Eden-Monaro byelection: Exercising our democracy with big heads, rainbow beanies and reams of plastic bunting

A familiar big head in Queanbeyan on polling day. Picture: Peter Brewer
A familiar big head in Queanbeyan on polling day. Picture: Peter Brewer

There were political big heads, rainbow beanies and plastic, zip-tied candidate bunting stretching for hundreds of metres as voters turned out in droves for Saturday's Eden-Monaro byelection.

Appropriately enough, Monaro St in Queanbeyan was one of the busiest areas of the electorate, with a steady stream of voters having to run the gauntlet of party hawkers and pamphleteers before making it, gasping with relief, into the sanctity of the polling booth.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison couldn't make it to the NSW electorate on polling day, but his big-headed replica, complete with Hawaiian shirt, attracted many smiles, thumbs up and horn toots in central Queanbeyan.

Directly across the road from the Monaro St polling booth at Bean Central, former public servant turned restaurateur Matt Morrissey barely had time for a chat as he plated up his famous potato rostis for the brunch crowd.

Laura Allen gets her democracy sausage from the Queanbeyan East Public School P&C's Chantell Braun. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Laura Allen gets her democracy sausage from the Queanbeyan East Public School P&C's Chantell Braun. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

"I did my duty early; I was across there this morning when they first cracked the door [to the polling booth] at 8am," Mr Morrissey said.

"We've hardly drawn breath here in the restaurant since then; it's been flat out."

The polling booths for the byelection this year are a model of clean and green.

All the demountable cardboard booths, set three metres apart for social distancing, are made of unbleached, recycled cardboard. Everyone receives their own democracy pencil for voting and taking home as a keepsake, and the perspex screens which separate voters and registrars receive a regular scrub with disinfectant.

Attention to detail even includes little perspex supports for the screens, cut into the shape of the Australian continent.

But outside the gates to the booths, it's like a Trump-endorsed version of July 4.

Candidates' plastic bunting lines the fences of polling booths for hundreds of metres at Queanbeyan East Public School. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Candidates' plastic bunting lines the fences of polling booths for hundreds of metres at Queanbeyan East Public School. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

At the busy Queanbeyan and Jerrabomberra booths, there was very little social distancing observed between the blue-shirted Liberal, red-shirted Labor, and green-shirted Green party supporters wishing to thrust as many pamphlets into people's hands as possible.

Only the Hemp Party supporter, with his impressive beard and multi-hued rainbow beanie, observed the correct protocol by placing himself midstream in Monaro St, right on the central traffic island. He had fewer customers, but arguably greater visibility.

The Liberal candidate for Eden-Monaro, Fiona Kotvojs, enters her vote at the Jerrabomberra Public School polling booth. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

The Liberal candidate for Eden-Monaro, Fiona Kotvojs, enters her vote at the Jerrabomberra Public School polling booth. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

While the Australian Electoral Commission is striving for less waste this byelection, there was little evidence of the same concern on the part of by both major parties outside some of the larger polling booths.

At Queanbeyan East Primary School, where 11 new classrooms opened this term for the first time, there were gaudy plastic party hoardings, both Labor and Liberal, stretched top and bottom across the steel security fencing for hundreds of metres, all fastened with plastic zip ties.

The preparation must have started in the wee hours of polling day and the awful plastic waste it will generate when the day is over, as one passer-by wryly observed, will be with us for years.

AEC staff members Heather Cross and James Field adhere to COVID-19 guidelines in polling booths. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

AEC staff members Heather Cross and James Field adhere to COVID-19 guidelines in polling booths. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

At sleepy Sutton Primary School, voting day was typically low key and country pleasant.

The two fluoro-vested security guards appeared in for a slow day, and the party pamphleteers at the school's front gates outnumbered the voters, chatting amicably and cracking jokes despite their very different political leanings.

Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs lives on the South Coast but chose to vote at Jerrabomberra mid-morning, then head off to Googong by lunchtime. She intends to get to as many booths in the area as possible before polling closed at 6pm.

Candidates' plastic bunting lines the fences of polling booths at Queanbeyan East Public School. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Candidates' plastic bunting lines the fences of polling booths at Queanbeyan East Public School. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

"My family are covering the booths down the coast for me and they will drive up tonight when voting closes so we can watch the counting together," she said.

"This is such a huge electorate; it takes five hours to drive from one end to the other."

At the last election, when she was narrowly defeated by the retiring incumbent Mike Kelly, it took almost 10 days to finalise the count. She only needs to swing less than 1000 votes to win the day.

"I know there has been some strong pre-poll voting and I'm sure the count will again be close. It may take 10 days again to finalise the count, but I'm hoping not," she said.

This story Byelection kicks off with big heads, rainbow beanies and reams of plastic bunting first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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