Book Review: From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage

Book Review: From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage

Books for Civic Educators and Students

The Parliament of NSW Communications, Engagement and Education team loves to read about civics and parliamentary democracy. In this series of blog posts, we share our thoughts on the books we’ve read recently.  Where possible, we’ll provide a link to where you too can find the book. 

From secret ballot to democracy sausage: how Australia got compulsory voting by Judith Brett.
Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2019

This is the story of how Australia became one of only 19 democracies that have compulsory voting.

That’s a surprising number if you’re under the impression that we’re a lonesome outlier in this respect. It’s comforting to discover that there are quite a few other like-minded nations. However, when we think about the list of countries that hold elections and don’t compel their citizens to vote – 166 – it’s a very small proportion.

So how did Australia become a country that treats voting like taxation – a compulsory right and responsibility of citizenship? And how did such an important piece of legislation pass both Houses of the Federal Parliament in 1924 in a single day, and with barely a whisper of debate.  Brett skilfully narrates these events and, in the doing, reminds us of the unique nature of Australia’s democracy, including the early adoption of the secret ballot, elections on Saturdays, preferential voting, and the role of the Australian Electoral Commission.

This fascinating and very readable book outlines the development of our democracy through the franchise and its institutions and reminds us that we live in a country that is good at elections. This is something we can be proud of as a nation considering recent election events across the globe and particularly in the USA. But as Winston Churchill once said, ‘The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.‘ Vigilance is difficult without education. This book is a must for all civic educators and an essential text for any school library but just as important, a fascinating and important read for every Australian.

Reviewed by Daniela Giorgi, Senior Education Officer

Find this book in your local library.