Our say | It’s perfectly fine to punish those who don’t vote

THE vast majority of the 4400 people who stand to be fined for failing to vote at the Bathurst local government election in September deserve no sympathy from the rest of us.

No doubt there will be some genuine cases where unforeseen circumstances made voting impossible and the NSW Electoral Commission has systems in place to handle those. But you can be sure that in most cases it will simply be a case of not being bothered, and that’s just not good enough.

Voting is compulsory in Australia for sound reasons.

It is not an oppressive state infringement on individual liberty. Nor is the pursuit of those who fail to vote merely a cynical way for governments to raise revenue.

As citizens, Australians enjoy certain rights under the law. They are also subject to various duties, including obeying the law, paying taxes, serving on juries, and defending the country against aggressors.

Voting in elections is another of these.

That is not so in all countries; only 32 have compulsory voting and only 19 (Australia included) enforce it with legal sanctions.

Some have said Australia is out of step here and doubts about compulsory voting have made the system fragile, the law notwithstanding.

Across the state, more than 530,000 people (out of 2.73 million eligible voters) failed to vote in the recent NSW local council elections. Fewer go missing at state and federal elections, but those figures show that governments, and the community, cannot be complacent about participation in our democratic processes.

It is vital for the political health of the community that all parts of society, at every level, express, by voting, their opinion on the community's future.

And voting at a council election gives people the most direct say in issues that concern them most directly.

Local government’s primary responsibilities include the old “rates, roads and rubbish” and we all have a stake in ensuring those services are delivered properly.

Local government also handles many neighbourhood disputes and our elected representatives – the councillors – are there to be the voice of the people in forming council policy.

Given the freedoms we enjoy in Australia, it is not much to ask for people to spend a few minutes voting to secure our democracy. If you can’t be bothered doing that, then you deserve to be fined.