By Julian Bajkowski
If you ever wanted a sign that the digitised economy is fast consuming most things that stand in its path, spare a thought for set-builders of Australian democracy who once laboured to create the National Tally Room (NTR) in Canberra.
The Australian Electoral Commission has just announced that its iconic temporary structure of plywood, paper and politicians has been junked for the forthcoming federal election.
Election authorities say it’s because television stations that usually anchor their broadcasts there – including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – have all pulled-out this year.
“I have confirmation that none of the television networks intend to host their 2013 election coverage from the NTR,” Electoral Commissioner Ed Killesteyn said.
“The NTR would cost around $1.2m to stage again and this is an amount that has become very hard to justify at this or future elections.”
However the relatively small change saving has left naked one of the greatest charades of the Australian electoral process that broadcasters, bureaucrats and politicians have willingly played along with for decades.
Despite giant walls of printed results being hand-pinned by electoral staff to walls behind catwalks and gantries, for years no votes have actually been counted at the shivery shed on the outskirts of an unremarkable Canberran industrial suburb better known for its conspicuous adult-industry tenants.
In a shocking admission, Mr Killesteyn said the National Tally Room “essentially provided a visual backdrop for the media to conduct their election broadcasts.”
“In reality the results are delivered online by the AEC to the media and the wider community through the AEC’s website.”
Now that the live television industry has spurned the AEC’s generous offer of a backdrop, Mr Killesteyn sees no reason for taxpayers to subsidise pricey props for the pantomime of democracy.
“A $1.2 million outlay purely based on an historical legacy is not a sufficiently strong reason to continue operating the NTR,” Mr Killesteyn said.
“For the past few state elections, local tally rooms have progressively disappeared with costs and the advent of online results being key factors.”
Mind you, providing election results online is one thing, but voting online is entirely another.
The AEC has so far resisted the temptation to cut-election costs by introducing controversial electronic voting machines at polling booths with voting technologies having mixed results in other countries, most controversially in the United States in 2000 where the infamous “hanging chad” raised questions about the reliability of some equipment.
And while many voters, especially younger ones, would most likely prefer a smartphone app to cast their ballot, the tested and trusted paper and pencil looks here to stay for the time being.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics, however is more inclined to take a chance on technology. The national numbers agency has already revealed that the next Census will be an essentially online affair after the success of its initial e-Census.
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