Join the conversation! 15 Comments

  1. Trying to engage all of society in politics is much more easily said than done. What you’re suggesting is to completely restructure the deeply entrenched ignorance of generations of Australiams in a short period of time. I agree that this would be an ideal outcome, which would leave room perhaps to transition to voluntary voting. But in the mean time, our democracy is best served by having everyone’s voices heard – no matter how ignorant they may be.

    • I’m not actually suggesting it should be done quickly – because it can’t be. It would take a generation to turn things around. But we have to start sometime….

      • Yeah it’s definitely a generational shift that needs to take place. The whole purpose of my own blog is to put politics in a language that young people can engage with and understand. Perhaps if my own experiences had been more successful I would be a little more optimistic about the outlook of voluntary voting. How would you encourage the next generation of Australians to take an interest in political affairs?

        • Education first – start in primary and then secondary school. Teach political philosophies, negotiation skills, logical thinking and debating (not just the province of word nerds). Teach campaigning skills. Then get kids involved in the real thing – not just at school but in the community. This will require the age-long fear that teachers will pass on their views to their pupils – because they already do in economics, history and literature. Not a good reason to avoid teaching politics, civics and engagement tools in schools.

  2. Hello
    Do you have any participation rate stats for the other (not U.S.) countries that don’t have compulsory voting?
    Did you think non-compulsory voting is better or do you just want to see more engagement?
    Lanky

    • Hi Lanky, no I dont have those stats but they shouldnt be hard to find. If I find them I’ll post a link here. In answer to your second question – yes I want more/better engagement. I’ll be happy with whatever voting system arises out of better engagement.

      • Thanks!
        I wondered this morning if disengagement is the natural end point for democracy, even a point of maturity.

        The strong engagement I see often seems to be partnered with a lack of nuance. Fighting to save the planet from global warming, fighting to stop those who believe in global warming, stop abortion. Passion seems to pair with special interests, the people pulling the strings of emotion to their own ends.

        Maybe what we have is an engaged but cynical population? Maybe dispassion is the appropriate response to the necessary pragmatism of democracy. It does seem to help with stability.

        • If you click the link called “participation rate” in the main post you’ll find a paper that has a bit of info on other countries’ participation rates.

          And I’m going to ponder your very logical explanation of why disengagement could be the natural end point for democracy. I find it a bit disturbing! Not that you said it, but that it does seem to make sense.

  3. Plenty of people are not going to absorb political education willingly and already know which way they want to vote. Of this set, plenty of them would just as soon not vote. Make voting voluntary and you disenfranchise them. I don’t think that would be progress.

    Conversely you can supply plenty of education to people willing to engage with the political system and voluntarily vote without necessarily getting an intelligent decision.

    Sure you can possibly improve the result by throwing money and education at it, but that remains theoretical. I’d say a more sensible and safer result would be achieved by keeping voting compulsory AND putting (some) extra resources into political education. But remember there are lots of other things we want to spend on, so there won’t be unlimited funds available.

  4. I would have to agree with Lanky, but my view is slightly different. I do not not think that the population is cynical. My view is that for most people there is little reason to engage because there is nothing worth having a fight over.

    Developed economies have the highest living standards of human history. There is no struggle, for the vast majority, for housing, sustenance or entertainment. There is no great class struggle between capitalists and workers, no race war and no economic war. Most things have been worked out.

    So why would I spend any time I could otherwise spend on me, bothering to worry about these non-things? I’m pretty sure we pay someone in Canberra to take care of that.

    Obviously for those that are passionate about certain things, global warming, animal rights, abortion, rent seekers etc they have their great war to fight and are engaged. This is why I think compulsory voting is important. We need the empathy of the majority to temper the enthusiasm of the few.

    • What David said.

      I think the other side of the coin is that the definitions of left and right exist mainly in the parliament and its only a convenience thing. As a kid, I remember mum calling Keating a liberal in labour clothes. Tony Abbott went to the last election proposing to tax business to pay for maternity leave. Both sides have left their archetype to fight for the middle.

      It’s a faux fight! Who is going to get passionate about that! If Tony Abbott comes out tomorrow and says he’ll scrap the minimum wage and if Julia comes out wanting to raise taxes to to pay for education and NDIS, then we might see some passion…

      But our political class has grown beyond that to try to achieve results for all constituents because it wins votes; hence the fight for the centre. Howard didn’t leave the blue collar to Labour, he made them his battlers.

      The result is fights over nothing. The result is politicians pouring shame over their own heads to try and make a fuss about something (Eric Abetz, I’m thinking of you and there is a little bit of vomit in my mouth).

      The disengaged middle sees all of this and sees if for the stinking pile that it is but they see everything else as well. I’m with Megalogenis; the Australian voter, who is still cynical in my mind, is smarter than they are treated by our politicians. We need the class that see through the junk to participate and vote, not for the causes they are passionate about but for the party that they think will best manage the country.

      I can’t remember whether it was 13 or 30% – significant either way – but this is the number of people in the U.S who vote for a candidate on how they feel about abortion. Abortion, for Christ’s sake (no pun intended)!

      My current position is that we need compulsory voting. Aussies are cynical but it helps us to see through the crap. Unfortunately, I don’t think we are a nation compelled to do things out of civic duty. I don’t want voting to be a contest between those that want to sick Japanese boats to save whales and flat-earthers who believe lobbyists over scientists. I see your point Dragonista, but nothing in the centre is contentious, so the only passion you’ll see is the passion felt towards individuals, the passion of vilification. Until these issues are resolved, I think we need compulsory voting.

      • so you would be open to change your mind if we moved to voluntary voting and if so under what conditions?

        • don’t know sorry – you can’t legislate for sensibility but I would want to see people fighting for the middle rather than abandoning it to corral extremists

  5. Thanks for the comments guys – the discussion has been very thought-provoking.

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About Drag0nista

Opinionista and political blogger on the interwebs. Former Liberal staffer and industry lobbyist. Studying the entrails of federal politics since 1989. Otherwise known as Paula Matthewson.

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