At this election we should be erecting a statue of Herbert Payne
out of gratitude for his single great contribution to Australia
– but very few of us know who he was, or what he did.
Ninety two years ago Herbert Payne was a little known
conservative grazier and Nationalist Party Senator from Tasmania.
He was a quiet man, but without him a large proportion of
Australian society wouldn't have a voice in the nation.
Until 1924 people didn't have to vote. Australia had already
pioneered several aspects of democracy including compulsory
enrolment for voting in 1912, universal adult suffrage, the secret
ballot and popularly elected upper houses.
Payne was shocked at the low voter turnout in the 1922 election
of just 59 per cent. He thought parliament had to represent all the
people, not just those who bothered to vote.
On a slow winter day in 1924, Senator Payne made one of his rare
speeches as he introduced his private bill, the Commonwealth
Electoral Bill. Payne explained it made voting compulsory, as
voting was both a right and a duty for all Australians.
His Bill was barely noticed, and slipped through parliament in
just a few hours. Nobody voted against it. From then on voting was
compulsory. Turnout at the 1925 election was 95 per cent. Since
then voting turnout in Australia has been the highest in the
If we weren't forced to vote under threat of fines it's
likely Australia's turnout would be in line with the US where
just 55 per cent bothered to vote in 2012. Turnout has been as low
as 49 per cent. This means the next US President will be elected by
just 30 per cent of adult Americans. In the UK, just 66 per cent
voted in 2015.
Maurie Stack OAM, chairman of Stacks Law Firm, has seen the
consequences for societies with low voter turnout.
"People who don't vote when it is optional tend to be
the poor, the uneducated and socially disadvantaged," Mr Stack
"If these people don't vote, politicians can afford to
ignore them. I saw in the US whole families living on the street
because social security cuts out after two years, no matter what.
After that you're on your own. The simple fact is, if a group
of people don't vote, that group doesn't count.
"In Australia our politicians can't ignore the needs of
the disadvantaged because they vote. We have ended up with a strong
support system of social welfare and have a better society as a
result. Herbert Payne deserves our gratitude and a
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
The Western Australian Government's long-awaited response to review of the Construction Contracts Act 2004 was recently released amid further scrutiny on government-managed construction projects and contractor insolvencies.
Repealing section 18C will not stop racial harassment, but you still must be accurate, reasonable and act in good faith.
Some comments from our readers… “The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable” “I often find critical information not available elsewhere” “As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).