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 doesnâ€™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.