Though I lean naturally to the left – well, perhaps not so naturally – I was raised in a traditional right wing union-loathing Pakeha Kiwi home and went to the pre-requisite oh so English boarding school, but finding myself alone and penniless on Oz soil, some forty years ago, gradually shook and reshaped my political foundations.
I do fondly consider myself a bit of a swinging voter – I’ve handed out How to Vote cards for Colin Barnett (Liberals), Ben Wyatt (Labor) and even myself (Independent) and now Tim Hammond (Labor) – twice! – though I’ve yet to met him.
The question of who to support this election was tricky, for though it’s correct Australian voters do not vote for a Prime Minister, in a weird sort of twice removed way, we actually do, whether it’s a primary vote for a party, or your vote becomes caught up in the Two Party Preferred count. The dilemma for me was I like Malcolm Turnbull, but, as Leonard Cohen puts it so aptly in his song DEMOCRACY – “I love the country (in my case man), but I can’t stand the scene.” The reverse applies when it’s a question of Labor – I just cannot warm to Bill Shorten. However over these last tumultuous 12 months or so, it’s become increasingly obvious Malcolm just wanted to be King, he had no plan other than to sit upon the throne and be worshipped, vain, blatant and finally, hollow.
It seemed I would have no choice other than to vote for a candidate I liked. Then Tim Hammond announced he was standing again. Game over for me. I rang the Labor Party, offered space for a poster on our front fence and volunteered to man a booth for Tim. They accepted and asked if I’d like to also scrutineer, I was delighted, as I love the political process. And so to the day of reckoning down at the local school at the end of the street.
Knowing election material can be torn down and ripped apart in the shadows of night, I turned up at 4.00am, startling the lone security man, who’d been tasked with guarding everyone’s signage and already there was a tale to be told. A lovely young migrant guy from India, he was cold, lonely and worried about his motorbike and backpack whenever he had to walk around the block and was only able to have the 12 hour job if he agreed to be paid in cash at $19.00 an hour, no penalty rates, super, insurance or anything else. I don’t know whether the AEC has responsibility for that situation, but it is a bloody disgrace. Somebody fix that please!
We quickly ascertained that he would park his bike in front of my car and I would keep an eye on it whilst he soldered on on dawn patrol. Time passed, I read the West Australian and The Australian, learning to my dismay that my vote-to-be was incorrect. 6.00am and some Liberal Party supporters arrived, genuinely nice people, I think a little surprised to find I wasn’t on their team, nevertheless, we gelled.
6.30am, war was declared. No, not between the red and blue camps but Stormin’ Norman from the AEC! He came out of the gate all aggression, loathing and arrogance, demanding banners be removed from a section of fence, laying down the law like some army sergeant. It shocked all of us, it was so unnecessary and demonstrated a complete lack of people skills. Somebody had to say something to Bluster Incorporated, so I spoke up, “Mate, slow down, relax, we’re all adults, you’ll bust a foo foo valve, give yourself a heart attack, we’re OK with whatever’s needed.” He ranted on walking away as we spoke. The Liberal people shook their heads at me and warned I should stop, perhaps that why I tend to vote leftish, I simply cannot stop when confronted with that sort of nonsense. I warned him to behave; he didn’t respond and stamped back to his lair.
Bemused at his display, we started to remove our offending displays, during which time, two Labor Party operatives arrived, distinctly unhappy to see me removing their material – they too immediately assumed I was a Liberal offender. It took a minute or so to gently explain I was on their side and we were jointly under attack from a third party.
Then suddenly a bread delivery truck arrived, parking right behind me, in that “Now you can’t see my bumper in your mirror!” territorial truckie manner. “Are you waiting for the bread?” demanded said driver.
“Ah no,” spoke I.
“Well I can’t just leave it here!” He loudly exclaimed.
I began to suspect his father was working for the AEC. “Mate,” I replied, “That’s fine, leave it here and we’ll look after it until somebody arrives who knows about it.” He softened and unloaded the bread. Not long after that, a guy from the Eden Hill Primary School P&T arrived to claim the loaves. Ah, the Sausage Sizzle!
