Over the years, I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve heard say that they either don’t ‘get’ politics or don’t see why they should care, since the government does whatever it wants anyway. Those kind of sentiments are completely understandable – we don’t learn enough about our political system at school, and when we see politicians on the television, they are either loading up their speeches with jargon or apparently engaging in schoolyard name-calling in Question Time.

Because of this, many of us just throw up our hands in despair. We feel disempowered and that affects how we vote. Some plump for the same party each time, regardless of the policies. Some ‘protest vote’, preferencing minor parties as a way of punishing the major ones. And some just don’t vote at all.

I believe that every person’s vote is incredibly important – sometimes, a handful of ballots can make the difference as to who actually ends up winning a seat.

With all this in mind, I started writing random LiveJournal posts some years ago about all things political – how our Australian federal system works, what goes on in the chambers and what influences policy and law-making. I wanted to do what I could to make politics accessible to all of us. These posts have grown into a concerted effort to record, interpret and analyse everything from debates to policy announcements to polls, and so I finally decided to turn these observations into a dedicated politics blog. And so …

Welcome to The Conscience Vote.

I can’t promise to be completely objective – I rather suspect I’d have to be some kind of Zen saint to do that. What I can say is that no one gets a free pass here. Every policy, every party statement, every bill that I examine will get the same treatment.

I hope you’ll come along for the ride with me.

10 Responses to About

  1. patriciawa says:

    Thank you, John Ward. I agree with our host that yours is a perspective many of us have no way of understanding.

    As a leftie feminist from way back I have often been inclined to complain about how women are unfairly treated by “the system.” But then I think of my four brothers who went off to National Service in the U.K. through the late forties and fifties, two of them to Korea. I often wondered about their experiences and how they managed to stay cheerful when they came home on leave. I would have been scared stiff if I’d had to see active service. They didn’t complain or talk much about it, but somehow, like you, they made the best of their experience. Your story has been very enlightening.

    I came here today via theconsciencevote’s excellent comment about freedom of speech. Here’s hoping it gets the wide attention it deserves.

    • John’s piece was wonderful, and it’s an honour to have it associated with this blog, even in such a small way.

      Welcome to The Conscience Vote, and I hope you’ll contribute to the conversations here.

  2. JenniferGJ says:

    How are you? I think the new direction Australia needs is showing itself. The attitude to our environment and our natural resources by all of those in government is wrong. We need someone who thinks deeply about issues, and writes with clarity, to address the issues and get all of us thinking and responding intelligently. Is there some way to discuss with you a new direction, via email? Mine is jennifergrant.jary@bigpond.com

  3. swoodward@pobox.com says:

    Great mind, great writing. Keep em coming.

  4. johnward says:

    I am sick and tired of Bob Menzies being turned into some kind of god, when he was most certainly not.This is a letter I wrote to my first love 50 years after my National service.

    I start this letter about National Service, by Stepping back in time before World War Two.
    On the 7 April 1939, Prime Minister Joseph Lyons suddenly died.
    On the 20 April 1939. in the House of Representatives, Page said the Country Party could not serve in a coalition government headed by Menzies.
    Page claimed this man Menzies was unfit to be Prime Minister. With World War II threatening, he claimed that Menzies was particularly unsuited to leading the nation. Page implied that Menzies was a shirker and a coward, asserting that in World War I he had resigned his Reserve University Army Officers Commission to avoid overseas service. Such a person, Page claimed, would ‘not be able to get the maximum effort out of the people in the event of war’. In the End Menzies turned out to be ‘the great conscriptor’ after publicly declaring, “my brain is too valuable to be wasted on the battle field”.

    It was with this background, in 1951, that Menzies introduced National Service to provide partially trained soldiers to send against the Russians in the Middle East or Europe as cannon fodder in the impending struggle for Europe. (See cabinet notes in the National Archives, particularly those made by the public servants in their own note books).

    Right from the start it was a sad joke. I had to keep my earnings up to send home to my mother and sisters who by this time were living in Drouin east of Melbourne.
    I managed to get a couple of deferments and around this time we had met in Crookwell and you took me home to meet your mum.
    Who by the way, was very generous with me and welcoming . She got the message through that as a good catholic boy, I should make a commitment to respect her hospitality and ensure your girlhood transition to womanhood was protected by my respecting both of our virginities till after marriage.
    I kept my promise. Some times I thought I might go cross-eyed. However, as you know I turned out to be a good little Catholic.

