Democracy at sea
9 September 2013
Fifteen thousand kilometres away from Australia, members of HMAS Newcastle’s Ship’s Company were still able to have their say in the 2013 Australian Federal election.
On 3 September, Lieutenant Mark Williams of Headquarters Joint Operations Command led a small team of Defence personnel, trained by the Australian Electoral Commission, to provide Newcastle’s crew this unique opportunity by establishing mobile polling booths.
Newcastlewas in the Jordanian port of Aqaba conducting an international engagement visit, which enabled apolling booth to be set up in the ship’s office complex prior to election day.
While the office complex offered only limited space, Lieutenant Williams’s team managed to set up and run the polling booth efficiently, so that all could cast their votes before the day was out.
The relative quiet of the office space was a far cry from the usual clamour of election day in Australia. The absence of “how to vote” pamphlets was also noticeable as ship’s company lined up to have their say. Office cubicles became polling booths as ship’s company pondered their choices with privacy.
Leading Seaman Marine Technical Travis Spry was one of those who took advantage of the mobile booth.
“It was always a possibility that an election might have occurred while we were away; luckily we have some good resources available in order to allow us to cast our votes,” he said.
Able Seaman Boatswains Mate Martin Reay took a few minutes out of his time alongside to cast his vote.
“It was a different experience, but great that we were able to vote even though we are so far away from home,” he said.
Lieutenant Alisha Withers was eager to have her vote counted in this year’s election.
“Being able to vote gives us the feeling that we’re still in touch with events back home, even while we’re away on operations,” she said. “It’s just a handful of votes all up, but it gives us the sense that we can still have our say.”
Newcastle’s Commanding Officer, Commander Paul O’Grady, RAN said that more than 150 of Newcastle’s crew voted during the first four hours of the mobile polling booth opening, showing how keen the team were keen to have their vote count in this year’s election regardless of being deployed on operations.
Newcastle sailed from port the next day, commencing her next Middle Eastern patrol. She will hand over to her sister ship HMAS Melbournein the area of operations later in September and is due to return home to Sydney in October.