I won’t be voting next weekend because I can’t. I’m not yet an Australian citizen.
When I found out in March, to my surprise, that I was eligible to apply for citizenship, I was thrilled. Nine years of waiting. Four visas. Enough paperwork to fill a jumbo jet and the moment had finally arrived.
So I printed out the 84 page booklet “Australian Citizenship: Our Common Bond” that tells you all you need to know about this great land to prepare for your citizenship test and read it cover to cover.
Then I downloaded all the forms that I would have to fill in.
I had this great idea that I’d write to all the different political parties asking why I should give them my valuable vote and then turn that into a story for this blog or maybe Crikey (the editor was keen, “a new citizen’s guide to Australian politics” or something like that was how I pitched it).
But then there came the complicated instructions that are standard with anything that has to do with the Department of Immigration. You read them, read them again, ponder them, but still you’re left scratching your head and perhaps heading for the liquor cabinet.
Once again there’s the obligatory police clearance? I must have gained police clearance half a dozen times now for my various visas, surely they know me better than my own mother? Then’s there’s finding people to sign statutory declarations and certifying documents and photocopying.
Once again, I must account for my movements over the past nine years into and out of Australia. Honestly, its all become a blur: who can remember every trip they’ve taken? To make matters worse I lost my previous passport and the one before that is in a box somewhere in my parent’s home in Johannesburg, which means there’s yet another form I have to fill in.
Further dampening my enthusiasm was news that I would have to send off two forms and $43 to the South African Department of Home Affairs if I wanted to have dual citizenship. Approval has to be gained first from South Africa before taking the oath in Australia or you lose your South African citizenship. And the time to process these two forms – three to six months!
So the end result is that the paperwork lies in yellow plastic folder on the big desk in the spare room waiting for me to summon up a degree of enthusiasm to fill in all the details and painstakingly try to sort out what documents I need and who needs to sign what.
It’s hardly the response I’d expected of myself because the truth is I’ve always wanted to vote in this country. Becoming a permanent resident was a big deal (I even cherished my pale green Medicare card) and gaining citizenship is even more of a badge of honour.
Perhaps it has something to do with my arrival in Australia almost a decade ago, which happened to be just a few weeks before the 2004 election, the last federal poll won by glum John Howard and his cronies. My girlfriend at the time, her sisters, their partners and everyone else lined up to vote, while I milled about the polling station in some backwater country town eating a sausage roll and getting funny looks from the locals (He’s white, he looks Australian so why isn’t he voting?). If that wasn’t enough, we stopped the car to vote on our way to Canberra for the annual flower shower (the Floriade), a trip which included an obligatory visit to Parliament house and a walk past those solemn paintings of past prime ministers.
But now that the opportunity has come – and I probably could have voted in a week’s time if I’d made a big effort on the paperwork front – I could hardly care.
Who the hell would I vote for? There’s very little to inspire me among the neo-conservative Coalition, directionless and clueless Labor and the loopy Greens. There’s the smaller parties with their eccentric candidates so maybe I’d chose them and preference the bigger parties last, but then what would be the point? A protest vote perhaps?
All quite different from when I voted for the first time in South Africa in 1994. That wonderful sunny autumn day when there was hope and belief and joy in the air and as the newspapers rang out “Vote, the beloved country” with photos of lines of people snaking endlessly down city streets, amongst the leafy suburbs and through country side and hilltops.
It was a glorious moment, history in the making, and one of my finest memories.
But there’s nothing to inspire me now, in fact its far more enjoyable watching the circus from the sidelines (so to speak).
The truth is, I’ll eventually find the time and energy to put all the paperwork together and put my application in because to steal from Peter Allen, I also want to call Australia home (in an official capacity).
Indeed, it will be a proud day when they hand me a tree, offer me a lamington and a tiny tub of Vegemite.
But as for voting, I’m happy to wait another three years.