Sunday, 18 July 2010

And it is on: Australia goes to the polls on August 21

Australia's three week old PM Julia Gillard pulled the plug yesterday, announcing an election for August 21, some three months short of a three year 'full' term (and well short of the maximum possible length the Labor Government could have run - she had until April 16 next year in theory).  Oh for fixed term elections!

Voting is compulsory in Australia, and potential voters have until Monday night to make sure they are on the electoral roll (and thus avoid a fine) - you can check whether or not you are correctly enrolled by going to the Electoral Commission site.

The polls put the two parties pretty close, and it is certainly hard to separate them in many ways.  In the few short weeks of Gillard's Prime Ministership we've seen a continuation of the current Government's incompetence when it comes to actually delivering policy, with its overly rushed and misguided asylum seeker policy that has (as I predicted) quickly unravelled.  And we've seen a rush to the middle ground on a range of other issues.  The question is whether Labor does actually have any areas of genuine policy leadership it plans to unveil.

On the other hand, the erratic path of announcements from the colourful Opposition leader Tony Abbott  doesn't really lend a great deal of confidence that the other side would be much better, that they have learnt the lessons of Opposition.

Expect over the next few days some key policies to be announced and the lines of demarcation to become clearer.  Should be an interesting few weeks.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Terra,

One correction - since Australia has secret ballots the requirement is to attend a polling station. One can then voting informally. The candidates are usually so shameful it is surprising that the informal vote is not higher - never high enough to invalidate the poll.

What is wicked is that it is illegal to encourage informal voting - which is often the only moral choice.

Ukko

Terra said...

Ukko - Just as inaction is a choice so to an informal vote is a vote. It's just that instead of potentially influencing the outcome directly, you've simply left it to others to decide the outcome. Frankly abdicating from making a choice, even if of the least worst candidate(s) seems to me to be most likely to be always immoral, since it leaves the choice to the secular majority.

Cardinal Pole said...

"since Australia has secret ballots the requirement is to attend a polling station. One can then voting informally."

That is incorrect. Section 245(1) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 gives the following command:

"It shall be the duty of every elector to vote at each election."
[http://www.comlaw.gov.au/ComLaw/Legislation/ActCompilation1.nsf/0/14E2E2F9F0662775CA2576080017348A/$file/CwlthElectoral1918_WD02.pdf]

(The same Act (Section 101) also commands us to apply "forthwith" to become electors if not electors already. Also, Sections 239 and 240 prescribe the manner of voting for Senate and Lower House elections, respectively, thus ruling out the possibility that an informal vote could satisfy the obligation to vote.)

So given that the requirements imposed in the Act are, as far as I know, just, possible, and properly promulgated, the Act is a valid law and thus its commands are binding in conscience (I have no reason to think that they are purely penal) and it would therefore be a sin not to vote (properly).

To sum up:

1. Australian law commands non-electors to become electors.
2. Australian law commands electors to vote (and not merely informally).
3. A lawful command by a competent authority (which is what the preceding commands are) binds on pain of sin, so informal voting is sinful, as is obstinate non-enrolment.
(Obviously there are also exceptions.)

And of course in addition to these intrinsic reasons there are also, as Terra indicated, extrinsic reasons to vote properly--one way or another, one of the candidates is going to win whichever office is being contested, so it seems to me that we might as well do our part to make sure that the least-worst one wins.

Salvatore said...

“So given that the requirements imposed in the Act are, as far as I know, just…”

But surely that’s the point? Is it just for the State to compel me to vote in elections; particularly where she offers no real choice of candidates?

Salvatore.

Terra said...

Salvatore - It is surely not a failure of the State if there isn't an adequate choices of candidates, it is a failure of lay catholics to play their proper role in the public square and stand for office!

Cardinal Pole said...

"Is it just for the State to compel [you] to vote in elections"

The onus is on whoever says that it is unjust to prove the alleged injustice.

Salvatore said...

I suppose ultimately it depends on whether one regards voting as a duty or a right. If it’s a duty then there’s no problem with the State coercing its subjects to vote. A right, on the other hand, represents a freedom to act (or not) and, as such, cannot of its nature be the subject of compulsion.

As I’ve never been convinced by the ‘duty’ arguments for voting, I maintain that the compulsion to vote vitiates my democratic rights. The Law, therefore, represents an injustice and thus does not bind in conscience.

Anonymous said...

Huh? Cardinal Pole asserts without any justification "The onus is on whoever says that it is unjust to prove the alleged injustice."

