Since I won’t be in Canberra on polling day, October 2oth, I could vote today if I were so minded, for pre-polling is now available. It seems that a substantial minority of Canberrans choose this option, but it has the downside of having to make up your mind without the aid of the election-day buzz, the how-to-vote cards and the meeting with friends at the local school.
No candidate has knocked on my door or left a personal appeal in my letter-box. I have received the Liberal Party’s brochure, and met a Labor candidate at our village shopping centre (twice, in fact). Otherwise, I would have to say that Canberra does not seem to be thrilling with excitement about an election that is now just over two weeks away. Maybe I’ve not been wherever the thrill has been.
So how do I go about preparing to vote in advance of polling day? I’m not a committed partisan for any party. I joined the Country Party for a year or two in the 1960s because I was doing research on its structure, and I had grown up in country towns. I still have a sympathy for people who live in what we now call ‘rural and regional Australia’. I’ve worked closely with both Liberal and Labor Ministers, and don’t see much difference between them in action. My parent were the academically proficient children of a blacksmith and a miner respectively, so I grew up in a household that was mutedly Labor in its own sympathy (though politics was rarely discussed). And I’ve spent a working lifetime studying politics.
I could also say that I’ve met every member of the Legislative Assembly, and have known some of them for a long time. I think we are lucky in their general quality and in their capacity for hard work. Yes, it’s an adversarial system, but no more so here than anywhere else. I regret the amount of name-calling and the schoolyard taunts, but I try not to notice.
I can see no reason to vote against any of the sitting members in my electorate who are standing for re-election, so I’ll probably give all of them a tick. What about the others? Well, since I don’t know them, I’ll have to think about policies, won’t I? And there’s a good deal of similarity there. The big-ticket items are the light-rail proposal and the new sub-acute hospital. I’m in favour of both. The Libs want to spend more on roads. That seems a good idea, too. No one has said much about where the extra money is coming from, and my guess is that rates will have to go up, whichever party forms the next Government.
None of this is helping, really. Does anything annoy me? Yes, I felt that the Labor Government acted badly over the Fitters Workshop issue, first in making a decision about its use without finding out more about potential uses and users, and then, when it learned that the building had unique acoustic qualities, refusing to move away from its decision to give the building to a print workshop and ending its use for music. Yes, I have a particular interest in all of this, because I chair the Canberra International Music Festival, which used the Fitters to great effect — and I also drew Jon Stanhope’s attention to the remarkable discovery we had made there. He was not impressed.
While that is a tick against Labor, it can’t (or shouldn’t) determine every vote left to me. I like to see some alternation in office, and Labor has had a long run. In my view another term would give it an unacceptably long run. I wouldn’t add to the number of Greens, because the environment is not the major issue confronting us, at least in my opinion. So it looks as though, on balance, I will cast my final vote or two so as to give the Liberals a little extra assistance.
That doesn’t mean, at all, that I think that the Liberals will win, or that a Liberal Government in the ACT would mean the dawn of a new era, or whatever cliche you prefer. Rather, it means that I take voting seriously enough to think about the use that the ballot-paper offers me. I value it, and I hope you do, too. There are other forms of government, and none of them is nearly as good as this one.