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Australian Federal Election 2007: a CNET.com.au guide

This Saturday's federal election promises to be the most exciting in at least a decade. If you're undecided as to who to vote for or just can't wait until the first results dribble through, there's a plethora of ways to stay informed.

This Saturday's federal election promises to be the most exciting in at least a decade. If you're undecided as to who to vote for or just can't wait until the first results dribble through, there's a plethora of ways to stay informed.

Will the education revolution make the long march to Canberra?

Making up your mind
It wasn't so long ago that politicians -- not to mention lobby and interest groups -- were limited in the ways they could gain the attention of swinging voters. Traditional forms of engagement -- such as newspapers, radio, television, pamphlets, and meet-and-greets -- are still as important as ever, but the Internet has made it easier for us to find information about those who want our vote.

Each of the major parties -- the Liberal Party, National Party, Australian Labor Party, Australian Democrats and Greens -- have Web sites which not only detail their policies but the failings of their rivals. The parties' sites also contain profiles for their candidates in both House of Representatives and the Senate. Most candidates from major parties contesting seats in the Lower House have their own personal sites, which are no more than a search away. Alternatively, you can jump straight to Google's Election sub-site, which aggregates election news from a variety of sources and provides easy access to the major parties' YouTube channels -- great for political advertising junkies.

As most of this election's televised interviews have fallen outside of primetime -- think Lateline, AM, PM and the Sunday morning current affairs shows -- it's likely they will have slipped under our radars. Fret not because the Sky News Web site has interview transcripts from a variety of sources. And the ABC's Election sub-site not only has transcripts, but streaming video and audio from its TV and radio programs, as well as Antony Green's extensive analysis. If issues around broadband, IT skills shortage, telecommunications and the regulation thereof, are of particular interest, check out the Sky News/ZDNet Australia debate between the Communications Minister Helen Coonan and the Labor Party's communications spokesperson Stephen Conroy.

Should the strains of politicalese have you reaching for a packet of paracetamol, take a break. Have a squiz at our Whaddyareckon? about politics or search for John Howard, Kevin Rudd or any other well known pollie on YouTube for some light political satire; our favourites are the story of Kevin Rudd in the style of a Mao-era Chinese propaganda video and the Axis of Awesome.

If the making a decision becomes all too daunting come election day you could outsource your thinking to the How Should I Vote Web site. Simply select your electorate, answer 20 questions, nominate your most pressing issues and the site will deliver you a how-to-vote card based on both your responses and those of candidates in your seat. The usefulness of this site depends heavily on whether all the candidates in your seat have answered the site's questionnaire.

Election night count
If the polls are to be believed, the election will be a cakewalk for the Labor party. However, due to our Westminster system, it's the number of seats won by each party not that party's overall share of votes which will determine who will form Australia's next government. So, the Labor party still faces the significant challenge of gaining 16 seats to form government. Add the possibility of the PM losing his seat for the first time since Stanley Bruce in 1929, and it should be a contest worthy of a grand final.

Television
There's no shortage of choice this year for those of us hosting or attending re-enactments of Don's Party -- debauchery optional -- with all free-to-air networks airing special election night programming.

ABC Television begins its count at 6pm AEDT fronted by Kerry O'Brien, Tony Jones and election analyst Antony Green -- Maxine McKew is a notable absentee due to her departure from the corporation and subsequent candidacy for the Prime Minister's seat of Bennelong. Channel Nine's coverage also begins at 6pm AEDT, with the familiar faces of Ray Martin and Laurie Oakes hosting.

If you can't wait until dinner time for a shot of election goodness, Sky News will start its election broadcast at 4pm AEDT. Helming the news network's election marathon will be David Speers -- you might remember him as the moderator of this year's leader's debate. For those of us without access to pay TV, Sky News' main feed will be streamed for free on news.com.au from 4pm AEDT until midnight, irrespective of when, or if, a winner is called. There will also be six other channels -- presumably via its News Active service -- focussing on John Howard, Kevin Rudd, and the tally room, amongst others.

The Seven Network is hoping to parlay its successful Sunrise format into its election night programming by "cutting out the boring bits". To that end Sunrise hosts Melissa Doyle and David Koch will front the station's election coverage. Ten and SBS are the only free-to-air networks offering some respite to those feeling election fatigue. Ten will screen a one hour election special at 10pm AEDT, while SBS will run with the election from 9.30pm AEDT until the result is known.

Regional affiliates, such as WIN, NBN, Prime, Imparja and Southern Cross, are re-broadcasting the coverage of the capital city networks. However there are a few anomalies, such as Southern Cross in Tasmania and Darwin not re-broadcasting Seven's coverage, and WIN WA's late 6.30pm start to its re-transmission of Nine's coverage. So, as they say in the classics, check your local guides.

The AEC's virtual tally room will have all the important numbers on November 24

Internet
Both Sky News and the ABC will have seat-by-seat results on their sites, on top of their mix of reporting and analysis. But election anoraks and budding statisticians -- not to mention party apparatchiks and pollsters -- will probably prefer the Australian Electoral Commission's Web site. From about 6pm AEDT until 2am, the AEC's Virtual Tally Room goes live with results updated every 90 seconds. On election night there will be roughly 1200 pages of data, from results in every seat to analysis of declared results and swings, electorates where incumbents are trailing, seats which have changed hands, as well as state and federal level summaries. All of which is available for download in CSV format. Come Sunday morning, the AEC's booth-by-booth data becomes available to public.

Radio and mobile
For those of us rushing to non-election related plans on Saturday night, ABC Local Radio and ABC News Radio will both be turning their attention exclusively to the election from -- you guessed it -- 6pm AEDT. If they're too reverent for your tastes, Triple J's Roy and HG will be hosting the youth station's coverage from 6pm. Should getting within earshot of the radio be too difficult, then you can sign up for the ABC's mobile alert services (be aware that there will be SMS and data charges though).

Pollie watch
It seems as though any election night broadcast is incomplete without some partisan sniping from the sidelines about which way the results are heading and whether it's time yet to call a seat for a particular candidate. So where are your favourite, or most hated, pollies going to be?

&nbsp Coalition Labor Other ABC TV Nick Minchin Julia Gillard - ABC Local Radio Marise Payne Penny Wong - Seven Joe Hockey, Jackie Kelley, Jeff Kennett Tanya Plibersek, Peter Beattie - Nine Michael Kroger, Helen Coonan Robert Ray, Wayne Swan - Sky News John Hewson, Brendan Nelson Kim Beazley, Bob Hawke, Stephen Conroy Natasha Stott-Despoja