LAWS3402/JURD7602 The Law of Politics

Lecturer: Paul Kildea

What is the course about?
The Law of Politics looks at the different ways in which the law regulates the political process in Australia, with a primary focus on electoral laws. We look at topics like compulsory voting, political finance regulation, internet voting and direct democracy. For all topics we not only ask ‘what is the law?’, but also ‘why is the law the way it is, and not otherwise?’ To help us answer that last question we draw on examples from overseas (e.g. USA, Canada, UK, NZ), and also some theory to help us identify the trade-offs that our laws make between values like liberty, equality and deliberation.

Why does the subject interest you?
First, it is a fascinating mix of law and politics, and you need to look through both lenses to fully appreciate the area. For example, to understand compulsory voting you first need to grasp the nature of the obligation that is imposed by the Commonwealth Electoral Act (is it compulsory to cast a valid vote, or just to have your name marked off?), and the penalty imposed. But to fill out the picture you need to look at turnout rates (who doesn’t vote? why?) and think about the underlying value choices that underpin the choice to make voting mandatory – for these matters, we need to go beyond the law and engage with political science and political theory.

Second, I love the high stakes involved. We often talk about election outcomes being determined by personalities, but in a profound way they are influenced by the electoral laws that sit in the background. Our federal parliament would look very different if it were elected through a first past the post system (as exists in the UK) rather than by preferential voting, for example. The fact that the major political parties, through parliament, determine much of the content of these rules of the game only makes the study of this area more interesting.

Do you have any advice for students who are interested in the course?
This course will appeal to students who have an interest in politics and elections, and to those who enjoyed their studies in Principles of Public Law and Federal Constitutional Law – in many ways, the study of electoral law is an offshoot of public law. It will also be of interest to students who are curious about why our political processes function in the way that they do, and what might be done to improve them.

How will this course be relevant in the future?
The study of electoral law is a growing field both internationally and in Australia. In recent years there has been renewed focus on issues like electoral integrity (remember those lost WA ballots), lobbying and political finance. It will be increasingly useful to have a grasp of these issues. This is particularly the case for students considering a career in legal policy in the government or non-government sector.