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Operation Proactive Citizen: Tales of a first-time voter



An ad came on the television. The deep bass voiceover complemented the ominous horror-movie music. I turned to my mother, smiling. 'Hey Mum, this is my first campaign ad for an election where I'm actually allowed to vote!'

First time voter overburdened by 'how to vote' pamphlets. Cartoon by Chris JohnstonThe election campaign began, for me at least, with my social medias begging me to vote. Or maybe a little earlier, when I anxiously read articles about proposed changes to HECs and Safe Schools.

If the stereotype about young people, enrolled or not, is their lack of engagement, then this election has certainly changed that luxury. And of course, it is privilege that allows us to disengage.

This is hammered home when Cory Bernadi tweets the 'neo-masculinist' Dayrush 'Roosh' Valizadeh, who has published an article entitled 'Feminists are successfully creating a society of shameless sluts', and stated that women are 'simply [created] to reproduce'.

It's hammered home when Bernie Finn follows homophobia with Nazi jokes; again when arts funding is slashed. And of course, casting shadow over it all, is the blithe refusal of our major parties to recognise the humanity of refugees in Nauru and Manus Island.

Last year I was doing my VCE, so honestly, I was more aware of revolutionary Russia than about the #LibSpill. (Though I suppose it may come in handy if things really go south.) But now you could say I've got skin in the game. As a university student, as someone who wants to work in publishing, as a queer woman, this federal election made me someone who's invested.

So by the time the May deadline ticked over, I was one of the 71 per cent of 18-year-olds who had enrolled to vote. I sat in smug satisfaction until I realised, Oh, now it's time to do all the work.

Thus began my quest against stereotype. I would be a 'proactive citizen', whereby trying to keep up with this campaign is part wading against the tide of information and part not getting distracted by America's sideshow. (Trump. Really?)


"If Buzzfeed could tell that I'm a Miranda, then surely Vote Compass could tell me how I 'fit into the political landscape'."


I started simple. Google search: 'Australian Elections 2016'. The results? Mostly whatever embarrassing thing a politician said that day.

I tried a different tact. I went straight to the source: the official websites of each major party. To my surprise, although in interviews politicians are so opaque that it's more prophecy than policy, their websites are in plain English.

Then I started to really read it. Liberal Issue Nine: Protecting Our Borders. 'Australia is one of the three most generous nations when it comes to permanently resettling refugees.' What? That couldn't possibly be true. Well, after an hour or so of research, the best I could tell was that it was true of last year, but probably not anymore. Ah, politicians, so open and honest.

I switched to Labor's website. Already Labor's link to 'Positive Policies' felt pretty suspect. What's with the alliterative modifier Bill? What are you trying to hide? I closed the tab. I just didn't have the energy.

Later, at dinner, when I was talking to my mother about the elections, she told me to take all the pamphlets at the polling place ('So they don't know who you're voting for'). My brother warned me that the sausage sizzle was always disappointing. On TV, the news crossed to two white guys to debate the Labor and Liberal economic policies. 'They're all the same,' my mother said, changing the channel.

Eventually, I was desperate. Only partly joking I typed: 'Who should I vote for?' I clicked on votecompass.com, because if Buzzfeed could tell that I'm a Miranda, then surely Vote Compass could tell me how I 'fit into the political landscape'. I launched it, and after a few tries of it telling me that my postcode didn't exist (who am I, Mr. Tumnus?) I got some graphs telling me about my political leanings and comparing the stances of major parties. Nifty.

Has Operation Proactive Citizen worked? I think so. Honestly, I could talk all day about how growing up with Rudd/Gillard/Rudd followed by Abbott/Turnbull turned a generation away from politics. I could talk even longer about how seeing (mostly) white, (mostly) male politicians is its own form of alienation. But if I'm going to be the possible swing vote, the homogenous 'youth vote', I'm going to make it count. I know that I can't afford to disconnect; if for nothing else, I need to vote for the people who can't. Australian politics is discouraging, confusing and a lot of the time just plain weird, but in the end, I want, without hypocrisy, to be able to complain about sausage sizzles and politics with the best of them.


Neve MahoneyNeve Mahoney is a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.

