The debate over compulsory and voluntary voting was diverting for a few days, but it is pretty clear that nothing will be done about changing the law. The Labor party is opposed to voluntary voting because they know they could never muster a majority who were silly enough to vote for them if left to their own free will. The Greens are opposed to it because the authoritarian streak that runs though their commissariat makes it an article of faith that people must be dragooned into doing what is good for them even if they know it is not. Even some on the non-Labor side of politics have been using the bizarre argument that it is more democratic to force people to vote, even if most people are opposed to it, as they are. So nothing will happen. But I have been thinking what a strange dichotomy it is that we force people to vote when they do not want to, but do not let them vote on issues when they actually do want a vote. With all this democracy around, how about using some of it for a real expression of opinion from the people on things that matter to them? For a start, we could have a vote on voluntary voting itself, which I have no doubt would pass with flying colours. A lot of people would then like a vote on whether we should have a carbon tax, incensed as they still are that the rump parliament assumed it could introduce such a monumental change without asking us first. And the whole area of immigration and refugees is one where people would love to have a vote. In particular, I noticed in a newspaper recently that a new expression has crept into the Australian lexicon: African Australians. This must surely be a watershed or, as the press like to put it, a pivotal event, because until then I had never heard of a section of the Australian community described by reference solely to its race, or thought that this would be one of the results of our refugee program. But now, apparently, that time has arrived. I have no doubt that after the refugee dramas of the past few years, most people wonder where we are going with our refugee policy and would like a direct say in it.
With elections in the air I have been thinking of the coming campaign. One of the best pieces of electioneering I have seen was when Reg (the Toecutter) Withers campaigned for me many years ago in Diamond Valley. We were on the windswept main street of Greensborough when an older man, somewhat rough around the edges and definitely not a Liberal voter, stopped, looked us up and down and with barely concealed contempt said to Withers, ‘Why should I vote for your lot?’ Reg smiled and said: ‘Do you have any money?’ ‘Yes, I’ve got a bit.’ ‘Well,’ the good Senator replied, ‘We’ll look after you.’ The old chap looked at the sky and his boots for inspiration and gave us his judgment: ‘Alright, that’s good enough for me.’ This exchange had the three essential ingredients of all political campaigning. Simplicity.
No conditions. And it touched on the noble sentiment of self-interest.
Sadly, the public is now conditioned to formulate its attitude to issues depending on the individuals involved, not on the issue itself. Thus it was no surprise to me that our cultural and intellectual betters automatically assumed last year that Julian Assange must be innocent of the sex charges against him, darling of the Left that he is. In contrast, the sex charges against Mr Berlusconi must be legitimate, because he is a rabid, right-wing media baron. The poor benighted State Liberal MP Geoff Shaw must, naturally, be in breach of parliamentary rules for using his taxpayer-funded vehicle for private purposes. But although the leader of the opposition in the State house, Daniel Andrews, was recently using his taxpayer-funded vehicle to ferry his wife and children around when it collided with a cyclist, that use of the vehicle is assumed to be legitimate and goes unchallenged. Now we find Jonathan Moylan, the clear instigator of a financial hoax that wiped millions off the value of shares in Whitehaven Coal, is heralded as a brave crusader who could not be guilty of anything, simply because he is an eco-warrior opposed to coal mining. People must wonder how these gilded youths avoid complying with laws the rest of us must obey simply because of who they are. I hope Mr Abbott and his team promise to bring that sort of nonsense to an end and ensure the one law applies to all.
Finally, my gripe for the week. Telstra has found the holy grail of getting rid of complaining customers: wear them out until they stop complaining. This week I had what I thought was a harmless question. Why does my bill relate to a telephone number I have never had and another to one that Telstra says I can no longer use? Well, you would think I was asking for an exposition on the Rosetta Stone. After struggling to make myself understood to Telstra’s voice-activated nonsense, I was diverted to Bangalore or Manila or Hanoi and back again with detours via the Yellow Pages and Sensis and bizarre questions like, ‘Are you a legacy account?’ Eventually I did what the whole exercise was no doubt designed to do. I gave up.
But before Telstra starts gloating, I should add that I am now following in Peter Finch’s footsteps and crying into the night: ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.’ Meaning: I have lodged a complaint with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. I can’t wait to have my day in court.