Fines for not voting in last October’s local government elections are causing reactions all the way from mild indignation to uproar across the Mornington Peninsula, and across the state, Bandicoot is hearing.
The fines are seen as the ultimate insult to people who did actually vote – Bandicoot believes them – in the rock’n’roll local government voting system, to which Victoria’s major political parties and most councils pay offhand lip service.
Local government is the third-tier level of democracy to which the state offloads as much cost as it can, then runs on a third-class basis. It is democracy on the cheap, best illustrated by its preference for postal voting, the cut-price version of democracy.
But not so much cheaper that all 79 Victorian councils should not adopt attendance rather than postal voting.
Can you, esteemed reader and probable voter, imagine the federal or state governments abandoning attendance voting, with its triennial ritual of evading the blizzard of how-to-vote cards waved at you on the way into the polling booth, getting your name marked off the electoral roll then numbering and lodging your ballot papers before fighting your way out again?
At least there’s some proof you’ve voted – a line through your name on the roll.
But attendance elections appear to be regarded as a waste of money at local level, although councils can choose attendance over postal, and some – just a few (7.59%) – do, according to the Municipal Association of Victoria website.
Last year the few were Banyule, Greater Dandenong, Knox, Moreland, Port Phillip and Yarra, all metropolitan councils serving communities with a certain activist bent. That’s six out of 79 which, in Bandicoot’s view, pay more than lip service to the democratic process. Not all their voters do, however.
All Australian elections involve secret ballots, except that some are more secret than others. In the early days of postal voting there were widespread reports of voting papers being stolen from letter boxes as soon as the postie turned the corner.
Some voters fail to note that their ballot must be posted in time to arrive by the deadline. As well as this, votes go astray in the mail. And possibly go missing during ballot paper processing.
But postal voting’s giant drawback is that there is no proof you voted: no electoral roll with your name crossed off, no post office receipt to show your ballot was posted, no method at the point of receipt to record that your ballot envelope arrived.
What a lax system. And how fruitful, in fines levied.
Now comes the harvest of cash, extracted from delinquents as well as those who have voted but have no way of proving it. Each “guilty” voter must cough up $78, unable to prove he or she did indeed vote … a sweetly ironic form of taxation without representation.
The Victorian Electoral Commission reported that in 2014 just over 70% of Victorians cast their ballots in council elections. At the 2016 poll the no-vote number was more than one in four – 1.144 million – according to VEC figures.
Bandicoot’s abacus tells him that figure, multiplied by $78, equals a handsome $89.232 million windfall for the state’s moneybox.
Perhaps all those claiming they were wrongly fined should start a class action to test in court whether they are liable for a fine when the state cannot prove they did not vote.
The poor voter response – Bandicoot does not believe for a moment all 1.144 million non-voters are innocent – brought out the usual opponents of compulsory voting.
Elsewhere on this Facebook page [Mornington Peninsula Bandicoot] is posted a moving letter to the widowed mother of Gunner Brian Lyall, who died at Gallipoli barely three weeks before the Anzacs withdrew. He probably thought he was fighting for people who valued the democracy he died for.
Democracy is defined as “government by the people in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.”
Bandicoot heartily endorses this definition. Those who wish not to vote will no doubt cheerfully pay the $78 fine and would regard it as a light financial sacrifice for the right to practise their deeply considered conviction.
Such an attitude is reminiscent of the freedom some would defend to drive cars without brakes, build unfenced swimming pools, or adopt the US system of gun control.
That great democrat Winston Churchill described democracy as “the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.
Speaking in the House of Commons speech on Remembrance Day 1947, he echoed that other great democrat Abraham Lincoln’s pithier definition; “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
The great irony of non-voting is that several “attendance” councils had high percentages of non-voting delinquents. Highest was Yarra, where 48.81% failed to vote. Moreland (36.4%) came fourth behind Melbourne (44.31%) and Stonnington (36.64%).
Country folk had the highest turnout rate, with Warrnambool (84.48%) followed by the shires of Moyne (83.31%), Gannawarra (83.09%) and Southern Grampians (83.05%). Then came outer-Melbourne Nillumbik (82.95%).
For details about your council, go to