Torture and murder on the booths

Handing out Liberal how-to-vote cards in Fitzroy, the Melbourne suburb that is the heart of the left’s sub-culture, you have to expect some abuse. But even as a veteran recipient of political insults, I was a bit surprised to have ‘torturer and murderer’ chucked in my direction twice, once as a particularly disgruntled and hyberbole-loving non-Liberal voter entered the polling place, and again as he left. I didn’t bother inquiring as to who, exactly, I had tortured and murdered. At a different booth later in the day, commenter Rajat Sood, who was handing out with me, was called a ‘fascist’, and I was told to ‘go to hell’.

But even in these areas of maximum social pressure not to be a Liberal, with a secret ballot they persist. At the torture-and-murder polling place the Liberal vote was 14%. It was a little higher on 15% at the fascist go-to-hell booth.

In the seat of Melbourne overall, despite political fashion and campaign dollars being on their side, the Greens were outpolled by the Liberals – only by 44 votes, but on a purely visual examination of the electorate you could be forgiven for thinking that there were only 44 Liberals total.

This is not just because virtually all the propaganda was Green or ALP. It is because, as I noted after the 2004 election, the left dress distinctively. This is particularly true of the Green women, though some of the men are a sight as well. One Green woman, in the spirit of the day perhaps, turned up in a particularly awful green dress and with a boyfriend wearing a fashion-crime bright green shirt. All three campaign workers minding that side of the polling booth entrance – me, the ALP, and the Green – cracked up laughing as soon as they were past. For all our political differences, we have a shared boring task on election day, and we are grateful for voters who keep us amused.

44 thoughts on “Torture and murder on the booths

  1. Next time, please come to Gellibrand and hand out cards here. There were no Liberal HTV cards at all at either of the booths where Mrs D and I voted. While we both put the sitting member last, we did differ on whether to put the Greens or the Socialist Alliance second last.


  2. I had a similar experience, at Quiggin blog.

    Fear and Loathing in Elwood Primary School

    I fronted up to vote at Elwood primary school, which was thronged with cheerful looking people seeking to influence their destiny. They all seemed fairly nice people. Not for the first time I gave thanks to the late Victorian “executive committee of the bourgeoisie” who gave democracy to Australia.

    I took every single How to Vote card from the polling spruikers at intending to give them all a proper study. I was trying to work out how I could vote against LN/P and the hated Work Choices and its associated gravy train of without voting for the ALP and its associated camp-follower, hackademics and special interests. Unfortunately this proved mathematically impossible under preferential voting. I was in a quandary.

    Fortunately decision-making salvation was close at hand. Standing in line in front of me was a hairy academic, sporting a Uni Melbourne logo-ed sweatshirt . He was accompanied by a attractive foreign-born wife, probably Chilean. I am an alumni of that august institution so the sight of his self-congratulatory attire immediately my BS detector into overdrive.

    I was not to be disappointed. Sure enough after a few minutes the hairy academic’s wife was approached by the Family First spruiker with a how-to-vote card. He brushed them away, remarking loudly that “everyone knows they are Nazis”.

    “Well, thats the party for me then”, thought I to my self, marking a big fat “1? next to the FF candidate. Striking a blow for fascist oppressors and capitalist exploiters everywhere.

    Bad taste jokes aside, I was pleased with the result. FF are against regressive elitism of the Big End of Town and the ostentatious elitism practised by our cultural operators.

    I just wish I had the nerve to tell logo-man. Saved by his pretty wife, I suppose.


  3. Hi Andrew

    Even as someone who voted differently to you, I’m sorry to hear you were personally abused, which clearly unfair. We should all preserve the decencies of debate I think.

    In case it wasn’t obvious, I presume the torture and murder claims were related to the war in Iraq or the broader war on terror, which many people regard as illegal (and disastrous, legal or not) and which the Howard Government took Australia into despite majority Australian disquiet. As a classical liberal, you would presumably be very concerned about the ultimate abuse of state power – illegal war. Starting a war of aggression is also, since Nuremberg, a crime that you can be legally punished for even if it was done in your official capacity.

