Defending Australians’ right to vote and other democratic freedoms

Defending Australians’ right to vote and other democratic freedoms

Australians can be justifiably proud of our democratic institutions and culture. We have a strong, inclusive electoral system based on the idea of a universal suffrage.

At times we have been world leaders in advancing voting rights. Australia was one of the first nations to realise the right for women to both vote and stand for parliament.

But at times our actions have been shameful. It wasn’t until 1962 that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were allowed to vote at federal elections.

While voting rights in Australia today are widely enjoyed, we cannot take them for granted.  In recent years state and federal governments have sought to restrict Australians’ right to vote.

The Human Rights Law Centre protects voting rights through strategic legal action and advocacy.

Our two landmark High Court cases strengthened the right to vote in Australian law.

In 2007, in Roach v Electoral Commissioner the High Court recognised for the first time that Australia’s Constitution protected the right to vote. In doing so, it struck down a law that denied all prisoners the right to vote and won the right for nearly 10,000 people in prison to vote.

In 2010, Rowe v Electoral Commissioner, the High Court struck down laws that required the electoral rolls to close on the date of the issue of electoral writs. The Court’s decision meant the rolls were kept open for 7 days after the issue of writs. This ensured an estimated 100,000 people who enrolled in this 7 day period were able to vote at the 2010 election. In the 2013 election, over 180,000 people enrolled, re-enrolled or updated their details in this period. The impact of this case continues today.

Our work defending the right to vote is ongoing. We helped to defeat Queensland voter ID laws that threatened to suppress the vote of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, people experiencing homelessness, young people, old people and people with disability who are less likely to hold the necessary ID.

We’re also working to reform archaic unsound mind laws that restrict the vote of people with cognitive disabilities and we support lowering the voting age to 16.

Voting rights are just one of a range of human rights such as freedom of speech, association and assembly that are vital to our democracy. From advancing protest rights to ensuring charities can advocate on the issues they work on, our work strengthens our democracy.

Regardless of your political allegiances, we hope you can take a moment to appreciate the fundamental democratic freedoms we enjoy in Australia and join us in working to protect and strengthen them even further.