I added this book to my reading list as soon as I heard about it. While I know a lot about how we vote in Australia, I know less about the history of how we came to vote in this way.
This slim book contains a wealth of facts and figures. I did not know, for example, that while voting is compulsory in 19 of the world’s 166 electoral democracies, only 9 strictly enforce it. I really appreciated Ms Brett’s succinct summary of the differences between the democracies of the USA and Australia.
‘Where the United States favours liberty and rights over democracy and majorities, we favour democracy and majorities over liberty and rights.’
Ms Brett explains this by as being a consequence of British settlement in different centuries. When the early settlers left Britain for America, government was still controlled by the monarch rather than the parliament, and individuals were being persecuted for their religious beliefs. In the early European settlement of America, the thoughts of the seventeenth century English philosopher John Locke were influential. By the time the Australian colonies were establishing their political institutions, the British parliament was in control of the British government. For Australia, the key influence in founding our institutions was the philosopher and political reformer, Jeremy Bentham. Bentham argued that rights are created by law, and laws and rights require government. It’s been a long time since I read Locke and Bentham.
I was particularly interested in reading about the development of preferential voting. I know how it works but hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about how (and by whom and why) it was developed.
I share Ms Brett’s conclusion:
‘From the invention of the Australian ballot to the humble democracy sausage, we have been innovators in electoral practice.
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.’
I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Australia’s electoral system.
Editing and revision has polished this into a gem of a story of 183 effective pages. The presentation complements the authors efforts by excellent typeface, line spacing, layout, reduction of citations and notes to an appropriate font size that ensures novel like readability. The quality of paper permits an affordable price. Initially intended to comment on the cover, but it drew my attention and surely that is superb marketing. Timing of this first edition was very good. Well done all concerned.
One wonders why concentration of graphic design on fonts has been allowed to clog up the memories of the world’s word processors.
Believe that those representing Australia overseas would be aided by a copy of this readable story.
The final paragraph of the book states:
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.