By Tom Westbrook
SYDNEY (Reuters) – In an igloo overlooking Vincennes Bay, Antarctica, 27 Australians did their democratic duty and cast ballots on Friday, the day before the rest of the nation votes in a general election.
“It’s about minus 20 degrees today and not much breeze, so we thought the igloo would be a good place to do it,” said Adam McLaughlin, who doubles as an electrician at Australia’s Casey Station on the frozen continent as well as being the electoral returning officer for the base.
Voting is compulsory in Australia and, thousands of kilometers away on the mainland, conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and center-left Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten were making their final pitches to skeptical voters on Friday at the end of an unusually long eight-week campaign.
Opinion polls published have the race too close to call.
Not surprisingly, the campaign has not come to Antarctica, where the last contact with the outside world was a resupply visit in April. The next ship is due in October.
“It’s pretty good being down here because we do escape that constant bombardment through the media,” McLaughlin told Reuters by telephone.
Australia’s Antarctic expeditioners do not elect their own member of parliament, their votes counting towards results in their home electorates. McLaughlin’s home is Bramston Beach, 6,000 km (3,725 miles) away in tropical North Queensland state.
His home electorate is a gigantic 568,993 sq km (220,080 sq miles) that stretches from the ocean through sugar cane and banana farms to the arid Outback, with mining and grazing interests thrown in for good measure.
“It’s about as different from here as you can get, it’s one extreme to the other,” McLaughlin said.
The votes he collects at Casey Station will be kept under lock and key until polls close on Saturday night. McLaughlin will then count them and telephone the results through with those from other Australian Antarctic bases to election officials in Hobart on the island state of Tasmania, 3,445 km (2,140 miles) to the northeast.
The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has 41 mobile voting teams to attend to more than 400 remote polling booths in the vast nation.
Norfolk Islanders, thousands of kilometers off Australia’s east coast, will be voting in their first federal election, an AEC spokesman said, after a law absorbing the previously self-governing territory into the Australian federation took effect on Friday.
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Paul Tait)