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It is the smell of Australian democracy: beef sausages and sliced onions gently carbonising under a gum tree, with just a hint of tomato sauce. It is a smell almost impossible to resist, and it only costs $2.

In Australia, voting is compulsory. Every eligible citizen of eighteen or over is required, by law, to enrol to vote. Every Australian enrolled to vote is required, by law, to do so in every Federal election, as well as the relevant state or territory election according to where they live. Federal elections are held at least every 3 years, and state or territory elections every 4 years.

Because of this, Australia's elections tend to behave a little differently to those of, say, Britain or the U.S.A. Our politicians are not out to attract voters to turn up, only to convince voters to choose them over the other available candidates. There is a lot less emphasis on personality or drumming up enthusiasm. 

Our elections are also, as I have discovered, much simpler than those in the U.S.A. At an election we will be handed one form to vote for our local member of the lower house, the House of Representatives, and one form to vote for our local member of the upper house, the Senate. We do not vote directly on other matters like taxation or education or individual laws.

Compulsory voting means that elections are not held midweek, but on Saturdays, when most people are not at work, and the voting is open for most of the day. On an election day, 15.6 million people out of a population of 24 million have to turn up to one of over 7000 polling places, have their name ticked off, and vote. Along with the voting adults, most of the children in the country will also be dragged along with Mum or Dad as theY vote between cricket matches and hockey games.

Just picture it: every primary school in the country, and a few other locations as well, is opened up for the day, filled with cardboard booths and electoral officials, and over the course of 10 hours the whole population of Australia marches through.

What an opportunity! As long as anyone can remember, primary schools have been firing up the barbecues on election day, selling what we here call a sausage sizzle, that is a sausage on a piece of bread, topped with onions and sauce, raising money for the school to buy books and balls and new air-conditioners.

In the age of social media, the old sausage sizzle has become competitive. While you used to simply wander down to the nearest school and vote, these days a school offering a cake stall and face painting might attract more voters, and raise more money. Local forums buzz with details about who is serving kransky or fresh orange juice. What was merely a quiet assumption, that you would have a sausage sizzle while you waited your turn, has become a fully-blown and hotly anticipated Tradition: the Democracy Sausage.

After the Federal election of 2016, the Australian National Dictionary Centre declared the Word of the Year to be democracy sausage. They cited the many websites that sprang up advising voters on the best sausages, and a flurry of attention around one of the Prime Ministerial candidates who described his democracy sausage as 'the taste of democracy' but created a minor controversy by biting it in the middle.

The success of any word depends chiefly on its usefulness to a large enough group of people. The nature of our electoral system has created this tradition, and now it has a name. Politicians may lie, governments may fall, but the democracy sausage will never let you down.




reQuest 2018

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