A first-time voter tunes in to the election campaign
On Monday night I did something I wouldn’t normally do – no, I didn’t hold out on that late-night snack, nor did I grace the treadmill with my presence. But I did treat myself to a rare form of exercise for me; I gave my mind a short political run.
Thanks to the onslaught of social media, I would usually find myself sitting in front of a computer, whiling away time by catching up on the latest Facebook sagas. Yet this time, after a busy day, I settled on the couch and, after a bout of channel-surfing that would typically have stopped at an episode of CSI: Miami, I went that step further until I reached Q&A with Julia Gillard.
While I know this probably isn’t that much of a great deal to a lot of people, for me it was like a charcoal artist becoming lost in the world of paint. My brain is not one for politics, and I scrape by with at least the knowledge that Ms Gillard bats for the Labor party, and that Wayne Swan is her crony. Likewise, I am aware that Tony Abbott is running up to the crease, hoping to bowl her out on August 21 in the coming election. And I’m not going to pretend - apart from some others I can name here and there, and the fact that a worm can apparently determine which potential leader is gaining more popularity, that’s basically as far as my political horizon stretches.
I do not attribute blame for this lack of knowledge on anyone but myself, and it’s fair to say I’ve never really been concerned about it before. During the last election that put Rudd in control, I was finishing school and just short of the legal voting age.
This time, however, I find myself in a position where I have to elect a leader for my country, and while I think I know who will win my vote, there’s not a huge amount of background reason for my decision.
One of Julia Gillard’s strongest election stances is her focus on education, and being the former Education Minister for the Labor party, this is not surprising. So here’s the thing: maybe we should be making sure that students are getting a compulsory political education early.
This doesn’t mean making sure that primary school kids can name each party member and their titles, but rather, allowing them to understand that there are different parties with different principles and policies.
They can then make their own choice over whether they want to know more. It is indeed a complex topic, but looking at the Australian education curriculum, it doesn’t appear in earlier years of schooling. And by the time secondary school rolls around, it isn’t necessarily the most popular subject of choice among students.
In this sense, I can understand Ash Nugent’s concern in his piece on raising the voting age, where he questions the legal requirement of voting at 18 years of age. Then there is the possibility that we adopt America’s procedures and make voting an optional responsibility. It may mean that elections become dependent on a smaller percentage of Australia’s people, but at the same time, it will be a group who are fully aware of the political arena and who don’t resort to donkey votes, as Nugent fairly points out.
Then again, there is an element of excitement in having to vote for the first time, a novelty which will most probably wear off by the next federal election.
It’s hard to say whether or not I would have a brighter understanding of politics had I been taught more at an earlier age. But I have definitely acquired respect for those who have the courage to stand up and fight for the lead of our nation, a job which is highly demanding and inevitably going to be criticised.
For the moment, I’ll say that yes, Q&A was entertaining and politicians do have a sense of humour (especially when it comes to measuring how much of a ‘tool’ Mark Latham is). And there’s even a good chance I’ll tune in again next week to hear how Abbott fares against his rival. But until then, I’m retracting my toe from the unfamiliar waters of this political torrent.
Natalie Savino is a freelance journalist and studies at La Trobe University.
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