Explainer: free votes

Usually political parties vote as a team in Parliament. But occasionally they don’t.

Jun 15, 2021

Why is this news?

Free votes are rare in the Australian Parliament, but the government was recently given one on a motion put forward by Senator Roberts about gender dysphoria. Senator Duniam explained, ‘this motion touches on complex issues that could be a matter of conscience, and therefore coalition senators will be voting in accordance with their consciences.’

Isn’t that called a conscience vote?

The parliamentary term is ‘free vote’, but it’s often referred to as a conscience vote because it gives senators and members the freedom to vote as their conscience tells them to.

Who decides if the party gets a free vote?

The party leadership will probably make the decision after talking to their members. The party whips are responsible for letting the team know that there is a free vote on a particular bill or motion.

If one party decides to have a free vote, do other parties also allow a free vote?

No, it is up to each party to decide for itself whether it allows their members a free vote.

What kind of issues get a free vote?

A party may decide to allow their members a free vote on any bill or issue. In the past issues of life and death such as euthanasia, and issues where people’s views might be shaped by their religious beliefs, such as same-sex marriage, were subject to free votes.