    I am often surprised when some of those for whom liberalism is important are very focused on economic issues, where differences of opinion on the role of the state are marginal in mainstream politics. It is worth remembering that the first (historically) and most important function of the state is its monopoly on legal violence, internal and external. It is also, in my opinion, the most important front to fight on in the defence of liberalism – the area where individuals most need to be wary of state interference in their lives, either through excessive policing power and rolling back the rule of law, or through the ultimate abuse of rights ie war.

    My purpose in writing though was just to respond to the claim that political fashion and campaign dollars were on the Greens side. This may be true on the ground in central Melbourne, but it should be remembered that probably much more influential than a few prominent Greens doorknockers etc is the mainstream media and centralised advertising budgets – where both major parties massively outspend the Greens and both are definitely more fashionable (in terms of the respect given to them by widely listened-to commentators).



  4. Peter – I agree that is it better to preserve the decencies. I was impressed by the gracious reaction of the Labor faithful in Brisbane last night to Rudd’s comments on Howard. I very much doubt that we would have seen the same had the victory party been in Melbourne, where the left culture is a lot more feral.

    I take your point about centralised campaigns, though the Greens seemed to have a lot more of that this time around, but not as much as the major parties of course.

    I take your point about war as well – but I do not think classical liberals need to be ideologically opposed to war, even while they do need to be very careful about getting into them. Classical liberals are not anarchists; they support the accumulation of power in the state because sometimes it needs to be used.


  5. I tend to enjoy the strange sort of how-to-vote camaraderie that usually happens on polling day. It often seems like the people handing out how-to-votes are more alike, despite their political differences, than they are similar to the average punter.

    On the decencies – Andrew I wouldn’t feel singled out. It’s surely a rare polling day where one doesn’t cop some form of abuse or snide remark, no matter your political persuasion.


  6. Guy – I wasn’t feeling singled out. I wasn’t even concerned by it; if political insults worried me I’d have pulled out of politics by the mid-1980s. I just thought blog readers may be amused by it and other goings-on on the ground yesterday.


  7. Andrew

    I only found your blog as some US Presidential blog had grabbed some of my post-election post this morning and attributed it to you.

    Firstly, I am very sorry that people gave you such a hard time yesterday at the booths.

    I think that decency is something that is being eroded, although I am not sure whether politics can fix that (or tries to).

    Secondly, I am very sorry that my political opinions were attributed to you – I did submit a comment to them to fix that problem.


  8. Andrew

    Tales from the other side. My son was up at 5am yesterday, setting up bunting and placards for the ALP in the seat of Kooyong, where Labor voters and volunteers are a tad scarce. He was late to the booth he was assigned to for the day – he had two hours off from 10am-12midday, and was the only Labor scrutineer amongst five Liberal scrutineers.

    He was abused twice. First by a couple of Labor voters who gave him curry at 8.15am when he arrived and they were leaving the booth, having just cast their vote. Later in the day, he tells me, he was called a ‘Keating ******’. Earlier in the week, doorknocking, he was given a pretty harsh dismissal by a veteran who said that he hadn’t ‘fought for this country so Communists like you could run the bloody place’.

    Let’s just say the abuse comes from the intolerant on all sides of the political spectrum. It’s distasteful and silly. I don’t think decency is being eroded at all. I’ve watched a handful of young 17-20 year olds go about their new political business these last few weeks, and it’s been a joy to see them do it with both a passion and a friendliness in unfriendly territory, and 99.9% of the time, to have that friendliness returned.

    Having worked for an MP a couple of decades ago, my observation is that we’re getting better at democracy rather than worse, in terms of how we conduct ourselves.



  9. This is a black day for Australia. But every cloud has a silver lining. The low vote for the Nationals (10 seats in Reps) presents a real opportunity for change. The Liberals should terminate the coalition, and run separately in every country electorate in 2010. The Nationals are a blight on non-left politics. As well as being agrarian socialists, their members are notoriously disloyal to the coalition, with the self-aggrandising Joyce only the worst example. Cut them loose, win their seats and consign them to the same rubbish bin the Democrats have been tossed into. One of the real bright spots in this election is that Joyce becomes nothing but an impotent independent. Hooray!

