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Oz legislation

the strike and the cross

1856 Tasmanian Electoral Act

Talented Mr Boothby

Wakefield and ballot


The Australian Ballot

Secret ballot - not an Australian first
360kb PDF
250kb html

AEC links



Australian Dictionary
of Biography











Enrolling the People


The Development of Modern Electoral Administration
a postgraduate project of the ANU and the Electoral Council of Australia 
funded by a grant (no: LP0453987) from the Australian Research Council 

About this site

A good line

This man is Lyndon Johnson, American President from 1963 to 1969, and he has nothing to do with my research.  However, President Johnson once said that talking about economic policy was like peeing your pants - it feels hot to you but no-one else notices*

Writing and researching a PhD thesis, I've discovered, can be like that. Plugging away towards a 100,000 word academic tome destined to be read about a handful of people. You make wonderful discoveries along the way but are only able to share with a couple of others. So like all personal websites, this one involves a degree of attention-seeking behaviour. But it also provides me ways of thinking about the subject matter in more 'loose', unstructured ways, it's fun to do, it's a way of getting information from others. I also want to do my bit to encourage Australians (particularly) to take more interest in their electoral and political institutions. 

We Australians love to declare that in this or that area, or just generally, Australia is 'the best country in the world', and usually it's not really true. But in the development of electoral institutions we can certainly lay claim to many firsts.

Did you know?

South Australia was the first 'country' (the Australian colonies all considered themselves countries) in which women could both vote and stand for election (1894). When picked up by the new Commonwealth of Australia in 1902 it was still unique.

The government-supplied ballot slip, with a list of candidates to choose from, was not only first used in Australia, but first thought of here (Victoria, 1856).

South Australia had the world's first de facto chief electoral officer (1856->).

South Australia had the world's first salaried electoral officials (1858->).

Abolition of public nominations first occurred in Australia (1856, SA).

Continuous enrolment/registration, rather than once a year, was first practiced in SA 

  Pro-active, 'census-like' approach to registration, sending people out armed with forms knocking on doors was first done in - yes - South Australia. (The return of these forms was at first mandatory, which hints at future Australian tendencies.)

The 'gagging clause', which prohibits politicians from opening their mouths in public during election campaigns, was a South Australian invention (1856). (A trick question, as it died a quiet death over a couple of decades. Must have seemed a good idea at the time.) 

You will have noticed that South Australia is the main character of all the colonies, and it was mainly to SA that the new federation looked in 1901 for ways to run elections. But the few post-federation Australian 'firsts' - preferential voting (a version was actually used in Queensland from 1892), compulsory registration and then compulsory voting - were not generally taken up overseas. 

Dapper chappy at left registers his vote at  the 1898 Federation referendum. If we didn't know it was under the Secret Ballot the picture would tell us: a ballot box and a couple of officials. It wasn't just the secrecy that Victoria introduced to the world in 1856, but the whole organisational kit & caboodle. Read about the Australian Ballot.

The form of my study keeps changing, to the consternation of my supervisor, and things I wrote a year ago turn out to be substantially untrue. Lately I've been concentrating on South Australia, as this was where much of the innovation took place. But stay tuned, it will change again.

*Upon investigation, Johnson's actual words were 'it seems hot to you, but never does to anyone else', but I prefer my version.

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