7.00am and incredibly, a few people were starting to gather to vote, on a cold morning, an hour before the booth was due to open! One bloke went home for coffee, but the rest stayed! Then the AEC sergeant came out to inspect the parade ground, along with several privates, all of whom, he spoke to in the same manner as he’d addressed us, we then understood it had been nothing personal, he genuinely had no people skills. The space he’d demanded seemed to suit his purpose, the minions erected the AEC signage and I said, “Excuse me, where are the toilets?”
“No!” He said, “You can’t use them, they’re locked, the school is closed.”
“Strewth!” I said, “What are we supposed to do, we’re here for several hours?”
“That’s not the AEC’s problem, it’s yours, you’ll have to find a way to deal with it!” And once again, he walked away. I was beginning to get the distinct impression the AEC was the enemy here, not the other political parties. By now, a lady had arrived for the Greens and two guys for the Australian Liberty Alliance, the guys were delighted to find free space on the fence so close to the gate, it broke my heart to inform them death and destruction, in the form of 150kgs of hate from the AEC would reign down upon them should they hang anything on the space.
Too much information, I know, but by now, it was almost 8.00am, I’d been there for four hours, it was cold and my aged bladder was screaming! Indeed we all had a similar problem and we had two ladies amongst us. The mantle fell to me to go and see what could be found. I entered the gate. Finding a lady with an official AEC vest, I asked where the loos were. “Follow me,” she smiled and said, “They’re round the other side of this building”. We walked around, she pointed out the toilet block and said “Your door is on the left” and went back to her duties. Mentally relieved, I strode towards the door, suddenly a door on the right opened and there stood a large lady, keys twirling in her hand, glaring down at me. “You can’t come in here, they’re locked!”
“Well you’ve used them and you’ve got a key!” I responded.
“That’s nothing to do with it, they’re locked and you’re not allowed to use them!”
“What’ll I do, piss on the lawn?”
“You’ll have to!” she triumphantly exclaimed and strode away.
Fair enough. As usual, strip men of any dignity, we’re used to it, but for decency’s sake what about the ladies amongst us? Later, people were queuing to vote for considerable periods of time, surely the AEC can arrange for toilet cleaning after a voting event, you sure as hell wouldn’t be able to organise a private event without facilities being available.
It was busy more or less from the moment the gates opened at 8.00am, often queues were forming. At one stage, the sergeant appeared, surrounded by minions once again, they moved along the crowd, asking who was in the electorate and who was not, establishing two or three different queues, it worked, people were being processed more quickly. He triumphantly reappeared, strode towards us and announced “I’ve fixed that, they’re moving now!” We almost applauded, he was right, but sadly more people kept arriving.
I love the game of trying to guess who somebody will vote for. When a young woman arrives with green hair, pierced lips, ears, nose and god knows where else, it’s a fair bet she’s voting Green, ditto with the dreadlocked guy, although the Marijuana Party may feature somewhere in the mix, but it can be difficult. Eden Hill is being gentrified and the demographic is eclectic, sometimes the well-dressed woman in Prada will shock you, declaring she’s voting Labor, but more usually they swirl past, Botox lips curling in disdain at having to walk past the proletariat swill. I tended to confuse them – after so many years drinking copious red wines and malts, not to mention weekly banquets, nobody, except sail makers, builds t-shirts in my size and the Labor Party just didn’t have the funds to stretch that far, so I was, perhaps appropriately, neither obviously Red, Blue, Green or otherwise, it became fun.
A TransPerth bus driver turned up, “Where’s One Nation?” she loudly demanded. “They’re not here,” we informed her.
“Well I want them, I’m voting for Pauline! Are they on the other side?”
“Yes”, I quietly thought.
“Well in that case, who’s Labor, I’ll have to vote Labor.” She took the Labor How to Vote card, astounding every one of us. Quite how she made the quantum leap from Pauline to Bill had all of us in shock, but it certainly gave us something to talk about. By now it was 10.00am, my first shift was finished and it was time for a four hour break. I’d decorated the strategically placed Volvo with Labor stickers and didn’t want to move the billboard, so I walked home. On the way (just the next street), a young Asian family, Mum, Dad and a little girl walked towards me. I noticed the lady was carrying a corflute poster – ah, Clive was about to arrive! Yes, PUP was heading for the booth, the guy was carrying a handful of leaflets, I almost asked them for a photograph, but, if I say so myself, a sensational idea formed in my pea brain.
