Preserving Australian Electoral Integrity: Stick Needed to Complement Carrot

The Australia Institute welcomes today’s publication of From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting, by Judith Brett from Latrobe University.

New analysis released by The Australia Institute shows that Australian voter turnout for the last election was at a record low – the lowest level since compulsory voting was introduced. Meanwhile, the penalty for not voting, has not increased since 1984 and remains at $20.

“Compulsory voting is one of Australia’s most underappreciated assets,” said Tony Shields, Adjunct Fellow at the Australia Institute.

“Yet voter turnout in federal elections has fallen for the last three elections and in 2016 hit the lowest level since compulsory voting was introduced in federal elections in 1924.

“Compulsory voting has made Australia a fairer and more democratic country. Without it the wealthy and powerful would be wealthier and more powerful.

“The fine for not voting in federal elections is only $20 and was last increased in 1984. As a portion of average incomes, the fine has hit an all-time low.  

“The Parliamentary Inquiry into the 2016 federal election called compulsory voting ‘a corner-stone of Australia’s democratic system’ and recommended reviewing penalties for not voting.

“This review is necessary to strengthen Australia’s voting culture and our democratic system.

“It needs to include research into the effectiveness of increasing penalties and how to avoid excessive impacts on low-income Australians, while still increasing incentives to vote.

“One option is to set fines for non-voting based on income, similar to our tax system. Some fines are set like this in the UK and Finland.

“Progressive fines have been proposed in South Australia, but state-based proposals are difficult as income data is collected at a federal level.

“This is an opportunity to trial progressive penalties at a federal level in Australia, overcoming the data limitations of state-based proposals.”

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