A recent article by Julie Bishop yet again tries to pretend that the conservative preference for "voluntary voting" is a matter for serious discussion. She of course, like all her conservative colleagues is a compulsory voting denialist, and pretending there is a debate on the matter is like the tactics of climate change deniers. First of all she lists 15 countries that Australia has something in common with, that is "compulsory voting". But then someone asks her "why Australia was out of step with most major democracies in enforcing compulsory voting". As a super patriot she gives all the arguments in favour but "the arguments that support voluntary voting are aligned with my more libertarian views on the exercise of civil rights and the freedoms associated with democracy". Just as a snide aside, isn't it curious that such libertarians are against important "civil rights " when it comes to gay people, or drug law reform, or political protest, or indigenous affairs, or refugees, or censorship; but in favour of the minor civil right of "not voting"? But I digress.
Julie pulls out all the stops in this piece, pushes all the buttons. The title (in the National Times) is "Vote – or else?", the phrase "compulsory voting" is used 13 times in a short article, and the piece de resistance is pitched for her targeted audience – "It doesn’t seem fair to force people to vote for candidates they don’t know or care about or want to support." You can see Julie marching down the street with a placard "You can't make us vote for democracy", and leading the chant "When do we vote?" "We don't." "When do we want to?" "Never".
It's hard to think of new ways to respond to this nonsense, no matter how many times you say "we don't have compulsory voting" they keep coming back with the desire to rid Australia of the terrible scourge, the plague of compulsory voting, shared only with minor democracies like Brazil. So, I'll just say it again. We don't have compulsory voting. What we have is the equivalent of the onerous demand placed on a school child when the teacher reads out the class roll to answer "Here Miss". Presumably Julie tells her children that this is an unjustifiable infringement of their precious freedoms and civil rights, and when teacher reads out their name they should just sit silently. When an election is on all you have to do is get your name crossed off the electoral roll. They make it really easy. You can do it on the day, you can do it by post, you can do it in advance, you can do it out of area, you can do it overseas, you can do it in hospital, you can even plead inability to do it under any of those circumstances as long as you have a good reason. So, hand up, here I am Mr Electoral Commissioner, all present and correct. Then you are given a bit of paper called a voting paper, and that's it. That's the infringement on the liberty that Julie's ancestors apparently died to protect – you get handed a piece of paper. "Please, no, give me liberty or give me death, but don't give me that paper". I mean Julie has voted, hasn't she? Knows that you can refuse to vote, make the voting slip into a paper aeroplane, or draw a picture of Menzies, or play noughts and crosses, and then put it in the ballot box? Or you could make a decision about which candidates might best serve your interests and those of the country, and number the squares accordingly – takes about 30 seconds, tops – and then put it into the ballot box, end of liberty infringement for another 3 years or so.
Look, if everybody votes everybody, at least in theory, has a chance of having their concerns addressed by whichever party wins. The people unlikely to vote in a "voluntary" system (ie one where you don't have to say "Here sir" once every 3 years) are on average more likely to need the attention and support of government. Get rid of their votes, and, as in America, you can forget about public health and social services and infrastructure and public schools, and just get on with serving the interests of the rich and super rich and obscenely rich. Surely that's not what Julie wants to see? Oh, and her party seems determined to make it hard for young people to vote – surely this isn't because she thinks her party can't attract the votes of young people who treat political propaganda with disdain? Instead of asking why we have "compulsory hand putting up at election time" it would be more productive for Julie to ask why other "major democracies" don't, and write a paper encouraging them to follow Australia's enlightened lead.
After all, a moment's thought back to her own recent experience would convince her of the value of compulsory voting. Voluntary voting, in the Liberal Party room in December, gave her Tony Abbott as party leader.
All David Horton's earlier writing is on The Watermelon Blog.