Why Australia needs automatic voter registration.

If Australia has compulsory voting, why are over 628,000 people missing from the electoral roll?

An often- stated fact about Australia is that we have compulsory voting. Sure it’s thanks to compulsory voting that Australia boasts a voter registration of 96.3% of the eligible voting population. Compared to other countries, this figure sounds impressive, until you consider one rarely stated fact – the 628, 547 voters missing from the electoral roll.

So why are so many people missing from the voting rolls?

  • Some voters have never registered;
  • Non-voters who have fallen off the electoral roll due to homelessness or renting;
  • Some people are registered to vote at state but not federal level;
  • Many indigenous Australian’s aren’t registered to vote.

While the Australian Electoral Commission requires all eligible voters to register and vote- there is no automatic process for updating voter details. And  for this reason there is a large hole in Australia’s electoral roll. When people move house, or become homeless they often fall off the electoral roll.

Admittedly, there is some provision in the electoral act for allowing people with no fixed address to vote. But you have to ask: How many homeless people ensure they vote while homeless?

Why does Australia have compulsory voting?
Australia is one a relatively small club of nations that makes voting compulsory. Other countries with compulsory voting are: Brazil, Argentina, Luxembourg, Belgium and others.

We made voting compulsory in 1924 after the disastrously low voter turn out in the 1922 election. The vote at this election was so low that the result had to be called into question.

And although our rate of electoral enrolment and voting is much higher than many other countries, I would argue that Australia doesn’t really have compulsory voting, and that what we have is compulsory attendance at the polling booth if you’re registered to vote.
Younger voters

So let’s look at the three groups of people who, due to their circumstances often aren’t registered and so, don’t vote. First, many young people are still missing from our electoral roll and so don’t vote. While some may assume young people are apathetic, they are in fact the opposite.
There’s a large cohort of young people are agitated on issues of importance. It’s just that many from this age group don’t see their concerns reflected in the national debate. Discussion about house prices, negative gearing, and other topics generally caters to an older demographic. Further, when politicians tour electorates they often don’t talk to the concerns of young people.

And because politicians don’t speak to their concerns young people feel ignored and so don’t register to vote.  And young people prefer direct participation campaigns via social media and the internet.

But ultimately, only young people and the political parties ensure more young people are enrolled to vote. Young people would be a  potent electoral force in a way that Generation X never was because there are so many more Gen Y’s.

But also the onus should be on political parties to speak to the concerns of all Australians, not just older Australians whose life circumstances have been blessed by economic sunshine.

Indeed, many voters (of all ages) often don’t understand what a potent force they really are. Do you want to understand the importance of political engagement?  To understand this, look at the boomers. In the ‘80s the election of the Hawke Government was partly due to changing demographic trends. A driving force behind the electoral change was the then youthful boomers.

Long after the ’80s became fodder for the history books, the boomers have remained a potent electoral force. This potency can be seen from government spending patterns. Of all the age groups, people over 65 command a much higher level of government spending. By contrast, the group with the thinnest slice of government spending is Generation X (1966-1980).

Voters registered at the state level

A second, but even more obscure voting block is the voters registered at state level. These voters are eligible to vote at their state and local government elections, but not at federal elections. There are around 100,000 missing voters in this category.

Thus, for every one of these hundred of thousands of voters, they miss out on getting their say at the federal level. This is a real shame because there are so many decisions made at the national level where the ramifications reverberate for decades.

Renters who have fallen off the electoral roll

A third group who is also a largely invisible group of non-voters: renters. Renters receive little notification from landlords before being asked to move. In NSW, the regular period is 21-days. And amid the busy lifestyles, competing priorities – it’s not hard to see why they often forget to get back on the electoral roll.

Moreover, some people still return their forms in the post, so it takes time for the electoral commission to update their details. And by the time the election is announced it is only a matter of days until the rolls are closed and people are barred from updating their details.  The fastest way to register or get registered is by changing or updating your details online.

Indigenous Australian’s

Although Indigenous Australian’s have had the right to vote for many decades, they continue to have a low voter participation rate.  Figures from the 2016 Federal election suggest that as few as 58% of indigenous Australian’s vote.  Though some sources suggest this figure is overly generous and that the real number is closer to 50% voter registration for indigenous people.

To increase this and to make politicians more responsive to the needs of Indigenous people requires a mass voter recruitment drive.  The best way to do this is via a process of automatic registration. Otherwise, Australian politician’s, mining companies and other interest groups will continue to pay lip service or ride roughshod over Indigenous rights.

