A newcomer's view of the New England by-election

Rivals not enemies.

Rivals not enemies.

Earlier in the year, I stood and watched as aged people waited in long lines to vote in South Korea. These were frail men and women on old legs who remembered the years of dictatorship when dissidents were thrown from helicopters by the secret police.

For these people, democracy was something real and valuable. Their wait moistened my eyes.

In our seasoned Australian democracy, it’s easy to forget how valuable the vote is. Cynicism about politics and politicians can corrode belief.

But it’s been refreshing to watch the by-election and see a lack of cynicism. Good humour in my corner of New England has triumphed.

On Monday, Barnaby Joyce turned up unannounced in Glen Innes - I mean, unannounced (anyone would think he was trying to avoid a crowd).

All the same, three protesters got wind of it and turned up and barracked him.  In some countries, it would have turned ugly, but in Glen Innes no police got involved. A recent deputy Prime Minister walked freely down a main street with protesters nearby.

It was democracy as it is meant to be. Mr Joyce gave an interview. The awkward squad shouted. Mr Joyce strode off. And the protesters and his supporters chatted.

In 2004, I covered the re-election of George W. Bush. We in the press followed him in our plane for two whole weeks, with three or four utterly controlled rallies a day.

Our plane would land so the cameras could film him getting out of his plane to choreographed cheers. He would deliver the same speech to supporters in a corner of the airfield with a made-for-TV backdrop. We would film him leaving. Our plane would catch up with his and land first to film him again. And so on. By the end, I didn’t know what state I was in (except the mental state of boredom and despair).

Australia is nowhere near that hyper-control but there is one thing lacking. In Britain, candidates stand on a stage to hear the result. You see the face of defeat when the big beast falls.

It is delicious to watch when powerful people realise they must trade the big black limo for the bus pass. It’s true the fallen do find new careers on chat show sofas. They learn to tango on TV dance competitions.

But it’s not power. Democracy truly is wonderful. 

Steve Evans is a Fairfax Media journalist based in Glen Innes.