Saturday, 7 September 2013

Sweet Dreams

While we’ve been sleeping, Australians have been voting to elect their new government. By law there, everyone over the age of 18 has to vote so, whatever they come up with, they are all responsible for it – they are all to blame.

I wonder what appetite there would be for introducing such compulsion here. It would scare the life out of big parties who, thus far, have been unable to motivate or inspire almost half the electorate. It might even put manners on the politicians. Wouldn’t that be worth seeing?

This week, as required by law, I have been filling out my electoral registration canvass form. Hundreds of thousands of others will do likewise before the September 27 deadline. But when the next election comes around, I wonder how many will actually exercise their hard-won franchise.

In the last Assembly election, the turnout was a fairly derisory 54.5%. The more than half a million people who chose not to vote were, for the most part, decent, law-abiding citizens. They paid their taxes. They observed the rules of the road. But they didn’t feel any obligation to put pencil to ballot-paper.

There are a number of reasons why: indifference, disenchantment, uninspiring candidates, weak government. All these reasons are understandable, but whether they are legitimate excuses is another matter.

Ironically, non-voters have the power – literally at the stroke of a pen – to support the kind of candidates, secure the kind of policies and fashion the kind of government they say they want. As a bloc, they are comfortably larger than the combined votes of the three largest parties. If we wind up with poor public representatives and dysfunctional government, the stay-at-homes cannot absolve themselves of responsibility.

Today, in Syria, thousands of people are nervously awaiting the outcome of President Obama’s deliberations over whether to bomb their country. Most would give their eye-teeth – would sacrifice their lives – for the kind of government and the kind of entitlements we take for granted.

It would take a bold step, by a brave administration, to make voting a legal requirement here. Don’t expect to be knocked over in the rush, though. The big parties quite like the status quo. It suits them. They like us divided, fragmented and polarised. That way they can appeal to base emotions and play to the lowest common denominator, so don’t be surprised when we end up with vulgar factions.

Sleep on, if you choose. And don’t worry about the alarm.

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