Scott Bridges

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Category: Politics

Belco votes

Driving back home from my run early this morning I passed a lonely figure standing on the side of the road waving a huge yellow sign at essentially nobody. Were it not for the peculiarly Canberra tradition of planting a forest of campaign signage at the sides of roads I’m not sure the 2016 election would’ve been on my radar, but our sign-waving friend reminded me that it was ACT election day. So, after breakfast, I decided to enjoy the sunny spring morning and go for a stroll with my camera to take a highly unscientific reading of the buzz around the 100m exclusion perimeter of the central Belconnen polling booth. I started by heading back up to the guy with the yellow sign to say g’day.


Tom Chen is the campaign manager for Kim Huynh, an independent candidate better known to basically everyone in northern Canberra as “Kimbo” due to his unique and attention-grabbing Go Kimbo campaign. Tom was the only person I could see campaigning away from the Westfield side of the exclusion zone, and the only other corflute sign in sight was for another independent candidate. He said the Go Kimbo campaign decided that being visible was the most important thing and that the team believes voters don’t necessarily respond well to having volunteers rush them with fliers and how-to-votes. After a long day in the sun, the Go Kimbo crew will hit the Belconnen Tennis Club tonight for an election party.


Leaving Tom to untangle his balloons, I walked around to Margaret Timpson Park where anyone wishing to transit for the past couple of weeks has had to dodge dozens of corflutes and volunteers crowded around the edge of the park facing the shopping centre. I couldn’t not grab a photo of a corflute belonging to prominent Belconnon identity and now Labor candidate Tara Cheyne. Over the years, Tara has waged war on the scourge of abandoned shopping trolleys lining the streets of Belconnen and the shallows of Lake Ginninderra. I think she’d appreciate the #belcopride irony.

Tara trolley

I spoke to a couple of volunteers from major parties who were happy to chat but didn’t want their names and photos shared. One lady has been handing out HTVs throughout the pre-polling period and said that she felt it was a way of making her contribution to democracy and to advocate for what she believes best for Canberra. Most punters have been polite, she said, even those who disagree with her party’s positions.


At the corner of the park I ran into two Greens volunteers, Ebony Holland and Sam Hussey-Smith, who were enjoying the morning despite the noticeably slow pace of voters heading into the booth (perhaps due to the fact that over 80,000 Canberrans had pre-poll voted before election day — roughly one-third of enrolled voters).

Sam and Ebony

Asked about the general vibe of this election they said there is an undercurrent of antipathy, perhaps due to this poll’s proximity to the July federal election. However, both said they’d had some great conversations with voters about in-depth issues while handing out and door knocking.

It was time for lunch so I put away my camera, met up with my wife and daughter, and we all walked up to our favourite local pho restaurant. After a typically delicious meal, and as we were paying, I noticed a sign in the front window.

Kim pho

“Do you know him?” I asked the owner, pointing at the sign.

“Yes!” he beamed.

Love it or leave

Last Friday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull held a long press conference on the broad themes of terror, policing and relations with Australia’s Muslim community. While Turnbull was carefully navigating through his vocabulary to avoid mouthing the slogans so beloved of Tony Abbott, he nonetheless chose to play the “love it or leave” card. Albeit a very Turnbull version of it:

“If you find Australian values unpalatable,” he said, “then there’s a big wide world out there and people have got freedom of movement.”

In re-wrapping the tired Southern Cross bumper sticker meme in his flowery waffle, Turnbull actually helped to highlight one of the core contradictions at the heart of the current political debate around citizenship in this country. Earlier on the same day, Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton stood next to Major General Andrew Bottrell to deliver one of his regular briefings on Australia’s militarised ‘Stop The Boats’ program.

“The Prime Minister has made, and I have made [clear] on countless occasions,” said Dutton, warming to a now-familiar theme, “we are not going to allow people to turn up again unannounced on boats.”

The contrast between Turnbull and Dutton’s statements raises an obvious question: why does one group of people (asylum seekers) have extremely limited freedom of movement, and the other group (Australia haters) have an apparent surplus?

The idea that people can simply pick a country of residence, let alone citizenship, as if perusing a restaurant menu, is absurd. Freedom of movement is relative, and largely a privilege enjoyed only by the privileged. Do you have the money, networks, literacy and cultural capital to navigate complicated bureaucracy, along with the “right” passport? Congratulations. Do you have a criminal record or an empty bank account, or did you lose the lottery of birth and get stuck with a passport that has you automatically red-flagged by immigration departments? Bad luck. Even the very privileged likely have a very narrow range of options for residence and possible citizenship outside Australia, so it’s questionable if those being inviting to “leave” could even do so if they wanted. It’s unlikely this troubles Malcolm Turnbull, though.

The “love it or leave” rhetoric long employed by Proud Aussies, and more lately our political (and religious) leaders, is, if taken at face value, simplistic and dumb. What exactly does loving or hating Australia entail? What precisely are “Australian values”? Perhaps a better challenge to those who would channel their grievances through violence is: “hey, look, don’t, it’s against the law and there are consequences.” Citizenship as a legal concept requires adherence to the law, not the love and embrace of a concept as nebulous as “Australia”. But this is a pretty boring message which is difficult to succinctly express on an Aussie flag tank top.

As is pretty obvious, “love it or leave” is not a face value threat issued to Australians who allegedly do not love it. Rather, it’s a dog-whistle slogan targeted at Australians who say they do and are concerned about those who might not. It’s political messaging through and through, and rather than uniting, it further entrenches an “us and them” divide between citizens. But good on Turnbull for for not saying “Team Australia”, hey? What a guy.

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