Compulsory Voting: a Queensland Centenary

1 Jun 2015

Queensland pioneered compulsory voting in Australia 100 years ago. The occasion was marked by a packed-out panel discussion at Parliament House Brisbane, organised by the Australasian Study of Parliament Group.

The panel featured UQ Law School expert in the regulation of politics, Professor Graeme Orr, alongside current and former UQ government and social science researchers Dr Chris Salisbury, Dr Paul Reynolds and Dr Tracey Arklay, and former Liberal Party administrator Graham Young. The panel was opened by Speaker Peter Wellington and moderated by Emeritus Professor Roger Scott.

Graeme said compulsory turnout leads to less corruptible elections, with campaigns pitched at all classes of society. But he argues that “it is a myth that compulsion necessarily helps progressive parties. In Australia it reinforces the status quo”.

He also believes that referendums on law reform should be by voluntary voting. “This was the case with the original Constitution. You cannot demand that all voters have reasoned opinions on legal questions”.

Compulsion was introduced by conservative governments, concerned with falling electoral turnout and the unions mobilising Labor supporters. “By curious coincidence, compulsory voting was introduced by Digby Denham, the last ‘Liberal’ Premier before Campbell Newman. Despite compulsion, both lost office and their own seat, in elections heavy with public sector union campaigning.”

Graeme Orr’s paper and comments are available here.