Voting was never taken seriously where I grew up. No one in a rough suburb feels noticed, let alone affected, by politics. So there was that, plus the fact that no one likes politicians very much.
But now we've all grown up, I wondered if much had changed. I decided to ask a handful of friends, those who cling to the underbelly of the "lowest" demographic: shift workers, tradies, bikers, criminals, extremists. I wanted to know who they're voting and if they felt anyone understands their beliefs and needs.
First I met up with Arthur and Chris, two outlaw bikies from Campbellfield, at their local kebab stop. With anti-bikie laws spreading across the country, I asked how they were voting. "I know who I'll be putting last," Arthur said. "The fucking LNP."
The general consensus was that neither party would repeal the consorting laws, while according to Arthur, Peter Dutton can "fuck right off."
"I actually put the Greens last [in an early postal vote]," said Chris, interrupting. Then he put the LNP second last, and Labor just above them. "I feel I did my duty as a patriot," Chris told me. I asked if the patriot thing was supposed to reflect his ideas on immigration and there was a long silence. Then it got awkward and Arthur unconvincingly rushed Chris away, claiming they had to go meet someone.
A friend of mine called me and asked whether I wanted to meet his cousin Jemal, a member of the Apex street gang at a pool hall in Dandenong. I said yes, so we met to shoot some pool and talk politics.
Jemal was born in Australia but he had family in detention centres on Christmas Island. He told me he was voting Green, because that's what he's about. It took me a minute to get the joke. Jemal said he usually voted Labor because in his community they were advised by their elders to do so, but his girlfriend has been telling him about the Greens' policies regarding immigration and refugees. She's changed his perspective on things.
The next day I caught up with Walleed, an ultra-conservative Muslim who's on the ASIO watch list. We met up at a community youth centre in Preston. "A lot of the brothers turning 18 aren't registering to vote, so they don't have to pick sides," he told me. "They don't believe that either party cares about their ideology."
In the picture Walleed painted, it seemed there was an almost paranoid suspicion among the youth in the western suburbs. They labelled both major parties extortionists, and said they make good actors. Walleed told me he personally found Labour the least unlikable.
Shane is a biker, and inmate at Barwon prison. "I should be voting for the Sex Party," he told me, his laugh vibrating violently through the glass cubicle he sat in during our visit. "I'd vote for the Greens because we need to get rid of these consorting laws," he said, his expression growing serious. "The Liberal and Labor parties are both the same shit. Neither really care about the Koori communities or the poor kids on the street."
As Shane spoke, it struck me that my friends behind bars are hungrier for radical change than any of the others. They seem to believe change can actually happen. Or maybe voting is one of the only things that makes them feel connected to the outside world. I'm not sure.
In any case, it feels as though there still isn't much motivation for young voters from the suburbs to engage in politics. Or even research to what party suits their conditions. They feel disregarded. As though their vote doesn't matter or won't make a difference, like it somehow weighs less than a vote from Toorak. Maybe with better education, and more social resources, a lot of these marginalised voters could spark a political change that would make a difference. But for now they all seem to be in the dark.
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