    Peter Costello has an enormous job to do (if he’s elected leader) in restoring the discipline the Liberals lost after the 2004 election (and which Costello himself undermined). With members like Tuckey, Georgiou and some others, Howard didn’t need non-Liberal enemies. It’s been said this morning that Costello carries a lot of baggage to the leadership of the opposition. No more serious baggage than his own disloyalty. How can a man like that command loyalty to his own team?

    Another problem is that the Libs don’t seem to be able to manage to have their more talented members in safe seats so that they can concentrate on real policy isues. How can Bronwyn Bishop, Petro Georgiou, Wilson Tuckey have ultra safe seats, while real talent like Brough and Howard lose theirs, while Turnbull manages to hang on only because his opponent disintegrated because of his own stupidity?


  10. Being overseas, I wasn’t subjected to a day at the booths this time around. But speaking of camaraderie between booth attendants, probably the most surprising thing I’ve seen in my time was last election when an independent, lefty candidate arrived on his bicycle and asked each of us at the booth to hand out his HTV as well as our respective parties’. Naturally, I told him no but the Family First lady started handing them out until I told her to stop it.


  11. Costello has announced he won’t be standing for leadership and will retire from politics at the end of this term. My bet he will go well before that. This just confirms my opinion of him and also confirms John Howard’s judgement not to hand over the Prime Ministership to him on a platter. The man has no stomach for the hard graft of restoring Liberal party fortunes over what’s going to be years of hard work. We’re better off without him.


  12. whyisitso
    An alternative explanation is that Costello grew up politically with the bitter Peacock-Howard divisions in the Liberal following Fraser’s dismissal. Perhaps he believes similar divisions will occur again from either Turnball or Abbot. A decade in the wilderness fighting off challenges from within, with only a slight hope that he will be in the top job when the Liberal Party is next wins government (Very few deputy leaders of a defeat Liberal government go on to become PM or Premier) doesn’t sound appealing to me. Maybe he is making a very smart judgement
    Also, his kids have grown up while he has been working in Canberra. Maybe he wants to spend more time at home, before they all leave home. That would show good judgement.


  13. What exactly is a ‘lone classical liberal’??

    AND would Andrew care to comment on the liberal implosion as evidence by such criminal acts as the Lindsay race hate leaflet???


  14. “That would show good judgement.”

    I suppose running away often shows good “judgement”, but it also demonstrates lack of character.


  15. The race card that backfired:

    Good analysis:
    ‘The Race Card That Back-fired

    The Howard Government has played the Race Card in the last desperate days of the federal election campaign as predicted – but this time, it’s backfired spectacularly.

    When 16 Indonesian asylum seekers were stranded in a sinking boat off Australia this week I held my breath – here we go, I thought, they’ll try another Tampa. But the Howard Government hardly bit. Now we know why – at Liberal Party headquarters, where they’ve been trying to bail their way out of their own sinking ship, the strategists were working overtime in preparation for a race scandal about to hit the government.

    The growing storm surrounding a racist, deceitful letter box drop in Western Sydney by senior Liberal Party officials – including the husband’s of both the outgoing MP Jackie Kelly and her pre-selected replacement – will not be quieted by the Howard ‘quickstep’ two days out from polling day as he discovered this afternoon following his National Press Club address.

    The scandal revolves around the distribution of a leaflet to householders in the seat of Lindsay being vacated by Ms Kelly, the frivolous Liberal MP whose praises John Howard has sung through four terms in office. The leaflet was a despicable piece of racist propaganda designed to capitalise on Islamophobia. It purported to be the work of a non-existent Muslim organisation called the ‘Islamic Australia Federation’ and urged Muslim voters to support Labor at the poll because “we gratefully acknowledge Labors (sic) support to forgive our Muslim brothers who have been unjustly sentenced to death for the Bali bombings”. The leaflet also carried the picture of controversial Sydney Sheik al-Hilaly and claims Labor supports the construction of a (bogus) mosque in the electorate. This is the stuff of Neo Nazi/National Action style propaganda campaigns. And what’s extraordinary is that it wasn’t perpetrated by conspiracy theorists but senior ranking officials within the Prime Minister’s own state party apparatus.


