Talking Politics With Kids Is A Vote Of Confidence In The Future

Get them to the polls, even if you have to bribe them with a sausage sanga.

06/06/2016 12:07 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST
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If we want them to care, we have to show them that it's important.

A few days before the last federal election in 2013, my 13-year-old emailed me the chart of my below-the-line Senate choices -- 97 in Victoria, bless him -- painstakingly arranged from tolerable to loathsome, with the message: "Mum, let me know if this is okay and I'll print it out".

He's whip-smart, if I do say so myself, and more interested in the political process than most. And he knows me well; I don't do numbers. Without his precious print-out, my up-tight democratic duty would have taken so long the scouts would have run out of snags or, worse, I'd have mucked it up and some crazy minority party would have gone to Canberra.

Oh, that's right, one did. Well, it wasn't my fault.

The list reflected my choices, of course, not his, but we spent a fun hour together working out where I stand -- checking the major/minor/one-trick-pony parties' websites for the bedevilled detail.

And so, here we are again. On July 2 we will stroll past the garage sales down to the booth, get into the (hopefully) modest queue, try to resist the aroma of bog-standard fried food, and together we'll wallow in democracy, glorious democracy, once more. And, as usual, the kids are coming too.

Vote-casting makes me nostalgic. Back in 1984 I'd lurched legally around suburban streets in my mum's Datsun Stanza without her supervision. But casting my first vote -- a vote for Hawke, in delicious defiance of my father's political preferences -- felt extremely grown-up. Plus, I picked the winner.

Kids become voters, and as we sooky, sentimental parents lament, it all happens so fast. If we want them to care -- to get involved, to generate change, to fully inhabit their world -- we have to show them that it is important. That it matters to us.

If you have kids, have an election conversation. Check a few party websites. Discuss the senate changes. You can even practice voting for the House of Reps and Senate on the Australian Electoral Commission website -- it's a kind-of slow, unexciting computer game. Explain your choices, or why you're exasperated by lack of choice. Grab the butchers' paper and a thick black texta, dammit, and have an impromptu lesson on the Westminster system. It doesn't have to be too serious; why is our voting still done with pencils, like some dull, grown-up colouring book?

Most of all, if you haven't availed yourself of a postal or the early voting option available from June 14, take them to the polling station to see the infernal machine of democracy rolling. To enjoy rituals: the jostle of party faithful at the kindergarten gate, the camaraderie of the queues, the presentation of ballot papers and finally, cocooned in your cardboard booth, that one, precious vote.

In my 'hood -- in most, I suspect -- balloons and shabby hand-made signs announce nearby garage sales and there are snacks for sale in the nearby hall. We run into friends and neighbours, some only spotted at Halloween. Come to think of it, the Halloween metaphor works well in so many ways.

It's fun. It feels exciting, this democracy.

So a last plea, more three-quarter time coach's address than stump spruiker.

I know you're weary. Disillusioned maybe. Sick of it, certainly, after a campaign that feels longer than the past three prime ministerships. You might think your choices unpalatable, the options limited, the truth obscured, the process cheapened. You're over the high-visibility vest hijinks, the coma-inducing debates and faux-spontaneity of the campaign.

Whatever boxes you tick, try to enjoy your vote. Make it worthwhile and involve the kids. It's trite but true that cynicism about our democratic process is a luxury envied by the many who live without.

And, after casting your vote, reward yourself with a greasy sausage (vegie burger if you're inner city) in cheap, squashy white bread with extra onions -- the saturated fat-drenched, cheerful emblem of this great democracy.

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