Tony Bates uses sticks to explain preferential voting to American friends Ed and Rita.
Tony Bates uses sticks to explain preferential voting to American friends Ed and Rita. Nancy Bates

Apathy is rampant way off the campaign trail

OPINION: When you are wandering around Australia and strike up a conversation with another wanderer, the classic opening gambit is "Where are you from?"

When we left home in July just after Kevin punched Julia back, if the answer to the first question was somewhere in Australia the second question would be: "Do you know who is prime minister this week?"

That had to be scotched when someone said they weren't sure who was PM but he or she had called an election.

In the next few weeks nobody seemed to have much more to say about it but our American friends Ed and Rita, travelling with us from Cairns to Darwin, were fascinated with the election process.

News loses its sense of urgency when you meander around the back areas of Australia.

Vast tracts are out of reception and when you do swing into range you tend to be a bit too busy sorting out other stuff to catch up on latest events.

If your batteries are charged and you can get online, you need to acknowledge birthdays, check out how the kids and the grannies are, find out if any bills need paying and make sure your lotto entries are current.

Other stuff has to wait.

Often you find yourself out in the mulga and out of range before you catch up on news.

Our campaign intake was limited to occasionally seeing the faces of Rudd or Abbott on TV at roadhouses.

The screens were big but the noise was muted, so we didn't learn much.

I picked up a newspaper here and there but coverage was limited.

Apathy has been rampant.

No one wanted to vote for anyone because, as one wit said, it was like trying to decide whether to hammer a rusty nail into your left foot or right foot.

Our American friends were surprised to find Australians were forced to vote and could be fined $170 plus court costs if they didn't.

We had many discussions about the wisdom of compulsory voting and how it can lead to desultory government as politicians pander to the frivolous voters.

Then we moved on to preferential voting.

Our American friends were astonished to learn that not only did you have to vote but also you had to vote for everyone who stood in your electorate if you wanted your vote to be valid.

And in the Senate you used to have to vote for more than 80 people in order of preference.

Party-line voting means you only have to put a 1 in one square now, we explained, but not many people know anything about senators and the protracted counting process anyway, so the 1 often gets put on the Pirate Party or the Sex Party.

On Saturday we took them in to see the fun.

Rita found it colourful, interesting and a little intimidating.

Now we are leaving the running of the country to the new government and going bush again.