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The Sharp End: The Day After The Night Before

Ari Sharp, Australian Democrats candidate for Kooyong, reports from the campaign frontline.

SharpA smartarse once said that we don’t need elections in Australia – what we need is a test of mental, physical and intellectual endurance that could only be achieved by running candidates through a series of gameshows – from the intellectualism of Sale of the Century, the physical demands of It’s a Knockout to the psychological rollercoaster of Perfect Match .. this is how our nation should choose its politicians.

Well, as is often the case, the smartarse is just about right. The challenges involved in running an election campaign both at a local and national level are incredible, with most of the responsibility falling on the shoulders of candidates and campaign managers. For most of these in a party like the Democrats, it is a job driven by passion rather than money, because, quite simply, we have no money.

Election day is a when the efforts of the previous six weeks (previous three years, really) finally face the test they have been longing for.

Election day for this candidate was spent visiting each of the booths in the electorate, and some quick arithmetic will tell you that with 10 hours to cover 32 booths, each visit is quick and fleeting.

It is a great chance though, to thank those volunteers who are doing their bit, and to meet some of the voters as they are going in to decide your fate. It is also an exhausting exercise that teaches candidates the ins and outs of every primary school, church hall and scouts club in their electorate.

In the hour or so before polling booths open, humanity seems to return to its tribal, hunter-gatherer roots. Ape-like creatures roam the booths, looking for the most arrogant, dominating place to position their banners and posters, in a way that would fascinate most anthropologists. Each of the parties try to find the most prominent place to position their paraphenalia. More to the point, each of the parties make sure they can occupy the space simply so their political opponents aren’t occupying it.

The irony of this, however, is that there is no good reason to suggest that it makes much difference to how people are going to vote.

It was interesting to see the themes adopted by each party in their presence on polling day. Both the ALP and Liberals emphasised strength and security, themes that have recurred throughout the campaign. The Liberal banners thundered “Keep Australia in Safe Hands”, next to a photo of John Howard with his “reassuring” look.

The ALP adopted a similar tack, urging voters to “A secure future for all Australians”. The ALP also made some attempt to confront domestic issues, with the words “Education, Health, Jobs” appearing on a banner, seemingly as an afterthought rather than the real focus of their message.

We in the Democrats opted for the message that has been the focus of the Democrats since just before the Aston byelection, urging voters to “Change Politics”. With Senator Stott Despoja on a new day dawning background, this reinforced the presidential nature of the party’s campaign.

The Greens were thin on the ground in terms of material at polling booths, but focused on their leader, Senator Brown, and their lead Senate candidate in Victoria.

Watching the results come in on election night has always been a challenge at the best of times, although this has been made a lot easier by the internet. Candidates and political boffins around the country now spend one Saturday night every three years hunched over their computer trying to predict the outcome based on the early figures in Lower Namadgee, or the hundred and twelve people who voted at the Outer Karrumba Secondary School.

For me, the night was spent with friends and party faithful who had helped out at the polling booths, with frequent visits to the computer between mouthfuls of pasties and club sandwiches. The figures in Kooyong came in earlier than expected, with a good indication of the result being available by about 7:30pm.

The result was not as strong as expected, with the Greens polling exceptionally well in many inner-metropolitan seats, including Kooyong.

It appears that many disillusioned ALP voters (and to a lesser extent Democrat voters) opted for the Greens as an alternative. This meant that the Greens polled above 10% in some seats, although overall the Democrat vote did increase, and was above the Greens nationally. This demonstrates the strength of the so-called ‘minor parties’ both in terms of achieving representation, and also commanding vital preferences that could determine the outcome in marginal seats.

In the end, the Democrat vote in Kooyong dropped 0.4%, to 7.77%, which although a touch disappointing, is a reasonable vote given the events of the past three months which took oxygen away from the issues we were focussing our campaign on.

Perhaps the most fitting final comment is one which was emailed to me in the wake of the election result. By this measure, I think we’ve all been wasting our time these past six weeks:

“One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to
avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this, is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.” – Bertrand Russell

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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