Original artwork by Chris Johnston

Topic tags: Neve Mahoney, Malcolm Turnbull, Bill Shorten, Election 2016



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Existing comments

Neve, it's great that you are taking an interest in politics, even though political infighting has turned so many young people off politics. As young people will inherit this earth, which is already in very bad shape environmentally, I think it's in the interests of young people to vote for politicians who will do most good for the environment. If you were to read the Australian Greens policies, which I suggest you do, you will find policies that reflect a great desire to give you a sustainable economy and a much better natural environment than the major parties. Coalition parties have a particularly bad history in environmental management. They take massive donations from the big polluters and have a pathetically low Renewable Energy Target of 20% by 2030, compared with Labor's 50% RET by 2030 and the Greens 90% RET by 2030. Both the Coalition and Labor support the opening of new coal mines whereas the Greens want fossil fuels to be phased our ASAP. Coalition parties at the State level are also responsible for allowing the continuation of tree clearing to a very large extent. Please read Pope Francis' encyclical, 'Laudato Si - ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME.'

Grant Allen | 27 June 2016  

Dear Neve, As a voter at the other end of the voting time spectrum, first registered in 1968, I wish you all the best in your search for someone worth voting for. It is only easy if you attach yourself to one side of politics, turn off your bull s..t detection antennae, and go with the flow. If instead, as you are doing, you research and assess, compare and discriminate, your answer will, in the end, be 42. But the question might still be unknowable. I do think your generation comes onto the political stage at an unfortunate time, when all the serious players have left for dinner, and all we have left are the clowns and con-men. Even I am not old enough to remember John Curtin or Ben Chifley, but I have read about them. They were serious players. I do remember Robert Menzies, and he, if not a serious player, was good enough to sound as if he was. So my advice, after this long-winded preamble, is to read some history on Australian politics. This will give you an understanding of what the main parties are actually about - forget what they say - they are still there for the sections of the nation they always have been. Except of course the new parties, and they may be the nations salvation.

Vin Victory | 27 June 2016  

All political parties are compromises. No one totally agrees with anyone. The search is to find the lesser of evils. The vast majority of voters are what is referred to as rusted on, it’s meant to be a disparaging assessment but the reality is that they are rusted on because they have found their basic political philosophy and are consistent with that philosophy (most don’t even know what philosophy is). Both major parties have done research on swinging voters which they do not publish. They do not publish it because they rely on the swinging voter to get into power and the research findings are far from flattering towards the swinging voter. Simply put swinging voters generally are selfish and uninformed. They are vacillators, people who change their mind at a whim or because it sounds good at the time. They respond to two or three word slogans and sophisticated argument to them is boring. I doubt if you will find many truly swinging voters on a site like Eureka Street. The major political parties appear to be similar, but as in all things the proof is in the actions when they get into power. They are actually very dissimilar even though they have a lot of very similar abhorrent policies. These are there to appease those wonderful swinging voters.

Bruce | 28 June 2016  

Some swinging voters are undoubtedly ill informed and uninterested. We can be located across the spectrum from uninformed and lazy to students of politics, with a deep knowledge of political history and party philosophy. And of course the major parties are not complimentary too them - the parties have to convince them before every election, unlike the "rusted on" voters whose minds are closed to 50% of the political discourse.

vin victory | 28 June 2016  

When voters swing, do their eyes swivel?

Roy Chen Yee | 28 June 2016  

You speak to me on a spiritual level. God bless #Beautiful Cinnamon Roll Too Good For This World, Too Pure

Siobhan Robinson | 29 June 2016  

Dear Neve, thanks for a very honest article. But you should be very angry; no party is addressing the fundamental issue that should be dominating your consciousness: why are we continuing to pile up debt that your generation is going to have to pay off with varying degrees of austerity

Eugene | 29 June 2016  

Dear Neve, Although I am not a first time voter I think you have "nailed" the perils of being a proactive citizen of any age trying to vote responsibly. Thank you for sharing your experience; please keep up the good work

