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Man charged for not voting is refusing to pay fine.



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VIVIAN SCHENKER: Our next guest happens to be a repeat offender, and yesterday he was back in the dock. Yes, a 67-year-old Canberra man appeared in the ACT Magistrates Court on charges of failing to vote in the 1999 Republic Referendum. He was fined $400 and given three months to pay, but that is something this democracy campaigner says he will never do.

 

Tim Latham caught up with him.

 

TIM LATHAM:  Meet Maxwell Wesley Bill Smithies. He might have an English name but this former senior public servant calls himself an Australian patriot. His fight is against compulsory voting, a system Australia has had in place since 1924.

 

Maxwell prefers to be known as Bill, and Bill is indeed known to the Electoral Commission. The former Foreign Affairs and Intelligence worker hasn’t voted since 1987, leading him to be threatened with court action three times. The first two cases led to nothing but, yesterday, the democracy police finally caught up with him. He was fined $400 for not voting in the Republic Referendum and given three months to pay.

 

BILL SMITHIES:  I never answer any response from the electoral commissions in Australia because I don’t trust them.

 

TIM LATHAM: Did you offer a reason to the magistrate for not voting?

 

BILL SMITHIES: Yes.

 

TIM LATHAM: Which was?

 

BILL SMITHIES: I said my conscience did not allow me to take part in the formal political activities or affairs, any longer, of a society that is still sending people to gaol and criminalising them.

 

TIM LATHAM: Now, the magistrate said that he found that there is no valid reason.

 

BILL SMITHIES: That was no valid reason. You are not allowed to allow your conscience as an excuse in Australian politics, it seems, and so in relation to electoral matters as well.

 

TIM LATHAM: The situation is you have got three months to pay that $400 fine. Do you intend to pay it?

 

BILL SMITHIES: No.

 

TIM LATHAM: Why?

 

BILL SMITHIES: I won’t pay it. I have not committed an offence that would be seen to be an offence in almost any other country in the world, and it is time Australia grew up.

 

TIM LATHAM: So you are hoping your stand will be published around the country; it will make people look?

 

BILL SMITHIES: Yes. I am hoping indeed that there are 10 of me next time and 50 the time after that and 1,000 the time after that, and they have to establish a Gulag—no, I don’t really. But you know what I mean? This is a farce this business. It is widely seen to be a farce in people abroad who know that we have compulsory voting in this country. It is ludicrous.

 

TIM LATHAM: You realise, Bill, that if you had offered the magistrate a story about why you were unable to vote if you had suddenly come down with a chronic sickness and couldn’t get to the polling booth you would not have been fined? Is that correct?

 

BILL SMITHIES: Oh, of course, yes. I mean, that is one of my objections to compulsory voting in this country. It encourages people to tell lies. You hear them giggling about it after elections. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink—what porky did you tell the Electoral Commission this time? And it has become just a national joke and disgrace.

 

TIM LATHAM: What do you think the particular damage is here for Australia with our system of compulsory voting?

 

BILL SMITHIES: I have a lot of young people who come to me and they say, ‘Look, what is all this compulsory business and people getting put in gaol for not voting?’ What’s all that about? Then they say, ‘We don’t want to have any part of that’ and they don’t register.

 

Now, I don’t know how many young people—and it would be impossible to find out—have been browned off by electoral compulsion. But you know, on the one hand compulsion is supposed to gather everybody up and yet on the other hand is putting them off as with many migrants.

 

TIM LATHAM: But can the threat of a fine or even gaol, which is something that is you are provoking the authorities to do, do you think people take that seriously?

 

BILL SMITHIES: Clearly, if you think about it, democracy must have started on the basis of voluntary association with people. It can’t have been anything else when it started back in Ancient Greece, and it drew its strength for centuries, indeed for thousands of years—millennia—from its voluntary association. Compulsion was something dreamt up by collectivists towards the end of the nineteenth century, the same kind of people who gave us Marxism and Fascism.

 

TIM LATHAM: Well, Australia has had compulsory voting since 1924. Are you prepared to go to gaol to make your point?

 

BILL SMITHIES: Yes.

 

TIM LATHAM: And do you think that will happen?

 

BILL SMITHIES: Oh, I think it very probably will—I am not going to pay the fine.

 

TIM LATHAM: A gaol fine of—what?—one or two days?

 

BILL SMITHIES: Probably three I think. I don’t know what the equivalent is. They might have dreamt up some other charge before then. It wouldn’t surprise me. You never give up on an issue like this; you may be defeated, you may lose it. They may put me in gaol—they probably will—but I will never vote.

 

VIVIAN SCHENKER: Former senior public servant, Bill Smithies, talking to Tim Latham.