Compulsory voting

‘Tis the silly season so far as news is concerned with very little happening, especially in the world of politics. As Australians, particularly, languish in our scorching summer heat, it’s a time when pollies like to run some strange ideas up flagpoles to see if anybody salutes.

One such that has quite a lot of people snapping to attention is the notion of scrapping compulsory voting in the Australian state of Queensland. It has been floated by a government that came to power just eight months ago after most of twenty years in opposition.

Community opinion appears fairly evenly divided so far as to whether this is a good idea or not. It has to be admitted that with swimming season in full flight and with lots of summer sport on telly, it’s hard to capture attention for anything political.

Still, the initial response suggests there will be plenty of debate over coming months.

The idea has been put forward in a discussion paper about a raft of proposed reforms to Queensland’s electoral laws. It has been proposed by the conservative side of politics, the Liberal-Nationals (Republicans in the US) and has been immediately opposed by our version of the US Democrats, the Australian Labor Party.

Most talk currently centres on whether young people, especially, would bother to vote if they did not face a fine for ignoring their democratic right.

It has become a truism that young people would readily opt out of voting if allowed to. Equally, there is a widespread expectation that the conservatives would get a higher proportion of the youth vote than Labor if optional voting was introduced.

That’s an interesting interpretation because most young Labor-inclined voters appear to have just as much, if not more, fire in the belly than their conservative opponents. The bulk of pundits, though, think Labor would suffer at the polls if the change became law.

There are many arguments in favour of either side. My own view is that voting should remain compulsory.

I find the argument that it should be a democratic right to not have to vote a furphy. It has worked well in this country for a century. So, on the basis that if it ain’t broke it don’t need fixing, leave the situation as it is.

More to the point is that I am deeply suspicious of the motives of the government proposing this. They were rightly condemnatory of their predecessors, Labor, for meddling with electoral laws in a bid to enshrine advantage for themselves.

The LNP was positively righteous in roundly criticising Labor for seeking unfair advantage. Yet this is surely exactly what they are doing themselves right now.

The most pertinent aspect of all this is that the LNP was elected with a massive mandate to restore propriety to government that had been badly eroded by the Labor Party. To be tinkering with electoral laws to entrench a perceived advantage to the LNP will be correctly seen by voters as a betrayal of their mandate.

Be it on the LNP’s own head if it is foolish enough to bastardise a system that has worked well for many generations.