The Godfather: Peter Corris on voting
For the first time in my life I have been threatened with a fine for not voting in an election. This has caused me a little shame.
I had to wait until I was 21 to vote (the voting age was not lowered to 18 until 1974), but ever since I’ve voted enthusiastically in council, state and federal elections, and in referenda. These elections are compulsory of course but it wasn’t for fear of the fine that I complied – I like voting and I think most Australians do as long as the occasions don’t come too thick and fast.
Coming from a staunch Labor family I took an interest in politics fairly early and remember being disappointed when Labor lost the 1961 election by only two seats. I looked forward to being able to vote in two years, when I could help to displace Ming. That never happened; Menzies won another election and resigned, laden with grotesque imperial honours, in 1966.
I remember being disappointed yet again in 1969 when Gough Whitlam and Labor lost narrowly in what has become known, in acknowledgement of David Williamson’s brilliant and successful play, as the ‘Don’s Party’ election.
Triumph came at last in 1972 and I recall many details of the events surrounding the election – the ‘It’s Time’ speech at the launch of Labor’s campaign, Don Dunstan drawing a huge audience on the ANU lawn, Bob Gollan on a stump at an ALP picnic condemning the McMahon government as ‘discredited’. I was in Canberra; adapting William Wordsworth, one might have said:
Joy it was that dawn to be alive,
But to be in Canberra was very heaven.
Disappointment at later Coalition victories was assuaged by satisfaction when Hawke won, and relief when Keating hung on. I was delighted when Rudd displaced the egregious John Howard and distressed at subsequent failures and disillusionments.
I’ve voted in the ACT, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. State and council elections came and went. Over the years I’ve voted Labor, Communist, Socialist Alliance, Greens, and for the Voluntary Euthanasia Party.
After all that to lapse causes me chagrin.
The fine for not voting is $55. I could afford to pay it but I didn’t want to. The form that advised me of my transgression carried an email address at which to lodge an excuse. Jean informed the authority that I had suffered the amputation of a toe at around the time of the election and had trouble walking. The walk from where our car would be parked to the polling booth was a fair step and I doubt I could have made it. It might be argued that I could have lodged some form of absentee vote but, neither in my letterbox nor on a lamp post, was there any notice of a forthcoming election. No local newspaper circulates in Earlwood as far as I know. I used to urge my publishers to advertise my books, saying, ‘People can’t buy what they haven’t heard of.’ Similarly, you can’t vote if you don’t know there’s an election on.
PS My explanation for my failure to vote was accepted.