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Do you know enough to vote?

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Do you know enough to vote?

Federal parliament. Image obtained. Labelled for reuse.

Federal parliament. Image obtained. Labelled for reuse.

Federal parliament. Image obtained. Labelled for reuse.

Federal parliament. Image obtained. Labelled for reuse.

Holly Edwards-Smith, Reporter

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There will be an important date to mark in your calendars in May of this year, the 2019 federal election will be taking place. It will occur before May 18, but polling day could fall on the 4th, 11th, or 18th.

For us here in Western Australia it will be the first time anyone born after the 11 March 1999 will be voting in a state or federal election. If politics can feel overwhelming and sometimes go over your head, this article will outline (in the most basic of ways) how Australia functions because (and trust me on this) it gets messy.

As a fan of musicals, I truly wish there was a widely renowned hip hop musical like Hamilton to explain to me how Australia’s government runs but unfortunately Lin-Manual Miranda hasn’t got around to writing “A man in Budgie Smugglers: Tony Abbott the musical” just yet. So here goes nothing.

If you weren’t already aware Australia is a part of the Commonwealth meaning technically we are run by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2. However, because Australia is one of 53 countries included in the Commonwealth, the Queen has an appointed right hand man, The Governor-General, who makes decisions on her behalf. That man is Peter Cosgrove. In regards to your vote in the upcoming election, none of this really matters. Your votes don’t affect the Queen (duh) or who the Governor-General is (the Governor-General is appointed by the Queen on advice from the PM).

But Pete does help make up the parliamentary democracy, along with the two other branches of federal government. The Senate and the House of Representatives.

Now let’s try and flesh this out.

The Senate or upper house is made up of 76 senators, 12 for each state (WA, SA, VIC, NSW, QLD & TAS) and two for each territory (ACT & NT). State senators are elected for six years while senators from the territories are elected for three.  As we have elections every three years it means that each election, half of the state senators and all of the territory senators are up for re-election.

The House of Representatives or lower house has 150 members. Each member represents a separate electoral division across Australia and is elected for up to three years. Unlike the Senate, where each state has equal representation, the House of Reps does not, as electorates are designed to have roughly the same amount of people in them and so their density reflects the spread of Australia’s population.

When you vote in a Federal election you are voting for both the House of Reps and the Senate.

There are a multitude of ways to vote – many are pointless, result in a spoilt ballot and leave your vote invalid, however, you will avoid the nasty fine. If you do want to vote properly, you can take surface level advice from friends, family and the internet (which would leave your vote reflective of the opinions of others) OR you can choose to let your vote reflect your views and opinions and try to make differences you want.

Side note: You never really vote for who will be Prime Minister, you vote for the candidate in your own electorate who is a member of a party that will chose its own leader. This, as we have seen in recent years, can change. A LOT.

The next most important thing to know is that we use the preferential voting system. On the House of Reps ballot paper this is fairly simple,  You will probably have between five and ten candidates to chose from and you must number EVERY box for your vote to count. For example, if there are six candidates you will number one to six. If you haven’t been tempted already, watch the video above for a very basic and yes, very old video explaining how that system works. The bottom line, however, is that the first candidate to get more than half of the vote (during the redistribution of preferences) wins the seat.

It gets a bit more confusing when you vote for the Senate as there are two routes you can take. You can vote above the line which has each party listed (Labor, Liberals, Greens etc.). If you choose that route you number your first preference only, and your vote will be sorted preferentially in the way that the party you chose has told the Electoral Commission that it wants its ‘above the line’ votes to go (you can ask the parties what that distribution pattern is if you want to know).

Alternatively, you can choose to vote below the line, but this means you MUST number every box and this can be time consuming. In the 2016 federal election there were 79 senate candidates for WA, so that was a fair bit of numbering.

The way this vote is counted is a little trickier too. In order to get elected as one of the six WA senators up for election, a candidate needs to get just over one seventh of the vote. That’s about 14.3% and it’s called a quota. During the count each time a quota is reached a senator is elected, and the counting continues. This process can take weeks and be an exciting race to watch when it comes down to just a few possibilities for the last seat.

This is a lot to take in, especially if it is all new information but hopefully (for once) the Australian political system hasn’t overwhelmed you and now seems more manageable.

Catch part two in the next edition which will give you some basics about our major political parties, what they can do and how you can make sure your vote reflects the changes you want to see.

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About the Writer
Holly Edwards-Smith, Reporter

There are many phrases which could be used to describe Holly; pizza snob, Disney fanatic and professional napper. However the most relevant to her work...

Quality journalism by ECU students
Do you know enough to vote?