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Friday, October 2, 1998 Published at 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Voting compulsory for Australians

Australians are going to the polls in great numbers - nearly all 11 million of them.

The average turn-out rate is usually over 95%, which was only exceeded by the mock-elections of countries under Communist rule.

[ image: The Australian parliament building - complex voting system]
The Australian parliament building - complex voting system
Australia, like the former Communist countries, has compulsory voting. It has been a legal obligation for all eligible voters to cast their votes since 1924 - and abstainers without a good reason can be fined up to $50 (Aus).

But Australians do not seem to be complaining about the harshness of the law, even though casting one's vote requires considerably more mental exercise than ticking the favourite candidate.

House of Representatives

Unlike the UK's first-past-the-post system, Australia has adopted preferential voting for its 148-seat House of Representatives - the lower house - in which each voter sets up an order of preference among the candidates, effectively casting several votes.

Initially, though, only the first votes are counted, and the winner is the candidate with an absolute majority.

If no-one has more than 50% of first votes, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated, and his/her ballot papers are redistributed according to the next preference.

And this goes on, until an absolute majority is established.

Mandates in the House of Representatives are for three years, but it is possible to call early elections - like this year.


If this looks daunting, voting for the Senate, a system called quota-based proportional representation, is no less complex. Twelve senators are elected for each state, and two for each territory.

Candidates who reach a certain quota of the total first votes, about 14%, are guaranteed a seat. Any surplus votes are redistributed among the other candidates according to the next preference.

And that is not all. Elections for the Senate, where senators have six-year mandates, are staggered, so there is an election every three years, for about half of the seats.

Elections for the Senate take place at the same time as for the House of Representatives, but senators always serve their full term.

So following this year's early elections, winning senators will have to wait for nearly a year to take up their seats, for a guaranteed six full years.

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