Hong Kong Chamber: A Letter from Canberra (Jul 2016)

I write this letter from Canberra just a few days after the election. I’m still recovering.

On election day, I visit every polling booth in the electorate. It’s become a ritual.

It drives my staff nuts. They’re not shy about saying so.

“It’s not an efficient use of your time,” they say. “You spend half the day in the car.”

But efficiency isn’t everything.

When you’re by yourself at 6 am on election day, setting up a polling booth at the local primary school, and you can’t feel your fingers from the cold, you know you’re in for a long day, particularly if you’ve volunteered to scrutineer at the end of it.

You’re doing it on your weekend. You’re not getting paid for it. And you’re certainly not doing it for the glamour.

I know, because I’ve been handing out Labor How To Vote cards since 1983.

And I always found that a visit from the candidate over the course of that long day on the booth boosted my morale and reminded me why I was there and why I was Labor.

A political party only needs 76 Members of the House of Representatives to form Government. It’s all about getting 76 warm bodies into 76 seats in Canberra.

It doesn’t sound like much. But it takes hundreds and sometimes thousands of people to elect just one.

Nearly none of them get their names recorded. But elections wouldn’t work without them.

Careers are made and broken by the people who splinter their hands hammering signs into frosted grass on the morning of the election.

So visiting them might not be the most efficient use of my time – but it’s important to me.

Every politician on every side owes their career to an army of volunteers. We can all find time to say thanks and buy them a coffee and sausage sandwich every few years.

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