Ed#440 You've Got to Choose

30 August 2013 Alan Attwood

Ed#440 You've Got to Choose

There was something missing from the 2013 federal election even before the campaigning began. Early in July, a month before Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declared that 7 September would be polling day, the Australian Electoral Commission announced it would not have a national tally room on election night. For election junkies, this was serious – rather like the Academy Awards people deciding not to gather movie stars in one place so they could present the lucky few with Oscars. Why no national tally room? Simple: there’s no longer any need for one. The tally room used to be the election epicentre – the place where TV stations would set up mini studios to accommodate politicians and pundits to comment on results as they trickled in, detect and analyse voting trends, and predict final outcomes. A tally room (smaller versions of which were created for state elections) was a great leveller: for one night, politicians’ futures hung on the verdict of all those disembodied voters. For this reason, a sort of temporary truce was declared: it was not unusual to see rival politicians huddled together, comparing figures, hostilities suspended. In federal elections, the tally room centrepiece was a huge board, two storeys high. Now the tally room is a virtual thing, results come in on computer screens, and TV networks operate out of home studios. Money is saved; an election tradition is lost.

Several other things have been absent in this campaign: excitement; engagement; tension. Perhaps we can blame the fractious nature of the hung parliament that existed after the 2010 poll; or the Labor leadership soap opera – Rudd in, then out, then in again; or a sense of inevitability about the result; or all of these. The result has been a lack of connection between the main protagonists, Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, and voters around the country. In a new-media age, when gaffes or policy pronouncements are widely available within seconds, old-style campaigning – photo opps with kiddies and factory visits – increasingly seems as obsolete as the tally room. Focus is more on the leaders and their personalities than party policies.

Early in the campaign, they came together for a TV debate that represented another change. I happened to be in Canberra late in 1984 for a showdown between then-PM Bob Hawke and his challenger, Andrew Peacock, in Australia’s first televised US-style leaders’ debate. Revisiting it, I was surprised to be reminded it was held just a few days before election day. Protagonists spoke, and handled some barbed questions, as if their words might actually sway voters. This year, the first debate was held very early – as if to get it out of the way. In my ’84 report, I quoted from Paul Simon’s song ‘Mrs Robinson’: Going to the candidates’ debate/Laugh about it/Shout about it/When you’ve got to choose/Every way you look at it you lose… Hmmm. Some things do stay the same.

Votes are well and truly tallied in this year’s International Street Paper Awards, with The Big Issue recognised in several categories. Mariann, a Melbourne-based vendor, was a finalist in the best vendor essay category for her story ‘Views From My Pitch’, which appeared in our last Christmas edition. The Big Issue won the social development award for innovation in vendor support and (drumroll, please) Big Issue Art Director Lisa Mansfield won the best cover award for the striking presentation of Ed#401. It was nice to be acknowledged like this by our peers.