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Democracy on trial

Editor: Thank you to GetUp for permission to republish the following.

Democracy on Trial
by GetUp

GetUp has today [Friday 23 July] launched both a High Court challenge and Federal Court challenge to protect the right to vote in Australia. We'll keep you up to date on both cases on this page. Thanks for your support!

If you'd like to support this campaign, please use this link.

In some way, these court cases are a new direction for GetUp - but they're also a powerful continuation of campaign that began in 2006, when the former Howard Government introduced laws that made it harder for Australians to enrol to vote by closing the electoral rolls at 8pm the same day an election is officially called.

The amendments were shamelessly entitled the 'Electoral Integrity Act', even though they led to a huge increase in the number of Australians missing from the electoral roll - particularly young and Indigenous Australians, recent migrants and poorer Australians. Thanks for being part of the campaign to stand up for the right to vote!

The Federal Court case

GetUp filed a case just moments ago [23 July 2010] together with Oliver, Sophie and Steve: three young Australians who have signed up as plaintiffs because they want to test their right to enrol to vote online. Oliver, Sophie and Steve all used GetUp's online enrolment site, OzEnrol to enrol, and like us, they believe that online enrolment is a valid way to enrol to vote.

This year, it's more important than ever that we make enrolment as quick and easy as possible. The election was called on Saturday, and the rolls closed to new voters at 8pm on Monday evening - not even enough time to send an enrolment form by mail! Win or lose (and we think we can win), this case will prove that our enrolment system is failing young Australians who want to take part in our democracy, and that the Government should make online enrolment available to all Australians.

The High Court case

This landmark case is about standing up for 1.4 million Australians who are missing from the electoral rolls -- including people who struggle to meet the arbitrary enrolment deadline established by the Howard Government: the young and the elderly, those with disabilities, in hospitals or in aged care, the homeless, military people serving overseas, and Indigenous people living in remote communities.

Our barristers will argue that the 2006 Howard Government amendments to the Electoral Act are an unconstitutional limitation on the right to vote. They will argue that anybody who enrols this week should be able to vote - and based on the AECs data from the last election that could total over one hundred thousand voters!

In 2007, the landmark High Court case of Roach v. Electoral Commissioner established the right to vote in Australia based on sections 7 and 24 of the Constitution, requiring that the Houses of Parliament be 'directly chosen by the people'. The High Court added that any limitations on the right to vote must be for a 'substantial reason' that is 'proportionate' to the maintenance of representative government', while any disproportionate or arbitrary limitations on this right are unconstitutional.

Here's what the AEC themselves had to say about the early closure of the rolls in a Parliamentary Inquiry into the Integrity of the Electoral Roll (2000). We'll be confronting them with their own words in the High Court case:

Expert opinion within the AEC is that the early close of rolls will not improve the accuracy of the rolls for an election...In fact, the expectation is that the rolls for the election will be less accurate, because less time will be available for existing electors to correct their enrolments and for new enrolments to be received. This expected outcome is in direct conflict with the stated policy intention of the [Howard] Government to improve the accuracy of the rolls. Further, it will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the franchise, an outcome which the AEC cannot support.

We're very lucky to have expert legal counsel representing us in this case.

We strongly believe, and will argue before the High Court, that closing the electoral role on 8pm the day that writs are issued is both an arbitrary and disproportionate limitation on the right of all Australians to vote.


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Vote 1: GetUp

... and Simon Sheikh for PM:

Australians will be able to enrol online after the Federal Court ruled in favour of activist group GetUp! in its action against the Australian Electoral Commission.

The group took the commission to court after concern was expressed about an online voting enrolment site it created in July.

But today Federal Court Justice Nye Perram ruled the test case of 19-year-old Sophie Trevitt, who enrolled on the GetUp! website OzEnrol, was legal.


... to Ron Merkel QC and the firm for which I worked for nearly ten years last century – Mallesons – for their pro bono and incredibly effective activity.

GetUp wins...

Just in:

The High Court has ruled that Howard-era laws that close the electoral rolls on the day that writs for an election are issued are invalid.

The Australian Electoral Commission will now scramble to contact an estimated 100,000 Australians to inform them they are entitled to vote at the election on August 21.

Activist group GetUp! brought the constitutional challenge, arguing the laws effectively disenfranchised young people who were prevented from registering when the rolls closed on July 19.

The High Court will be handing down the reasons for its decision at a later date.

"all in all...brick in the wall"

I understand the point, it just disappoints me that people are so lazy in trying to understand the world around them, Michael, even if Australia is a hedonist's paradise.

 The only trouble Getup has

The only trouble Getup has is with reality. There is no "implied right to vote" contained in the Constitution. Indeed, compulsory voting was not introduced until 1924 and the first election held under it occurred in 1925. Hence the choice to register to vote was only abolished at that election. The compulsion to vote (which is a basis, no doubt for the spurious argument proposed by Getup: if I am required to vote, I have a right to be enrolled) is purely a creature of statute not a right conferred by the Constitution. The Statute delimits the fashion in which that compulsion is triggered i.e. registering.

