Voting in Australia is compulsory - we can be fined up to $50
for not voting without a valid reason.
Some argue it is undemocratic to be forced to vote. In fact,
around 10 per cent of Australians of voting age aren't on
electoral roles. Maybe out of defiance, 6 per cent mess up their
voting slips to have their vote ruled invalid.
So despite compulsory voting, only 81 per cent of Australians
actually vote. Imagine if voting wasn't compulsory. We'd
probably be closer to the UK where 76 per cent vote, or the US
where just 57 per cent bothered voting in the 2012 presidential
There are consequences for societies with a low voter
People who don't vote when it is optional tend to be the
poor, the uneducated and the socially disadvantaged.
But if they don't vote politicians can afford to ignore
them. I have seen in the US - where voting is optional - whole
families living on the street because social security cuts out
after two years no matter what. After that you're on your
If they don't vote they don't count. Politicians
don't have to worry about their needs.
In Australia our governments can't ignore the needs of the
disadvantaged because these people vote. We have ended up with a
strong support system of social welfare as a result.
Amazingly this vital difference between our voting system and
that of the USA occurred almost by accident.
In 1924 a private member's bill introduced in the Senate by
someone most of us have never heard of - Tasmanian grazier Senator
Herbert Payne - shaped our future. The Commonwealth Electoral
Act 1924 passed without debate or much consideration,
introducing compulsory voting for people on the electoral roll, and
penalties for not voting.
Professor Manning Clark in his History of Australia
recorded: "The proposal roused little interest. The Senators
and the Representatives treated it as the great yawn of the
Payne was concerned at the low voter turnout in the 1922
election - just 59 per cent. He thought unless Australians were
forced to vote there would always be a low turnout.
States and Territories soon followed his lead. Payne's
visionary private bill meant voting became both a right
and a duty for all Australians.
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