Apathy and long queues: as early voting opens in Deakin, the locals are frustrated


The early voting centre at New Hope Community Centre in Blackburn North

Walking into the early voting centre at the Ringwood Bowls Club in the battleground seat of Deakin, Maureen, 81, picks a flyer from a volunteer and takes her place in line, smiling.

“I just vote according to the paper they give me. Just take one of these and copy one of these. That’s what I always do,” she tells The Junction.

There has been five different Prime Ministers of Australia, including two separate stints for Kevin Rudd since 2010. That instability has led to less trust in government, and a great deal of dissatisfaction. According to a Grattan Institute report, the trust voters have in politicians has hit a low ebb. Fewer than 41 per cent of people are satisfied with the way democracy works in Australia.

Trust in government is especially low for millennials, with research by UNICEF indicating that 66 per cent of 18 and 19-year-olds have a low level of trust in federal politicians.

Deakin’s sitting Liberal MP Michael Sukkar is clinging on to a 6.4% margin. Labor challenger Shireen Morris is hoping to take the seat from him. As early voters file in to do their democratic duty, many are feeling apathetic because of the revolving prime ministerial door.

Sarah, 38, has a warm cup of coffee and her phone to keep her warm and busy while she waits in line. She’s a rusted on Liberal voter, and that won’t be changing today.

She says that Labour’s ambitious policies regarding climate change will result in economic detriment.

“Labour’s policies about climate change are costly, especially in bringing about electric cars. … The technology is not there, and infrastructure is not there to support such a program.”

She often feels that “policies are rushed and put out inappropriately. Many policies are idealistic rather than considering financial consequences.

“Whatever Australia does is going to make minimum change to the climate change. They need to set targets and gradually do this.”

Don Stott, 58, is meandering outside wearing a black beanie, and mulling his decision over. He takes some papers from the volunteers to help him make up his mind. Voting isn’t a huge concern for him.

He says the major parties don’t sufficiently prepare for the policies.

“For example, the policies around Adani coal mine are ridiculous. Many people use underground water and farming there. I don’t know why they are not sufficiently investigating it before.”

Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a political expert from the University of Melbourne, tells The Junction that increasing partisanship and less trust in politicians have made voters apathetic. She argues that there is too much arguing and not a lot being done, which makes people feel politicians are untrustworthy. That means they distance themselves from the political process.

“When countries are further apart and more polarised, there is less consensus able to be built and less agreement by both parties. People feel a heightened sense of disconnection from their politicians and from politics more broadly,” Dr Rosewarne says.

Another factor resulting in apathy is a media that tends to focus on things that divide the parties.

“I think for some people, for example, the rise of the internet has given people the ways and means to be more engaged while for others, too much news and too much content has seen them turn off.”

She also mentions that apathy is common, and isn’t necessarily a big deal in Australia, because of compulsory voting.

“What does it [apathy] matter if people are supposed to vote?”

Elsewhere in Deakin, at the New Hope Community Centre in Blackburn North, a shortage of electoral volunteers is leading to huge queues. There are several cars parked illegally, and voters are growing impatient.

Traffic near the early voting centre at Blackburn North

Looking tired, Robert, 45, rushes out of the centre when he’s voted. He doesn’t disclose which box he ticked, and says he is disappointed about consistent mismanagement by government.

“I don’t trust any of them. They just criticise each other rather than caring about people’s interests. I think they present their policies two weeks before, but trying to retrieve some swinging votes in the last minute.”

He is also quite unsatisfied with the infighting in the Liberal party, especially the ousting of Malcolm Turnbull.  

Claire, 47, who is a kindergarten teacher and also does a volunteering job for an animal rescue charity, says she was excited to vote when she first turned 18, though she thought her vote wouldn’t make any difference.

She says she was born in Hawthorn, “which couldn’t be more blue”.

Initially, Claire was enthusiastic about what new policies were going to do for Australia. But many of them never came to fruition.

Since then, she’s become more and more disillusioned.