You Win! A Lifetime Of Mandatory Voting


I write this with a heavy heart. Nobody is more sorrowful about what I am about to do than I, but I’m afraid I have to take issue with Leader of the Opposition, Tony "Pope Macho XIII" Abbott. I know, I never thought it would happen either — Abbott’s combination of gimlet-eyed Catholicism, muscular conservatism and regular twitching had enchanted me as it had enchanted the rest of Australia, and I was quite willing to follow him wherever he might lead.

But he frankly left me cold this week when, kicking off Australia Day celebrations with the traditional Insulting Of The Immigrants, he questioned whether those who came from across the seas properly appreciated the "great prize" of Australian citizenship.

Mr Abbott, here is a list of things that are great prizes:

1. A washing machine
2. A giant novelty cheque for $500,000
3. A home theatre featuring Blu-Ray player, surround sound and Complete James Bond box set
4. A 12 months’ supply of Cheezels
5. A night out with Tony Jones

Here is a list of things that are not great prizes:

1. Australian citizenship

Do you understand my subtle point, Mr Abbott? The reason so many foreign types don’t appreciate the great prize of Australian citizenship is because it’s rubbish.

Imagine if you got told you’d just won a great prize. No doubt you’d be terribly excited. "What will it be?" you would think to yourself. "Money, jewellery, a lesser-known brand of smartphone?" And then you got told that it was Australian citizenship. I don’t know about you, but my first impulse would be to go straight to Canberra to vomit on the War Memorial in disgust.

Think about Australian citizenship. What good is it? I’m an Australian citizen and it’s never done me a lick of good. For a start, there’s no money in it. When you apply for a job, being an Australian citizen doesn’t count as a qualification. I put it under "special skills" on my last job application and I lost the job to a Pakistani on a 457 visa just because he knew how to repair and maintain laser printers. Discrimination? You do the maths. Wouldn’t a truly great prize provide valuable life advantages by giving you a leg-up over those who don’t have the prize, or must we keep relying on employers’ innate racism?

And, unlike other prizes, you can’t on-sell your Australian citizenship for big profits. I mean, if you win the prize of Australian citizenship, but you’d rather have the money, you can’t have the money, because it’s not worth any money. I can’t put my citizenship on eBay and let the punters bid it up. I’m stuck with it, as it just sits there collecting dust and occasionally forcing me to vote. What kind of a prize is that?

You remember on The Price is Right when Larry Emdur would turn to the showcase full of fabulous prizes? Do you remember a certificate of citizenship on there? No, you do not, because Australian citizenship is not worth waking up for, let alone guessing the price of a small box of Rice Bubbles. Even on the bad game shows, even on those game shows for semi-autistic schoolchildren where they have to guess whether the capital of France is a) Paris or b) Wagga Wagga and then run through an obstacle course wearing a day-glo mattress in order to win a Saddle Club watch and a Commodore 64 for their school; even on those, they would never give away Australian citizenship as a prize.

Because what do you actually get when you become an Australian citizen? A certificate, yes. And? Nothing! All you get are a whole bunch of "responsibilities" that people constantly remind you of just to bum you out. Respect our laws. Respect fellow citizens. Pay your taxes. Don’t shoot at the Governor-General. It never ends. You’d think there’d be a decent trade-off, like, every responsibility you have to uphold, you get a free CD. But there’s no trade-off, because this country refuses to think outside the square. Citizenship is just a long dreary round of respect and reverence and law-obeying and expensive passports and eventually getting flogged in Singapore. Who’d want it? And if you had it, who’d appreciate it?

Of course it’s even worse for people like me who aren’t lucky enough to be immigrants. We don’t even get the certificate.

I think my point is well-made. And yet Tony Abbott thinks this "prize" is not "appreciated" enough. He’s apparently got a bee in his bonnet about the failure of people to value worthless things, and for once it’s not restricted to the Bible. It’s like his whole virginity thing: virginity isn’t a "precious gift" — it’s a crap gift; the only gift that ceases to exist as soon as it’s been given. There’s no re-gifting here; if someone gives you their virginity, all you’re left with is a vague sense of disappointment mixed with guilt. It’s not like you can show it off to your friends or anything. As gifts go, promiscuity beats virginity hands down, and unlike virginity, it’s a renewable resource.

But the point is, whether it’s brown people coming to his country or anonymous young men copulating with his daughters, not enough appreciation is being shown for his liking. Well, Mr Abbott, if you want the prize to be appreciated, you need to put a few useful policies in place, which will not only greatly enhance the citizenship experience for all, but also practically guarantee your ascent to prime minister at the next election, as your revolutionary citizenship boost sweeps away Kevin Rudd’s sad incomprehensible grab-bag of anaemic Marxism.

First, announce that every new citizen gets a showbag. This will contain a can of Pepsi, three Kit-Kats, a bag of Burger Rings, and a Triple M backpack.

Second, every existing citizen receives $1000 and a special "I’m A Citizen" tracksuit. New citizens can get these after five years. After 10 years of being a citizen, a bronze medal and a Myer gift card is awarded, and after 20 years, a free weekend in Daylesford.

Third, there will be a "citizen of the year" contest, in which prospective citizens will compete in citizenship-related disciplines, such as Knowledge of Australian History, Parliamentary Procedure, Public Service, and Log-rolling. The best citizen at the end of the competition will receive a diversified share portfolio and be allowed to be prime minister for one day each year.

And fourth and finally, every citizen will receive diplomatic immunity for any non-citizens they choose to mock/assault/declare war on, as long as they do not exceed six officially recognised instances in one 12 month period. This will achieve the aims of a) letting off a bit of steam, particularly for those new citizens who might get a little antsy if they don’t occasionally cause a bit of civil unrest; b) providing a powerful incentive for those people who are not citizens to become so in order to stop the beatings; and c) providing a safe and regulated formal structure for the activities which we know we’re going to engage in anyway.

There you go, Mr Abbott. Your mouth-shooting-off-of has been a little disastrous, it’s true, but I’ve given you an "out". Announce these policies tomorrow and watch the tsunami of support come crashing down upon the tiny Thai village of Labor’s poll numbers. You can be PM, Mr Abbott, and simultaneously turn Australian citizenship into a prize genuinely worth winning.

You are the prizemaster, Mr Abbott: give us a chance to spin that wheel.

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.