Sunday, August 22, 2010

Four men and a mobile

Kodakotype by Pants

The Australian election. Root canal treatment without anaesthetic while watching a scoreless draw with teams made up of Belgian Big Brother evictees and Turkey's Got Talent rejects. It goes to a penalty shoot out and guess what? No goals. And no government. So all that suffering was for nothing. Nothing! The CIA has already patented a selection of sound grabs from the interminable witterings of our parliamentary candidates which they plan to use to drive Colombian drug barons from their mountain lairs.

When I discovered my passport was out of date, I nearly did myself in. And you know the worst of it? The Australian election cycle is officially three years but governments usually barely last two and often go to the polls after one. This means that politicians are never in anything but re-election mode. It's one long, insufferable me-fest characterised by unseemly neediness and a freakish disdain for coherency. There is a limited perverse pleasure in watching people so desperate to be heard struggling to find the ability to speak, I suppose.

Thinking the end is mercifully nigh, I hold on to my sanity by ignoring the local media and reading only foreign papers online. Election day finally dawns. I pootle down to the Larrikin's End Bingo Hall to exercise my compulsory free democratic right. In the lower house, the choice is between two Darrens. There are an awful lot of Darrens in this election. Darren could be a generic term for Member of Parliament for all I know.

It's not been easy to decipher actual information in this campaign. One could be forgiven for thinking it's all been one long charitable plea for compassion towards the intellectually disadvantaged. Please give this halfwit a job. He could never survive in the real world.

As always, I have a book with me. I've learned never to approach a potential queuing situation without a book. A book is portable defensible space. Most people will respect that someone with their nose in a book is telling you the doctor is definitely not in.

I arrive at the Bingo Hall. A monstrous matron with salon hair and orang-utan lips shrieks at me on behalf of blue Darren. I manage to escape with my hearing more or less intact. I'm for red Darren and I've already memorised the order. The last time I voted in an Australian election was 1980. I made it my business to bone up on the form beforehand. After all I've been through, I don't want to end up with a spoiled vote.

The book is an excellent idea. It's a seriously large hardback that screams do not disturb. Actually it says Sebastian FaulksA Week in December, but it has the same effect. Inside the Bingo Hall is a line of people going all the way around the outside wall. The last time I was in a queue this long there was a jumbo jet involved. This is a half-hour queue. I open the book immediately. The man two behind starts one of those pointless conversations that immediately identifies him as a nutter with the woman directly behind me. Don't know why we bother. Doesn't matter who you vote for, you end up with a politician. Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle. Thank you Sebastian.

Half an hour later I get to the registration table. I'm exceptionally good at judging queue duration. Methuselah's grandfather asks my name. He hears my reply on the fourth attempt, as does everyone else in the room. He finds my name, ticks it off and hands me a small green paper listing a selection of fine Darrens. He also hands me a white paper that looks like something the Andrex puppy dragged in. The senate ballot is three feet long but short on Darrens.

On my way home, I stop into McDunny's for three portions of our world famous local specialty shark'n'neeps. Barney and the Question Why very sensibly sent in postal votes. This handily dispensed with some awkward eligibility issues. I'm not sure quite how they managed to enfranchise themselves but they have been taking an unusual interest in the death notices in the Larrikin's End Idler of late.

Shark'n'neeps all squared away, we gather around the television with a big bowl each of Barney's fine vodkamisu. What a shock. We are used to the BBC's Peter Snow and his frenzied waving arms and his maps with lots of flashing lights and his state-of-the-art swingometer thingy. But what do we get from Australia's national broadcaster? A quartet of pale stale males and a mobile phone.

That's it? says the Question Why. For seven hours we follow two journalists, one with his face permanently buried in a laptop, and two grimacing senators. It would appear their priority is not to provide an engaged perspective to a television audience. The senators spend the evening taking calls from their central offices because this is where all the information is coming from. It's like sitting in an accountants' office for a whole day and watching them quietly getting on with their work. Although they probably wouldn't let you spend the day downing vodka slammers in an accountants' office. I suppose from the senators' point of view, the experience is akin to inviting the whole country along to your job interview. Whichever way you look at it, it's weird.

Every now and again the head presenter, Kerry O'Brien, (who at least has the decency to have hair that is a colour other than grey), locks onto a camera and demonstrates the delicate art of stating the painfully obvious. To relieve the tedium they occasionally cut to a woman overlaid with a bar chart. A bar chart! Where are our bells? Where are our whistles? Why don't they just calculate it all on an abacus? At least the sound might be an interesting distraction.

All that is going to happen is done by 7.30 but the broadcast continues for another five hours. Why don't they adjourn to the pub and throw peanuts at each other? asks the Question Why. We certainly would have done that if we'd been in the swivel chair.

We appear to have a dead heat, with an emphasis on the dead. At some point we will get a government, although what use it will be is another matter. We don't know much about what either side intends to do. They were all so busy telling us what they weren't going to do that they never actually got around to outlining any actions. It would appear that electoral reform will be on the agenda. Barney has come up with a proposal that sounds quite good to me. He suggests that MPs should be chosen in a community game of Spin the Bottle. He says he'll even provide the bottles. Policy matters should be decided by a couple of rounds of Truth and Dare. This would all be over quite quickly and we could then spend the rest of the night throwing peanuts at each other. Sounds like a plan to me.