Sunday, August 22, 2010

TSS: The Post Election post

Yesterday Australia went to the polls to vote for the Federal Parliament. I am not sure that I can give a very good, simplified, summary of our political system, but I will try.

Our political system is based on the UK system of parliament. The parliament itself has a two house format. In the lower house we have the members of parliament, and the upper house is the Senate. For the lower house, we vote for our local member of parliament for our seat and whichever of the two major parties has the most seats get to become the governing party. Whoever is leading the party in the lower house gets to be our Prime Minister. For the upper house, there are a number of senators per state and we vote by state.

Around 8 weeks ago, the man who was Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was removed as leader of the Labor Party, and we had a new prime minister, our first female prime minister, Julia Gillard. Soon after, a Federal election was called and after around 6 weeks of listening to campaign ads, interviews, and political rhetoric, yesterday Australians lined up to vote.

Luckily, I have never had to queue for hours to vote, and the short wait yesterday was made better by the prospect of a sausage sizzle and a chat with friends after the deed was done.
Image from
One of the things that is a little bit unusual about the Australian electoral process is that it is compulsory to vote in elections here. If you are eligible and don't register to vote, or if you are registered to vote and you don't do so, then you can be fined. Once you have your name crossed off the electoral list, you can choose to enter a donkey vote (maybe as a protest vote or possibly a can't be bothered vote), and it seems as though we have had a relatively high number of those votes in this election. Personally, I don't understand why you would donkey vote, but lots of people have done it, including people I know.

Some historical milestones - this election brings us our first Muslim members of parliaments (I can't find a link for this one but it is being reported on the news), our first indigenous member of parliament (maybe anyway - the votes are still being counted in that seat), our youngest parliamentarian ever, first Greens MP to be elected in a full election (one had been won had a by election which is when only one seat has to vote due the early departure of the sitting member for whatever reason) and, most importantly, our first hung parliament in more than 70 years. It's difficult to imagine that at this stage we don't know who is leading our country, and the power to make that decision appears to lie with four independent members who will decide which party they will side with.

No matter who you voted for yesterday, one of the things that I think that some times get lost in the political headlines, or at least taken for granted, is that as Australians we have a say in who leads our country, and that we get to express that right safely. Other people around the world are killed when they are trying to take up their democratic right to vote, but for us here it is occasionally an inconvenience, but nothing more.

Maybe part of the reason why I found myself thinking about that more than normal yesterday is because I am currently reading The Dead of the Night by John Marsden, the second book in the Tomorrow series. In that series, Australia is invaded by an unnamed armed force, and the people are rounded up and imprisoned. We have been lucky and never actually faced this threat since European colonisation (an important distinction, as some indigenous Australians see the European colonisation of the country as an invasion) although it did come close during WWII, and I hope to goodness that our country continues to be safe and prosperous whoever is our leader once all the votes are counted, and the negotiations with the independent members are completed.

Hopefully, we will know who our Prime Minister will be soon whether it be Julia Gillard (leader of the Labor party) or Tony Abbott (leader of the Liberal coalition). I know who I hope it isn't, but I guess we will have to wait and see what happens.


  1. We got a hung parliament too. What's a donkey vote - I'm curious?!

  2. A donkey vote is when you deliberately don't vote correctly therefore making your vote invalid. So you might write that you want to vote for Mickey Mouse, or draw picture or something like that.

  3. I think that's a bit childish, but on the other hand I think there should be a 'none of the above' option - definitely would have been my choice last time round.

  4. It is. A lot of the time it is a reaction to either the policies and a symptom of the disenchantment of normal Australians with the current political climate, but for quite a few people it is a reaction to the fact that it is compulsory to vote.

