With the upcoming Voice referendum scheduled for October 14, 2023, Australians are preparing to make a critical decision on whether to officially recognize the First Peoples of Australia by establishing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. But what happens if you don’t vote?
In Australia, voting is mandatory and has maintained a long history of advocating for universal suffrage – meaning all eligible citizens, regardless of gender, race, or social status, have the right to vote.
It’s a civic duty that has its roots in the early 20th century when the country was in the process of establishing its democratic institutions and was intended to create a more representative and legitimate government that’s reflective of the electorate.
The upcoming referendum requires all Australian citizens to participate and vote on whether to recognize the First Peoples of Australia; I’m not here to tell you how to vote, but this is what could happen if you don’t.
What is a referendum?
Referendums are a crucial process within a democratic society allowing people to have a direct say in the decision-making process of the country. They present an opportunity for Australians to exercise their democratic right to vote, have their voices heard and affect actual change to the way the country is governed, as opposed to the elected officials that usually make decisions on behalf of the electorate.
The most common form of referendum breaks down the argument into a simple “yes” or “no” vote on a single change in policy, proposal or issue; as such, referendums are inherently divisive. Whatever your view on mandatory voting, the idea was to encourage wider civic participation and ensure that all eligible citizens had a voice in the democratic process.
Australia’s Constitution hasn’t been changed since 1977, and a vote to amend the Constitution would represent the biggest change to Australia’s democracy in history.
But what happens if you don’t vote in the Voice Referendum?
As voting is compulsory here in Australia, you may risk penalties and fines if you fail to show up and cast your vote in the upcoming referendum.
Issued by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), fines and penalties can be applied to Australian citizens who do not vote in the referendum without a valid reason. After each election or vote, the AEC sends notices to those who failed to vote, requiring valid reasons for abstaining, such as being unable to get to the voting station due to sickness or being outside of the country.
If there reason provided is not accepted by the AEC, you could incur a penalty which is determined by the state you live in; in Victoria, the fine for not voting is $92, whilst the fine in NSW is $55.
What is the Voice Referendum?
Australians will participate in a referendum to determine whether they want to amend the Constitution to acknowledge and recognize the First Peoples of Australia.
This proposed amendment aims to establish a governmental body known as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
When is the Voice Referendum?
The Voice Referendum is on Saturday, October 14, 2023.