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There’s plenty behind LNP’s voluntary voting thought bubble

The Queensland LNP’s proposal on voluntary voting is aimed at creating a diversion, seeking partisan advantage and creating a smokescreen to hide possible changes on political donations.

The Sunshine State’s political season has begun early, waking Queenslanders from their summer torpor with two bombshells: the extension of public sector cuts to senior commissioned police officers and a discussion paper released by Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie on electoral reform. Bleijie claims to be surprised that canvassing the abolition of compulsory voting has become a flashpoint for debate.

But Bleijie has somewhat of a history of being provocative, for example pushing an agenda favoured by conservative religious groups within the LNP for the reversal of same-s-x surrogacy rights.

The cynical might be forgiven for thinking Bleijie’s latest proposal is a smokescreen for proposed changes more likely to be legislated and with potentially deeper implications; changes to political donations, which include measures potentially restricting union funding to the Labor Party. If it is a diversion, then it has worked.

Julia Gillard tweeted to her followers she would vociferously oppose voluntary voting, and Barnaby Joyce argued compulsory voting protects the state against extreme forces.

It’s significant the Prime Minister also alluded to the potential distortion of politics by “cashed-up interest groups”. It’s also significant as another weapon in the ALP’s armoury in its quest to leverage Campbell Newman’s record for Labor in the federal election.

The electoral system has long been controversial in Queensland, from Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s gerrymander to Peter Beattie’s masterful exploitation of a “just vote one” strategy to use optional preferential voting to further divide disunited conservative forces. Perceptions often outweigh reality in these debates. A mooted change to compulsory preferential voting from former Labor attorney-general Cameron Dick probably would have made little difference to the 2012 state election result, according to ABC electoral analyst Antony Green.

Joyce is probably right that the Greens would benefit from a system that favours the ability of activists to organise to get out highly motivated voters. However, whether or not there’s partisan calculation behind the support within the LNP, it may not benefit the governing party. Crikey blogger Possum Comitatus has argued on Twitter that most such speculation is meaningless.

The bigger issue here goes to the lack of any really independent arbiter for the rules of the electoral game … in a state that proverbially lacks checks and balances to disproportionate power.”

What’s really interesting in all this controversy is another perception — that, under the guise of a desire for transparency and accountability, the LNP might be acting to protect its own shaky political interests.

As I wrote recently in Crikeythe LNP’s fall from grace has been quick, though the party if not the Premier can still be confident that the polls show it a likely winner of an election.

LNP figures have been suggesting that Newman’s plunge is a case of first-term blues, and the ship of state will right itself as the financial situation stabilises and the government’s “Four Pillars” policy begins to bear fruit. But as Possum also argues, Essential Research polling discloses the government’s performance on a range of issues is rated very poorly by voters.

The Newman government got off to a bad start on accountability, effectively locking the ALP out of parliamentary offices, and a series of unfortunate incidents — including the December defection of Dr Alex Douglas over his removal as chair of the Parliamentary Ethics Committee investigating former Liberal MP and departmental head Michael Caltabiano — will no doubt have muddied the waters of the public mind.

Then there’s the downfall of Housing and Public Works Minister Bruce Flegg, and complaints from parliamentary committees dominated by the government about legislation being rushed through with inadequate consultation. The Labor Party opposition under Annastacia Palaszczuk has made accountability a theme.

It’s this context that informs the LNP’s voluntary voting proposal: does it add to an existing preconception that the party is prepared to play fast and loose with the rules for its own partisan advantage?

The bigger issue here goes to the lack of any really independent arbiter for the rules of the electoral game — a key omission of the Fitzgerald reforms in a state that proverbially lacks checks and balances to disproportionate power.

Whether or not the LNP is bringing further political pain on itself is the real question, not whether a putative move to voluntary voting would advantage one side or the other. We don’t know the answer yet, but we do know we’re already in another fascinating Queensland political year.

*Dr Mark Bahnisch is a Fellow of the Centre for Policy Development and a Brisbane-based social and political analyst

17
  • 1
    Steve777
    Posted Friday, 4 January 2013 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    Voluntary voting would see the rise of voter suppression tactics as we saw in the recent US elections. And it would allow well funded lobby groups and interests a disproportionate influence on the result. Australia is good at elections. I think the view that has prevailed in Australia for 80 years or that voting is both the right and the duty of the citizen is correct. And it’s only attendance at a voting place that’s mandatory, with reasonable exceptions for inconvenience (e.g. Illness, distance). Anyone who really doesn’t want to vote can submit a blank ballot.

  • 2
    jennyt
    Posted Friday, 4 January 2013 at 11:44 pm | Permalink

    If it ain’t broke don’t fix it is the bottom line here. If you don’t want to vote nothing prevents you from leaving the ballot paper empty. You just have to show up, a proper acknowledgement of the sacrifices and struggles people have had all over the world to obtain the right to vote. It is precious and done better here than almost anywhere. I suspect chicanery.

