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Voting Compulsory? Not if it makes you feel Morally Corrupt!

By Terence Mills

Voting is compulsory in Australia, right? Well, not quite. If you believe that it is your religious duty not to vote then you don’t have to. It’s one of the many privileges granted to those of a religious persuasion but if you or I decide not to vote because we conscientiously believe that those being put forward for election are a group of mongrel twits, we get fined twenty-dollars and the High Court will so find. Well not so quick, an enterprising man in New South Wales, who I have never met but with whom I have a great feeling of empathy, had a close look at the Commonwealth Electoral Act, section 245 (14) where it says:

Without limiting the circumstances that may constitute a valid and sufficient reason for not voting, the fact that an elector believes it to be part of his or her religious duty to abstain from voting constitutes a valid and sufficient reason for the failure of the elector to vote.

In an exercise is in logic reminiscent of the Life of Brian a magistrate in NSW has determined that:

Person: I think it was ‘Blessed are the cheesemakers.’

Woman: What’s so special about the cheesemakers?

Man: Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.

No, sorry that actually was Life of Brian but it will serve to illustrate the point, to which I will return. What actually happened was that the man has won a legal battle in a New South Wales court after being prosecuted for failing to vote in the 2016 federal election, saying that voting would have left him feeling “morally corrupt”. A powerful argument when you look at the quality of the candidates on offer in New South Wales at the last election. The man admitted that he didn’t vote in the July 2016 election but pleaded not guilty to failing to vote without valid and sufficient reason.

Relying on section 245 of the Electoral Act the self-described agnostic said he believed in “freedom” an ideology that forms the basis of his view of life and his moral framework. The magistrate said fair enough and dismissed the case against him, finding that the man had provided evidence of a valid and sufficient reason not to vote.

Now, this judgement has a massive potential impact on the enquiry that Philip Ruddock is chairing into Protections for Religions and Religious Beliefs. How so? Well it demonstrates the fact that a conscientious belief or an ideology such as “freedom” or agnostic or atheistic beliefs need to be protected equally as much as other beliefs provided that they are conscientiously held. So, as we know, in the national census a large number of people said that their religious belief system centred around Jedi Knights a belief closely aligned with Scientology but without Tom Cruise. An even bigger group said “none of the above” clearly indicating a more intellectually based belief system not relying on symbolism, funny hats, silly walks or omnipotent beings.

So, returning to the Life of Brian analogy, when the act says if an elector believes it to be part of his or her religious duty to abstain from voting, it’s not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any belief system that is conscientiously held, and if you feel that voting for the candidates on offer will leave you feeling morally corrupt then you have every reason to abstain.

I have no doubt that Philip Ruddock will take this into account and extend such protections to all of us.

I rest my case!


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  1. Jaquix

    Love that Judge! Great line “I believe in Freedom “! But I do believe in compulsory voting. If you remove that, you immediately ensure a huge boost in the number of votes for the Liberal and National parties. It’s a major reason for results like Trump and Brexit. (But holding elections on a week day also probably contributes to low worker votes. These 2 reasons are furiously protected by the Tories and Republicans who know it keeps them in office)
    Because unfortunately “conservative”‘ voters tend to show up in greater numbers. Voters in Australia have to turn up and be counted but can just draw a line across the paper if they wish. The Ruddock Rubbish committee should be disbanded – religion has enough freedom already.

  2. Harquebus

    Will someone please set me straight. Do we have compulsory voting or compulsory attendance?
    It is my understand that one must attend a polling booth and have one’s name crossed but, actually completing the ballot process is voluntary.
    Thanking whoever in advance.

  3. Terry2


    That’s technically correct : once you have been struck off the list you are deemed to have attended, what you then do with the ballot paper or what you write on it is your choice.

  4. Pappinbarra Fox

    Compulsory voting tens to draw the main parties to the centre when designing and or implementing policies. Abbott is the possible exception that proves the case because look what happened to him. Although I would prefer a left government. If it is a choice between left and extreme right give me centre every time

  5. Wam

    Any competent judge would have ruled this to be a valid reason not to vote in future but as it was not registered before the election, a guilty verdict is mandatory and the fine imposed.
    Rudd and dick make a good pair to decide on religious racism, sexism and ‘rites’?
    ps M fox the loonie left and the loonie right are squeezing the middle into a narrow line???

  6. helvityni

    Bollard’s are helpful, but they will not fix the course for these disasters; as Patrick Mc Gorry so clearly told us: we have to finally tackle our mental health problems.

    Like Man Monis, these other two have not obviously had enough help with they mental health issues, why were they still driving cars…..

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