Democracy not served by voluntary voting

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre is concerned that the push by Senator Minchin for voluntary voting fails to focus on the centrality of elections to a healthy democracy.

Robin Banks, Director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said today, “It seems at odds for the Government to be talking about reducing the role of the citizen in Australia’s democratic processes while fighting a war in Iraq on the basis of the need for the development of a healthy democracy in that country. Australia has a proud history as a democracy with compulsory voting as a long-standing obligation of citizens. A recent, and relatively short-term trend in informal voting should not be used to justify such a sweeping change to the model of democracy that has operated so effectively in this country.”

“Rather, our parliament should seek to understand causes of informal voting and to, where possible, redress those causes”, Ms Banks continued. “It may be a matter of education on the electoral process, it may reflect an increasing cynicism with politics in this country. Either way, the trend should not be considered a good reason for moving to voluntary voting.”

Senator Minchin was reported as saying “The rise in informal votes suggests there are thousands of Australians who do not want to vote but are forced to.”

Ms Banks responded to this statement, “Such a comment suggests that Government should simply roll over if a citizen isn’t happy with a law. While Governments must be responsible to the electorate, they need to show appropriate leadership and to understand the issue before jumping to apparently populist and political opportune positions. There are surely many Australians who don’t want to pay taxes, and many who don’t want to serve on juries; but governments know that to make tax payment voluntary or jury duty voluntary would be to seriously undermine the operation of government and of our democratic system. Surely the participation of citizens once very three years in the process most central to democracy—voting—is not a big ask in a country so strongly founded on democratic principles.”

Rather than considering making voting non-compulsory, PIAC calls on the Federal Government to look at ways to improve the transparency of the electoral process and awareness of the importance of the citizen in our participatory democracy. These include amending the preference system to avoid votes being directed in a manner not understood by the voter, more open disclosure of electoral funding and improved electoral, civics and citizenship education.

MEDIA CONTACT: Dominic O’Grady, Media and Communications Officer,

Public Interest Advocacy Centre. Ph: 02 8898 6532 or 0400 110 169

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