“They’re all there now,” I thought, “The Sex Party, Stop Sharia Law, Take Back Australia, we only need Please Explain. No!” I realised, “There is another worthy candidate missing – Cleaver!” I almost ran home, straight to the printer.
Rested, coffeed, fortified, I wandered back to school and just like the PUP family before me, I too carried election material, yes, Cleaver Greene was about to break loose – raise the electoral bar as it were. “What are you up to?” questioned the delightful Liberal lady, “OMG!” The rest of my fellow HTV volunteers gathered around. “Oh God!” sighed the Liberal chap, “I love it!” declared the Greens lady, “I’ve got to take photos”, said our Labor team leader. It does have to be said the Australian Liberty Alliance guys seemed not overly impressed, the PUPs had hung their sign and vanished, while Pauline’s mob had also visited, hung and gone – hmm, sounds like a Vietnamese restaurant – I think they’re OK with Pauline these days, it’s just those damn Muslims! Which does segue into a wonderful scenario some time later. A Sikh guy came along; one of the Liberty Alliance blokes approached him, explaining about sharia law, Islam and immigrants taking over and so on. I couldn’t take my eyes off the proceedings, as the Sikh gracefully extricated himself from his new found unwanted compatriot.
The hardest people to gauge were the hipsters – the young twenty something guys with the loggers beards and the pipe thin cords, cool, inevitably tall and always alone, they took nothing from anybody, not a word, perhaps a nonchalant almost imperceptible shake of the head, none of us knew. Very good boys.
Rusted on Labor voters were inevitably easy, they told you in no uncertain terms, the best one was probably the elderly Hungarian guy, who drove up with his wife in their red AWD and due to ill health, wanted to park in the school, I called out they could as long as they voted Labor, the Liberal guy joining in the fun, told them, they’d have to vote Liberal, which unleashed a three minute lecture on how he’s only voted Labor in 40 years and carpark or no carpark, nothing was going to change that! We ushered him straight in. Rusted on Liberal voters were also easy to pick – they didn’t smile, had no banter and looked on anybody not wearing a blue Mighty Quinn T-shirt, as something the fly spray hadn’t worked on, stereotyping I know, but it is how it was. Now and then, couples would come along with opposing political views, inevitably very funny comments from one and chilling silence from the other, really great stuff to observe. Of course, there were also the “Fuck them all, they’re all liars and thieves, I don’t even want to be here!” people. It was the perfect opportunity to say to them, “Then have I got the candidate for you!” Yes, swiping Jiminy Cricket and caution from my shoulder, Cleaver Greene would make his appalling appeal.
5.00pm and by now, it was the stragglers ball and fair to say most of these were beyond even Cleavers’ reach, they seemed to wear a ‘Vote or be bloody fined’ shadow. At one stage, one of the AEC girls came out looked at us and said admiringly, “How much are you guys paid?” She was genuinely shocked to find we were volunteers and said there was no way she’d do it for free. I guess she was smarter than us, she was being paid and had a toilet to use!
As the Sun went down in the west, our collective thoughts turned to dismantling the hoardings and placards. At 6.00pm, I signed the Scrutineering Form and walked into the voting area to present myself and diplomatic credentials … to none other than Stormin’ Norman, who, to his credit, raised not an eyebrow as he studied me. “It’s five minutes past six!” He triumphantly cried, “You’re too late, you can’t come in!”
“Oh,” said I, “Alright, I’ll buzz off.”
“Well?” He said to the gaping Liberal chap, “What do you think?”
My Liberal counterpart said, “Well, he’s just been cleaning up and we might have to confer on things, I don’t have a problem, he’s been here all day!”
“Alright, I do things by the book, but I guess it’s the intent that counts, you can stay.”
“Oh great,” I replied, “Where’s the toilet?” Silence, you could have heard somebody taking the piss. Then the fearsome Lady of the Toilet Keys spoke up, “Around the other side of the building, you’ll need a key!” Another of the helpers also needed the loo and we set off together.
