Conscience Votes in Australia: Deliberation and Representation

  • Kerry RossEmail author
  • Susan Dodds
  • Rachel A. Ankeny
Part of the The International Library of Ethics, Law and Technology book series (ELTE, volume 16)


In Australia, members of a political party are expected to vote as a block on the instructions of their party. Occasionally a ‘conscience vote’ (or ‘free vote’) is allowed, which releases parliamentarians from the obligation to maintain party discipline and permits them to vote according to their ‘conscience.’ In recent years Australia has had a number of conscience votes in federal Parliament, many of which have focused on bioethical issues (e.g., euthanasia, abortion, RU486, and embryonic/stem cell research and cloning). This paper examines the use of conscience votes in six key case studies in these contested areas of policy-making, with particular attention to their implications for promoting democratic values and the significance of women’s Parliamentary participation.


Conscience votes Deliberative Democracy Gender Representation Bioethics Policy 



This research was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant “Big Picture Bioethics: Policy-making and Liberal Democracy” (DP0556068). The authors are grateful to audiences at the International Association of Bioethics World Congress (Beijing, 2006) and at a seminar at the NovelTechEthics Centre at the Dalhousie University, as well as the AJSI anonymous referees who provided helpful feedback and suggestions.

This chapter appeared as: Kerry Ross, Susan Dodds, and Rachel A. Ankeny. 2009. A matter of conscience? The democratic significance of “conscience votes” in legislating bioethics in Australia. Australian Journal of Social Issues 44: 121–142. Reprinted with the permission of the Australian Social Policy Association.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University Library, University of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  2. 2.Faculty of Arts and Social SciencesUNSW AustraliaSydneyAustralia
  3. 3.School of HumanitiesUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  4. 4.School of HumanitiesUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

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