    During the time from leaving school at 14 till I was swept up in Menzies Nasho system I was learning to be a Wool classer and spent most of my time in shearing teams around Merriwa and New England, out at Booligal and Hay on the western plains and then back to Crookwell in what was known as a ‘Run’.
    Most of that time working as a shed hand I earned adult wages plus my keep. This meant almost all my money went home to Mum, Rhonda and Joy. So the girls had a rented house in Gippsland and were able to go to study at school in peace for the first time in their lives. We having fled Sydney to escape my violent, bomb happy, drunken father and the prospect of my killing him as he attacked my mum. I had knocked him unconscious many times with beer bottles or lumps of wood to the back of his head.
    The war stole my childhood and then my adolescence due to his bloody PTSD.
    I felt very much that it was my duty to see my family through these hard times till mum got her health back. I literally was the bread winner from 15 years of age on. So when conscription finally caught up with me in 1954, our income dropped through the floor.


    I found myself climbing aboard a train leaving Warragul heading for an army camp just outside of Seymour, north of Melbourne, called Puckapunyal. An aboriginal name meaning “Valley of the Winds”.
    Like almost every soldier before me, I found the army had a specially focused talent finding the hottest, dustiest coldest, muddiest, and most windy and flyblown places across Australia to build a training establishment.
    By the time we pulled into the siding at Seymour many other young blokes are getting off trains and being assembled by soldiers in slouch hats with chin straps and red faces, stamping around bawling out orders that seemed to add to the confusion. We are soon very hot and dusty by now in the February sun.

    We’re lined up in long ranks over a hundred yards long and three or four paces apart. We’re standing with our belongings at our feet. A general grumbling was growling its way around amongst our shambling ranks, when to our surprise we are told to drop our trousers around our ankles. Jaws dropped and ‘What the F***s’ exclaimed, ‘What for’? When the Sergeants begin letting us know precisely who is in charge. The air is full of their unbelievable bellows and curses and trousers begin to fall around white legs all about.
    Some Nursing Sisters in starched uniforms accompanied by a Doctor in a white coat comes from around the side of the shed in front of us. The order is now drop your jocks and bend over. I did that straight away so I couldn’t see the nurse’s faces as they move along the line inspecting our sphincters for piles.
    So bloody embarrassing and as the time dragging on, backs start to ache and sweat is dripping off my nose.
    Just when I am thinking this couldn’t get worse, the main line just some 80 yards away behind us roars into life as the passenger express thunders past and the people on board got an eyeful of acres of acres as white as the day they were born. I thought to myself if there are any queers from King’s Cross on that train they will be thinking ‘Smorgasbord’.

    Pondering what this is all about I came to the conclusion that with timing of the express train and the dominance this exercise demonstrated that the intent was to put all of us immediately in our place and under the thumb of the Non- Commissioned Officers ( NCO’s) the Corporals, Sergeants and Warrant Officers.

    It did not end up being too bad an experience.

    After my first week of resentment my corporal explained to me that there are many more people like him and my bucking the system would only have me feeling unhappy so I should just “SHUT YOUR F****NG MOUTH”!
    Having things explained to me so succinctly, and grateful for the early advice, I got into the swing of the thing and within weeks I was a Gun Layer on the twenty five pounders of the 14th National Service Battalion, putting the data relayed down the communications system onto the gun’s range and elevation instruments and the bubble, line, bubble, line, bubble. Fire!! And CRACK that brilliant little gun would propel 25 pounds of HE (high explosive) some nine miles down range.
    We felt pretty smart when we were told we had hit what we aiming at.

    Throwing a 303 Lee Enfield rifles around and simultaneously shouting ‘one two three, one two three, one’ over and over at the top of our lungs.
    We drilled and drilled until at some time we were all doing the same thing at the same time . We got to be quite pleased with ourselves as we got closer to being some-what competent. I must say once you heard the WHACK of one thousand Rifles crash down in unison when we ‘ordered arms’ the hair had to stand on end at the back of your neck. That is, if the barber had left you any.

    One hot afternoon, our company was marched out to the 25 yard firing range. It is a place that is still in my memory. The 25 yard range was a long bank on which about thirty regular soldiers, were sprawled in firing postures, all in a line, facing down a gentle slope to a high steep bank with targets in the shape of men standing facing us. The regulars were armed with 303 Lee Enfield rifles, Bren Light machine Guns and two Vickers belt-fed Machine Guns.
    We were spread out behind this firing line to witness a demonstration of what people had been asked to attack through in the first and second World Wars.
    When the order was given to ‘FIRE’ all senses were blotted out. The noise is one solid wall of sound, you can’t think of anything, the dust the smell of gun powder, the shock of it, is as if everything is this one solid block of deafening roar.
    After some minutes of continuous fire, the smell of overheated gun oil and gun metal grows. Just as your thoughts grow in amongst this blinding dust and begin to reel in horror knowing for sure, that no one person, could run more than 5 yards into those guns, with out being cut to pieces and shot through over and over again. Not the clean shot and falling in slow motion like a falling autumn leaf as we see in the Hollywood Films. Instead it seemed to us that if we were sent into that storm it would be sheer bloody butchery. There was hardly a mutter among the ranks marching away from that place. Just a lot of very sober, very white faces.

