Sea changing

In Australia, we have a Federal election coming up on 2nd July. Even more significant, it's a double dissolution, which means the whole government is dissolved and is up for election, including the entire  (Senators sit for 6 years and usually only half the Senate is elected every 3 years). A double dissolution can be called if the Senate and House of Representatives fail to agree on a piece of legislation twice. The Governor-General (the Queen's is still our Head of State and the G-G is her representative. I KNOW!!) calls it, but the Prime Minister asks them to do so. There have only been seven double dissolutions since Australia's Federation, so it's a pretty big deal. Since we have three layers of government - federal, state and local - and since under Australian law, it is compulsory that all citizens over the age of 18 enrol and vote in elections, many Australians find elections annoying. Not me though. I love them.

I love elections for lots of reasons, not least because people like me - women - have not always had the right to vote. At a Federal level, it was only in 1902 that women over 21 were able to vote in Australia, and not until 1921 that the first woman, Edith Cowan, was elected to Western Australian Parliament, and it was 1943 before Enid Lyons and Dorothy Tangney were elected to Federal Parliament - the House of Representative and the Senate respectively. And it wasn't until 1962 that Aboriginal Australians were universally granted the right to vote. 1962! In Australia, prisoners in gaol still don't have the right to vote in an election.

Here's me going to the polls on 24 November, 2007, a few days after turning 30. Look how happy I was! That was an exciting time. (Note: Despite what the angle may hint, I didn't vote for the National Party.)

Lots of other Australians love elections and politics too, which is evident from the enthusiasm with which people contribute to #auspol as a constantly trending hashtag in this country.

Because elections are so regular and at so many different levels, and because electorates/divisions (geographically defined areas of the population represented by a single elected Member of Parliament or Council) can be diverse and take in different geographies, things can change and get complicated. So, for example, my electorate at one stage had a Labor Federal Member, a National Party state member, and a Green Party mayor. Currently, we have a Labor Federal Member, Greens State Member and a Greens Mayor (I think).

To be sure, Byron Bay is a diverse town in terms of demographics, and the population here continues to change as new people move here from cities and overseas. This has been the case for this place since the town was established colonial settlers who logged the red cedar, immediately changing the and literally changing the area from the ways the indigenous population and custodians had lived here for so long. From that point on, changing industries - dairy farming and production, whaling, an abattoir, sand mining, farming various produce, tourism - and changing cultures amongst the baby boomer generation brought consistent change in this town and this region. Workers, surfers, hippies, travellers, developers, all flocked here and all wrought their own influence over the town. Most recently, sea-changers from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane have bought residential and holiday properties and opened small businesses again changing the kind of interests, desires, ideologies and motivations that shape the town geographically, demographically and politically.

This is not a critique of any of this, this is a description.

The point being that as we head to another election, the region we live in remains an interesting and uncertain electorate, and with a constantly changing population of residential renters and owners. Mostly likely, it will be Labor or the Greens, but who knows. Living in a marginal seat and knowing that your vote really, quantifiably has weight in this way is pretty exciting. I think.

The story of Byron is not unique. With making a sea-change so popular in the last couple of decades, lots of other coastal regions are facing these kinds of demographic and thus political changes too. I was reminded of this the other morning, as I listened to a story on the ABC's AM program about Corangamite, the electorate that takes in the southern suburbs of Geelong through the hinterland area down to Torquay and much of the Great Ocean Road. You can listen to the audio here. Turns out, these issues aren't new for Corangamite either. Here's another ABC Radio story from the 2010 election as well.

Thinking about how you vote is important - votes are precious - but in a marginal seat, it becomes pretty real. Last election, Indi's winner was decided by just over 300 ballots! For me, it's a constant reminder of the responsibility we have when we vote, and the importance of participating in the decision of who will represent our place and community for the next three years.


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