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Election time Down Under

The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, has called an election for October 9. So we get to choose once again between a fuzzy right-wing statism, or a ‘Blair wannabe’ statism. You will excuse me if I do not get ferociously excited about this choice.

One of the worst things about Australian elections is the placards that political parties insist on hanging on street poles. At no other time of the year are any other organisation permitted to do this, but political parties do like their perks; inflicting an eyesore I call it.

I am not going to vote – I will defy the State, and not vote. That is an offence which will cost me a parking ticket fine. It is actually also illegal for me to advocate not voting to other people as well.

As to who will win, I think the ‘Blair Wannabe’ Party will win; I wrote about this back in June and nothing has happened since to make me change my mind. In the great scheme of things, this is a small matter but it will consume the local media and blogs here for the next six weeks.

34 comments to Election time Down Under

  • jon

    As an American, I can’t help but feel that my country, being the center of the universe and all that rah-rah jingo garbage, must have something to do with the prediction of the pro-war politician’s loss. Is Iraq a big issue for Australians? I have only one Australian friend, and he’s a bit to the left, so I can’t say I have my finger on the voters’ pulse.

    Does this “thou shalt vote” thing oblige the voters to choose from the approved candidates? If so, that’s really creepy. Not that it’s outside the realm of the possible, but it’s creepy.

  • If Australians are allowed to engage in write-in vote casting, you should consider voting for the Guns and Dope party candidate (i.e. yourself).

  • Hank Scorpio

    You’re required to vote? As in it’s obligatory and you’ll be fined for not doing so? I find the notion of people who don’t necessarily care about politics voting merely out of coercion to be fairly spooky. I thought compulsory voting was either a communist relic or just happened in dictatorships. What’s the rationale behind this? Just the warm fuzzy feeling of everyone voting?

  • Shawn

    The significant differences between the two parties on issues like foriegn policy, immigration and border control would suggest to me that it very much matters who wins. He’s up against it, but my hope is that Howard can once again defy his critics and keep Australia in the hands of Australian patriots.

  • I have no idea what the origins of this law are, since it has been going around since the 1940s. However, since both major political parties now get funded by the taxpayer, and that funding is determined by how many votes they get, do not expect this to change any time soon.

    Left-wing apologists justify this law by some blather about ‘duties of citizenship’, but it is just a rort, and they know it is. The right-wing apologists never mention it being too busy counting the loot.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    Belgium is another country that has mandatory voting.

    Can’t you just spoil your ballot by writing something like, “Compulsory voting is wicked” or some such on it? Surely they won’t know it’s you who did it.

  • Is there a significant movement against compulsory voting in Australia or does the majority of the electorate simply accept that they ‘must’ put something on the ballot paper?

    What does Australian law say about spoiling a ballot paper? Surely one option for avoiding the fines dished-out to non-voters is simply to spoil one’s ballot paper, unless that itself is something voters might be fined for? (Or could the vote counters ‘misinterpret’ this kind of ballot paper?)

  • Julian Morrison

    Start a “none of the above” party. Manifesto pledge: to do nothing, to abstain in every vote (or vote “no” if the option to abstain is denied), and to take all money resulting from pay-per-votes and divert it directly into tax rebates. The only proactive policy of the party being: to repeal compulsory voting, and then immediately abdicate and disband.

  • Tedd McHenry

    This is a bit off topic, but I’m interested in the opinions of Australians on the preferential ballot system.

    Here in Canada, there has been a lot of talk lately about reforming the ballot (we use first-past-the-post, single ballot). European-style proportional representation seems to be the alternative of choice for most people who take an interest in the subject, but on the surface it appears to me that the preferential ballot is better.

    Proponents of proportional representation say that preferential balloting leads to strategic voting (such as, for example, putting your second choice last, with all the wing-nut parties that have no chance of winning in between). I see the theoretical possibility there, but I wonder how often that actually happens, in practice.

    Do any Australians here (or anyone else who’s used preferential balloting) have any thoughts on its merits, vis-a-vis proportional representation or first-past-the-post?

  • Steve Bowles

    As an Australian I have to say I dont mind having compulsory voting, scrawling ‘you can all go fu&k yourselves’ or other appropriate phrases across the ballot paper is a totally valid response. The number of ‘spoilt’ or blank ballot papers often gives a good indication of voter feelings to the main political parties. You dont have to vote for any party, you just have to be bothered to show up.

    As to voting systems, strategic voting become a very big deal with all sorts of unholy alliances being formed between parties just to screw somebody else. I would consider this a major flaw in the system.

  • Jacob

    “you just have to be bothered to show up.”

    Yep. To prove that you are not a free person, but a slave of the state. If it tells you to vote, you have to vote. The contents of your action (the vote) is not important, only the principle that you must obey the state.

