Secret ballots should be genuinely secret

Here is a picture of Tony Abbott showing his ballot paper to Alan Stockdale:

ALP rules should prevent that kind of thing. If the party decides that certain decisions (e.g. preselections, election of officers) must be made by ballot, then it ought to enforce the secrecy of the ballot.

Secrecy is circumvented by “show and tell”, the “buddy system” and other techniques various factions use to make sure their members vote the way the faction wants. I’ve heard the excuse that being a member of the faction and showing your vote is voluntary, but this is absolutely no excuse. In a competitive situation what begins as voluntary becomes compulsory. Unions, when they were able, never allowed people to volunteer for jobs that should have been paid, never allowed unpaid overtime or the voluntary surrender of entitlements, and we all understand why. Because factions are so influential in the Labor party, people with political ambitions know that they have to “volunteer” to show their votes. We should put a stop to this volunteering.

Another excuse is that faction members who agree to show their ballots are simply exercising “freedom of association”, i.e. freedom to belong to a group that requires the showing of ballots. The right of association needs a bit of thought. It has been invoked to justify discrimination (e.g. to exclude homosexuals from the teaching staff of a religious school), to justify exclusion of union labour from a business (a business owner has a right to decide who to associate with), to justify refusal to join a union (a right of non-association). The concept has legitimate uses, but some distinctions need to be made.

The right of association is not a right to take over associations. It is not a right to whiteant associations. It means, primarily, a right to form a new association with others who choose to associate, provided it is for legitmate purposes. It is not a legitimate purpose to take over an association that already exists, so that existing members might as well leave since they will always be outvoted—that would be an attack on their right of association.

The ALP has often tried to regulate associations of its members that might try to take over the Labor Party, e.g. the Santamaria groups and the cells of Communist infiltrators. The party has provision for “proscribing” organisations (i.e. declaring that no one may belong to the ALP and also to one of the proscribed organisations). There are rules against branch stacking. An association has a right to set conditions on membership and on the affiliation of other associations (e.g. unions). It can also make rules about what can be done by associations operating within the association (factions). For an assocation to make such rules is an exercise of the right of association. Those who join the association must either obey the rules, change them through legitimate means, or form some other association of their own.

Australians sometimes claim that the secret ballot was an Australian invention, and claim that people in other countries refer to it as the Australian ballot. This is myth. Effective techniques of secret voting were invented in democratic Athens in the 5th century BC []. Secret voting is as old as democracy, because it is essential to democracy.

“Ballot” means a little ball. The idea was that voters would put their hands into two urns successively, leaving the ball in one. No observer could know which urn it had been left in.

“The Ballot” was the second of the six points demanded by the Chartists, forerunners of the Labor Party. Their first demand was for democracy. They realised that votes for all would make no difference unless people could vote freely, and that required the secret ballot. John Stuart Mill opposed democracy and also opposed the ballot: .

Working class people wanted the ballot to prevent bribery and intimidation. In the 18th century in England voters had to vote publicly. See Hogarth’s painting “The Polling” ).

Voters were intimidated because they understood that if they voted against the candidate favoured by the local magnate, their business would lose customers or they would lose their job and never get another one. Voters were also bribed. The bribees didn’t mind public voting—otherwise no bribe. Those being intimidated would also have said that they didn’t mind a bit. Public voting was apparently quite voluntary. But the Chartists knew better.

The counterpart of bribery and intimidation in the ALP is patronage. People join factions and agree to show their ballots because they want a political career. If they join a faction and vote as the faction requires, they may eventually become one of the faction’s candidates for some position. If party members don’t join a faction, or don’t vote in accordance with their faction’s directions, they might as well not be members. Many people have obviously drawn that conclusion and left the party.

If members meet together to discuss party matters and then vote the same way because they agree, no one objects to that. What I object to is any attempt to make people vote together when they don't actually agree.