So the Australian election campaign is coming into its final leg with only eight days to go until polling day. One of the more unique quirks is that even with only nine days to go, the Labor party has not officially launched its election campaign. That’s right, the past month of door-knocking, phone-calling, TV interviews and media debates have not been part any ‘official’ election campaign – the Liberal/National Coalition only launched their campaign three days ago – campaign launches are more of a press event in the last few days of the election period rather than kicking off the campaign.
Not being bound to an election manifesto allows parties to announce new and unheard of policies as the campaign develops, such as the Liberal “buy back the boats” scheme where the Government would buy back fishing boats from islands near Australia to deter people smuggling, or Labor’s announcement that it would support the building of a high speed rail link on the east coast. The logic of the Liberal’s “buy back the boats” plan is somewhat special, as it makes as much sense as buying back cars to stop traffic accidents.
Another interesting quirk is that by election day on September the 7th, around ten percent of the electorate will have voted. Not only by postal votes, but by pre-polling booths around Australia; these booths are found in town halls, city centres, or even airports. One of the largest pre-polling booths is in fact right here in the UK at the Australian embassy – Aussie ex-pats have already been able to cast their votes in person, in the UK. There are even mobile voting stations that will be moving around on election day going from hospitals to nursing homes, to prisons (yes prisoners can vote – you hear that Cameron?).
All in all the Australian voting system is pretty impressive. Compulsory voting, a preferential vote system (al la AV) for the lower House of Representatives, and a proportional representation system for the Senate. The Australian Electoral Commission goes out of its way to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to vote. Heck, the election day, September the 7th is even on a Saturday! Contrast that to the UK where out of some arcane tradition we choose to hold it on a Thursday when most people are at work.
Smaller parties are also much more active here in Oz. The voting system allows many smaller parties a (small) but realistic chance at getting a seat in the Senate, and the alternative vote system for the lower house means smaller parties are not a wasted vote. The Bullet Train For Australia Party (http://bullettrainforaustralia.com.au) must have been pretty devastated on Monday with Labor’s announcement that they would build a high speed rail link from Melbourne to Brisbane.
Then there’s the Wikileaks party who are running several candidates for the Senate, including the founder and embassy hermit, Julian Assange. Wikileaks spectacularly and disastrously fell apart last week after the resignation of several key candidates after internal disputes.
And finally, there’s the Greens, one of the more popular smaller parties. Apart from Labor, Liberal/Nationals or independents, they are the only national party to have an MP in the House of Representatives. Their seat, the Division of Melbourne, is a fierce battleground between Labor’s Cath Bowtell and the Green’s Adam Bandt MP. The Greens are devoting almost all their resources to holding onto this one seat – everywhere you go in the Melbourne suburbs there are “Adam Bandt” signs and posters on walls and in windows.
Over the past month I’ve been volunteering for Cath Bowtell. Cath is a fantastic candidate for Melbourne, she’s worked in the city with a background in education and trade unions, her kids go to local schools and she’s on the progressive end of the Labor party – a long time supporter for equal marriage and a critic of Labor’s refugee policy. The Division of Melbourne covers most of the centre of the city, an area with a large range of incomes and political views, such as the suburb of Fitzory, which is in particular a hotbed of young progressive voters. Some things about campaigning with Labor are refreshingly similar to back in the UK; the volunteers are all incredibly friendly people, and the campaigning sessions end in a good round of drinks at the pub.
I would like to leave you with this interview of Clive Palmer, the leader of the ‘Palmer United Party’. Clive is a billionaire tycoon, who besides wanting to be the next Prime Minister of Australia, is planning to build the Titanic II. He also is surprisingly good at twerking.
Charlie is a member of UK Labour studying abroad at Monash University and volunteering for Cath Bowtell (https://twitter.com/CathBowtell).
The picture above shows a phone banking session for Cath.