In a landmark decision, the High Court upheld the fundamental human right to vote, finding that the Howard Government had acted unlawfully and unconstitutionally in imposing a blanket ban denying prisoners the vote.
In 2006, the Howard Government passed legislation which denied all prisoners the right to vote.
This law was challenged in the High Court by Vickie Roach, an Aboriginal woman who is a prisoner at the Dame Phyllis Frost Prison in Melbourne, serving five years for negligent driving causing serious injury. In orders made last week, the High Court struck down the blanket prohibition on prisoners voting.
The Court upheld the validity, however, of the law providing that prisoners serving a sentence of three years or longer are not entitled to vote.
Phil Lynch, director of the Human Rights Law Resource Centre, and pro-bono counsel for Vicki Roach described the decision as
“An affirmation of the importance of the fundamental human right to vote.”
A ‘Rosa Parks moment’ according to the folk at Larvatus Prodeo.
But this ruling raises many questions;
i) Is voting a ‘right’ or a privilege?
ii) Suffrage is not universal in Australia. Permanent Residents and Citizens under the age of 18 are currently excluded. Why should criminals be enfranchised?
iii) Can anything that is mandatory be described as a ‘right’.
iv) If we are all agreed that convicted felons should have their right to liberty temporarily removed, then why are we so anxious about protecting their right to vote (a far lesser ‘right’ than liberty)?
Democracy originated in ancient Greece as a means for those who contributed to society to have a say in its running. It has come a long way since then.