There is no need for a referendum on whether voting should be compulsory or not, and the Howard Government knows it.
In 1924, the Parliament passed the law introducing compulsory voting. Previously there had been only compulsory enrolment.
Parliaments have since passed amendments. Before 1925, voter turn-outs for the House of Representatives ranged between 51.48 per cent in 1906 and 78.30 per cent in 1917 when the debate on conscription raged.
For the Senate, it ranged from 46.86 per cent in 1903 and 77.69 per cent in 1917.
Since 1925, after voting had been made compulsory, more than 90 per cent of Australian electors have exercised their voting rights at Federal elections.
Under voluntary voting in the United Kingdom and the United States, a winning party might secure office on as little as 25 per cent of eligible voters.
Candidates there make great efforts to coax people to vote, yet the turn-outs are much lower than in Australia.
To increase the chances of a government elected by a minority, rather than one drawn from the votes of upward of 90 per cent of the citizens, is retrogressive folly.
Opponents of compulsory voting will ignore our rights and duties as citizens; play on the apathy of voters; ally themselves with special interest groups; and argue (with straight faces) that compulsion is “undemocratic” and that we should “choose” whether we vote or not.
They will assert that informal voting reflects an ignorant electorate; that election costs are too high (at $5.79 per elector in 2004?); and that seats develop into predictably “safe” and “marginal” ones. So, they ask, what is the use of compelling people to vote?
With voluntary voting in place, the Australian Electoral Commission would have to finance the same facilities at current cost, never knowing what the voter turn-out would be.
The “ignorance” of voters is more fable than fact.
The ACT Electoral Officer noted that Canberra electors were using the complex Hare-Clark system to discriminate among the candidates from diverse parties.
Federally, the different and increasing rates of informal voting (in 2004, it was 5.2 per cent for the House of Representatives, and 3.8 per cent for the Senate) suggest a discriminating, disillusioned electorate, not one willing to surrender its power to make or break governments.