  • If it is indeed even illegal to advocate not voting in Australia (which seems astonishing), please rest assured that Samizdata.net stands really to act as a platform for Australians who want to break that law. And seeing as we get several hundred visitors to our site from Australia per day…

  • drscroogemcduck

    Surely inciting people to break the law is illegal.

  • Chris Harper

    It is not illegal to advocate not voting, just illegal not to vote.

    I haven’t voted for twenty years and have never been asked for my $20 fine.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    Scrooge McDuck wrote:

    Surely inciting people to break the law is illegal.

    Not if it’s a wicked law that’s being broken. And compulsory voting is a wicked idea.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    Bah, I didn’t notice Scrooge said “illegal”. Technically, it is illegal to incite people to break the law. But it’s morally justified if it’s a wicked law that’s being broken, and you’re not inciting people to violence.

    Inciting people not to vote fits both those criteria.

  • Compulsory voting highlights the irrationality of voting. The idea of voting is, “well, you had your opportunity to participate, now shut up and live with the results”. But if the only reason you voted was to avoid a fine, one can hardly argue that you “consented” to whatever idiotic regime gained power. Duress negates free choice. There could hardly be any clearer example of how advocates of the “democratic process” could care less whether voters are educated or even willing participants. Thank you Australia and Belgium for exposing voting for the farce it is.

  • I have always found the concept of compulsory voting to bed completely and utterly ludicrous. It does rather defeat the point of democracy does it not?

  • What I find interesting is not the details of the Aussie election, but the fact that Australia’s politics is being discussed with even a quater of the attention given to the US and UK. I believe that whatever his faults, Howard and the internet together have made the ‘Anglosphere’ concept something far more real than say the Pacific Basin forum ideas that were prevelant ten or fifteen years ago.

  • drscroogemcduck wrote:

    Surely inciting people to break the law is illegal.

    Could well be. So what?

  • Hank Scorpio

    “Howard and the internet together have made the ‘Anglosphere’ concept something far more real than say the Pacific Basin forum ideas that were prevelant ten or fifteen years ago.”

    I agree somewhat. I don’t know if it was Howard per se, but with the exception of Canada and New Zealand the anglosphere does at least seem to bear some semblance of reality.

    And that’s all to the good, I think. It may be “imperialist” or “racist”, but I tend to think that the English speaking nations of the world have, all things considered, been a tremendous force for good in the world. Sure, we’re not as pure as the driven snow, but when you consider the alternatives I think we come out looking pretty good.

  • Dave Meleney

    Dear Australian Voters:

    Ain’t this a great opportunity to broaden the discussion? To gently mock people who grandly sidle up to the bar and cast their vote as if they were actually deciding the darn thing? How bout recognizing that if a miracle occurred and some fellow did win by one vote, your courts would do just what ours did in Florida and put their own buddy in office.

    So if ya decide that you should be voting for the person you would choose, if you were in charge of the darn thing…. You’ve now got a job on your hands… probably have to do some research…. Who the heck would you choose?

    What if you could get the whole country thinking like that? …or just a couple dozen journalists? Soon it might be much more acceptable for journalists to look past the horse-race aspect and really discuss issues seriously. People might insist on voting for people they really like and admire….. Even people they trust.

    Four years ago a major pollster asked Americans:

    Suppose you are stuck 5 miles from a gas station and the two main candidates for President each offered you a ride into town … what would you do?

    By a slight plurality, the winner was :

    I’d rather walk.

    Elections are the best time of the year to elicit that kind of wisdom from your neighbors and to help them build it into a sensible small-government point of view. To possibly get them to put a label on it so it’ll stick to the ribs better. I often get Republicans to self-identify as a libertarian-Republican right away. I once got a kid fresh out of Harvard to modify his energetic Marxism to libertarian-Marxist in our 3rd or 4th conversation, and last I heard he was still using that title.

    Elections always produce substantial disgust among most decent folk…. Use that emotion to win friends and influence people.

  • Steve Bowles

    hey jacob, chill out, I think you forgot to take your pills this morning – its not a big deal. Every few years you have a choice of showing up and voting for somebody, showing up and not voting for somebody or not showing up and risking the 1 in a million chance of forfeiting a couple of beers. The ‘slave to the state’ stuff is just a little bit ott. Im still yet to hear any rational arguement as to why compulsory voting is bad. How is it worse than somebody becoming a nations leader with 10% of the population voting for them ?

  • Jacob

    Steve Bowels,
    It’s exactly the unimportance, or the triviality of it that makes this piece of coercion symbolic. If it is so easy to get arround it, than why bother ?
    You don’t like “somebody becoming a nations leader with 10% of the population voting for them “ ? fine. Convince the people you are right, show them the imporatnce of voting, make them vote with enthusiasm and conviction, and responsibility.
    Forcing people to vote, agains their wishes is worse than a farce – it is dumb coercion.

