Mr Elephant Goes to the High Commission
This post is for all my expatriate compatriots, the civically minded, the democratically inclined, the embarrassingly fond of plush toys, and my son, who honestly thought we were taking him boating today (I still have that cold). Instead, we made our way to the Australian High Commission to do something even better.
Why Voting At The Australian High Commission In Singapore Is Awesome
It’s not just the security personnel at the gate, who were happy to show the kids all their fancy tricks and give Mr Elephant a special ride through the x-ray machine, or the wonderful parent’s room (just to the right of the main entrance past the security guard), where we hustled our darlings when they started to jump on the pristine white couches and play delightedly with the acoustics in the main foyer. Nor was it the polling staff, who directed everyone efficiently and explained the whole process clearly, as if no question was too clueless or residential history too complicated – although you can help them out by checking your enrollment details at the Australian Electoral Commission website.
It wasn’t even the traditional sausage sizzle plus cake stalls, because there weren’t any, although www.electionsausagesizzle.com.au can steer you in the right direction if you’ve got a choice (update: there’ll be a sausage sizzle and coffee stand on Saturday thanks to ANZA, so no worries!).
No, it was the fact that we had to relinquish our photographic devices before entry, which helped the iGeneration focus on the awesomeness of the Australian democratic process, like the way it is secret and compulsory and preferential.
Why Secret Voting Is Awesome
Every 5yo knows that secrets are inherently awesome, especially when they are billed as seeeeeeeecrets (pronounced sotto voce, and accompanied by spirit fingers). But the Australian secret ballot system is especially awesome, because it was one of the earliest of the modern era. Even today, with the widespread adoption of secrecy in balloting, the idea inspires wonder in some members of the world’s population, like the immigrant who came to my parent’s pre-polling booth at the hospital, not to vote, but to marvel at things like the cardboard screens which protect voters’ privacy, the ballot boxes which remain sealed until the voting has closed and the voters have gone safely away, and the distinct lack of government or military presence.
Legally, secret voting just means you can’t leave an identifying mark on your ballot paper, but I like to extend it into a stubborn refusal to disclose to anyone, ever, whether or not I voted for Rachael Jacobs. Although A has hinted that I’m roughly as transparent as the woman who glared over my shoulder as she handed me my ballot papers, asked if the liberal party representative was really the only one dispensing How To Vote pamphlets outside the booth, and then promptly started trying to arrange for other parties to be similarly represented.
Why Compulsory Voting Is Awesome
It would make a much better story if Australia’s system of compulsory voting stemmed from the days of the Eureka Stockade, and its purpose was to protect against friendly goon squads coming around to people’s doors and wondering aloud whether they’d be brave enough to leave their wives and children in such a flammable residence on polling day, especially in completely accidental bushfire season, you know, if it was them. And I maintain that this is a fair argument in favour of compulsory voting, even if the real instigator appears to have been voter apathy.
The national goon squad index has fallen since then – these days we are limited to frowning bosses and mates who want mates to drink and skive – but apathy remains, and in addition we now contend with a small army of pollsters and data crunchers. Without compulsory voting we’re in danger of replacing the easily bored or intimidated with the statistically disenfranchised, as pollster-happy politicians focus their policies on those most likely to turn up to vote.
And whilst there’s merit in the argument that if you choose not to vote, you can’t really complain, the person who takes her civic duty seriously (despite frowning bosses and slack-arse mates) but still never gets heard because no-one in her demographic is voting – well, she can complain.
Compulsory voting also promotes the government’s responsibility to provide polling services to the sick, immobile, remotely located, overscheduled, or absentee voter – like, for example, those enjoying the incomparable services of the federal polling booth at the Australian High Commission in Singapore.
Why Preferential Voting Is Awesome
Mr Elephant explained preferential voting to P like this: what if you took your little sister and her beloved toy elephant to the icecream parlour at the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden (not far from our nearest voting centre), but your mother was too stingy to buy more than a single serve? How would you pick just one flavour? Now, you could take a simple first-past-the-post vote, in which case some people would get their favourite, whilst others got their least favourite (and you would get your least favourite, because after all, I am your sister’s elephant).
Or everybody could list off their preferences and you could choose something which leaves everyone more or less equally dissatisfied. Then, when you’re screwing up your faces at what the major parties have served out, you can at least console yourself with the thought that you’re not trying to swallow the policies of One Nation.
Update: People of all ages and nationalities can try their hand at preferential voting by visiting the Australian Electoral Commission practice page.
Australian citizens still have two days to cast their vote in the polls. The booth at the High Commission in Singapore is open on Friday from 9am til 4pm, and on Saturday from 10am til 6pm. (If you’re not in Singapore, consult the AEC website for overseas and domestic voting centres.) It’s just across the road from the Botanic Gardens of Singapore (Tanglin Road Gate), which takes some of the sting out of the lack of cake stalls and sausage sizzles (only for those not voting on election day, as it turns out).
Update: you can also see the LOADED exhibition at the embassy, which explores the life and times of Ned Kelly through art and – at no extra charge – reinforces the idea that Australian politics is founded on civil disobedience. For further updates, check the High Commission in Singapore facebook page.
Mr Elephant was inspired by Piggletino, whose travels are apparently more interesting than those of anyone made of flesh and blood; Kongo the Travel Monkey (and entourage), whose pictures of the USA are just wonderful; and Monkey and Millie, whose taste in picture books we very much admire.