Thursday, November 03, 2005
So you think democracy is on the retreat. You think your views make no difference. You think no one in the major parties thinks like you and you don't know where the minor parties fit at all. You go to the Ballot Box at the appointed time, grudgingly. This compulsory voting - so you think - is overrated. Why bother?
And then there is the conservative politician. He or she (and its mostly a white he) can take part. The conservatives are in power in Australia now under the guise of a party called Liberal. Believe me, it is far from liberal. They get rather tired of all this voting stuff.
For instance, they know that overseas in the UK and the USA non-compulsory voting favours dedicated conservatives. They know that lower down the socio-economic scale people are not going to vote for them and what's more and better is that they don't always turn up at the Ballot Box. In fact, in the USA, they don't turn up in droves so that frequently the US President is elected by a minority. That's fright, er that's right. A minority of those who would be eligible to vote should they choose. So. With the tempting view of a conservative government being kept in power in Australia by a minority of voters, what can be done? There is compulsory voting - not written into the constitution, mind you. It is there and has been for a hundred years by the good grace of the Federal legislature. Now, as Senator Nick Minchin longs for, compulsory voting could be wiped out over night if the Howard Government decided to do so. But - the natives might get restless. So, the conservative politician thinks, let's try another tack. Let's tinker at the edges.
How can we tidy up the electoral rolls? OK, the conservative politician hears you. Yes the Australian electoral rolls are among those with the highest integrity in the world. But take a look at who is getting the vote. Those who can't be bothered enough or are too forgetful when they change addresses to change their enrolment are not sufficiently dedicated to the democratic ideal to warrant us keeping the rolls open to make up for their slackness. And why should the prison population be entitled to vote if they have committed to a serious crime? The conservative politician (as we said, predominantly white male) has tested the waters at his local pub and found his mates at the bar don't want these sort of people to vote. Of course, most of the population in most of the bars comprises white males. The fact that the largest slice of the prison population is Aboriginal won't cut any ice for reasons I'll leave you to guess at - and you'll probably be right.
So the screws are tightening. The population is concerned with the security of the Ballot Box and that it is locked up tight. The conservative politician is concerned with the security of the Electoral Roll and that it is locked up tight.
If he (the conservative politician who is predominalty Anglo-Celtic white male) can have his way, voters as a proportion of the Australian population and as measured on the Roll will decline. Over time, the number of voters on Election Day will dwindle and then, if the conservatives are still wielding power, it will be a cake walk to take away compulsory voting and leave it to the dedicated few.