Homeless people who have fallen off the electoral roll

Continue reading “Why Australia needs automatic voter registration.”

The life of the long-distance commuter

The life of the  long-distance career-commuter has been a problem for decades.  Commuters leave home in the dark and get home at dark. They spend approximately 70% of your life either at work or commuting to or from work.  This is the sacrifice of the commuter.  And this is the sacrifice that more of us are having to make.

In fact, the sacrifices of commuters reminds you of the quote about working to live not live to work. However, like all quotes the schism between fiction and reality is wide. And it is this schism which reflects reality, not utopian views of work life balance.

So how does this divide affect the life of a commuter? Early in the morning tucked snugly in bed, you hear the alarm clock go off jump starts your body.  You quickly cobble together some breakfast, get dressed, straighten your attire and perhaps apply some minimal personal effects before rushing out the door. You begin your purposeful drive to work, or if you’re a train commuter to the station.

If you’re lucky, you may have a family member or friend to keep you company on your lonely commute.  But if you’re like the masses who live in the outer suburbs, there are few opportunities to connect.

And the numbers of people undertaking a gruelling commute aren’t just confined to committed career-commuters living in isolated pools of employment deprivation.  They come from the Central Coast, Lake Macquarie, Newcastle, Wollongong, Camden and other areas. And those who are unable to access the Sydney employment market are increasingly having to be intend with thin employment pickings.

In fact outer suburban and regional NSW houses vast pools of employment deprivation.  As a consequence, many commuters must flock to the four Sydney employment  hubs: Central Sydney, North Sydney, the North Shore or Macquarie Park.

Of course, being a commuter doesn’t mean that you’re completely cut off.  For car commuters, the advent of mobile phones and GPS, they can talk back to the outside world – ask for directions and apologise for being late. But they are still cut off from social contact and the deluge of information that is modern life.

By contrast, train commuting looks a very social exercise; but crude assumptions are often deceptive.  Sure, you’re surrounded by people while waiting on a  crowded platform. But they’re all probably strangers. Their interested in their preoccupations and pressures. And you’re interested in your preoccupations and pressures.

But waiting at the station isn’t the most individualistic aspect of train travel. It’s all about the hunt and the final prize. It’s like some primeval ancestor ritual.  You scan your environment for the train. Just before the train has stopped at the platform, your eye off the prize.  Undeterred by the intense competition, you make a quick dash for the aisle seats or the seats up or downstairs.

But even then the best laid plans can come unstuck. Sometimes the sight of victory is within your grasp – sometimes tantalisingly so – only to evaporate in a heart beat, when some else slots into your carefully-selected spot moments before you. It is then you have to resign yourself to standing for the fifth day in a row.

But finding a seat is more than just a competitive hunt; it also an exercise in how to navigate through crowds.    It’s rather like driving through a busy car park, you need a high degree of situational awareness. However, even then you can accidentally trend on someone’s toes!

And at the end of the week, particularly for full-time commuters, your body is gripped by a form of lethargy. The only time you feel free of it is Sunday and Monday. Monday rolls around and the trip home feels not too bad.  But by Tuesday, that creeping feeling of lethargy sets in.  This feeling increases the further in the week you get.

For those with no experience of commuting, I guess the best way to describe it is kind of a like a boot camp. But it isn’t a boot camp aimed at building your level of physical fitness.  The commuting boot camp is quite something else: it sucks the intellectual, emotional and physical energy out of commuters.  Heck even visitors from the country have been known to crave sleep after returning from a marathon trek to the city for the day! and yet commuters faithfully endure this trek every week.  Week in, week out.

And while most people would prefer to work to live, we need to ask if commutes could be made shorter; thus, breathing life into the bodies of many a commuter.

Our political representative could have created cities, which allowed people to live closer to work, or at the very least given them access to faster train services.

Part of the problem is the election cycle, where governments seem incapable of long-term planning.   But even the shortness of the election cycle doesn’t explain inadequate planning.

Is it that our planners are spectacularly inept at planning?  Well, not entirely.  If you’re talking about rail travel, the railways are funded by the states, not federal, unlike other countries.

And that’s where I believe the crux of the problem lies.  Basically, past governments haven’t been prepared to invest the money into fixing transport issues. Instead they have wasted vast amounts energising disengenous public relations campaigns that argue it is a mistake for governments to borrow.   Instead of using public relation as an economic rationalist tool to postpone public investment in infrastructure, they should have focused on providing people with the infrastructure they needed.

By contrast past governments saw public borrowing as an investment; they saw it as a form of nation building.  These days, vast amounts of money is poured into the pockets of rent-seekers.