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Scattered observations from an independent candidate

By Kellie Tranter - posted Friday, 1 April 2011

Being flat broke and busted after an unsuccessful tilt at a seat in the NSW state election gives you time to reflect.

Running as a self-funded independent candidate in a key seat you learn a lot about yourself, the community in which you live and the internal machinations of political parties.

The most striking thing on polling day - and to me the most disturbing - was that you can count almost on one hand the number of people turning out to vote who look both healthy and happy.


The political structure doesn't help either: many are befuddled by the optional preferencing system and there is a level of confusion between local, state and federal issues - which, I noticed, was left uncorrected by party volunteers if it was to the advantage of the particular political party at the booth.

Men, particularly those aged from about 18 to 35, are strangely "aggro". My good mate Bruce is probably right when he says that's because they have nothing to respect, including no positive political role models to admire. I certainly agree that a trust gap exists.

The campaign process is interesting. A major party hell-bent on getting the seat opens the war chest: go-go girls at major intersections (no, I'm not joking), high-rise mobile billboard signs criss-crossing the electorate, booths adorned with marquees and six-foot medieval flags: the whole box and dice is thrown at the place.

Even down to shipping troops in from the northern beaches and other "safe seats": Is that because they can't drum up support from the locals? I was disappointed that no-one thought of searchlights and strobe lights! What must the poor and disenfranchised think about the cynical rush over one single month every four years, all that pomp and ceremony and money going up in smoke? It'd make a great "Allegro non troppo" style animation, perhaps set to Tchaikovsky's '1812 Overture'.

Pauline Hansen arrives at a booth and people are star struck. She's revered. Candidates are forgotten as voters scramble for her autograph. Liberal Party spruikers duck for cover so their supporters' common affection doesn't hit the media. No-one asks her to "please explain" egalitarianism but, I suppose, why bother? People always fear what they don't understand.

Behind the scenes disgruntled party members decry in whispers the pre-selection process that's seen their long-serving mates bypassed even though it was "their time". In the one breath they chide the party puppet-masters but implore friends and family to "Vote 1" for the fellowship.


Ambitious party members scuttle about, either not seeing or not caring that rewards come for compliance instead of critical thinking. I guess you can hardly blame them for not swimming against the tide: with bills to pay and empires to build it's far easier, a lot safer and a lot less costly - both personally and financially - to go with the flow.

Behind this circus the tandem tragedy of social disintegration and grassroots wilt continues to spread. It's easy to see why, when the people at the coalface keep asking for oranges and the major parties keep offering lemons.

Citizens are fighting and failing because politicians don't recognise the importance of starting from the ground up. Basic things, like having consistent definitions across departments; like valuing the collection and collation of accurate data and statistics that would enable policy makers to look at problems from end to end, particularly in areas like homelessness and affordable housing; like realising that competitive funding models can encourage community organisations to work towards eliminating their competition instead of working together and sharing resources to achieve the best outcomes for end users and taxpayers. And last but not least, of encouraging a strong and independent public service instead of a compliant one staffed by public servants afraid to speak out for fear of being sacked.

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About the Author

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

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