Declaration by distance
By CHRIS EARL
THE final act in Mallee’s 2022 federal election process was played out not in the electorate but in Bendigo on Tuesday.
There assembled at 10am were eight staff from the Australian Electoral Commission - three officials and five others making up the audience for the formal poll declaration.
No candidates had bothered to be up well before the crack of dawn for a roadtrip to Bendigo. Returned Nationals MP Anne Webster sent an apology, Greens’ candidate Sam McColl a written statement that was read out by Bendigo electorate divisional returning officer Denise Fernley. The Bendigo-based Mallee returning officer was ill.
No members of the public were present, apart from me who went to observe the occasion.
At one stage during the formalities, an AEC staff member even started to the close doors on what is a public event, held in offices where minutes earlier staff were removing furniture in the final pack down, a secured area still badged Mallee for the storage of ballot papers.
I was informed that Mallee division staff had been told by AEC headquarters to time the declaration for 10am, the same time as the only other regional electorate not having its AEC office within the boundaries - Corio in Geelong, its office across the border in neighbouring Corangamite.
Just the seat Cooper, stretching from Fairfield to Reservoir in Melbourne, remained to be declared. That was happening yesterday.
The AEC has previously told the Loddon Herald that locating its Mallee office in Bendigo was about best use of taxpayer dollars.
However, the disconnect of office location and now the timing of declaration early in the morning, does raise the question of how much the electoral overseer actually wants connection with those same taxpayers, the voters, and their participation in the processes. Not all that long ago, the declaration was when all candidates came to together expressing congratulations and commiserations to each other - a respectful aspect of democratic participation.
Call me old fashioned, but with the bitterness of Australian politics that has boiled over in recent years, there can be no cost placed on preserving elements of friendliness.
One can only hope that Dr Webster and the 12 councils across Mallee will make strong representations to return the AEC to where it belongs. For the sake of democracy and engagement with local communities. that’s not Bendigo.