In July 1924, a Tasmanian senator from the conservative Nationalist Party, Herbert Payne, introduced a bill to bring about compulsory voting in Australian national elections. His proposal aroused little discussion. Debate in both the Senate and the House of Representatives – where another forgotten politician, Edward Mann, saw the measure through – was brief. Few spoke in opposition. The House debated the matter for less than an hour and passed Payne’s bill without amendment. Its implementation at the 1925 election caused barely a ripple. It has never been controversial since, although a few Liberal politicians have made its abolition another of their hopeless causes.
Apart from marvelling that the nation’s politicians could have agreed so readily to a measure now widely regarded as the Australian political system’s most distinctive feature, you might be wondering how Judith Brett has managed to spin such an undramatic event into a book of almost two hundred pages. The answer is that she hasn’t. This book is a great deal more than an account of how Australia got compulsory voting. It is a meditation on Australian democracy and society.