Monthly Archives: August 2010

Why Victorians should not put Senator Conroy last

There has been quite a campaign to encourage people to put Senator Stephen Conroy last on the Victorian Senate ballot paper, in light of his never-ending attempts to filter the internet in Australia.

I can sympathise – several years ago, I was advising people to put Senator Richard Alston last on the same ballot paper, for similar reasons, and did so myself. I was wrong to do this.

By putting Senator Conroy last, you are effectively saying that his policies are worse than everyone else on the ballot paper. I am utterly against the filter, but, that said, there are plenty of issues just as serious, and there are some absolute nutcases standing for election for Victoria’s senate seats. Let me provide a few examples:

Family First are a group of extreme religious social conservatives, and most of their members belong to strange pentecostal sects. They too want a mandatory filter, but beyond that, they want to ban internet pornography entirely (good luck with that), they’re firmly against abortion and euthanasia, and they believe that “Small Business (are) the True Heroes of the Economy”, whatever that means. Now, I’m not saying that Family First are a front for whack-job churches like Hillsong and the Assembly of God, but whenever Senator Steven Fielding opens his mouth, I’m pretty sure he’s speaking in tongues. Their Queensland lead Senate candidate has, err, issues, and in the last election, the party demonstrated their lack of judgement by endorsing Pastor Danny Nalliah of Victoria’s-bushfires-were-an-act-of-retribution-from-God fame. Stephen Conroy may be a devout Catholic, but he’s not beyond ignoring stupid church doctrine and taking advantage of the NSW surrogacy laws, something which his own state doesn’t allow. He’s far better than the Family First nutters and should be put higher on the ballot paper than them.

The Citizens Electoral Council are a pack of Larouchite loons who should be put absolutely last on any sane human being’s ballot paper. Conroy is far preferable to them.

We all know who One Nation are, and what they stand for. The only reason I put them above the Citizens Electoral Council is that One Nation couldn’t organise a dinner in a room full of fish-and-chip shop owners. They’ve proved that they’re too incompetent to be dangerous. Nevertheless, they’re racist and extreme-right. Conroy is easily better than them.

The Liberal Party of Australia is a socially conservative party with an almost-dead small-l liberal faction. It is led by a man who, when health minister, pulled out all stops to keep RU486 banned in Australia. He believes that “climate change is crap” and is so creepy that he talks to the media about his daughters’ virginity. One of the Liberal Party’s Victorian candidates that is running for re-election is a former National Party member named Julian McGauran. The Age has an interesting article that refers to him. Definitely going below Conroy.

Obviously, there are plenty of good parties to put above Labor: the Greens, The Australian Sex Party and The Australian Democrats are all socially liberal parties. Stephen Mayne (of Crikey fame) is also running for the Senate, and while I disagree with a few things he’s said in the past, he’s shown himself to be honest and generally progressive.

But to put Senator Conroy last on your ballot paper is to say that he’s worse than a herd of far-right, bigoted religious fundamentalists, who want to interfere with your life. Despite his ridiculous stance on the filter, I don’t believe that he is as bad as them.

Voting in Stockholm

So, I’ve finished my mad dash from the north of Norway, to Stockholm, in order to vote in one of the only two locations in Scandinavia and the Baltics that Australia makes available (the other being Copenhagen). Australia typically only provides voting facilities in embassies, and as Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania only have honorary Australian consulates, there’s no opportunity to vote in any of those countries (unless, of course, you have a permanent address there, and thus can get a postal vote).

The voting process was all very straightforward – a room had been set up on the ground floor of the building which houses the embassy, so there was no need to pass through any faux-security measures in order to get in, unlike when I voted in The Hague back in 2001.

No identification was required, as is typical for Australian elections – it was just a matter of completing what was probably a postal vote envelope, and then filling out the ballot papers. The electoral officer then explained how to vote on each paper – the instructions were accurate, though I felt she emphasised a little too strongly that the Senate ballot paper was big, which I suspect caused a couple of people who followed me to vote above the line. That said, she did point out that all the group ticket preference allocations were available for people to read, if they wanted. I always vote below the line, so I didn’t have any need for this.

I was amazed, however, at a question from one of the other voters in the room: “This isn’t for local elections, is it?”. Seriously, I know I’m more attuned to politics than the average person, but a question like this is probably a good argument for compulsory civics lessons in schools. I find it somewhat unbelievable that state schools still brainwash children with religious education, but fail to teach them the basics of how our democracy works.

Arctic Circle

For the last two weeks, I’ve been drifting around northern Norway, spending a few days in the university town of Trondheim, before moving further north to Bodø and the Lofotens.

Trondheim sunset

I was lucky enough to arrive in Trondheim during the St. Olav festival, a week-long smörgåsbord (ok, that’s a Swedish term) of music and food, including a concert by one of Sweden’s biggest bands, Kent who, surprisingly, have absolutely no profile in English-speaking countries whatsoever.


My visit to the Lofoten islands included a couple of nights in a small fishing village with the simple, easy to spell name of Å, after a three hour ferry ride from Bodø, which left me feeling decidedly nauseous, although I’m not entirely sure if that was from the rough seas, or just the smell from the other passengers who had thrown up. Either way, I was glad to get back onto land.

The Lofotens would be, I imagine, a hiker’s ultimate dream. Huge dramatic peaks emerging from the sea, and unbelievable views from the top. I’m not anywhere close to being an experienced hiker or bushwalker, but I have been getting out and walking up quite a few of these mountains, and in one case, high enough that there was still some snow at the top. On a clear day, you can see for miles, and there’s virtually no sound other than the wind, and in some cases, running water.

I’ve found Norway to be particularly easy to travel in; almost everyone speaks English to some degree – and furthermore, Norwegian is very similar to both Swedish, which I took a short-course in three years ago, and written Danish, which I’ve attempted to teach myself, in the past, thus reading signs, menus and travel websites isn’t too much of a problem. Being a Germanic language, Norwegian also shares quite a bit of vocabulary with German and Dutch (both of which I’ve had quite a bit of exposure to), as well as English itself, or at least the parts of it that weren’t bastardised by the Normans. Unfortunately, my attempts to try a bit of Norwegian don’t usually work too well, and I usually have to fall back to English.

One thing that is really fantastic here is the extent of good broadband internet access; I’ve been in tiny little towns, often with populations of one hundred or less, and it’s been clear from the wifi signals (and, admittedly, a little prodding of the open ones, on my part) that good broadband is available widely. There would be towns of similar size in Victoria who still have trouble getting a reliable dial-up connection. Mobile broadband also appears to be widespread, and not just from the former monopoly telco Telenor, but also a second carrier Netcom – and while the prices are, naturally, fairly expensive for an Australian, Netcom at least allows unlimited downloads for 20kr (AUD$3.6 / €2.50) per day, rather than capping or just pretending that it’s unlimited and then charging for excess usage (ie, more than 50Mb per day) like a certain telco in the Netherlands did to me.

I’m now in Narvik, a port city and part-time ski-resort, waiting for a bus to take me to my northernmost destination, Tromsø. I had originally planned to go further north to Nordkapp, but unfortunately the Australian election has put paid to that, and I have to get to Stockholm before August 21st, to vote.

Narvikfjelle summit

While the midnight sun has long passed, it still does not get completely dark at night; it’s possible to wander around at midnight and not require any artificial lighting at all. Two evenings ago, I walked up Narvik’s closest mountain, leaving at about 3.30pm and not reaching the summit until around 8pm – the sun was still high in the sky, and it was as bright as it had been in the middle of the day. It took me another two hours to walk back down again, and at 10pm, the sun was only just beginning to drop below the mountains to the west.