  5. I detest the idea of forcing people to the polling booths. I know that 'technically' you are not forced to vote, but if you're already there, you may as well, even if you have no real interest in voting. Also, under the Australian system, if you do fill out your ballot paper properly, your vote will go to one of the leading two parties eventually, no matter who you voted for. No wonder so many people draw donkeys ;)

  6. So Tony, if it wasn't compulsory do you think you would actually vote?

    The whole two party preference thing is something that perhaps should be changed. One of my friends very proudly voted for the Sex party. When I asked where the preferences went she had no idea and so you have to say that she has absolutely no idea of who she actually has voted for.

  7. On the changing of the preferences system. I'd have to find out a bit more than I am inclined to about the electoral system before I ventured an opinion.

    Though I am curious how we got a Green MP if peoples votes only go to the two majors :)

    The importance of voting and selecting say the greens( or party you like) is even if they are unlikely to win in your electorate they actually get electoral funding allowing them to become more competitive.

  8. It certainly is an interesting result and I'm still quite pleased with the result. From my perspective neither of the two leaders did enough to warrant the 'mandate' that they're always banging on about and regardless which one of them ends up being PM they won't be able to implement the silliest/nastiest of their plans because they'll have a lot more than their own Cabinet keeping a close eye on them. Somehow I think that's the best result for all of us.

    As for the rise of the Greens/independents I am genuinely thrilled. The two majors have grown so similar over the years and I was getting worried that Aussies were becoming gullible - but turns out we're not quite as stupid as ALP and LNP party machines would like us to believe. That makes me very, very happy

  9. It will be interesting to see what happens Bernadette. Like I said on your blog, we will either see lots of progress made, or not very much at all.

    Sean I didn't say that our votes only go to the two major parties, I said whichever of the two major parties gets the most seats will get to form government. Which in the end maybe not what happens anyway. I was a bit worried about a couple of sections being a bit clumsily written, and maybe that is one of them.

    I think it would be interesting to at least have a discussion about proportional representation and see how the results would look if that system had of been in place. I am pretty sure I saw something suggesting that the Greens would have had several MPs if that system of voting had of been in place yesterday.

  10. Thats a great summary of where we are at. I am a bit disappointed by the result. I think Australians have a memory like a fish, but what can you do

  11. A nice summary thanks for that. Pity I didn't read this before I wrote my own blog this morning, I would have pointed people in your direction for a brief summary.

    I was an election official for the first time yesterday and it was fascinating seeing it at such close quarters.

    I just want to ask if you knew about Neville Bonner when you mentioned Ken Wyatt as being the first Indigenous Australian elected to Parliament?

  12. Suzie, I knew that there had been indigenous senators before, but this is the first time there has been a member of parliament. I didn't know his name. I think there was an indigenous senator from WA at one point too.

  13. Melbourne going to the Greens - wow, what a change. It will be interesting to learn about the effects this may have on my former home town. Thank you for the election summary, Marg :-)

  14. I don't follow your country's politics, though I should, and this is fascinating! So many changes on your political landscape, including the first election of an indigenous person and a Muslim to parliament.

    The U.S. political system is similar, of course -- we're both former English "possessions" and follow their ideas. Except that the president is elected separately from congress through an odd, convoluted process known as the Electoral College. :-P

    As a person who gets frustrated with the political system, I can understand the temptation to enter a "donkey vote." But I can't understand why anyone would waste her vote that way.

    I didn't know voting was compulsory in Australia. Hmmm ... I wonder how Americans would deal with that? :-)

  15. If you have to go to the polls anyway, I'm not sure why you wouldn't want your vote to count. But I guess I can understand the donkey vote when you really just don't like any of the candidates.

  16. Beth, I think the high level of informal vote reflects the general level of dissatisfaction with the policies and candidates.

    Stephanie, I must confess I don't understand the American electoral college system. I am very grateful that our campaign officially only goes for 6 to 8 weeks and not months.

    Danielle, it will be interesting to see what happens, and if there is a continued growth of the popularity of the Greens.

  17. Ok. I thought Bonner was part of federal government. I must admit to not having checked it through fully, just too tired after Saturday. I think I knew about the WA person but also don't know the name.



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