  16. A boring day! Good lord no, working a booth is one of the high points of a campaign. If you love democracy and are interested in people there’s no better day than polling day! Is there anything else in Australia that come so close to being a universal experience For All Of Us™? Compulsory voting means we all have to do it and the AEC makes is a remarkably uniform experience. And no matter how far you have travelled, how long you have stood, how hard you have worked, there is always someone to sell you a sausage and sauce on a slice of white bread.



  17. I thought I’d pop in and see how things are in the losers’ lounge.

    It was entirely predictable that Costello would squib it. He is well known as being work-shy, relying on his departmental briefs on but shirking hard work on new areas of policy. Not for him the hard grind of opposition, with its very limited resources, against a new and energetic government. He would have been no good at it and he knows it.

    And of course he has been fatally wounded politically away. The voters were told quite clearly that if they voted Liberal they would get Costello PM in mid 2009. And the verdict is …

    Labor had already smelt Costello’s blood, as Penny Wong’s chillingly ruthless performance this morning on Insiders showed.
    Costello knows he is dead man, si ihe is getting out.

    So it’s on to Turnbull v Abbott. It’ll be Peacock v Howard revisired, and should keep us amused for the next decade. At least we know they won’t be leaving politics doe the commercial world; Turnbull for obvioud reasons and Abbott because, well, who would employ him.

    Finally, I can’t leave without reminding you all of the delicious symbolism of having the luvvies’ luvvie, the very face of ABC News and Current Affairs, Maxine McKew, defeating John Howard in his own seat (with dollops of help, it must be said, from Jackie Kelly, who is a chaser stunt in her own right, though she doesn’t realise it).

    Enjoy the next decade.


  18. The thing that always strikes me when handing out HTVs is that the dominant emotion of most people entering the polling booth to vote seems to be either:
    (a) irritation (partly at the hander-outers, but largely at the imposition of having to vote at all); or
    (b) confusion, often bordering on anxiety, at the prospect of having to fill in the ballot paper correctly.
    Democracy in action!


  19. Actually Andrew, my schadenfreude meter is turned right down in your case, for I get the impression that you don’t much care who forms the government. It must be quite a view from the rarified heights of classical liberalism.

    But with others, such as the ridiculous David Flint, the meter is off the charts. Did you know that he is blaming the media for the government’s defeat? The classical loser’s lament!

    Flint’s only got himself to blame. He should have made sure the media was plastered, wal to wall, with Alan Jones clones while he was chairman of the Australian Media Authority.


  20. Having decided how I was going to vote (well, for the first prefs anyway) before getting to the polling booth, I refused all of the how to vote cards on offer. If you had asked me yesterday what I thought about having to run the guantlet of leaflet distributors, I would have been irritated. But I didn’t hurl insults at anyone!!! I guess I’ve never thought about what a tough job it must be for the people who do it. I ran into your problem when I entered the polling booth. After I decided that I would vote below the line in the Senate, I ended up in a dilemma. Which of the numerous parties that I wanted to place last would be promoted because of the need to assign distinct numbers to each of the candidates?


  21. Rafe:
    Spiros is in an orgazmic state of some sort. I have counted 1/2 dozen other blogs where he’s raving about the win. Someone give the kid a downer and he needs to settle down.

    Spiro, I’m not sure Ruddd is going to rise welfare payments tomorrow, dude, so settle down.


  22. Just spreading the good cheer, JC, though you exaggerate with your 1/2 dozen.

    And congrats and on the big vote garnered by the Libertarians. About the same as the two Trotskyist sects combined, which is appropriate in more ways than one. You guys are going to be a force to be reckoned with, but not until the 25th century.

    Rafe, I am a very happy winner. I’m going to send you a DVD of last night’s election coverage, ABC version of course. I understand it’s going to be compulsory viewing in all schools, at all year levels, for all subjects. In all seriousness, I thought Minchin did a good job. He had a shit sandwich to eat, with all the trimmings, and he only looked like he was going to vomit a couple of times. What a pro!

    Finally, here’s a tip. Penny Wong is going to eat you people alive for decades to come. She is so good, it is scary.


