Government for the people

Compulsory voting: Ensuring government of the people, by the people, for the people
by Tony Shields and Rod Campbell

The Australia Institute welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.

The Committee’s Report on the conduct of the 2016 federal election recognised compulsory voting as a cornerstone of Australia’s democracy and recommended a review of the penalty for not voting. This review appears not to have been conducted despite the Committee’s recommendation.

With the $20 penalty for not voting in a federal election unchanged since 1984 and now representing a record low of 1.4% of average weekly wage, this review is needed.

The review should:

  • Conduct a behavioural economic study into the effectiveness of increasing the penalty for non-voting and assess any socio-economic impacts. The problem of incarceration of low-income
  • Australians for unpaid fines is a major issue. How to increase incentives to vote, while not compounding this problem, should be a focus of this review.
  • Consider how the fine system could be made progressive. The impact of a fine is greater for lower income Australians – yet they are precisely the people who should be encouraged to vote.
  • One approach could be to make non-voting penalties progressive, like our tax system. Such systems exist for fines in Scandinavia and the UK, and these have been proposed in Australia, particularly South Australia. The main hurdle for state-based proposals in Australia is that personal income data is collected at a federal rather than state level. Trialling this approach at federal elections could overcome the data issue and pave the way for further experimentation with progressive penalties.

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