has done during the last six years? They steered us safely through the global financial crisis, which has ruined the economies of many other nations. They presided over an economy which is the envy of the world. They brought in excellent legislation like the National Disability Insurance Scheme and won us a seat on the UN Security Council. They wound back the awful Work Choices legislation. And started building the National Broadband Network, a world leading piece of infrastructure. Then there was the apology to the stolen generation… Look, here’s a good long list of things they’ve done.

So what happened? This was one government who are terrible at selling their successes – as I’ve said before, legislation must not only be done it must be seen to be done. An excellent example is the Carbon “Tax”. It was never a tax, the legislation actually talks about an emissions trading scheme. It is a carbon price, not a tax. But the federal ALP did such a terrible job of introducing it that the opposition were able to name it and label it as something else entirely. They still got the legislation up, and remarkably it seems to have worked. The whole two terms where like this, a hard working government, later a minority government, undermining themselves.

Then there was the extraordinary piles of bullshit that emanated from the opposition. Lines like “The government has lost control of Australia’s borders” and other such lies. Helped along by a compliant press, largely owned by Murdoch…

So here we are, Australia, you ungrateful nation. You get the government you deserve, a petty narrow administration, whose sole motivation is to tear up the good things Labor has done. A racist and elitist group of white men, a leader who has stated openly that he will use his position to impose his Catholic morality on the nation. A climate change denier who doesn’t believe in science. A government full of the ghosts of the Howard administration.

And if you listen carefully you can hear the Australian Christian Lobby salivating with excitement, ready for the chance to make life hard for the filthy queers. Those few hundred thousand swing voters, largely poorly educated men, who probably think that Abbott is a “top bloke”, have delivered us this pack of incompetents. Who will make life harder for the poorly paid workers who have voted for them. I see an Abbott-led recession in our future, I see a mean and petty nation, a trivial little country at the bottom of the world, not a world leader, not a respected neighbour, not a friendly land of the lucky. We are no longer a progressive nation, we are now a timid nation with a revolting leader. I am not looking forward to the next three years.