Monthly Archives: October 2012

Canberra Votes!

Yesterday, Saturday 20 October 2012, we had an election for the government of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) (aka Canberra). Now those of you who don’t understand Australian voting—let alone voting in the ACT—let me enlighten you.

Firstly: voting is compulsory in Australia. Well obviously, the physical act of ticking, crossing, or numbering your ballot paper is not compulsory per se; after all no-one is holding a gun to your head to make sure you actually mark the paper. But the act of presenting yourself at a polling place, having your name crossed off the electoral role, and taking receipt of the aforesaid ballot paper and approaching a little cardboard voting booth, is compulsory. And this for every election; be it local, state or federal.

Failure to participate in this way will incur a small reprimand by way of a letter from the Australian Electoral Commission (aka Big Brother) asking for a reason as to why you did not pop into the polling place on your way back from the shops, and request you to pay a $20 fine. If you do not respond to the Commission within 21 days you may be prosecuted, taken to court, and fined the princely sum of $50 plus court costs. By the way, your reason for not attending the polling place cannot include ‘all the candidates are crap and it’s a total waste of time’. Pity, but there it is.

Secondly: Australia has a preferential voting system which simply means voters can indicate an order of preference for candidates on the ballot paper—number 1, number 2, etc. So rather than voting for the party, you vote for the candidate. You can of course vote for the party you prefer by placing all your favourite party candidates together and numbering them from 1 onwards; putting the party you loathe the most and never want to see in power even if hell freezes over, last on the ballot paper.

George Clooney  1

 Jack the Ripper  16

For example, let’s say there are 16 candidates. If you want the four members of the Italian Handbag Party to win (they want to see everyone on the planet given a beautiful Italian leather handbag) you put all their candidates first starting at one. If you never want to see the three members of the Ultra Sensible Party (who don’t give a damn about handbags—leather or otherwise) gain ground, you will number them 14, 15 and 16. All the other candidates you will place in the middle from number 5 to 13. Got it?

Italian Leather Handbag Party logo

Incidentally, there was one particular state election I recall when there were 52 candidates on the ballot paper. The paper did not actually fit in the little cardboard voting booth, and voters trailed it behind them and over the edge of the booth as they marked their numbers from 1 to 52. But I digress …

Thirdly: the voting system in the ACT is called The Hare-Clark System and (not surprisingly) is named after Thomas Hare (an Englishman—interesting that they do not have this system in England), and Andrew Clark, a Tasmanian. Now it would take me most of my life (and indeed yours) to fully explain the intricacies of this system—not to mention using all my available blog-space in one fell swoop, so I will be brief, and hopefully as succinct as I can be.

So first up is a nice quote from my favourite election commentator Anthony Green, whose election guide states: “Hare-Clark is often described as a complex electoral system”. So there you have it—from the expert.

The eloquent Mr Green also goes on to say, “Voters trying to vote tactically, attempting to keep candidates in the count, or have greatest weight in distribution of preferences, do face a more complex task, as the order candidates are elected or excluded in the count is certainly difficult to predict.”

Simply put, it means that counting the votes and allocating preferences is a pain in the butt. And that trying to work out who has actually won the race will take at least two to three weeks and include many a long day working out preferences flowing from one party (or candidate) to another.

The lovely Mr Green was on television last night with a very up-market, high-tech touch screen, which he played with throughout the night, showing us lots of lovely colourful data on counting, preferences, numbers, seats in the assembly (all in the lovely colours matching the relevant party). The man is a mine of electoral information, and I could listen to him talk all night.


Unfortunately, at the end of the night (and I’m not sure when that was, because to be honest, and just between you and me, Mr Green started to lose his enthusiasm after 11pm and I went to bed), he was unable to tell us who had won government.

So today, the intrepid voters of the ACT (who risk life and fines to present themselves at the polling place) still do not know who their government is and will not be certain for some weeks. Mr Green has provided us with a chart of which party has the most votes, which party has the most seats (they are not the same incidentally), and a little calculation of who it’s likely to be. Sadly, there are too many preferences to take into account for even him to call the winner.

