Wake me up when the election is over



In his press conference calling an election Scott Morrison declared: 'If you vote for me, you get me, if you vote for Bill Shorten, you get Bill Shorten.' This seems a rather obvious observation (putting aside the fact that in Australia voters elect their local MP not the prime minister) until you remember this could be the first government in over a decade in which we see a full term prime minister.

Cartoon by Chris Johnston portrays Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison trying to win over a group of bored and sleeping voters. In the words of Tony Abbott discovering street libraries for the first time, there are Australians who have 'never seen anything like this before'.

Young voters and migrants who have become citizens since 2007 have little experience of 'stable government'. The feverish speculation that launches on social media whenever there is a whiff of leadership tensions birthed the question 'Is it on?' The obsession with 'on-erism' even sparked a joke that leadership spills are the main national sport, albeit a blood sport.

If Shorten is victorious on 18 May it would require three quarters of the caucus to knife him under the Rudd rule. Similarly, a win for Morrison could only see him removed by a two thirds majority. Only time will tell if these protections are enough to stop a challenge.

On the bigger picture of uncertainty, the election has been a sort of long anxiety spiral. It is hard to know if the spiral began when Morrison visited the Governor-General, or when Gillard deposed Rudd, or when the media began to accelerate into a disrupted, saturated 24/7 news cycle, or when politicians turned their work into a permanent campaign. In any case, it is exhausting.

The public is not waiting with bated breath for the result on election night — the level of interest is too low. And while they are dissatisfied, they don't seem to be waiting with baseball bats the way they did with the November Victorian state election. They seem to just be waiting.

Waiting to know if 'this lot will be voted out'. Waiting to know if Shorten 'will steal their utes'. Waiting to know if Australia will act on climate change. Waiting to know if their franking credits will be safe. Waiting to know if their wages will rise. Waiting to know what their tax cut will be. Waiting to know about Engadine Maccas. Waiting to know if they will be protected against vegan terrorists. Waiting to know if Newstart will get an increase after 25 years.


"The stakes are high with this election, and the choices are clear. For some, the result could determine whether they will have kids or not."


The whole process of federal elections is uncertainty manifest. Australia has no fixed terms on federal elections, leaving the date of 'the only poll that counts' in the hands of the incumbent prime minister.

In the months leading up to the call, government departments often go into pre-caretaker mode, the equivalent of a yellow traffic light. This slows down their work, from research to consultation to decisions, and that is even before entering caretaker mode — which lasts from when parliament is prorogued until a result is declared. This time, as we know, can be up to two months.

There is an added sense of foreboding for public servants, who are the canary in the coal mine for change. Following an election the trend has been for the elected party to shake up and sack secretaries and slice out jobs that clash with their vision. Take for example Abbott's scrapping of the climate change department or John Howard's night of the long knives.

The stakes are high with this election, and the choices are clear. For some, the result could determine whether they will have kids or not. A recent survey by the Australian Conservation Foundation with 1 Million Women found one in three women under 30 are reconsidering having children because of fears of climate change. There are young people telling their parents they have a choice between voting for the Coalition, and getting grandkids.

On the other hand, there are parents telling their kids that the benefits from their investment portfolio — whether in shares or property — will drop if Labor seizes power.

Voting in Australia is compulsory. Like paying taxes, it is a regular requirement of citizenship, and not doing so is a fineable offence. Increasingly it is perceived as a chore. Arguments for making it voluntary are weak. So like any chore there are those who want to 'eat the frog' by pre-polling, and those who will put it off until they have to do it. Some who voted early say they just wanted to get it over with: 'Wake me up on 19 May.'



Eliza BerlageEliza Berlage is a Canberra based journalist and podcast producer with a background in sociology. She currently works in the Parliament House press gallery as a researcher for The Conversation's chief political correspondent Michelle Grattan.

Topic tags: Eliza Berlage, Election 2019, Scott Morrison, Bill Shorten, Tony Abbott, climate change



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Existing comments

No party or independent candidate is offering to cast ex prime ministers into oblivion whence they can no longer interfere in the political process nor to stop their obscene pensions (most of them were failures, after all). And no party or independent candidate is offering to govern for all Australians but rather offers to give away a few lollies if you vote for them to receive an equally obscene pension when they fail or can no longer do the job. I think I will get my name crossed off so that these leeches can't collect a fine from me to help pay for their pensions and chuck the voting papers in the bin.
john frawley | 13 May 2019

As I hand out how to vote cards at all State and federal elections, I am constantly heartbroken at those who stride past huffing and puffing, indicating that they will waste their vote. I have to bite my tongue to not remind them how many around the world, and especially women, do not have the vote and never will. Value the process. Value your right to vote. Make it count!
Marg | 13 May 2019

Please don't do that John; thither is the way to Trump and Brexit. If you want to express your frustration, number the senate paper all the way so that you put the duds at the end. :)
Ginger Meggs | 13 May 2019

I missed the connection between the outcome of this election and stopping climate change (therefore people having babies). With the level of carbon dioxide emissions produced in Australia, no Australian policy settings, no matter how drastic will have much of an impact on total global emissions. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do our part - we have a moral imperative to do so - but we shouldn’t be grandiose by thinking we are going to save the planet by what we do in little old Australia.
Rob McCahill | 13 May 2019

Rob's comment: " . . but we shouldn’t be grandiose by thinking we are going to save the planet by what we do in little old Australia" flies in the face of even a cursory analysis of human behaviour. According to this faulty logic we should write to the verb “emulate” out of the dictionary because it does not exist. We humans, according to this thinking, don’t try and equal the observed behaviour of others – we are not impacted or influenced by the behaviour of others. So, when we learn that the biggest influencing factor that results in someone putting solar panels on their roof is because they saw neighbours doing it – the behavioural economists and psychologists are apparently just making this up. And when we are reminded, as we have been recently, that Bob Hawke, when Prime Minister has a big influence on the world repudiating apartheid in South Africa and getting an international agreement to prohibit mining in Antarctica - the historians are just inventing this stuff. I see Jacqui Lambie has got her seat back in the Senate. Well, when she was last in the Senate, she too trotted out this nonsense that "what we do does not matter" in relation to world efforts to drive down green-house gas emissions. Jacqui is formerly a member of the Australian Army, so when she served in the Army, to be consistent, she would have to believe that how the Company Sergeant Major and other Warrant Officers behave has no impact on the troops. The “what someone does, does not matter” would mean that a CSM’s behaviour has no impact on troops’ morale nor how the average private acts out their soldiering role. Of course, this is palpable nonsense. The reverse is true: what the CSM does or doesn’t do, does matter, because lower ranks watch closely and emulate him/her. What we do as Australians, being amongst the highest greenhouse emitters per capita in the world does bloody-well matter! Were we not recklessly negligent, but out there leading the world by our behaviour, we could make a big difference to the wider world’s approach to tackling climate change.
Rex Graham | 19 May 2019


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