MY SAY: Surely there’s a better way to cast our votes?

ACCORDING to the Central Intelligence Agency World Fact Book, Australia is one of only 11 countries to have enforceable compulsory voting.

It's an interesting juxtaposition, to have a liberal democracy that takes away the freedom from its citizens to decide on whether to vote.

A former mentor of mine who worked for the Defence Science and Technology Organisation flatly refused to vote as a form of silent protest for what he thought were his fundamental rights.

Not the right to vote, rather the right to decide whether to vote.

He was quite a larrikin, having been a former Icelandic trawler fisherman, London cabbie and theoretical physics student at Queen Mary College in London.

He managed to escape the clutches of the authorities in South Australia who were inquiring as to his presence following another absence from the voting booth back in the 1960s when he high-tailed it to the UK.

Ironically, he later worked at the Australian High Commission in London, helping the Australian Electoral Commission manage our ex-pats' voting requirements during the Whitlam-Fraser years.

For the record, I believe in our system. I believe that everyone's vote counts. But surely, in the age of technology, there are better ways to grab our votes.

We live in an age where cars can reverse park for the driver; where there is a race to mine asteroids and where we can insert microscopic coils in aneurisms in the brain via our groin.

So surely we can find a better way to capture people's preferences than to leave our homes, kids' sporting activities or weekend shopping, to trot off to the local hall, get in line, provide evidence of who we are, fill out a form and throw it in a box.

Take Estonia for example.

I was at a conference last week attended by some of world's leading identity security experts. The overwhelming view was that the Estonian ID Card was revolutionising the way government and the private sector deliver services.

Among those services was voting.

YES OR NO: SHOULD WE INTRODUCE THE AUSTRALIAN CARD, A NATIONAL IDENTIFICATION CARD FOR AUSTRALIAN CITIZENS?

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In February 2007, Estonia was the first country to implement internet-based voting through the use of the Estonian ID card. The same document was used as a driver's licence, travel document (passport), citizenship, birth certificate, public transport card and as a means to access many government services, including health and welfare.

Some readers may remember the Australia Card proposal, which died off in 1987. That was pre-internet and certainly before many of the major advancements in card security technologies, such as chip technology.

What would an Estonian ID card look like in Australia?

Well, it would mean that the need for commonwealth, state/territory and local governments to spend our public purse on multiple identity credentials would disappear.

It would also mean that we wouldn't need to take time out of our voting Saturdays to experience an antiquated process every election.

But it may also mean that we may have to place all of our "identity eggs" in the one basket. This would need to be balanced with the convenience of a one-card system.

Twenty years on from the Australia Card, maybe it's time we have a discussion about it again?

Note: The Australia Card was a controversial proposal for a national identification card for Australian citizens and resident foreigners in 1985. It was abandoned in 1987.

Dr David Lacey is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of the Sunshine Coast and director of IDCARE, Australia & New Zealand's National Identity Support Service.



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