  23. Thanks for the congrats about the LDP, Spiros. Out of curiosity, as you seem to be deliriously happy, what did you do to help the win other than vote and and scribble these slightly insane gloating messages around 1/2 the blogs in Oz?

    Are you on the ouzzo, Mr. Tifosso?


  24. I’m hoping Penny and Julia will get rid of Rudd at the first caucus meeting – form a duumvirate – then appoint Michael Kirby as governor general, and Julian Burnside as his replacement on the High Court.


  25. “And no matter how far you have travelled, how long you have stood, how hard you have worked, there is always someone to sell you a sausage and sauce on a slice of white bread.”

    In fact, the polling booth sausage sizzle (with onions) is the jewel in the Australian democratic process crown and the Undercliffe School booth, in the great Division of Watson, is its most perfect incarnation – exceptional mustard.

    JC – Penny Wong is a South Australian senator. She is formidably bright and articulate and reputedly a lesbian though she declines to publicly discuss this. I think Spiros exaggerates any propensity, on her part, for cannibalism.

    Russell – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Michael Kirby succeeds Michael Jeffrey as GG. He is due to retire from the High Court in 2009, is a monarchist and combines majestic gravitas with an affinity for racy and entertaining after dinner speaking.

    Is it just me or is it strange that the ABC’s “AM” program is devoting the vast majority of its coverage to the Liberal Party this morning?


  26. “Is it just me or is it strange that the ABC’s “AM” program is devoting the vast majority of its coverage to the Liberal Party this morning?”

    Rudd hasn’t even been sworn in, and already the media is bored of policy and wants to go back to personality conflicts…


  27. “Howard may be gone”

    May? Is there some doubt? I suppose the Governor General could decline to call on Rudd to form a government. It’s well within his powers to do so.

    Andrew, the Liberal Party leadership contest is fascinating for its anarchy if nothing else. When was the last time a political party had 5 contenders for the leadership, with none of them a clear favourite?

    Shows what happens when you don’t do proper succession planning.

    JC, as Geoff says, Wong is a formidably bright lesbian, and a left winger to boot. That should be enough to give you lot the heebie jeebies. And. of course, in the words of an anonymous senior Liberal, when referring to the people who voted out Howard in his own seat, she is one of “those fucking Chinese”.


  28. I was called a ‘treacherous traitor’ by some beardo lunatic in an Akubra while handing out HTVs on the day of the republic referendum.

    This was around 8am, and he soon disappeared. From that (admittedly small) sample, I’ve concluded that the loons tend to turn up early on the day. Once you’ve survived them, the rest of the punters are well-adjusted and well-behaved.


  29. The most distinctive feature of what I (as a denizen of St Kilda) call “The Northern Woman” is the red flat shoes. Nothern Women think they look more individual than the southside teenyboppers and BOJ brigade (boots-over-jeans) but in reality they are just as homogenous.
    BTW, Jack Strocchi, see my comment on Catallaxy in this weekend’s open forum. I owe you 50 bucks fair and square.


  30. It works both ways though.

    While handing out how to vote cards I would have a different message for each voter depending on their dress, etc.

    If a middle-aged, red faced, denim wearing male (presumably a farmer) walks through you say “Vote Coalition” to remind them that the Nationals are on our side.

    If they’re wearing suit pants and a shirt (small business or managerial) or a tradies belt and silicon stains (independant cashed up bogan) its “Vote Liberal”.

    If they’re young and apathetic looking, a middle-aged and overweight female or wearing fluorescent safety clothing: “vote (insert candidate name)” to avoid placing the name with the party together in their minds.

    If they are a goth, hippie, punk, etc… just don’t bother.


  31. JC – Penny Wong is a South Australian senator. She is formidably bright and articulate and reputedly a lesbian though she declines to publicly discuss this. I think Spiros exaggerates any propensity, on her part, for cannibalism.

    Thanks Geoff.

    I made a point of watching a vid of her performance on Sundays Insiders. Tell the truth, I can’t quite make out why you or anyone would say she’s bright. All I heard was gibberish and cliche ridden doudlespeak about how Rudd is “about the future”. The idiot didn’t seem to realize the campaign was over. So much for smarts.