Since the claim is for the state to compel people to act surely it is for the state to demonstrate that it has the authority to do so and that what it compels is just.

In the words similar to our Master "Government is for man, not man for the government".

Anne Nonny Mouse

Terra said...

Anne Nonny Mouse and Salvatore - Surely the presumption we must start from has to be that the State is acting in the common good. Laws are valid unless they can be shown to be morally evil since Scripture and tradition hold that we are required to comply with legitimate authority.

As to the rights/duty argument - since democracy (or at least any particular Constitutional configuration) is not an objective right (the Church holds any number of systems to be legitimate forms of government), I don't see that there can be any such thing as an absolute 'right to vote' (as opposed to a duty to vote).

There is certainly a 'right to participate', but just how that right is constructed in particular Constitutions is a matter for each country/jurisdiction, and not something the Church will normally engage on.

As to the existence of a duty to vote, however, the situation is on the face of it much clearer -indeed there have been a number of occasions on which popes have discussed the duty to vote, reaffirmed by VII in Gaudium et Spes 75. Of course there are some outs for this - for example if it was a case of lending your consent to a pre-determined outcome as many Communist regimes used to do. But I think the basic principle is pretty clear in Church teaching.

Cardinal Pole said...

Terra's comment of July 22, 2010 1:23 AM answers the previous comments quite well, but I'll still offer, if I may, the following thoughts:

(Response to Salvatore)
"[You] suppose ultimately it depends on whether one regards voting as a duty or a right."

No, it depends ultimately on whether the natural law commands, forbids, or permits compulsory voting, not on whether a private citizen 'regards' voting as this or that (sorry if that sounds curt; I don't mean it to be).

"If it’s a duty then there’s no problem with the State coercing its subjects to vote."

It isn't necessarily a duty, but it will be in polities in which the competent authority commands its subjects to vote (though even where voting is voluntary the natural law can sometimes command, on pain of sin, voters to exercise that right--see Fr. Jone in Moral Theology).

"A right, on the other hand, represents a freedom to act (or not) and, as such, cannot of its nature be the subject of compulsion."

Nevertheless, the natural law can, whether remotely (that is, through a lawful superior) or proximately, command one to exercise a right in certain instances.

"As [you]’ve never been convinced by the ‘duty’ arguments for voting, [you] maintain that the compulsion to vote vitiates [your] democratic rights."

There are a number of schools of thought on how to know whether an obligation does or does not exist. Of the schools of thought which the Church tolerates, the least strict is probabilism (sp?), according to which there is no obligation if there exists a solid probability of non-obligation. Your reasoning here wouldn't be valid even for a probabilist; you have demonstrated neither an intrinsic probability--all you can say is that you aren't convinced by arguments for compulsory voting, therefore you aren't bound to do so, which would be like someone saying that he isn't convinced by the arguments for compulsory Mass attendance on Sunday, therefore he isn't bound to do so--nor an extrinsic probability--you haven't referred us to any respected authors who hold your opinion.

(Response to Anne Nonny Mouse)
"Huh? Cardinal Pole asserts without any justification "The onus is on whoever says that it is unjust to prove the alleged injustice.""

In my first, longer draft of that comment I gave the two reasons why, but I ended up deciding to submit as short a comment as possible. Anyway, here are the two reasons:

1. The general truth that 'he who affirms must prove'.
2. Lawful superiors enjoy the benefit of the doubt about their commands.

"Since the claim is for the state to compel people to act surely it is for the state to demonstrate that it has the authority to do so and that what it compels is just."

No it isn't; the State, like any lawful superior, enjoys the benefit of the doubt. What you're advocating here is a sort of 'presumption of guilt' when in fact lawful superiors enjoy a 'presumption of innocence', a presumption that their commands are valid until demonstrated not to be.

Someone has to demonstrate that the natural law forbids compulsory voting if we are to reject the relevant sections of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 as invalid commands. (I say that to both Salvatore and Anne Nonny Mouse, as well as to anyone who disputes the validity of all or parts of the Act.)

Salvatore said...

“Surely the presumption we must start from has to be that the State is acting in the common good….”

Actually there’s no need to presume anything. We know that compulsory voting was introduced in this country by (various) Governments solely because they believed it would be an advantage to them in an upcoming election. The Common Good never got a look-in I’m afraid.

I have no objection to substituting the ‘Right to Participate’ for the ‘Right to Vote’; my argument stands just as well: Compulsory Voting unjustly vitiates my ‘Right to Participate’ by depriving me of my ‘Right to Not Participate’.