Ann Laidlaw | 29 June 2016  

I charge Prime Minister Turnbull, under Section 329 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918; of making fraudulent, deceptive and misleading representations on a “Grand Scale” to the voters of Australia. The Prime Minister is, betting that the electors don’t question where this largesse is coming from; how and when, but hoping they only hear the bribe numbers. The rude truth is he doesn’t have it until he wins control of the Senate, and rewrites the CEFC Act 2012, in order to change its Investment Mandate so he can make good his bet.  If he already had the power he would actually, have dispersed the funds he is  “dollar whistling” about now. The rude truth is he doesn’t have any access to those funds until he wins control of the Senate and rewrites the CEFC Act 2012, in order to change its investment mandate so he can make good his bet. If he already had the power, he would actually have dispersed the funds he is “dollar whistling” about now. s 329  Misleading or deceptive publications etc.                          (1)  A person shall not, during the relevant period in relation to an election under this Act, print, publish or distribute, or cause, permit or authorize to be printed, published or distributed, any matter or thing that is likely to mislead or deceive an elector in relation to the casting of a vote.              (4)  A person who contravenes subsection (1) commits an offence punishable on conviction:                      (a)  if the offender is a natural person—by a fine not exceeding $1,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 6 months, or both; or                      (b)  if the offender is a body corporate—by a fine not exceeding $5,000.              (5)  In a prosecution of a person for an offence against subsection (4) by virtue of a contravention of subsection (1), it is a defence if the person proves that he or she did not know, and could not reasonably be expected to have known, that the matter or thing was likely to mislead an elector in relation to the casting of a vote. Note:          A defendant bears a legal burden in relation to the defence in subsection (5) (see section 13.4 of the Criminal Code).           (5A)  Section 15.2 of the Criminal Code (extended geographical jurisdiction—category B) applies to an offence against subsection (4).              (6)  In this section, publish includes publish by radio, television, internet or telephone. Our Prime Minister has turned out to be one big time gambler with our future. Malcolm Turnbull claims he has taken $1billion from the CEFC’s $10 billion funds that the Julia Gillard Labor Government created to fund his new Clean Energy Innovation Fund (CEIF), by intending to have the ARENA and the CEFC act jointly as administrators of the CEIF. A further $1 billion has been 'drawn ' from his "Green Bank " to clean up the Barrier Reef, a $100 mill set aside to prevent the closure of the Steel works in Whyalla, SA and now, a “Better Cities” Program will receive $1billion out of the CEFC fund. In addition, Northern Tasmanian electorates have been pledged $150million for the UTAS Launceston Campus. Finally, just to prove he has not run short of funds he has pledged to provide $1.5 billion for a second Bass Strait cable to pump hydro power to the mainland and brown coal power to Tasmania. The “Green Bank” promises are up to $5.6 Billion and still counting. There will be one huge Class Action at the end of this criminal enterprise my dear, fellow bamboozled Australians. His pledge described in the mainstream media as‚ a Pea and Thimble trick - the shifting of committed money from funds out of the so-called “Bob Brown’s Bank”, (the CEFC) - into the CEIF, benefits further the fossil fuel industry which already enjoys generous $20 billion subsidies, at the same time sapping the financial flow of dollars to the climate- fighting industries. Seems like, the PM has been converted over to introducing a stimulus to the economy, with phantom funds, Magic. What does the Law say about this? The Law calls it Misfeasance. Section 49(2) (a) of The Crimes and Misconduct Act 2001 says that directing misapplication of monies is an offence of fraud. There is evidence of misleading and deceptive behavior by Ministers of the Crown, including the Prime Minister, under Section 49 (2) (a) of the Crimes and Misconduct Act 2001. The CEFC Act 2012 imposes unbreakable limits on the Minister’s mandate. Section 65: The responsible Ministers must NOT give a direction under subsection 64(1): (a) that has the purpose, or has or is likely to have the effect, of directly or indirectly requiring the Board to, or not to, make a particular investment; or (b) that is inconsistent with this Act (including the object of this Act). On the 5th of May 2016, four days before both houses of Parliament were dissolved, and while the Senate was settling how the method of voting for the Senate would be changed, Ministers Hunt and Cormann were somewhere else in the building, writing directions to the Board of the CEFC that virtually demanded that the CEFC should not fund new land-base wind farm and re-wrote the investment mandate and section 64 of the Act to allow “any other directions” given by responsible Ministers under sub section 64(1) of the Act. They stated that statutory pre-conditions had been met in relation to the 2016 Mandate. The responsible Ministers considered the objectives of the CEFC Act, and any other matters they considered relevant, in preparing the 2016 Mandate and found that the May 5th 2016 Mandate is consistent with the CEFC Act, and does not directly or indirectly require the Board to make(or not to make) a particular investment. Are these reassurances about statutory pre-conditions being met by the changes to the Act from Ministers Kormann and Hunt an acknowledgement that they are aware that the earlier Joe Hockey intervention was unlawful and (a stuff up), and against the Corporations Act. Senator Cormann and Minister for the Environment Hunt have also declared, after serious consideration of course, that anything they decided was within the spirit of the Act. They found themselves not guilty of breaching any of the Mandate of Section 65 of the CEFC Act. In other words, the Ministers have changed an Act of Parliament usurping the power of the Senate. Before the Writs for the dissolution of Parliament were issued, they had plotted how they would fund a $multi billion give-away election fund from “Bob Brown’s Bank”. Both Ministers have been advised that their ‘chutzpah’ will not pass the scrutiny of the High Court of Australia. The subsequent announcements and public promises have implied that the Executive of the Government was legitimately able to declare it could pump $1billion into the Great Barrier Reef, set aside a $100 mill to prevent the closure of the Steel works in Whyalla, SA, and give a $1billion out of the CEFC fund to the “Better Cities” Program. In addition, Northern Tasmanian electorates have been pledged $150million for the UTAS Launceston Campus. Finally, just to prove he has not run short of funds he has pledged to provide $1.5 billion for a second Bass Strait cable to pump hydro power to the mainland and brown coal power to Tasmania. The “Green Bank” promises are up to $5.6 Billion and still counting. They claim they have legitimately changed the Act. But, without Parliament’s authority that it not possible. The last Parliament declined for three years to pass the amendments to the CEFC that the LNP wanted. My question regarding Misfeasance is: Knowing all this, how can the Prime Minister continue to use the Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s funds as a Slush Fund for his election campaign when his “access” to these Funds is the product of Misfeasance? Is the Prime Minister an accessory in this crime? The LNP is lying about their ability to direct the CEFC and its funds without the authority of the Parliament. John Ward

