Centenary of compulsory enrolment

Updated: 27 March 2012

The AEC is marking 2012 as the Year of Enrolment to commemorate the centenary of compulsory enrolment.

In this anniversary year, the AEC will encourage Australians to enrol, or to check they are properly enrolled and ready to vote at an election or referendum.

One hundred years ago, legislation came into effect to make enrolment mandatory, so every Australian would have a say.

Today, despite a century of compulsory enrolment, there are 1.5 million eligible Australians missing from the electoral roll, with young people and Indigenous Australians particularly under-represented.

Eligible Australian citizens, 18 years or over, can enrol to vote, change their address or check their enrolment details through this website.

To be able to vote in a federal election or referendum, people must be on the Commonwealth electoral roll. Both enrolment and voting are compulsory in Australia. Compulsory enrolment was introduced in 1912, followed by compulsory voting in 1924.

Why is compulsory enrolment important?

Compulsory enrolment allows Australia to maintain an accurate and fraud-proof electoral roll. This is essential for the conduct of free and fair elections.

In the past, fines were imposed for failing to enrol. Today, the AEC encourages voluntary compliance and strives to make enrolling or updating enrolment as easy as possible. Anyone who has not enrolled in the past or updated their enrolment can do so without being fined.

Federal parliament debated the bill on compulsory enrolment in 1911. The words of Senator George Pearce still resonate today. "Too often [voting] is looked upon merely as a privilege, because people throughout the world have had to fight for it – in some instances under distressing conditions … but I venture to say that in a country like Australia, where we recognise that every man and woman should have the right to vote, that right becomes more than a privilege – it becomes a duty."

Compulsory enrolment helps create an up-to-date and accurate electoral roll. This is important because the electoral roll is a tool for delivering the franchise, in an equal and non-discriminatory way. It is the foundation of a fair election."

Mr Ed Killesteyn, Electoral Commissioner

Quick facts

  • Australia first created a Commonwealth electoral roll in 1901.
  • The Electoral Office at the time found it difficult to maintain a correct electoral roll as the population was constantly moving. Electoral officers and police went from house to house, updating the roll. Not surprisingly, it was a costly and difficult exercise.
  • In 1911 a bill for compulsory enrolment was introduced into Parliament by Australia's 5th Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher.
  • The bill was passed by both houses of parliament with amendments in December 1911 and formally commenced on 27 March 1912.
  • Australia was the first Commonwealth country to introduce compulsory enrolment.
  • Australian citizens aged 18 years and over must be enrolled before they can vote in Australian elections.
  • Australian citizens can enrol from the age of 16, but can't vote until they turn 18.