Gaudium et Spes (75) speaks of “the right and also the duty to use their free vote”. Given that ‘right’ and ‘duty’ are antithetical, the statement is meaningless. Not much help there I fear.

Cardinal Pole said...

"compulsory voting was introduced in this country by (various) Governments solely because they believed it would be an advantage to them in an upcoming election."

Prove it. (Not that it would matter; a bad motive on the part of a legislator doesn't necessarily invalidate his legislation.)

"Compulsory Voting unjustly vitiates [your] ‘Right to Participate’ by depriving [you] of [your] ‘Right to Not Participate’."

Absurd. People in a democracy have no more 'right not to participate' than the king in a monarchy has a 'right not to participate'.

Another way to look at it is this: Rights are either natural or acquired. Obviously your supposed 'right not to participate' is not an acquired right, so it must be a natural right. So you need to show how the natural law gives you this 'right'.

"Given that ‘right’ and ‘duty’ are antithetical, the statement is meaningless."

So you deny that someone with a right can conceivably have, on occasions, a duty to exercise that right?

Anonymous said...

A state that compels participation in liberal democracy is not acting in furtherance of the common good as liberal democracy does not further the common good.

+ Wolsey.

Anonymous said...

There seems to many, many tacit assumptions in these posts. For example, assuming that the government is working for the common good. Why should anyone assume this? After all, the government has been funding abortions for many years. The irony missed by "Cardinal Pole" is that for much of that time, this activity was illegal in legislation.

There are many other examples that illustrate that the government often acts against the common good.

It is also illogical to assume that the government is working for the common good if one is concerned that the secular majority will direct government. In this situation do we still assume that the government is working for the common good?

And as a final thought, why is it shocking that the "secular majority" might direct government in a democracy? I thought that was one of the assumptions of a democracy - the majority will influence the direction of government.

Anon.

Salvatore said...

Prove it.

Well, surprising as it might seem it’s to be found on the website of the Australian Electoral Commission, which candidly states that “compulsory voting was introduced in Queensland by the Liberal Government … concerned that ALP shop stewards were more effective in “getting out the vote”. Surely the AEC represents a reasonable source of information in such a discussion?

But in any case, as you say, the motives of the original legislators are rather beside the point.

Perhaps I can put it this way.

Given that the majority of democracies in the world do not force their citizens to vote, it cannot be argued that compulsory voting is a necessary feature of a just & stable democracy. Consequently, if the Australian Government’s imposition of this duty is to be just, there must be some characteristic(s) of our nation or its system of government which requires it. What might this (these) be?

Cardinal Pole said...

(Response to Wolsey)

"A state that compels participation in liberal democracy is not acting in furtherance of the common good as liberal democracy does not further the common good."

Interesting that you say that, York; it had occurred to me that Australia's liberalism was a factor to consider in this discussion, though no-one had raised it explicitly until your comment. I see it this way: Democracy is a legitimate form of government. Liberalism, however, is evil, false, absurd, and condemned irrevocably by the Church. Liberalism, then, is like a cancer in the body politic. Now we know that the common good is to the State what health and well-being is to a human person. So if a person had a cancer, even a self-inflicted one, would that mean that we were forbidden to help that person with other aspects of his health and well-being? No, not necessarily, so long as we weren't co-operating formally in the carcinogenic behaviour. Hence I don't see why the natural law would necessarily forbid us to participate in the political life of a liberal democracy.

(Response to Anon.)

Anon., I don't dispute that Australian governments have sometimes, perhaps often, acted against the common good; I dispute that Australian governments have ceased to be legimitate governments or that they are legitimate but that their laws are to be regarded as invalid until proven otherwise.

(Response to Salvatore)

"Surely the AEC represents a reasonable source of information in such a discussion?"

A few problem with that information come to mind:

1. It only applies to Queensland.
2. Were government members the only M.P.s to vote for the relevant Bill (remember, a government doesn't legislate--Parliament legislates)?
3. Even supposing that that Act was invalid at the time, subsequent governments, including Labor governments presumably, didn't repeal it.

And as you concede, the law still wasn't necessarily invalid just because it might have been badly motivated.

"Consequently, if the Australian Government’s imposition of this duty is to be just, there must be some characteristic(s) of our nation or its system of government which requires it. What might this (these) be?"

I don't know, and I don't need to know in order for the Act to bind my conscience, just as I don't need to know that, say, a given industry and its influence on the common good require a certain piece of industrial legislation in order for it to bind my conscience. I can only regard legislation as valid until proven invalid, and nobody has proven the Act, or the relevant parts, invalid.