'Australia is one of three countries in the world where laws mandate that citizens must vote'
On the sidelines of the 63rd Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, the Dhaka Tribune spoke with Kezia Purick, speaker of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly in Australia. Purick discussed a number of issues, including the upcoming Bangladesh general election in 2019 and the Rohingya crisis
The polls-time government system has been a widely debated issue in Bangladesh. How can Bangladesh look forward by arranging an acceptable national election?
Kezia Purick: The issue of a polls-time government system is a significant one for all democratic countries. However, most developed countries overcome the challenge by ensuring good governance.
We cannot talk about the internal politics of a country. In the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), we believe in good governance, which is the best mechanism to achieve the goal of a peaceful, transparent and acceptable election.
Part of the strengths of the Commonwealth is that we support other member countries and people living in the countries through increased training in good governance and by making sure that they understand the best practices for running nations, states and provinces.
How does Australia ensure acceptable polls? How do the people learn about democracy?
In Australia we have very strict electoral laws. We have compulsory voting. Australia is one of three countries in the world where laws mandate that citizens must vote. We are fined if we do not.
We never complain about the system and we believe in the importance of people having a role in what is happening. I think you need to gather experience on this from those countries which have a population size and legislation like yours.
You have a much larger population than us. We have 25 million people only. In my constituency, we have only 5,000 people. I can knock on every door and say hello to all of them within a four year term. I live in a rural area, and there are big properties. There are schools, hospitals.
We meet people, visit the schools and explain the laws. Again, it starts with education. When you go to schools and educate children on the law to vote, on being a part of the country’s democratic process, they know that the rules are there and there is no scope for rigging.
There are some problems with indigenous people, as English is not their first language. But again, we have laws and ways to assist them when they go to voting.
How could democracy be strengthened in developing countries?
Politicians should ensure transparency and responsible behavior during the elections to achieve the goal of participatory democracy.
Furthermore, it is common in Bangladesh that the opposition does not play an effective role in Parliament. This never happens in Australia.
We have 25 members in the parliament of my constituency – 16 members are from the government, while two are from the opposition and the rest are observers. When you are in the opposition, you want to be the government. That’s your goal – to get into the government.
As such, the opposition party in Australia is always very active in the parliament and they also have specific duties they have to fulfill in this regard. They are even provided with the resources that they need to carry out these duties. So, everyone in the parliament gets their role to play.
What do you actually think about the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh?
I think the biggest issue with refugees around the world is that we need to be very clear that whatever any country does to stop refugees coming is going to be ultimately ineffective. Because the push out is not as strong as the pull in.
They [refugees] are running for their lives in fear and terror. So, we need to make sure that there is some support for them as we have a humanitarian obligation.
We have given 30 million dollar to the government of Bangladesh so far in order to manage the crisis. The government is aware of the crisis. They are also providing some training to volunteers in delivering the humanitarian aid. After we go back we will share this information with our colleagues in Australia.