1.There are some who wish to destroy the democratic safeguards of our election process - the secret ballot and 'compulsory voting'; together comprising an election process which is a world leader. 'Compulsory Voting' is a misnomer. The law requires everyone to attend and receive a voting paper. The compulsory aspect is therefore to attend the poll on the day or make other arrangements to vote by postal or absentee vote. The law cannot compel an actual vote by reason of the secrecy of the voting procedures.
2.The push for voluntary voting is specious and, at this point, quite insidious, voluntary voting for delegates having been included by the government in its proposals for the 1999 Constitutional Convention. The proposal was by a South Australian Senator in whose state this is the practice apparently.
3.There is a danger that ignorance of the great value of this law could lead to its overthrow. For example, a comment on radio: 'compulsory voting' should go - it is outdated.' Far from being 'outdated', the 20th century introduction of 'compulsory voting' in Australia is a modern and vital ingredient of our system, rather than evidence of democratic fault. The fact that this procedure is relatively rare in the world means we are not bound by other traditions, but are leading the way, as we did with the introduction of the secret ballot for elections. To mistake our leadership on this issue as being out of step with the rest of the world, and therefore wrong, is to display considerable ignorance of our history and the meaning and nature of democracy; revealing probable leanings toward elitism and autocracy or plain ignorance.
4.Democracy means 'government by the people', and anything that helps people to be involved in the decisions which affect them, even at this small level, is valuable for upholding our democratic heritage. Conversely, anything which discourages involvement must be viewed as inimical to the interests of the people. The trip to the polling booth is marked by a quiet friendliness between rival candidates representatives, and among voters, (even though they know that the next person could be voting contrariwise). It is one of the rare, unifying community experiences - another virtue of the secret ballot - we are all equal at the poll. The secret ballot poll creates democracy.
5.While the value of people's votes may well vary, that in no way negates the value of any individual's votes. There is benefit in every person taking a conscious part, (be it ever so small), in terms of a closer unity. Similarly the outcome of an election is interesting to all and, apart from any challenges to the conduct of the poll, there is a complete acceptance of the outcome, because all have been involved. But release of the legal obligation to attend the poll would most likely see a gradual, but substantial, fall-off in voting.
6. To make this matter an issue of 'freedom' is a serious misunderstanding; release from a worthwhile obligation is not the way to freedom. Should we make education optional? Or road rules? The requirement to attend the polling booth is an opportunity to be involved in the public matters which affect us all rather than an encroachment on liberty - an opportunity to grow as members of a civilised community.
7.Those decrying the system of 'compulsory voting' apparently believe that the votes of the less-committed, and less-informed, distort the election result, and that the idea does not lead to the best kind of government which, presumably, means government by the intellectual and the wealthy - the few - the oligarchs. This is not the accepted recipe for good government. The more people take part, the better are the decisions made. That's a simple fact. It is democratically constructive and energising for the people to all take part. It is democratically destructive and politically damaging to discourage participation.
8.Self-government enables government with a minimum of compulsion, because it majors on participation and willing cooperation. The participation of all heightens the legitimacy of government, lessening reasons for not accepting and being bound by the decisions of government. It is therefore important that all should have this minimum basic input to the process of government; i.e. to be involved in the election of those with the responsibility of representing them. No person is totally devoid of the ability to make a judgment as to the suitability of a candidate for election, especially if there can be fair competition between candidates and accurate information about all of them - matters that do need attention. That the judgment of some voters may not be 'good' in the eyes of others is totally irrelevant.
12.A further danger of removing the duty to vote appears to lie in the style of electioneering which that removal could introduce. Elections are far too much involved with money, and the image and style of leaders, and too little to do with an information-based appraisal of individual candidates and the issues involved. Instead, removing this duty would open a wider door for money, razzmatazz, marches with bands (to get out the partisan vote), conventions, exciting rallies, and political hype, and see our future even more dominated by parties and other political groups.
10.To end 'compulsory voting' would be a retrograde step in the building of a democratic community. The Greek attitude to the community is the very thing we have left too far behind. The lack of such a unifying community attitude could be associated readily with the major problems in our society - and our world.
13.Perhaps governments here should be aware that in the USA (which is one of the many that do not have 'compulsory voting'), there is concern at the low voter turnout and a keen interest in our good poll participation, resulting from the enlightened laws of our Federation Fathers. In an international internet hookup American analysts were surprised to hear that the Australian public does not hate voting, but is happy to do its bit to foster better government.
14.We must not agree to abandoning compulsory attendance at the poll. There are reasons why some people are less informed and/or show a lack of interest and committment. Without a doubt, the existing system is to blame for the boredom with 'politics', and the disrespect for the electoral process. Far from being concerned about good democratic government, the call for an end to 'compulsory voting' implies satisfaction with the existing corrupt system, and a desire to disfranchise the disenchanted.
The Kids should not vote!
15.In a sour news article20, Tim Ferguson, author of 'Left,Right & Centre'), accuses the 'Kids' of 'too much sex, too little sense', to be able to vote intelligently. This is just another shot in Nick Minchin's war against the inclusion of 'the common people' in the political process. It should not be forgotten that the privilege of voting was extended to the over 18-year-olds as a result of the call up of this age group for service in Vietnam, and government embarrassment about the odious policy of conscription.
16.If the young are seen as not being able to vote with great intelligence whose fault is that? Governments have been loath to upgrade the understanding of the people by suitable educational opportunities. Where did the Civics studies go? Why aren't political studies made core subjects? Does our standard of 'politics' have the approval of the people? Who are the people who decree that we must stick with a manifestly undemocratic system of government, like the party system, which prevents the people from having a significant part in the process? When the 'mature' are effectively disfranchised, resentful and cynical about government, is it any wonder if the young don't care? Who can be politically competent when we have no say in what goes on? Let's have enough of this cynical attitude toward the young, and ordinary folk in general. Let's look instead at our faltering 'democracy'.
18.There is no doubt that a greater participation of the comunity in discussion and debate would greatly enhance the democratic process with better government and community well being. We therefore need to marry the success of the 'compulsory vote' with a greater ability for the 'man-in-the-street' to participate in the decision-making process, in non-partisan public meetings. In that way, there will be a dual advantage; a new confidence to share in the system - because of the option thus available, and the added ability to form better judgements of election candidates' ability and suitability.
To abandon compulsory attendance at the poll will lead to more voter disillusion, cynicism and contempt for 'politics' and politicians - not to 'freedom. Senator Minchin should be thoroughly ashamed of himself for touting the idea of relaxing compulsory attendance at the polling booth. It hurts no one any more than being obliged by law to drive on the left.