Compulsory voting would ensure needy have a say - analyst

Antony Green
Antony Green

Some may see it as flying in the face of democracy - but one analyst says compulsory voting may encourage New Zealand's poorest people to have more of a bearing on the election.

ABC News' election analyst Antony Green says that Australia had a 95 percent turnout at the last election as a result of the approach, with people hit with a fine if they refused to vote. New Zealand hasn't had a voting turnout of more than 90 percent in over 35 years.

Mr Green told The Nation on Saturday morning that while compulsory voting essentially forces people to head to the ballot boxes, Australians aren't too bothered by it - and Kiwis probably wouldn't be if we were to take it up, either.

"I think Americans and the British would object to this greatly but in Australia, it's sort of a shrug of the shoulders, and it's probably for the common good - and I suspect if you did it in New Zealand, you'd get sort of the same attitude," he says.

"I think Australians and New Zealanders are rather similar in thinking about those sorts of things in that way."

However Mr Green says the impact it has on an election is far from just a shrug of the shoulders, as it gives power to Australia's least powerful.

"If you look at most countries around the world, voting tends to be heavily dominated by older voters, it tends to be dominated by more well-off voters - and the voters who don't vote under voluntary voting tend to be younger voters, tend to be those less engaged, less well-off," he says.

"In Australia, all those people vote, and it's an argument about compulsory voting in Australia that one of the consequences is Australia has one of the most redistributed of welfare systems - that the welfare we do spend is heavily directed to those who are most likely to need it.

"And one of the reasons why that's viewed that way, is [that] under our system, all those people will vote."

Mr Green says higher voting turnout from more vulnerable demographics is a positive thing, and he assumes New Zealanders, like Australians, would be likely to see a compulsory vote as "something which is for the common good".

"In many countries, the sort of people who are affected by changes in government policy for welfare and the like are often people who don't vote. And in Australia, those people vote, so there's a huge pushing towards the middle of politics," he said.

"Three-quarters to two-thirds of Australians still support compulsory voting. The fine is quite limited. You pay about a $20 or $50 fine. It's easier to vote than deal with the fine in Australia."