Friday, 22 March 2013


Argentina, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador,  Luxembourg, Nauru, Peru, Singapore, and Uruguay are the only countries other than Australia on the planet to have enforced compulsory voting. None of the countries that Australia based its politics off has this specific element, the UK or the USA, and neither Canada or New Zealand does even though they are the closest democracies in terms of history and culture to Australia. Among Western democracies in general, only Luxembourg shares this trait, otherwise it's mostly a South American concept. Given that Australia is a primarily Anglo country, its quite a weird trait for Australia to have. Its even weirder for it to be as entrenched as it is, with a consistent 75% support for it, and it has become a core part of our democracy. Think how odd that makes us and what an offbeat trait this is.

Its a very good trait and Australia is lucky to have it. The problem of legitimacy mention in this View from Brittany is almost completely avoided. While the potential lose of legitimacy can't be completely avoided, its highly unlikely to get to the point of  violent demagogues or groups using the lack of legitimacy/visible support to try a violent takeover since voting rates are consistently over 90% (informal votes are 5.5% max). Considering whats coming in the future ahead, this is good. There are other benefits, such as making the major parties centre-left and centre-right instead of right or left. Interestingly, on Australia's political spectrum the major American parties are either right wing or extreme right wing, alternatively this makes Australia Socialist's on America's political spectrum, and on the European spectrum a weird halfway point. Combined with other aspects and Australia's political system excludes most extremists while being incredibly stable, this also has its own problems, such as problems with adaptation, but in a time of decline they are in general less bad than good.

That last bit is one of its greatest assets for the future. Extremists are the last thing we need in power, their ideologies don't work in practice, naked power grabs are their main way of taking power and the violence/chaos they could easily induce would just make the situation worse. Stability is a far more useful trait and it will help to mitigate some of the chaos of catabolic collapse. The rest of the western world lacks this benefit of compulsory voting, surprisingly preferential voting as well, and that's their lose. 

It has a host of other benefits as well, election fraud is harder (due to the larger number of votes), representation is more equal (voluntary voting is lower among the young and disadvantaged in places without compulsory voting). No resources have to be spent on get out and vote campaigns either, making the political process cheaper to run (though the greens have done their best to try). And so on, its a good thing to have.

Here's a quote from Vladimir Lenin (yes that one) when he visited Australia "What sort or peculiar capitalist country is this in which the workers' representatives predominate in the upper house....and yet the capitalist system is in no danger?".  Note, earlier the lower house was also controlled by the workers representatives.

Gallipoli's place in our national identity/history is also an offbeat trait. It is not like the American war of Independence or Civil war as it can't be symbolized as a fight for freedom, or any other moral value. After all, it was an invasion of another country far away at the behest of an imperial power and our 'Father' country. It wasn't a glorious victory, but a defeat and a battle fought in vain. However, it is the main national battle in Australia's mytho's and a key part of Australia's identity. Its not that we don't have glorious battles and victories in Australia's history, the Kokoda trail or the battle of Hamel would easily fit. John Monash, "I would name Sir John Monash as the best general on the western front in Europe" wrote Field Marshal Montgomery, could easily fill a Napoleon or Alexander the Great position.  Yet Gallipoli still stays.

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."

An extract from ode to the fallen, which was recited at the first ANZAC day dawn service.

It's simply about the soldiers who fought and what the war meant for them. It isn't about right or wrong, glory, freedom or some other virtue. It is about the diggers who fought and died. From that it it is more about humanity than the symbols and "old lies" other nations use.

Another little odd thing is the ability to walk on top of parliament building. That was the specific design choice of having a lawn roof and ramps for people to walk on. It literally symbolizes the ability of the people to stand over their government by allowing them to do so literally. Australians view the government very differently than what Americans or Europeans do, and this is partly from the building and the cultural expression which built it like that.  The Americans, with all their rhetoric, didn't do the simple symbolic act of building a grass lawn over the white house and no other equivalent structure I know of has this feature.   

Australians odd approach to patriotism also helps, here's an extract. 'For example, the author of this article (an Australian) was once giving a presentation to an Australian university class [post grad marketing]. To explain the difficulty in building a patriotic image for a brand in Australia, he draped an Australian flag over his shoulders and struck a pose as if looking at the sunset in an American aftershave commercial. Noting that the class looked unimpressed, he took the flag off his shoulders and enthusiastically polished his arse with it. The class started laughing. He then asked if anyone was offended. A chorus of nos went up. A lone voice said that, although he wasn't offended, he was disappointed. The lecturer, who had previously worked for the defence forces, gave the presentation a distinction. It the same thing had been done in America, expulsion from the university would have been a distinct possibility.' Not a very common attitude in the world and it diverges Australia's culture and politics from the rest of the world. Note patriotism still exists, its just different.

When I talked about Australian culture becoming a non-immigrant culture and changing to be different from others, stuff like this is what I meant. An odd change that sees voting not just as a right but as a duty, honoring the soldiers who fought a futile battle rather than a glorious battle or moral value (like freedom) and directly building democratic symbolism into parliament building. As Australia's culture changes away from Europe's, America's and Asia's, offbeat traits like this will appear more often until the whole value-system and general culture is something wholly different. Later on, as Overshoot approaches its end, it will be quite hard to determine Australian culture's origin in Europe's without digging deep.

On the level of whats normally considered culture, here is a band that I heard busking down at Victoria markets. Different influences, in this case Aboriginal, will exist and in different proportions than other areas of the world leading to (inconsequential on the larger scale) differences on the level of songs and dances.


  1. Hi Leo. A very thoughtful essay.

    From memory, I thought that compulsory voting was legislated because of the general apathy of the population to elections early on after Federation. Our system is as you say geared towards stability, which is a good thing.

    I enjoyed the link. It reminded me of Yothu Yindi's song Treaty. Very cool. Cheers. Chris

  2. @Cherokee Organics
    The vote dropped to about 25%, which prompted a few hours discussion at the end of which compulsory voting was introduced. Some of the states had already implemented it (Queensland was first) so the idea was around. The people who designed the federation studied all the other democracies and chose what worked, they decided that stability was best.

    The market often has interesting bands, last year I saw an Andean pipe band there and I'm glad I saw this band.