Publication Details

Kerry Ross, Susan Dodds and Rachel A. Ankeny, A matter of conscience? The democratic significance of 'conscience votes' in legislating bioethics in Australia, Australian Journal of Social Issues, 44(2), 2009, 121-144.


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.

Link to publisher version (URL)

Australian Council of Social Service