In the lead up to the Australian federal election the Commons Library has been gathering a myriad of resources. This includes perspectives on the role of elections as part of social change strategies; case studies of past campaigns; guides to different tactics relevant to elections; and tips for maintaining morale and wellbeing on the campaign trail. This guide focuses on understanding elections, the options for engagement, and the need for electoral reform.
Many campaigners work alongside allies within political parties, or are members of political parties themselves, while others minimize or repudiate involvement in parliamentary processes, seeking to generate change via other means. Some see elections as an opportunity to raise issues and leverage pressure on politicians to take action while others focus on getting particular candidates elected. Below are a range of perspectives about how and why campaigns engage (or don’t!) with elections, resources regarding the Australian electoral system, and information about those who are excluded from using it.
Note that while the Commons Library links people up with resources to enable engagement with political structures and processes we do not endorse any particular strategy, political party or candidates.
This extract from the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements provides a succinct overview of the role of social movements in pressuring governments to be more democratic, hold elections and extend voting rights. It also considers how social movements shift the terrain and context in which elections take place, and affect their outcomes. The ways in which elections affect the opportunities available for social movements, create conflict within movements over participation and partisanship, and potentially limit movement goals are also discussed.
A list of handy websites to help you find out more about Australian Members of Parliament, including how to contact them, details about their electorates and what they say and stand for. These also include information about the electoral process in Australia, political donations, parliamentary procedures and more.
Deciding whether to engage with elections or not
This excerpt from Tools for Radical Democracy: How to Organize Power in Your Community includes a series of practical questions to help campaigns decide when and how to engage in electoral organising.
Max Smith, co-director of the Community Organising Fellowship, reviews the Tools for Radical Democracy guide to electoral organising, and draws out some key considerations for deciding whether or how to engage in elections.
Activists often put social movement work on hold to engage in the electoral arena. In this article longtime activist trainer George Lakey argues that determining whether to do so is a matter of strategy and calling.
This article by Mark and Paul Engler, the authors of This is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-First Century, explores how movements settle the debate on whether to engage with political parties from the inside or outside, arguing it will have a profound impact on their effectiveness.
Civil resistance theorist and academic Brian Martin discusses the history of compulsory voting in Australia and opposition to it from progressive activists, as well as his own views on whether the latter strategy can bring about social change.
An article about why anarchist and community radio presenter Dr Joe Toscano runs in elections in order to mobilize people to take more action between elections.
The need for electoral system reform
An article from the Australian Human Rights Commission drawing attention to the many Australians denied the right to vote due to age, location, disability, and other reasons.
A discussion of restrictions on voting rights for some people with disability by Australian Lawyers for Human Rights.
An article discussing the continuing suppression of people in prisons’ right to vote.
This cheat sheet is a summary of research by an alliance of Australian civil society organisations, working together to achieve legislative changes that limit corporate influence on our political system. Its purpose is to help campaigners talk more effectively about government, democratic participation and reform, and to motivate people to get involved.