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From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage

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

Judith Brett

  • awardShortlisted, Australian History, Prime Minister's Literary Award, 2020
  • awardShortlisted, University of Southern Queensland History Book Award, Queensland Literary Awards, 2019
  • awardLonglisted, Australian Book Design Awards, Biography, 2020
  • awardLonglisted, Colin Roderick Award, 2020
  • 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 was voting in Australia made compulsory? How has this affected our politics? And how else is the way we vote different from other democracies?

    Lively and inspiring, From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage is a landmark account of the character of Australian democracy by the celebrated historian Judith Brett, the prize-winning biographer of Alfred Deakin.


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    ABC News: A History of Compulsory Voting in Australia
    ABC Radio Canberra: Afternoons (0:30:00)
    ABC Radio Melbourne: Drive (1:17:00)
    ABC Radio National
    ABC Radio National: Big Ideas 
    ABC Radio National: Big Ideas (with Clare Wright) 
    ABC Radio National: The Minefield     
    ABC Radio Sydney: Drive
    ABC Radio Sydney: Focus (0:06:30)
    Adelaide Review
    Australian National University: Experience ANU podcast [autoplay]
    Australian ($): Op-ed
    Australian ($)
    Australian ($) 
    Australian Book Review 
    Canberra Times
    Channel 7 Plus: Weekend Sunrise
    Chat 10 Looks 3 (0:32:00)
    The Daily Show   
    Dictionary of Sydney 
    The Garret podcast 
    Honest History
    Inside Story
    Monthly: Howard’s Heir: On Scott Morrison and his suburban aspirations (op ed)
    Never Mind the Bar Charts (UK Lib Dem podcast)  
    Newtown Review of Books 
    New York Times: The U.S. Will Take 1,194 Days to Elect Its Next Leader. Australia Needs 38. Here’s Why 
    Reasons to be Cheerful podcast 
    Sydney Morning Herald
    Sydney Morning Herald
    Sydney Morning Herald
    Weekly Times ($) 
    Wheeler Centre podcast 
    The Wire 

    Judith Brett
    About the Author

    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.

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    5 March 2019
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    Praise for Judith Brett
    andFrom Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage

    ‘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.’

    ‘Voting is compulsory in Australia and, were it up to me, so would be reading this book.’

    ‘Immensely readable history of our electoral system… Brett has a knack for making institutions fascinating.’

    ‘Brett’s writing is capable of extraordinary clarity, insight and compassion.’

    ‘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.’

    ‘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.’

    ‘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.’

    ‘A tightly written history of Australia’s electoral system… this is a fantastic read for an election year!’

    ‘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.’

    ‘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.’

    ‘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.’

    ‘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.’

    ‘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.’

    ‘As Brett’s splendid book reminds us, the fundamentals of our electoral system should make us all proud.’

    ‘A fantastic read’

    ‘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.’

    ‘Engaging and informative and well worth a read for anyone interested in where our modern electoral institutions came from.’

    ‘[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.’

    ‘Judith Brett takes a fresh look at our democratic quirks — just in time for the 2019 general election.’

    ‘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.’

    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.’

    ‘A tremendous piece of work.’

    Other editions ofFrom Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage
    • From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage
      ISBN: 9781925626810
      5 March 2019
      Buy ebook