    If one of us messed up we all copped the punishment. For instance, there is always a hill in these camps with a Trig Point on top and a road going up and up, getting steeper as it climbed. There is also always some bugger who has to open his big trap.
    One day, the Physical Training Instructor (PTI) took us off in our horrible baggy shorts and Dunlop sand shoes, on a five mile run up that bloody hill.
    We would do a double march, all running in step sort of twice as fast as the marching pace. Being first unfit as a group we slowly were lifting fitness levels, but still a ways to go. So on coming to a halt outside our barracks and busting to get a shower before knocking off for the day, we are breathing hard when a voice within our ranks pants in exasperation, ‘f##k me’.
    The PTI who is that ‘army fit’, that is a really hard fitness, not athletic more a relentless fighting fitness that just doesn’t seem to stop.
    The PTI on hearing the gasped exasperation says “soldier I wouldn’t f**k you with a rag cock. —–But what I will do is take you all back up the hill”.
    “ About-turn , double march”, he growls and we learn yet another trick the army has up it’s sleeve.
    Fairly quickly they can turn we individuals into an organism that we might call a team, but the laughing and sweating and striving together means that when you’re swinging down the road all in step and with an Australian Army swagger you feel you’re part of some thing that has a great purpose not just to work as a unit but that lives closer than a family would, because the group knows it must operate in a way that it must prevail. Because the people involved appreciate the character of the group and the character of each individual as vital to it’s purpose and it’s survival.
    Besides that, marching along covering the miles feels pretty damn good. When you finally cannot be a part of that entity any more you have lost something you won’t get back. Not once you’re back in civvy street..
    What a fantastic experience, closer than a family.

    We drilled with the Bayonet till our hands bled. We always had the rifle cocked with a round supposedly up the spout. This was in case the bayonet jammed between your enemy’s ribs, you could fire the shot and get clear quickly as another nightmare came at you. I always thought ‘I’ll aim the bayonet straight at him, fire first, the stick the poor bastard and then reload’ I tried to kid myself, that this would work.
    The shock, the impact of hitting the dummies meant that no matter how hard your grip, your right hand behind the bolt of the rifle went forward and up under the cocking mechanism. This caused the bleeding of the web between your thumb and forefinger. My fury with my father dissipated as I took my anger out on those straw dummies.
    Often the bayonets snapped like carrots, yet Menzies wanted us to kill Chinese or Russian commies with these things and they (bayonets) don’t survive a fight with a straw bag.
    Following the experience at the 25 yard range we were given a lecture by an Korean War war veteran a Warrant Officer (WO) from 3Bn RAR. He was an inspiring character and had plenty of stories. He explained that the army knows that when you are put out to a ‘listening post’, a small fox hole perhaps, out in no-man’s land, to give early warning to the front line. Well the Army knows that in the dark of night your eyes will play tricks on you and after a few hours in the dark and cold, you will see what you thought was a bush, and the bloody thing will be moving towards you. So you will fire on the bush and thereby give away your position. “knowing this “, he said the Army puts two of you out there so that when you become convinced that the ‘bloody’ bush moved, you both can fire on it.
    “In Atomic war”, he told us “ there are few things for you to worry about, the Blast travels at the speed of sound, the Atomic Flash and Radiation travel at the speed of light and are are unlikely to immediately harm you.

    No, those things wont get you, but what will get you are the flying Shit house roofs”. Thanks a lot I thought to myself.

    Many of the nashos had never been away from home until they got to Puckapunyal. It is amazing to see the transformation as self confidence grew and kids who have never ironed a shirt in their lives are within days, are doing a credible job of ironing their uniforms. I can imagine their mothers spitting chips when the rotten little sods had never even tried to do washing and ironing for themselves.
    There they go, sitting on the side of the bed Polishing boots till you can see your reflection in the toe cap. What’s more these boys seemed to be getting to be proud of achievements that added up to growing competence.

    I got leave over a long weekend half way through the intake and caught the train up to Goulburn and when I came into Crookwell it felt like I was coming home to a real family. Your mum and Dad made me feel so welcome. You were so gorgeous and quiet within yourself, at 15 your figure was already full and lithe, I remember the smell of your hair and how it was so easy and natural just to be with you, to stroll, to talk and laugh with you and from that time I knew I wanted to be with you all my life if, you would have me once you came of age.
    When I got back to camp I felt happier than I had ever felt in my life before, yet I kept my thinking to myself ‘wait until a few more years go by. There was plenty of time. History robbed us of time. I had left my run too late as your mum later (55 years) reminded me.

