Attila the Pun
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Candygram for Mr Mungo

As hard as it is to take seriously anybody called Mungo, I endeavoured to read through his contribution in today's SMH.

It takes him a few paragraphs before he gets to the crux of his argument - the defence of compulsory voting. He establishes his non-partisan credentials early:

But the signs are that the Government is playing for higher stakes: the introduction of voluntary voting for both houses. Parliament's best-known saver of rodent arses, Senator George Brandis, has joined long-time advocate Senator Nick Minchin in pushing the move as a matter of principle.

Then goes on with the usual arguments put up by people who enjoy having the Government tell us what we have to do.

But in practice the principle seems to have more to do with self-interest than ethics. Even the most laissez-faire regimes involve some obligations, and not just the nasty ones like taxation.
For example, in Australia education is compulsory, and no one complains about that. Indeed, the right to universal free education was almost as hard-won as the right to universal franchise, and is similarly best protected by compulsion.

Education is compulsory because it is aimed at protecting children by ensuring their parents send them to school. Once they reach 16, they are allowed to make their own decision as to whether they wish to continue their schooling. If you wish to compare universal education with compulsory voting, then university education would also have to be compulsory.

Then we get the stupidiest and most evasive defence that is always trotted out:

And really the obligation to turn up at the polling booth - not even to vote - is a very small burden on the citizen. In a normal lifetime, voting in all federal, state and local government elections would involve the loss of about one single day - hardly an insupportable price to pay for the privilege of living in a democracy.

"It isn't compulsory voting - its compulsory turning up to a booth" Don't insult our intelligence. If it isn't compulsory voting, then the arguments in favor of retaining the present situation which are based on compulsory voting (e.g. the comparison to education) are irrelevant. You can't have it both ways Mungo.

The other argument regularly put by proponents of the voluntary system is that it produces a more intelligent and informed outcome than does compulsion: the ignorant and the apathetic will stay away, and those really concerned about politics will run the place, which is as it should be. Apart from the naked appeal to elitism in this argument (should voters have to pass some kind of examination, as once they had to own property, in order to qualify?), it fails on logical grounds.

Warning - straw man. Where is there any suggestion that there should be any sort of property qualification or examination required? To vote, voters would have to turn up - voluntarily. And considering it is the left that has had a field day suggesting that the voters of Australia (and the US) are ignorant, greedy, stupid etc, then accusations of elitism are a touch rich.

Voluntary voting encourages the drop-out mentality; those who already feel impotent and alienated will not bother, leaving the field to the enthusiasts and zealots: the well-organised groups fanatical about abolishing land tax, or the right to own firearms, or imposing their religious views on the population at large.

Got any evidence regarding the 'drop out' mentality Mungo? And lets look at the 'enthusiasts and zealots' that will roam free if voting is voluntary - "groups fanatical about abolishing land tax, or the right to own firearms, or imposing their religious views on the population at large" So well organised groups like unions won't bother turning up - only gun nuts and god botherers will? That is the whole point of democracy - if you don't like the way things are being done, you can vote to change them.

Finally, there is the sheer question of waste. In a voluntary system huge amounts of time, money and energy, which can be better devoted to developing and promoting policy, are diverted just to persuading people to turn up. Debates about the actual merits of competing proposals become a secondary consideration.

Convincing people that your policies are worth voting for is considered 'waste'? Compulsory voting gives both sides a comfortable base which they know will always vote for them. Labor (until recently at least) had the unions, the Coalition had the small business and rural vote. To win elections, they had to pork barrel the marginal seats. Take this safety net away, and all of a sudden the parties have to start paying attention to their base. This means Labor wouldn't have suicidal tree hugging forest policies, and the Coalition wouldn't have huge increases in government programs.

It isn't until the final few paragraphs that Mungo finally coughs up his true reasons for opposing voluntary voting:

And this was meant to produce a more intelligent and considered result? Of course not; but that wasn't the point. What it did produce was a comfortable bias in favour of the Tories.

Bearing in mind that this is based on his hugely relevant experiences as a campaign worker in England. In 1964. As in 40 years ago.

In those days, wet weather alone was considered worth a swing of 10 per cent against Labour, simply because the Conservatives were more likely to have their own transport. Obviously in Australia today the advantage would be far less, but the best estimates put it at between 3 per cent and 5 per cent. In a country where elections are regularly won and lost by a margin of less than 2 per cent, this is definitely worth having.

Or definitely worth stopping. This has got to be the worst argument in favour of compulsory voting - that making it voluntary would be unfair because Coalition voters are more likely to turn up. Rather than trying to fix that by threatening the populace with fines for not turning up, maybe Labor and its supporters could examine why people are not enthusiastic enough to turn up and vote for them.

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