Be careful what you wish for – the 2016 Federal election edition

Museum of Australian Democracy Old Parliament House

If you’ve ever wondered whether your vote on election day counts – because you’re feeling disillusioned with the choices, perhaps, or you don’t think your vote will have much impact anyway – let me share what I’m experiencing now. It’s given me a different perspective on the value of voting, thinking about who to vote for, and living in a marginal seat. It’s also, in terms of my ‘Places Matter’ series (which I’m interrupting for this) new considerations in terms of the role of geographic and political boundaries. Let me explain.

I live in what The Age newspaper branded yesterday ‘The seat that could decide the election’, (I know – it isn’t actually the sole one to be determined, but still, that was the heading the paper ran with online). It’s one of the few seats yet to be finalised, and apparently the one with the closest margin between the Labor and Liberal candidates. All of a sudden, I am deeply interested in both the outcome of this election and appreciative of the role of the individual voter in deciding it.

As Australian readers know, we had a federal election on Saturday. And three days later, we’re not sure who has won yet – it is too close to know, and it will come down to final counting and a lot of reviewing by scrutineers from all parties.

Prior to the election, which ran for eight week (yes, short in U.S. terms, but ages for us), this seemed to be the slowest and least interesting election ever. There were some appalling candidates, in my opinion anyway, some of whom seem to have made it into the senate (upper house) of parliament. But the major parties seemed, well, uninspiring at best, and embarrassing at worst, in terms of some of their policy positions. Even for me – I work in the public sector partly because I believe in a democratic process – but I wasn’t enthusiastic. I’d researched and decided who I thought was the best of the lot, and the next best, and so on (to meet our preferential voting system requirements), and I was keen to get the process over with. And no, the lure of sausages or cakes, which seem to be a highlight for many, weren’t enough to lift my enthusiasm (although that could be because I’d helped at my kids’ school sausage sizzle two weeks earlier and was still over them). Anyway, whatever the reason, I wasn’t really feeling it this year.


I live in a seat which, over the decades, has changed between Liberal (more conservative) and Labor (more left wing – in theory, anyway). It’s classified as a marginal seat, because the votes are often close. However, it’s been held by a Labor member, Anna Burke, for the past six elections (18 years) – well before we moved into the area. I like Anna Burke’s political views, so I’d been comfortable feeling that a) my vote counts but b) my preferred candidate always gets back in. But Anna wasn’t standing this time. And things are different now.

Last night, with 70% of the approximately 90,000 votes for this electorate, the Liberal candidate was ahead of the Labor candidate by 66 votes. Only 66! In other words, she has a lead of 0.073%. This is moving way beyond marginal, into infinitesimal territory. No wonder they can’t call this seat yet.

It made me realise a few things:

  • It is a privilege, and important, to vote. At this stage, each vote is very relevant (although that could change with the postal votes still to be counted).
  • It’s important to think about who you vote for. Although I haven’t been overly excited, I did think and do some research. And I’m happy with who I voted for (well, as happy as I could be, given the options).
  • Our seat seems to be a bit weird, in that so far, the Greens vote hasn’t played a major role – yet, anyway – although it has been more significant in many of the electorates around me.

It reminded me of one of the challenges in place making / place definition – which is reflected again in electorate definitions. And that is where you draw a boundary:

  • We only live in this electorate by the slimmest of margins. One street away and we would be in a very safe Liberal electorate. One that has never changed (and has been the seat, therefore, of past prime ministers and opposition leaders). If we lived in our neighbouring electorate of Kooyong, we would be highly unlikely to cast a vote with much impact.
  • But really – in some ways the boundaries are somewhat arbitrary. In terms of the preferences of the area, I suspect most of the people in my suburb and electorate would have similar voting preferences to the rest of my suburb (which is in another electorate). Probably more similar than they would in the eastern side of Chisholm. Possibly, in the months to come, someone with better GIS skills than I have will draw on the Australian Electorate Commission database to draw up a map like the one I’ve seen shared for the seat of Batman in Melbourne’s inner north, which shows the variation across the electorate.


.Michael McCarthy Research on Batman electorate


  • Drawing boundaries is an inexact science. Yes, it oversimplifies some things, and can have big impacts. But it would be worse if we didn’t have electorate boundaries – and just one, conglomerated vote across all of Australia. I think that would be worse.
  • I don’t know for sure, of course, but I think the electorate approach allows for the differences to be identified, weighed up, and an overall winner elected without completely ignoring, or failing to notice, a major cohort of the electorate.

I also now know that, although it seems – and is – good to know your vote has an influence, it’s not great to have the uncertainty that comes with it. I hope that the counts are done thoroughly, but I also hope they can be done quickly.

I’ve had the feeling of influence, in a marginal seat, and I’ve now had enough. I’m ready to see the election process draw to a close and a government start working, hopefully cooperatively with other parties, to start, I don’t know, governing again. Because there are lots of areas where I’d love to see progress. A little less talking about, and a little more doing, would be great. Soon, hopefully soon.


Do you think about the influence of your vote in federal elections, and the importance of selecting carefully – or is it something you do because you have to? 

Have you ever thought about the role geography and place (as well as demographics) plays? 

2 thoughts on “Be careful what you wish for – the 2016 Federal election edition

  1. To be honest, I’ve never really been into politics and this is the first election where I’ve really been vested in making my vote count. It’s a shame though that if it turns out to be a hung parliament, it’s really not good for anyone and I fear nothing will ever get done.


    1. We’ve had a hung parliament recently and it managed to get a lot of legislation passed (more than recently, certainly). What will be more the issue is how open the major parties and independents are to work together, and to look at the bigger picture. Plus the senate makeup. The signs aren’t great (the independents previously appeared a little more open minded than some now, and the two major parties seem to be digging their heals in, which doesn’t help anyone) – but hopefully there will be enough realisation soon enough that we need to work together to break through.


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