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Book DetailsISBN: 9781925603842
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Book Review: From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting by Judith Brett - Reviewed by CloggieA (25 Mar 2019)
4.5?s “Our early federal politicians were proud of Australia’s reputation as a democratic laboratory. Determined to create a fair and accessible electoral system, they tinkered away until they got it right… As problems emerge and priorities change, Australian politicians have been willing to innovate.”
From Secret Ballot To Democracy Sausage: how Australia got compulsory voting is a non-fiction book by Australian historian, Judith Brett. From the state governments before federation through to the present day, Brett explains how and why different aspects of voting evolved, and who pioneered the various innovations like the format of the ballot paper, voting booths, preferential voting, non-partisan electoral administration and Saturday polling day with its associated holiday vibe.
It is apparent on every page that this book is thoroughly researched and meticulously referenced. As emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Brett certainly knows her stuff and gives the reader a wealth of information, all of which is presented in an easily digestible form, so the book is never dry or boring.
Brett relates the process that led to the vote for women, one which, incidentally, also involved the (shameful) disenfranchisement of Australian Aboriginals along with native Asians, Africans and South Pacific islanders, although, bizarrely, not New Zealand Maoris living in Australia, who were permitted to vote as: “Maoris, with their villages, settled agriculture and capacity to organise war, were generally regarded as more civilised than Australia’s Aborigines.”
On compulsory voting, Brett concludes: “This was not, as has sometimes been claimed, an accidental decision carelessly made by inattentive parliamentarians, but the result of Australia’s confidence in government, its commitment to majoritarian democracy and its willingness to experiment with electoral matters.”
The title is witty and readers familiar with his work will immediately recognise this cleverly designed cover as one by the talented W.H. Chong.
Brett wraps up: “There are many reasons to be frustrated with Australian politics in the second decade of the twenty-first century, as we suffer our sixth prime minister in eight years, but our electoral system is not one of them. What the story of compulsory voting tells us is how very good we are at elections. We should celebrate it.”
If you learn nothing else from this book (highly unlikely), you will understand why countries like Australia and New Zealand quickly and effectively change their gun laws to protect the people while the Americans (probably) never will. Especially for those living in the state of NSW and facing two elections in 2019, but really for everyone in Australia who has, can or will one day vote, this is a very topical read.
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