Let us be grateful there were not 52 candidates in this election or we could be rudderless for some time—though that may not be as bad as it sounds …

Three Perfect Days in BATU FERINGGI

After three great days shopping and meandering around Penang we were ready for three days at the beach where we could relax, indulge in whatever, and do … nothing.

Batu Feringgi (which we will call Batu (which means beach) as I have seen Feringgi spelt so many different ways I’m not sure which is correct) is about an hour from Penang by air-conditioned public bus. The bus station is at the Komtar Centre and buses run about every 30 minutes.

We are staying at the Copthorne Hotel just a few minutes out of Batu. The driveway is steep and we lug our bags up the hill, and the numerous hotel front steps—puffing and panting in the 30 degree heat. Once through the double doors the entrance foyer is tiled and cool, with fat comfy sofas and chairs to get your breath back before you check in.

Copthorne Hotel foyer

Our room has everything we want including a balcony (complete with patio setting) that overlooks the water and neighbourhood gardens. Somewhere beyond those gardens is a beach which offers parasailing, and those daring to try float past our window as they soar over the ocean and then turn back to land on the hidden beach. It’s now late-afternoon and we decide to explore the hotel before dinner.

From the foyer we walk through the open restaurant to the pool area and from there take a lift down to the hotel garden and private beach which is clean and spacious and apart from the sign warning of jelly fish; looks quite inviting.

Hotel gardens on the water

Back at the pool area there is a small spa which includes a sauna and jacuzzi, and offers a variety of massages, body scrubs, and facials. In our room there is a brochure on the spa that tells us for $124.50 per person, per night, you can book a spa break that includes accommodation, breakfast for two, and a 2 hour and 25 minute spa session consisting of rejuvenating massage, use of sauna and jacuzzi, body scrub, and pedicure. And you didn’t mention this facility previously because …?

Mulling over whether I will have time during our stay to test the spa facilities, we partake of an aperitif at the pool bar while checking the menu for dinner, after which we plan to open a nice bottle of red and watch the sun go down over the water from our own little balcony.

The following morning we find the sun has decided it’s all too hard and the day is grey and overcast. Our plans to explore the shops and cafés are dashed by a monsoonal downpour when we are halfway down the steep driveway. In the time it takes to race back to the foyer we are soaked and squelch our way to our room to dry off and change. You morosely decide the rain is here for the day and settle down with a pot of tea and a paperback and watch the rain bounce of the balcony—the parasailers nowhere to be seen, in fact the rain is so bad you can’t see beyond the balcony!

Now this is bad—and good. Bad because we can’t venture out much and resign ourselves to hotel confinement and good because here is the perfect opportunity to visit … Yes! The Spa!  


And so the day passes in the gentle hands of the masseuse who kneads my back and neck into blissful submission and shows me the delights of having salt mud wrapped over my feet and nail art painted on my toes—but more about that later. Later in the afternoon the rain stops and we venture down to the gardens to sit awhile and enjoy an aperitif while I admire my feet. 

The next day the sun wakes us and we are back to scorching heat and parasailers. Today we take the bus to the main batu and hop off at the Holiday Inn—which just happens to be in the middle of the main shopping area. We decide that we will take a sneak-peak at the Holiday Inn—just because it’s there—and so make our way through the foyer, past the pool (neither of which are any better than our hotel) and onto the beach. The beach is huge and stretches along the coast—but it’s also full of sunbakers, swimmers, lounges (and loungers) and the ever present parasailers who take off every couple of minutes. Looking up they look like large colourful birds swooping over the water and finally coming into land with a bump on the beach. 

We stop at a beach café for a light lunch and saunter back along the beach (dodging the parasailers); past the pool and through the hotel, and out to the shopping centre. This is quite obviously the up-market end of the beach with the shops selling expensive brand names instead of locally made arts and crafts. I comment that I didn’t come to Malaysia to buy Tommy Hilfiger and we board the bus back to the Copthorne where we have much more fun checking out the local shops and cafes. A couple of beers and a Nasi Goreng, in a tiny café across from the hotel is dinner for tonight.


The next day we take the public bus to the airport for our journey home. Penang has been a delightful tropical six days after a cold and gloomy Canberra winter, and we make a promise that we will return.