“Stop!” Thundered the sergeant, “This form is signed by somebody we don’t have, you can’t act as a scrutineer! There is nobody called Louise Pratt!”
“Yes there is,” I replied, “She’s a Labor Senate candidate.”
“Well I don’t know her!” he responded. I began to think he was related to Joe Bullock, they had a certain physical similarity. My Liberal supporter said, “She’s a senate candidate, it’s fine.” The commanding officer looked at his papers, nodded and relented, I was allowed to stay. It was a close thing, we were just seconds away from my producing a note from Cleaver Greene to say I could do anything I wanted.
I found the counting process fascinating, Sarge explained the Scrutineering rules – we were allowed to touch nothing, observe everything and query anything, plus we were to witness and sign lock numbers on the voting boxes when they were opened or closed. In answer to my query as to whether I could pass on information as the night went on, he said yes, everything was now open and it was important there were no secrets.
The AEC girls and one bloke were straight into it, Lower House first. Everything was sorted by candidate name, with the forms initially put into piles of 25. It became obvious very early on (6.50pm) that Tim Hammond was going to win this particular booth. By the time it got to the Two Party Preferred count, Sarge was under a lot of pressure – he was keeping an eye on the start of the Senate count as well. At one pivotal point, he asked my Liberal friend to stop counting out loud, as he was trying to concentrate, he explained to me that everything had to be legal that’s all he was trying to do. I started to feel sorry for him and realised that all he needed was a course in developing people management skills.
By 7.30pm the three of us compared notes and figures, everything matched and Sarge rang the AEC results office, where they rightly congratulated him on having all figures complete, right down to the Two Party Preferred count. He had done well. I prepared for a long night observing the Senate count, but the Liberal man, said not to bother, it would take several days and there was no sense in waiting, nothing would be achieved that night, probably not for several nights, Sarge agreed and we all parted friends … I think.
I drove over to the Bayswater Pub, where the function room was a sea of cheering and laughing red t-shirts. Surprise, surprise, Tim had ordered opened, some very good reds (I’m not a beer drinker) and I settled in to watch the ABC coverage, but alas, the crowd were in fine humour, but very loud form, cheering or jeering at the numbers flashing up on the screen, I could hear nothing and eventually, as I really didn’t know anybody, I decided to quietly sneak home and watch, (read listen), to the telecast in the comfort of our own lounge, I hope nobody was offended.
The results coming in were fascinating, the marketing man in me was impressed with Bill Shorten’s speech – the Victory speech you give, when you haven’t necessarily won, a twin barbed message to Malcom and would be Labor leaders. Like everyone else, I waited and waited and waited, alas, it seemed Malcolm had thrown his crown, sorry dummy, in the dirt. His continuing non-appearance at the Liberal Party wake was jarring in its bad form. I gave up went to bed.
Postscript: It seems I missed nothing in terms of what Malcolm had to say, but his actions have confirmed I made the right choice. I became certain during polling day that the senate would be unworkable and there would be another election within twelve months – I’d lay money on it now. I’m glad Tim won his seat, though we have never met, my gut instinct is he’s a decent caring man. I’m glad Steve Irons won Swan, Tammy Solonec’s attack was both completely wrong and an appalling disgrace. I’m glad Ann Aly appears to have won Cowan, Simpkins and the Liberal Party reached the gutter in their desperate hate-driven smears against her. I can’t believe the people of New England voted Barnaby back in and I’m dismayed that fear and loathing is once again rearing its ugly, vicious head amongst sections of the voting public. I also think the results should give sections of the media cause to reflect, the public has, in its own way, given a message that they will make the decisions, not the media. I’m glad I had the good fortune to work alongside some really lovely people from all political persuasions, as we politely pestered trapped voters.
Finally: Whether you like the result and message, or not, the fact is, the Australian people have told the politicians and the media what they think of the candidates, parties and process.
Post Postcript: Cleaver, oh Cleaver, you wonderful mad rake, the Tweets I made have gone viral, it seems Australia is crying out for you. I’m glad I was able to contribute in some small way to both yours and Tim’s campaigns.