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From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting

by Judith Brett

  • Paperback
PUBLISHED: 5th March 2019
ISBN: 9781925603842
RRP $29.99
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  • Paperback
PUBLISHED: 5th March 2019
ISBN: 9781925603842

Publisher Description

It's compulsory to vote in Australia.We are one of a handful of countries in the world that enforce this rule at election time, and the only English-speaking country that makes its citizens vote.Not only that, we embrace it. We celebrate compulsory voting with barbeques and cake stalls at polling stations, and election parties that spill over into Sunday morning.But how did this come to be? When and why did we begin making Australians vote? What effect has it had on our political parties, our voting systems, our participation in elections? And how else is the way we vote different from other English-speaking democracies?From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage is a brilliant essay-length book by the celebrated historian Judith Brett, the prize-winning biographer of Alfred Deakin. This is a landmark account of the character of Australian democracy.

Author Biography

Judith Brett is the author of Robert Menzies. Forgotten People and emeritus professor of politics at La Trobe University. The Enigmatic Mr Deakin won the 2018 National Biography Award, and was shortlisted in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards, NSW Premier's History Awards and Queensland Literary Awards.


'From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage is written for Australians, but should be read across hemispheres, encouraging the world to recognize Australia's many contributions to free, fair and inclusive elections.' Pacific Affairs 'Judith Brett should be congratulated for producing a work that restores many long-forgotten personalities to life. It deserves wide readership if only to ensure we value what we have.' Newtown Review of Books 'Judith Brett takes a fresh look at our democratic quirks - just in time for the 2019 general election.' Weekly Times '[Judith] Brett has produced a paean to the Australian election, but her fascinating story of how we vote also discloses larger truths about what we are like as a people.' Australian Book Review 'Engaging and informative and well worth a read for anyone interested in where our modern electoral institutions came from.' Dictionary of Sydney 'Relatively brief but seriously compelling history of how we do democracy from one of Australia's best academic writers on all things political... You might not think politics and democracy are exciting topics that would make a riveting read, but Brett proves that to be a total misconception.' -- Dennis Atkins Courier Mail 'A fantastic read' 6PR 'As Brett's splendid book reminds us, the fundamentals of our electoral system should make us all proud.' Sydney Morning Herald 'Brett's research is meticulous...Want to know how and why Australia is one of only 19 electoral democracies worldwide that demand compulsory voting? This is compulsory reading.' Adelaide Review 'A book that reminds us how proud we should be on election day: if not of the result, at least of the way it's conducted.' Sydney Morning Herald 'Excellent...Brett's book shows how democracy sausages are the symbolic culmination of the proud history of the Australian contribution to electoral and voting practice around the world.' Canberra Times 'Magnificent...Brett has constructed an excellent, fast-moving narrative establishing how Australia became one of the world's pre-eminent democracies...[She] skilfully weaves her way through what would be in the hands of a lesser writer a dull, dry topic...Brett is right to point out that we need "more than the Anzac story" to understand our success. From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting will be an important part of that conversation.' Weekend Australian 'Politics aficionados might find this very readable and informative book hard to put down. The solution is simple: read it in one sitting, as I did.' -- Inside Story 'A tightly written history of Australia's electoral system... this is a fantastic read for an election year!' -- Readings 'This book unravels mysteries, and explains the quirks and triumphs of Australia. It answers questions you didn't even know you had. I learned something on every page.' -- Waleed Aly 'The Australian way of voting seems - to us - entirely ordinary but, as Judith Brett reveals, it's a singular miracle of innovation of which we can all be fiercely proud. This riveting and deeply researched little book is full of jaw-dropping moments. Like the time that South Australian women accidentally won the right to stand as candidates - an international first. Or the horrifying debates that preceded the Australian parliament's shameful decision to disenfranchise Aborigines in 1902. This is the story of a young democracy that is unique. A thrilling and valuable book.' -- Annabel Crabb 'Australia led the world in broadening the franchise and introducing the secret ballot, but few nations followed us down the path of compulsory voting. This absorbing book explains a century-old institution, how it came to be, and how it survives.' -- Antony Green 'Brett's writing is capable of extraordinary clarity, insight and compassion.' -- Monthly 'Immensely readable history of our electoral system... Brett has a knack for making institutions fascinating.' -- Readings 'Voting is compulsory in Australia and, were it up to me, so would be reading this book.' -- Benjamin T. Jones, Honest History 'A great treasure that sizzles like the sausage in the title. I'll be surprised if, by the time you've finished it, you don't, like me, feel a little bit prouder of the Australian democratic system.' -- Andrew Leigh MP, Shadow Assistant Treasurer


Short-listed for University of Southern Queensland History Book Award, Queensland Literary Awards 2019 (Australia)
Long-listed for Australian Book Design Awards, Biography 2020 (Australia)

Product Details

Judith Brett
Publication Date
Country of Publication
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Short Title
From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage
How Australia Got Compulsory Voting

Product Reviews

12 Apr, 2019
A very interesting book and I'm glad I read it. The only weakness was the explanation of block voting in the Senate prior to proportional representation introduced by the Chifley government. A clearer explanation on how it worked would have been handy.
By Ewan