John Ward | 29 June 2016  

My thanks Neve, for your honesty and insight. Politics will confound the best of us and confuse the rest of us. liked what you wrote, become what you already are, intelligent and thoughtful.

Tony Kelly | 29 June 2016  

Neve, This article rings true, for not only first time voters but also for in fact many Australians who have chosen to donkey vote or such forth because of the recent political climate. I see this as a fundamental flaw the the way in which voting itself is not truly taught is education. In all my 14 years at school ( not including uni) the only time i was shown how voting even worked in australia was by a digruntled geography teacher in 2012. Great article and keep up the good work!!

Tess Mc Swivell | 30 June 2016  

CRIKEY! John Ward. A criminal as Prime Minister - surely this is a first.

john frawley | 30 June 2016  

Every voter is an interest group of one. Manufacturers say they need their subsidies to feel safe, farmers their product support, social heterodoxers their special schools programs, but what does the young first time voter who hasn't yet become ensnared in the system need to feel safe? Scan the issues that perennially come up at election time and resolve on life choices that make your future welfare independent of them. Children in a cultural environment of domestic instability are a woman's biggest risk of long-term penury. The answer is not not to have children but to bond (once) within a firm (even dogmatic) understanding that partner fluidity is to be taboo. Life apparently offers no free lunches. The cost of loving in haste is repenting at leisure. Most people are fated to remain employees. Issues around job uncertainty or fairness of employment conditions crop up at every election. The solution may be to find work that leads to being self-employed or an employer of others. ATSI young should realise that the only economy in Australia is the Anglo economy. Harping on about past injustices isn't going to get them anywhere tomorrow unless they acquire for themselves a niche in the Anglo economy. Health? Do whatever needs to be done to be independent of whatever happens in the health sector. The list goes on. A citizen's primary responsibility to herself is to do whatever needs to be done, well ahead of time, to be independent of the vagaries of the system. Election issues (over time) tell you what these vagaries are and they're not new. The themes repeat. The atomic individual and the nuclear family are easy prey to fear. Plan your dollar future if you want to stay atomic; find a supportive trans-nuclear family network of siblings and siblings-in-law if you're intending to have children with somebody.

Roy Chen Yee | 30 June 2016  

Thank you, Neve, for your contribution. "I've got skin in the game" is the moment of truth. When people, 18 years and over, realise that they are not just observers of the game of politics (And there is some theoretical socio-economic value in viewing politics as a game) but also realise the conduct and outcome of the game will affect their daily lives then out of self-interest they need to get involved. Even if only to the extent of voting. In your case Neve I predict an even bigger input to the game of Australian politics.

Uncle Pat | 30 June 2016  

Great article Neve. Well done. Good to hear about your 'quest against stereotype'. One way or another a lot of us are involved with that idea!

Maureen O'Brien | 01 July 2016  

Neve, I'm curious what you now make of the political choices that were open to us, and what now, in the wake of the election, appears on the horizon. Any chance of a follow up article?

Vin Victory | 04 July 2016  

Entertaining, engaging and witty. I'm not surprised Neve. Great article!

Christine Herzog-Lewis | 07 July 2016  

As always, Neve I thoroughly enjoy reading your witty and engaging comments. And you have captured the flavour of Australian Politics exactly!

Irena North | 13 July 2016  

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