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'Education' for major party benefit?

By Klaas Woldring - posted Tuesday, 11 December 2012

It is heartening when the Australian Electoral Commission, which has a solid administrative reputation, launches an educational program on voting for the young. The avoidance to vote, especially among the young, was estimated to be extremely high in the 2010 federal election.

According to one reliable academic source 3.25 m. people who could have voted, did not do so. In a country that has compulsory enrolment, compulsory voting and compulsory preferencing, as part of its system, something is plainly wrong. Just what it is may be considered later but the AEC appears to address the issue by concentrating on educational programs for school elections.


However, when reading the AEC’s media release about what has been proposed serious questions arise. The AEC has introduced a schools program called "Get Voting" described as "a nation-wide education initiative supporting the conduct of free and fair school elections". This is, as Electoral Commissioner Ed Killestey explains, "a new practical program providing on-line information and tools for schools to conduct elections for their student representative bodies". This aims "to develop good voting habits in the electoral process as adults".  

When checking out the Get Voting website we note then that there are only two electoral systems described there as "informed resources": Preferential voting and "first-past-the post", the former preferred in the customary way.

Surely this is a seriously inadequate initiative by the AEC. There is no mention of proportional representation, in any form.

This has existed in this country for over 100 years as the Hare-Clark system. There is also no mention of other, even more suitable, proportional systems, which would be a great improvement on the two, mentioned by the AEC. They are used in dozens of other countries with proven success. 

If the AEC program is to be introduced nation-wide, as suggested, a grand opportunity would be lost to educate school children about various systems, alternative systems used both in Australia and elsewhere. Without explaining alternatives it would NOT be a "practical and meaningful experience of voting", as claimed.

Amazingly, the Garran School in the ACT is the first one on the list. The ACT territory itself has a proportional representation system in place. How could this be omitted? Education is part of the AEC’s statutory role. It may be answerable to the Joint Standing Committee of Electoral Matters,


completely dominated by the major parties, but surely it has an independent educational function and should exercise that function!

As to the wider question why so many people are avoiding to vote one very obvious answer would have to be that voters have had enough the adversarial two-party system that has become very dysfunctional in the last few years. Thus, questions have to be asked why this so and in particular how is this related to the electoral system.

Amazingly, this causal question is generally not asked by political journalists and it is not asked either at the universities or the research institutes. We have all heard that the membership number of the major parties have dropped back to their lowest possible levels, that intra-party democracy is declining or has disappeared and that there is a problem with the funding of political parties. That issue resulted in the ineffectual 2009 Election Inquiry which, deliberately, avoided questions about the election system itself.

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About the Author

Dr Klaas Woldring is a former Associate Professor of Southern Cross University.

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