  • 3
    TheFamousEccles
    Posted Saturday, 5 January 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    This is one occasion that I must agree with Barnaby Joyce (though he is not referred to in this article), who has spoken out against this removal of compulsory voting. Having said that publicly, I now need a Bex and a good lay down…

    Newman and his ilk are effectively anti-democracy and running amok, whilst there is no effective check or balance in the QLD parliament. I hope they are shown the door at the next state election.

  • 4
    Nonda Pass
    Posted Saturday, 5 January 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    I often think about the people of East Timor all those years ago - they lined up for days to cast their vote. We should continue to have compulsory voting. As mentioned in other comments, people can lodge a blank ballot if they choose but to have voluntary voting would result in the promotion of self interested, rich groups targeting certain areas with the apathetic in the background. Perhaps that is what Newman wants - his government is looking more like a return to the Petersen years than ever and those of us with long memories remember that era well.

  • 5
    Arty
    Posted Saturday, 5 January 2013 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Dictators don’t like votes.

  • 6
    GF50
    Posted Saturday, 5 January 2013 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Agree compulsory voting a duty and a right. Reinstate the upper house. total disclosure and limit of political funding.
    QLD state of the totaltarian right.
    Democracy requires checks and balances, no matter what political persuasion is in government.

  • 7
    pritu
    Posted Monday, 7 January 2013 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    Regular readers of the Murdoch press are already frothing at the mouth against compulsory voting. Say no more.

  • 8
    Posted Monday, 7 January 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Voluntary voting opens the door to large-scale vote fraud. People who can be relied upon to not vote and be identified as such by phone polling or some other means, can have their votes cast for them very easily.

  • 9
    susan winstanley
    Posted Monday, 7 January 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    There is a classic bait and switch going on here, IMO. Voluntary voting has got everyone talking, and will be ditched. The real democracy killers are the other recommendations for voter ID etc. Keep eye on ball.

  • 10
    Hamis Hill
    Posted Monday, 7 January 2013 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Via the state governor this LNP administration can be made accountable to the people of Queensland.
    The Governor can send Campbell Newman to the judgment of the people in an election.
    Election Now! Election Now! Election Now!
    All that we have heard from Abbott for several years.
    As an aside, it is almost one year since Newman was reported to have promised no less than a $100,000,000 increase in funding for “Private?” education.
    Election Now! Election Now! Election Now!
    End the Newman Dictatorship!
    The Governor Must Act!
    Or statements to that effect promulgated endlessly for the duration of the Newman Madness!
    who said there is no accountability?
    Democracy not Dictatorship.
    All available in the Abbott political playbook!

  • 11
    Hamis Hill
    Posted Monday, 7 January 2013 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    There’s a “Whiff of Illegitimacy” about the Newman Government!
    “This is the Worst State Government in Queensland’s History!”
    “This a Bad Government!”
    The political sword that Abbott has lived by can slay his Queensland colleagues,
    Death to the Newman Dictatorship!
    A familar scenario, surely?
    All that the LNP federal opposition has lived by for the last three years, faithfully amplified by the mainstream media.

  • 12
    Kerry Lovering
    Posted Monday, 7 January 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Voluntary voting means that frightened or vulnerable people –not just women—will be bullied into not voting if they are seen to dissent from their dominant partner.

    Voluntary voting is the reason that America suffers such a dysfunctional policy process.

    The political parties in America only make policies that are approved by the middle income earners who do vote.

    Women are particularly disadvantaged by voluntary voting as it is so easy for their fathers or brothers or lovers to say
    “Why do you need to vote?”
    “Why don’t you just stay at home and cook dinner?”

    The reason Australia is such an egalitarian country is because we value the opinion of all citizens.
    Unlike the UK or the USA.

  • 13
    Madonna
    Posted Monday, 7 January 2013 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Smart tactic by Mr Newman and his advisory team!
    Looks like the Premier won’t go without a fight and he keeps other ‘pollies’on their toes. Comical if not for serious consequences if re-elected purely because his statisticians have crunched the numbers. I admire his can do attitude, just not his alienating over-active left brain methodology. In an age of democracy, I’d be disappointed to see him remain Premier based on back door politics and citizens disinterest instead of policy and leadership qualities.

  • 14
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Monday, 7 January 2013 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    If electorates want transparent disclosure of political donations why can’t the transactions be made public instantaneously? After all, when an e-transfer hits the Party’s bank account it is recorded all over the place - except on the public record.

  • 15
    zut alors
    Posted Monday, 7 January 2013 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Ok Campbell, let’s take it even one better ie: NO voting whatsoever at state level… after we abolish all state governments.

    It cheers me up just thinking about it.

  • 16
    Shane Johnson
    Posted Monday, 7 January 2013 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    The LNP want union members to vote on whether the Union donates to the ALP. It should be a condition of union membership that members understand and accept that the Union will donate to the ALP. Will the LNP also require shareholders to vote on whether Companies donate funds to political parties?

  • 17
    beachcomber
    Posted Tuesday, 8 January 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    @Shane #16, not all Unions donate to, or are affiliates with, the ALP. The Queensland Police Union are good friends with the LNP, having signed Memoranda of Understanding before elections in the past, and advocated for an LNP Government.
    That said, the suggestion that Companies require shareholders to vote before making political donations (if Unions have to) is sensible.

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