opinion

Thank you Australia, for a simple decision made more than a century ago. 

In the lead up to the next federal election, which will be held sometime before May 18, 2019, there will be no celebrities telling you to vote.

You will not have the importance of voting explained to you by Chris Hemsworth or Lisa Wilkinson or Jen-something who you went to high school with a few decades ago.

When you do vote, you won’t receive a ‘I Voted’ sticker to wear proudly on your chest.

Australia has never done all of that.

Because in Australia, voting is not a right afforded to a citizen. It’s a responsibility expected of them.

In 1912, a decision was made, which fundamentally shaped the course of our history.

When drafting the bill for compulsory voting, Senator George Pearce said: “Too often [voting] is looked upon merely as a privilege, because people throughout the world have had to fight for it – in some instances under distressing conditions … but I venture to say that in a country like Australia, where we recognise that every man and woman should have the right to vote, that right becomes more than a privilege – it becomes a duty.”

Compulsory voting, history tells us, is critical to a fair election.

When a population is given the choice, the extremes are over-represented; those angry enough to get to the booths. Then there are the wealthy, the older, the urban, and the well-educated.

Underrepresented, unsurprisingly, are the low-paid. The disempowered. The isolated and the disadvantaged. Those who can’t get time off work, because their country mandates they vote in the middle of a work week – on a Wednesday.

And that is hardly by accident.

Former President Barack Obama said, “There’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls…”

If you can control who votes, then, to some extent, you can control the outcome of an election.

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There are only 10 countries on the planet who enforce compulsory voting, and we are one of them.

Our history is far from perfect. To be clear, when voting was made ‘compulsory’ in 1912, that did not include our Indigenous population. True compulsory voting was therefore not fairly implemented until 1984 – 72 years later.

Who votes, simply, determines who matters.

While the United States attempts to stir up momentum and convince their population to turn up to the ballot box – Australia has already made their decision.

A politician’s victory or loss should not be determined by turnout. And in some nations around the world, it is.

As the results for the midterm elections flow in, I can’t help but think: Thank you Australia, for a decision made more than a century ago.

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