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Right or Duty? Compulsory Voting in Australia

In a democracy, should voting be a citizen’s right or a citizen’s duty?

Australia is one of a small number of countries – including Argentina and Egypt – with mandatory voting. Australia is rare, within this small group of nations, in imposing penalties on citizens who fail to turn up to vote. Compulsory voting has been in place here since 1924 and it sets us apart from other advanced democracies. Less than 60% of the US voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election.

For this conversation, we’ll bring together citizenship law expert Kim Rubenstein and the eminent historian Judith Brett, author of From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting. They’ll trace the history of our voting system and examine how it’s shaped the tenor of our debates and our sense of ourselves and our representatives. With Sally Warhaft, they’ll discuss donkey votes, ballot boxes, barbeques and the wide-ranging implications of compulsory participation.


Portrait of Sally Warhaft

Sally Warhaft

Sally Warhaft is a Melbourne broadcaster, anthropologist and writer and the host of the Wheeler Centre’s live journalism series, the Fifth Estate, now in its sixth year. She is a former editor of the Monthly magazine and the author of the bestselling book Well May We Say: The Speeches that Made Australia.

Portrait of Judith Brett

Judith Brett

Judith Brett is the award-winning author of From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting (2019), The Enigmatic Mr Deakin (2017), Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People (1993) and Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class (2003). She is an emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University. She contributes regularly to the Monthly, and has written three Quarterly Essays.

Portrait of Kim Rubenstein

Kim Rubenstein

Kim Rubenstein is a Professor in the Law School, a former Director of its Centre for International and Public law (2006-2015) and a Public Policy fellow at the Australian National University. A graduate of Melbourne and Harvard law schools, her many publications include her landmark book Australian Citizenship Law in Context (2002) with a new updated 2nd edition in 2017. 

The Fifth Estate

Our long-running current affairs series, The Fifth Estate, is a mainstay of the Wheeler Centre programme. With our in-house news anchor Sally Warhaft at the helm, it's a series of in-depth conversations with guests from the world of politics, culture, journalism and international relations. It's free, it's fortnightly and it's rigorous long-form interviewing at its best.

Guests are announced in the weeks prior to events, so keep an eye on our website (or the Wheeler Weekly newsletter) for updates. Subscribe to the popular Fifth Estate podcast – or book a (free) ticket – for expert analysis on today's key debates.



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