  • Blue

    Well steve, why should I have to waste my time supporting something I have no desire to legitimise? If I do not believe in the whole stinking rotten corrupt system, how is the state threatening me if I do not turn up a good thing? Let the winner do it with 10% or 90% of the vote for all I care because that does not make their theft any more acceptable just because it is more or less popular with the burks who think they are going to profit from it. I couldn’t care less which thieving bastard wins the bloody vote.

  • Cobden Bright

    Steve Bowles wrote:

    “Im still yet to hear any rational arguement as to why compulsory voting is bad.”

    Compelling a free person to do anything is immoral, unless they are being immoral by not doing that action. Agreed?

    If so, then compelling someone to vote is clearly immoral, since not voting is not immoral.

    Please let me know what part of that chain of reasoning you disagree with.

    Steve – “How is it worse than somebody becoming a nations leader with 10% of the population voting for them ?”

    A basic logical fallacy – immoral action A does not become moral simply because action B is even more immoral.

  • drscroogemcduck

    In the last two elections I didn’t vote and wasn’t fined. I’m guessing this is because I wasn’t on the electoral roll. This election I’m on the electoral roll so I will probably turn up and spoil my ballot because I’m a poor student and don’t want to waste money on fines.

  • Rex

    A nice potted summary of Australia’s compulsory voting history can be found here.

    In short it started in 1924 because Australians were too bloody lazy, busy or ill-informed to bother voting. The Labour side of politcs feared that with a largely politically disengaged working class population, that the conservative side of politics would have the upper hand. By making voting compulsory it was felt that the working class would educate themselves about what was in their political interests.

    None of that matters anymore and elections are still compulsory. But you can see here that the informal vote (ones where the voter has deliberately stuffed up the ballot paper) at the last election was only 4.8% This means that roughly 95% of Australians do vote properly, do like to have a say in how their country is run , and don’t feel particularly aggrieved that their liberty is being threatened.

    In fact election day in Australia has a bit of a party atmosphere with everyone queuing up at the local primary school, or hall to vote, a “festival of democracy” some call it, and those who whinge about loss of liberty, and whinge about their right to not vote, well most Australians just shrug ther shoulders and think, “Oh well no-ones forcing you to have a good time…. dickhead”

  • And with one bound he was free

    As Rex shows brilliantly, do not under estimate how anti-intellectual and collectivist Australian “culture” is. He sees people who do not want to be compelled to “have a party” as dickheads and so it is perfectly okay to threaten them if they do not want to play along. By threatening me with the law you are indeed trying to force me to “have a good time”. I am sure attending a Nuremburg Rally was a pretty thrilling experience too and anyone who would not want to show up for something like that was probably regarded as a “dickhead” too. Just crack a tube and don’t think too much, mate.

    And that is why the happiest day in my life was when I left Australia for the last time a few years ago to put as much space between me and the Rexs of this world and I am sure the feeling is mutual. Australia is full of cattle and not all of them live on farms.

  • peggy sue

    Theoretically you “have to vote” in Australia, but in reality all you “have to” do, is get your name crossed off the list – and we benighted slaves of the state don’t see that as such a burden.

    Theoretically it is an offence to spoil your vote.
    Since there is a secret ballot, it is impossible to enforce that law.

    The good bit about compulsory voting is that compliance is made easy. The elections are on Saturday, and there are polling booths everywhere – generally every primary school is a booth, so it’s within walking distance for most people.

    Also, we have a good system of postal and absentee voting.

    And finally, the voting is supervised by the Australian Electoral Commission and the same system is used everywhere. No hanging chads here, no suspect voting machines with no paper trail.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    Peggy Sue:

    I’m sure Orthodox Jews are thrilled that the State has made voting “easy” by putting it on Shabbat.

  • Ted Schuerzinger


    I see you mentioned earlier in the comments that Australia’s political parties are funded by the state. Would you like to give us some insight into any odious laws the state has passed on what sorts of political speech aren’t allowed (even though people who hold those views are forced to fund other people’s speech)?

    I know a bit about the politically motivated trial against Pauline Hanson, and am wondering whether the whole affair would have been rendered moot if all political party funding was voluntary.

    As an aside, Belgium, which I mentioned in this thread as having compulsory voting, also has state funding of political parties, with the predictable effect that the Left has been going from judge to judge trying to find one who will defund the populist, anti-immigration Vlaams Bloc for them. (What makes this really irritating is that the folks at Radio Vlaanderen Internationaal have a tendency to use the term “Belgium’s democratic parties” to mean “every party but the Vlaams Bloc”.)

  • John R

    Why should I be compelled to vote when there is no-one standing who represents my views? In my division of Western Australia there is no candidate who represents smaller government; no candidate of a libertarian bent; no candidate who does not believe in advancing the tentacles of the state. As a commenter to this site pointed out some time ago, if I vote for the “lesser of two evils” all I am doing is increasing the amount of evil, not lessening it in any degree. Thus if I *do* vote, I am being forced to abandon every principle I hold dear. No state should compel me to do this.