PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has accused the Liberal Party of trying to make democracy ''the plaything of cashed-up interest groups'', after the Queensland government opened the door to the abolition of compulsory voting.
Senior Labor Party figures swooped on Queensland's Liberal-National Premier, Campbell Newman, on Thursday after his government released a discussion paper on planned electoral reforms, which included a section on possibly ending nearly a century of mandatory voting.
Ms Gillard tweeted: ''Fight @theqldpremier's plan to end compulsory voting. Don't let the Liberals make our democracy the plaything of cashed up interest groups.''
Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan also lashed out, comparing the move to the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era, and to the US Tea Party movement.
He said the move was aimed at dampening voter dissent over deep public service cuts in Queensland, in which 14,000 jobs have been shed.
But Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie, who released the paper on Thursday, said the state government had not reached any position on compulsory voting.
The paper itself does not make a recommendation but asks, as an issue for consultation with the public: ''Should compulsory voting remain for Queensland state elections?'' It notes that a Coalition-dominated federal parliamentary inquiry into the 1996 federal election called for a repeal of compulsory voting, arguing that Australia could not otherwise ''consider itself a mature democracy''.
The Coalition MPs on the committee included Eric Abetz, now a frontbencher. Mr Abetz said on Thursday he favoured an end to compulsory voting because of ''personal liberty issues'', but that federal Coalition policy was to keep it.
''I'm not making a cause celebre out of it,'' he said. ''It's a personal point of view.''
Shadow foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop has also written recently in support of voluntary voting, as has parliamentary secretary for families Jamie Briggs.
Mr Abetz said it was hypocritical of Ms Gillard to talk about democracy becoming a toy of well-funded interest groups, given that she attended in 2008 ''a slush fund fund-raiser that raised over $250,000 for the Australian Workers Union''.
It is compulsory for Australians aged 18 and over to vote, though the fine for not doing so is only $20. Most comparable countries, including the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, have voluntary voting.
The Greens acting leader, Adam Bandt, said compulsory voting forced people to think about who should govern them.
David Weisbrot, a law professor at the University of Sydney's United States Studies Centre, said abolishing compulsory voting would likely advantage the Coalition.