Now, that is the legal position. The Statute (Commonwealth Electoral Act) was amended by the underhand, sneaky, duplicitous and mendacious Howard Government no doubt because it saw a political advantage to itself in gambling that younger voters were more likely (a) to vote for the Opposition and (b) to be unable to register to vote in a short timeframe. Interestingly enough, the current Government has not seen fit to alter the Statute to allow either a longer period of time or, except for an experimental trial dealing with the visually impaired, sought to introduce any form of electronic voting.

Coincidentally, this may actually work to the advantage of the Redhead following her plummeting popularity in the wake of decommissioning the Ruddbot.

As to Getup's idea that electronic voting should be introduced, that, provided sufficient safeguards against electoral fraud can be built, in has merit but it is a matter solely for the Parliament to enact. The High Court has better things to do than piddle around with the desires of a few children to play with their computers no matter how desirable they may think it to have Lara Croft in charge of the country.

The issue does raise a more interesting question, however. Should we have compulsory voting at all? Formerly, I was an ardent supporter but this is now my fifth election and I become increasingly disillusioned when people refuse to take (and presumably consider) my campaign material or that of other candidates. Some of them get quite nasty about it – but that's politics. One would have hoped however, that while people are fully entitled to their own political views whatever they may be – and it is one area in life where they are fully entitled to harbour their own prejudices – in a rational democracy, it might be nice at least to consider the other fellow's point of view before rejecting it.

There is a further point: what is to say that the failure of people to register to vote in time or at all is not simply a de facto form of non-compulsory voting? As I was canvassing for nominees for the current election, I was staggered by the number of people who (and this was after the rolls had closed) were simply not registered to vote. Perhaps they do it to avoid the fine.

Overall, I must say that I am coming to the view that I should rather see non-compulsory voting than a system where people cast an uninformed vote or simply turn up at the ballot box and submit a blank or informal vote or make an random choice.

So, as far a court action goes, for my money, Getup can bugger off. If they want to change the law, do it the way the rest of us have to: by getting Parliament to change it. Doing so against the self-interest of the government of the day is no harder than getting the seven wise monkeys to give a decision on a matter where they do not have jurisdiction to do so.

Let's get on with discussing the real issues in this election without sideshows.

Malcolm B. Duncan

Independent candidate for Wentworth.


Malcolm B. Duncan: "Overall, I must say that I am coming to the view that I should rather see non-compulsory voting than a system where people cast an uninformed vote or simply turn up at the ballot box and submit a blank or informal vote or make an random choice."

Another strand is the fury of an electorate when a by-election is called, or when it is suspected that someone might not serve his or her full term.  Why? No probs for those who care, or (if there were any) those who have a choice. But the entire electorate is coerced and their Saturdays substantially wasted. What should be a right is turned into slavery. We see the hatred of the slaves for their masters.

So what's the candidate gonna do?


The Candidate is going to try to be elected. Then we can worry about relative trivia.

Giving people a fair go

It always surprises me that we give rights and privileges to artificial constructs called companies that often are above that provide to people. The latest is Tony Abbott's promise to lower business tax even further, when it is already much lower than that which humans have to pay.

I suspect both Tony and Julia dream of a Nirvana without humans/voters.

That'd teach them

I wouldn't be in the least surprised, Jay Somasundaram, if there were some within the COALition who yearn for the good old days of a franchise restricted on the basis of real property ownership and gender.

Hence, putting chattels like me barefoot at the kitchen sink.

There's no door. It's a blank wall.

Paul Walter writes "Door slammed in face", but there is no door.

Australians do not have the right to vote. There is just a system to manage them.  The only right that exists is that of the government to force Australians to vote.

Let's be clear. The right is not possessed by the citizen, it is possessed by the government.

If both candidates are shits or drongos, held in contempt by 100 percent of the electorate, one of them gets more than 50 percent of the vote of that same electorate.

What does that tell you about the people who elected the winning candidate?

Don't moralise at me about a civic duty to vote.  In the above case, and in all cases,  there is a clear civic and moral duty to not vote for a candidate you consider unsuitable.

What is needed by all of us, not just the ones Getup! has a bee in its bonnet about, is the right to vote.

My new toy set for xmass

Richard, if there's been a feature of labor since 2007, it's been their enthusiasm in embracing the structures inherited from Howard, at the expense of the dismantling of them as they earnestly promised, in the lead up to the demise of the little cultural warrior.

For the likes of Conroy and the mindset, it must have looked like the Promised Land; a sort of giant playschool for the political paedophilia that distinguishes control freaks, spinners and apparatchiks from the rest of us.

Cattle-class democracy

Paul, I  remember hearing somewhere that the changes were made on the belief that last-minute enrollers were most likely to be registering to vote for The Opposition.  Unethical, but Labor certainly haven't repealed it!

Door slammed in face

Not so welcoming of Australians, the Australian system. Particularly, the younger ones. OK, so people ought not be so apathetic as to not register for voting.  But what on earth possessed Howard to make the system more unforgiving?

Did he believe these people would vote against, rather than for him?

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