Defending voting rights in Australia

At Saturday’s election, an estimated 400,000 people will vote who, if it wasn’t for our legal action, might otherwise have been prevented from voting. Their votes may well decide who governs our country.

This gain for democracy resulted from our successful High Court challenge in 2010 which restored the voting rights of people otherwise stripped of those rights by laws that closed the electoral roll early. At the 2010 election, 302,414 people enrolled to vote or changed their enrolment details in the enrolment period restored by our legal action. At the 2013 election, it was 537,710 people.

The case is a reminder that we must not take our democratic freedoms for granted. From women’s suffrage to Indigenous voting rights, advances in protecting the right to vote in Australia have been hard won. Our work has built on these past reforms and defended our rights against regression.

Because of our successful 2007 case on behalf of Vickie Roach, the High Court for the first time recognised that the right to vote was protected in the Australian Constitution. The court’s decision restored voting rights for thousands of prisoners stripped of that right by legislation.

In 2014, we secured an important recommendation from the Australian Law Reform Commission to reform archaic discriminatory laws that ban persons of unsound mind from voting. We’re continuing to advocate to have the recommendation implemented.

Last year, our successful advocacy led to the repeal of unnecessary voter identification laws in Queensland that threatened to suppress the vote of Queenslanders less able to access ID – Indigenous people, the homeless, young people, the elderly and disabled people.

 We’ll continue to promote voting rights and also broader democratic freedoms like protest rights and press freedom. Our Safeguarding Democracy report, launched in Canberra earlier this year, highlights the erosion of many of our democratic foundations and outlines a roadmap to strengthen our democracy.