  32. I love handing out HTVs (for the Greens) and take the abuse with good humour. This time round (on Bribie Island in Longman) the insults weren’t terribly creative with only a couple of “bloody commos” the highlights from the retired white shoe brigade.

    A couple of observations:
    -booth worker comradeship is generally very good but left-leaning workers generally have a better sense of humour than the right, with Christians having little or none.
    -other booth workers only ask the voters to return the HTVs for re-use after they hear me but never before
    -the loony voters tend to come out in the morning
    -many voters resent having to vote, which is a bit sad. Lowlight of the day: hearing a woman telling her young daughter with glee she wrote “none of ’em” on her ballot…


  33. Interesting observations, Mark – I suspect the experience varies by electorate. Leaving aside FF, I would say that the underdogs at a given booth tend (need?) to have the best sense of humour, for obvious reasons. I too wore the abuse with pride – I see it as a positive sign for Australian society that a big rough-looking white guy was not afraid to abuse me, a wimpy-looking Indian man. Twelve years ago, such a person may either have been afraid to treat me to equal abuse as Andrew for PC reasons, or alternatively may have used racist language instead. I give John Howard much credit for the red-blooded yet non-racist abuse I experienced.
    Highlight of the day was when a similar-looking person yelled at the FF person, “I hate families!”. Pretty much all the other volunteers cracked up.


  34. You guys are psychologists. I intended to distribute LDP HTV cards but did this without any enthusiasm after realising I will be harming the Liberal party. Not much success there anyway. In 34 degrees heat I did not last for very long. It was barely enough to get acquainted with the crowd. The booth was dominated by a massive Labor crowd with only a couple of older Liberal folks. The weather was taking toll on these people so not much humour there. The intake of any cards was very low. Maybe I am too shy for these exercises.


  35. I too was cast as the ‘underdog’ in a safe Labor seat and was expecting to cop heaps of abuse from the Green and Labor voters. However, apart from a handful of tirades, and a large amount of bemused/horrified looks on constituents faces as they saw what party my card was, I found the experience a thoroughly enjoable task. The camrarderie that developed between all the volunteers despite our differing political ideas was a strong one, we all had the same intentions and were doing it for the same reasons and I had nothing but respect for them by the end of the day, ahd hearty handshakes all around at 6PM confirmed this. If you’ve always thought ‘maybe I should do that one day’, after surviving my first campaign I’d thoroughly recommend it!


  36. “Brian – That’s enough please. Surely with Howard gone we can be spared this kind of stuff?”

    Suprising that you would seek to stifle legitimate criticism Andrew. I don’t quite understand you rationale, just because the perpetrator has left the room why do we have to stop talking about his crimes? Maybe you’re getting a bit sentimental for the old boy.




  37. I worked for the AEC on polling day – it was fun. Most people were good humoured, a bit anxious, conscious of their task. I’m sorry to make this observation but the only people who displayed bad manners were older women (about five). Irritated by the queue? ‘Good day, how are you?’ ‘Oh, just give me the bloody card.’

    We worked hard, it was better than taking breaks. $291 from 7:30 till 10:30 at night. Counting votes over and over might be necessary, but it got a bit anal retentive. And those senate sheets, laying them out on the floor, wafting them in the air, very unwieldy. It takes a forest to run the election. I don’t know whether I’m breaking some sacred oath revealing this, but the only people who voted below the line for the Senate – 68 boxes(?) – and there weren’t many – were Greens, and one Dem. It takes a super-rationalist to think like that. Too boring.

    I thought Penny Wong was trite on Insiders on Sunday morning – constantly saying it was politics of the future versus politics of the past. Oh yeah, I suppose mortgages and the difficulties of international relationships, managing the economy etc are now cast in the light of a new rosy dawn.


  38. Why the conflict between Greens support and support for principles of classic liberalism? I voted Greens, primarily because they are pretty much the only party that support personal liberties. I don’t see anything in their policies that would indicate they are much less economically liberal than the “Liberal” party. Yes, they support strong environmental legislation, but until businesses start to see the benefits in taking a bit better care of our ecology without it being forced on them, this seems to be a necessary evil.


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