Monday, 26 February 2007

Compulsory Reading?

There is a federal election coming this year in Australia. I'll vote, I have to, we’re blessed with compulsory voting in Australia, a system that 70% of the country supports. Including all the major and minor political parties.

Why? Why do we have to vote? At least everyone knows why the political parties support compulsory voting: they don’t have to work to encourage people to vote. Saves them a lot of money. But that’s it, the political parties know that you will be there on election day, they can sit there in smug satisfaction knowing that. And they also know that you’re probably one of the many voters in Australia who doesn’t change their vote very often, and will usually vote for the party they’ve always voted for.

So, if Labor and the Liberal’s don’t have to work to get you to the polling station and also don’t have to work to get you to vote for them, what exactly are they working for?

The right not to vote is as important as the right to vote. What if your western democracy ends up as a two party oligarchy? How do you express officially that both parties are pretty much a much of a muchness and you don’t really care which of them ends up running the country for the next three years?

You could vote informally, but that feels like a bit of a waste of time. You’ve been forced to get down there, so you might as well actually vote properly. After all, you wouldn’t want to be a donkey would you? And even if you were to, quick what percentage of the vote was informal at the last election? 4.8% in the House of Representatives. But did you ever hear that announced on the election coverage? The very name ‘donkey vote’ discourages people. Who wants to be one of the incompetents? Even more, who wants the incompetents actually affecting the way the country is run?

The statistic on voter turnout needs to mean something in Australia. A low voter turnout does not mean the populace are lazy, it is an indictment of the political parties. It is their job to make us care enough to give them our vote. If they want the power to act on our behalf with no interference from us for three years, then they need to tell us why exactly they are different from everyone else, and we should vote for them. If they are unable to do that, then even if they do win, they will have no mandate. Could a party that was elected on a 40% voter turnout actually decide to go to war? How could they possibly claim they represented the will of the people sufficiently to send those people off to die for them?

Maybe this requires constitutional change. Maybe voter turnout needs to be included when determining if a party can form government. Maybe a government formed from less than 50% voter turnout needs its powers curtailed: no change in taxation levels; no significant changes in funding levels to the governmental organizations; no declaring war. A corollary to that would be to allow that government to call another election after only a year.

Essentially, the people would have elected a caretaker government, and the political parties now have a year to give the people a good reason for allowing them more power. But no, you say, this would be too dramatic a change to our constitution, constitutional amendments always get knocked back. Well, guess what? Australia already has provisions for caretaker governments, happens all the time, everytime an election is called.


Disco said...


Politicians are already notorious for making short sighted funding decisions based on the hree year election cycle. Now you're proposing that we have the daft pricks going around spending money in a perpetual election campaign. Every marginal electorate would have an Olympic swimming pool and a 15 story government department, but the country would go broke.

Elections in themselves are also very expensive exercises. Holding a national election every two years, so you and your mates can decide whether to vote informal or not at all, does not sound like a viable alternative.

And another thiing. The very term "caretaker government" implies that the silly silly fricks with the title are at liberty to take no care at all. The decision making process would run something like, "fucked if I'm going to change that, I'm only here in a caretaking capacity".

Go away and think of a better idea.

aquaman said...

Unfortunately, I have to say that you've largely missed the point.

My main issue is with compulsory voting and the loss of freedom that it imposes. The 'caretaker government' issue you seem to feel so strongly about is a random idea to actually achieve some enforcement of low voter turnout.

Yes, I am well aware that elections are expensive, though thank you very much for reminding me.

And your argument that this would just descend into obvious vote buying is not really a counter-example. If people can't be trusted to actually see through cheap schemes and vote on potentially larger issues, then why bother giving them the vote at all?

And that is essentially my point, if you're going to treat people like children by forcing them to vote, then why let them vote at all?

And no, I don't have the answers for how to actually make low voter turnout influence a government strongly, I am not a professional psephologist.

Maybe an appeal to the politicians better nature would be enough to prevent them claiming a mandate? Along with perhaps a stronger opposition...

Certainly, I'm not the only one concerned about governments claiming a mandate to do just about anything: It's not too late to save the political process.

And it might be very fashionable with your mates to claim that all politicians are 'silly, silly fricks' who can never be trusted, but that doesn't really achieve anything, now does it?