    Besides the training and drilling and firing range activities with Lee Enfield
    , Bren Light Machine Gun, and the Owen Machine Carbine, we also prepared to play a part in the First visit of Queen Elizabeth to Australia in Melbourne.
    This was the time when Menzies and ASIO were whipping the electorate into a frenzy over the “communist threat” leading up to an election and right on cue ASIO made suspects and targets of anti-war activists, and homosexuals among many others. Even the wearing of a red tie caused government employees to be suspect –
    The Queen’s visit offered Menzies the opportunity to denigrate the Red Ensign as the peoples flag by declaring the Blue Ensign as Australia’s National Flag, saying he would not have red in his flag. Many of those who had fought in both world wars, saw the Red Ensign as the flag they fought under because the Blue was only used on official government business. Any person who protested were automatically labelled fellow travellers of the Communists.
    Now we know even more about the Petrov Affair, and ASIO’s role in it. Charles Spry, the founding director of ASIO, went to extraordinary lengths to watch what suspected Communist sympathisers were doing.
    The Queens visit and Petrov’s defection made for a perfect run up to an election. Bob, the great toady was in his element

    We rehearsed over and over again, till we had the lining of the route into Melbourne just right.
    We were all decked out in our battle dress. Our 303 rifles, (some would have seen service in the world wars and Korea), were polished our Bayonets flashing brilliant in the sunlight our boots could compare well with guardsmen outside Buckingham Palace.
    We were to de-train at Spencer Street. March proudly up Elizabeth Street and take position in front of the Hospital where the road comes into town from Essendon Airport, where Her Majesty would De- plane blah, blah, blah!

    Finally the great day arrived and we De-trained as planned, everything going like clockwork. Big crowds were lining the streets. The people got out early and were in a great mood for the occasion. We formed up on the road
    in columns of threes.
    ‘Right Dress’ is barked out by the Regimental Sergeant Major and a rattle of steel heeled boots on the pavement as proper intervals are established between us. We are ready to go. ‘Right turn’ a long pause and that deep down from his bass diaphragm this large resonating Aussie voice, ’By the left quick march’, we’re off swinging along an d the crowd begins to cheer us on. Applause rolls like waves around us as the speaker system along the route springs into life playing martial music and click slam boots down with a skip to get us into step with Colonel Bogey or something like it. We are now up near the top of Elizabeth Street as it is such a sight of flags and bunting with columns of flashing silver bayonets out there in front us as far as one can see.
    The crowd is enthusiastic and enjoying the spectacle when as always happens , some idiot in the control centre changes the record and bungs on ‘ The Teddy bears Picnic’ and a thousand pairs of army boots of the 14th National Service Training Battalion go out of step and such changing of step and banging of feet, the clashing of steel boot heels and hob nails on tram tracks, the slipping back on heads of slouch hat like Sunday bloody bonnets, chin straps in mouths and flashing bayonets no longer in unison but wobbling everywhere. What a shambles!!
    Worse still the Melbourne football crowd began jeering and cheering taking the piss as only they can. That is when I said to myself , “John, there goes three months of your life shot right up the arse”.
    The Queen went past in a flash. We saw her around our Presented Arms and then we marched back to en-train. This time without the ‘Teddy Bears bloody picnic’ and laughed a lot and hoped no one recognised us individually or took our photo.

    In the end Nasho for us ‘Bob Menzies Cowboys’ was only a hundred days plus a fortnights camp each year for three years and lots of curries sausages.
    We did not go into battle like the Vietnam young men did, and each Anzac day I think of all the young dead when the Ode is read.
    The third verse of the ode to the fallen seems to fit well with the young faces we see on TV reporting yet another loss from today’s more mature and volunteer professional men and women, who serve Australia so well . Perhaps at 76 I feel their loss too keenly.
    They went with song into battle,they were young,
    straight of limb, keen of eye, steady and aglow;
    They were staunch against odds uncounted,
    they fell with their faces to the foe.

    • Thank you so very, very much for writing all this and posting it here for people to read. I feel honoured that you’ve chosen to share it here.

      You have a perspective that many of us simply don’t have any way of understanding, but your words show that experience so well.

    • John, I hope you will see this. With your permission, I’d like to repost your amazing writing for this ANZAC Day – I think it should receive a wide audience.

  5. Taylor says:

    I only just found this blog tonight but it’s thoroughly interesting and right in line with my progressive views. Consider me subscribed.

  6. debichan says:

    great post!

    to follow u on twitter we… where can i find u, am i already?

    @debichan 😀

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