When my daughter turned 17, the government sent her a birthday card and an enrolment-to-vote form, in preparation for the big 18: voting age. Six months later, this ‘gift from the government’ has been unearthed in an office reorganise. This morning, I gave it to her and she threw it on the bench. ‘They’re all fucked,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to vote.’

A permanent resident since the age of three who became an Australian citizen in 1994, I brought out my inner voter in 1996. I was thirty-one years old.

My sister studied politics at Melbourne Uni in the 70s and as a young teen, I’d experienced the ‘Whitlam years’ as a incomprehensible emotional rollercoaster involving imprecation, ecstasy, anguish and lots of alcohol-fuelled argument where the word socialism was bandied about and no one’s feelings got hurt. Ultimately, what I ingested from the dismissal was heartbreak, disillusionment and cynicism. The system was fucked.

At eighteen, I wanted nothing to do with ‘the system’. I was above, voting. I wanted Utopia and I wanted it immediately – but I didn’t believe it was possible. ‘They’ would destroy it. And I didn’t want it to interfere with my melancholy, either. I wanted ‘them’ to stop killing animals, cutting down trees, mining uranium, smashing ancient cultures, etc. This, from my eighteen-year-old-soul on 29 July 1983:

Did you ever strike a day when you couldn’t give a fuck if you lived to be 93 or got run under by a truck did you ever hit an afternoon where nothing seemed to fit and no matter what you said or did you couldn’t give a shit did you ever find an evening when you really couldn’t care less if you went out in your underwear or a straight, expensive dress did you ever strike a lifetime that just meant nothing at all when all that there was left to do was break your face upon the wall.

Awful, yes, but it sums up the darker side of where I was at. Why vote for a system that represents a world that’s fucked?

Then along came Jeff Kennett. Not even the moneyed folk of Albert Park could control him. It took a trip to the city and a bit of paperwork to register to vote, but I felt it was imperative: Jeff had to GO. Despite his latter-day conversion, Jeff the politician was a complete pig. Among other travesties, Victoria’s schools have never recovered from Kennett government policies that sucked the soul from schools and replaced it with a calculator:

[T]eacher numbers reduced by 11,400 as of last July [1994], $205 million cut from recurrent spending, capital spending to fall by $135 million annually by 1995-96 and some 260 primary and secondary schools closed (out of a total of about 2000). Class sizes have risen sharply. Cleaning and maintenance have been privatised, with predictable results. Principals have more power but despite the rhetoric of “devolution”, ministerial control over the curriculum has increased.

And so my voting life began, and so it has remained. I’ve never voted for any of them – I’ve only voted against what I simply couldn’t bear. With Howard, my vote just wasn’t enough. I couldn’t have been happier than when Kevin appeared. And I couldn’t have been more disappointed that he and his party couldn’t follow through on the promise of advancing Australia fair.

Since the 70s, we’ve watched the ALP creep relentlessly to the right and in this 2010 election, as the dullness of the ‘debate’ illustrated, the lines between the two are more blurred than ever. Our country is at war for economic and political reasons governments continually lie about, deny or ignore; we’re leaning frighteningly toward an immoral archaic ‘white Australia’ paranoia; the apology was the beginning of nothing but more of the same and worse; the mining industry has exerted its grip on the balls of the nation; polluters careen recklessly toward our planetary destruction; imperialist capitalism continues to rape the world; sexism is rampant and underpins the election discussion; our young people are being fucked-over in a million different ways; and the only voice of reason I have heard has come from the Greens, who can hope for little more than the ‘balance of power’ between two behemoths of entirely dubious political character.

This afternoon, I tried to encourage my daughter to exercise her right to vote. She didn’t believe me when I said she had a voice, that she could make a difference, that it was her duty and privilege to stand up for her right to have a voice. In the end, I resorted to the need to vote against politicians like Tony:

Anyone got a better argument?

Clare Strahan

Clare Strahan is a two-time novelist with Allen & Unwin publishers, long-ago contributing editor to Overland, and teaches in the RMIT Professional Writing & Editing Associate Degree.

More by Clare Strahan ›

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  1. I’m with your daughter to be honest. I haven’t voted for a good while. It’s more of a question of, ‘If you don’t vote, in what other ways can one be politically effective and active?’ In other words, finding ways to act outside of the tyranny of politicians. Your daughter’s got good reasons to chuck in her option of voting, but it would be a mistake I think to equate not voting with ending political activity or interest.
    I saw the Abbot clip it last week and have been wondering about it ever since. He looks as though he’s in some kind vegetative state, and about to start drooling at the mouth. I suspect what we are seeing is the default position of Tony Abbott’s mind.

  2. hi clare. i’m a 17 year old year 12 student, like your daughter. i understand how she feels, it seems impossible that the little difference we make will do anything to repel the political heavy-weights from gaining power and fucking things over. but if she joins the collective movement to the left, she is adding to the momentum, something without immediate effects, but at least it is something she can do. not that she should-but she can, and i think it’s worth it.
    unfortunately i turn 18 in october, so i am unable to vote (fucking gillard, calling an early election!), and it is painful to watch australian society creeping further and further to the right, becoming scarily and disappointingly conservative. today i read how gillard announced cash bonus’ for schools which perform well. it was yet another wake-up call to how right labor is becoming, sponsoring class-division, their lack of insight is grotesque. if for no other reason vote to vent anger, vote to counter the conservate, homophobic, xenophobic wanker who lives up the street, but for fucks sake vote! it’s fece sitters who let shit like this happen.
    and your daughter’s wrong anyway, the greens aren’t fucked.

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