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Wednesday, 26 May 2004
Page: 29211

Mrs ELSON (6:36 PM) —I am pleased to speak on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Access to Electoral Roll and Other Measures) Bill 2004 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Enrolment Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2004. They implement a number of changes that have arisen as a result of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters report of June last year into the 2001 federal election and also a number of measures that are a result of the report into the 1998 election. For the last 20 years, a committee on electoral matters has examined the conduct and processes of each general election. The aim is to improve the system and ensure it continues to work in the most efficient way. I know that on this side of the House at least we hold very dear the processes of our democratic system, and the Howard government are committed to ensuring that we have the fairest, most transparent and effective electoral system possible.

These two bills provide a wide range of amendments designed to improve the integrity of our electoral system, clarify access to the electoral roll and ensure the fairness of the voting procedure. I would like to examine more closely a number of the amendments in these two pieces of legislation. The first amendment, which I welcome and support, is the establishment of tighter proof of identity requirements for enrolment and change of address. This legislation provides the broad principles for a proof of identity scheme, with regulations to be developed in consultation with the territory and state governments. We favour the use of a driver's licence to verify identity and address, with provision for other forms of ID for those who do not have a licence. The regulations will be developed

We are pleased that Labor has finally realised that a proof of identity scheme for enrolment is a good idea, having previously tried to block measures in relation to its implementation. One can only speculate as to why it has taken Labor some time to come to this realisation. Coming from Queensland—where the ALP have been known to have a fairly relaxed approach when it comes to electoral integrity—I can only think of that old phrase `old habits die hard'. Let us be honest: Labor—arm in arm with their militant union mates—do have some form on this particular issue. There are many legendary tales of dead people voting, people voting twice, dead people voting twice, people voting for a division in which they do not live and dead people voting for a division in which they did not live when they were alive.

Those tales were given credence when in August 2000 three members of the Queensland ALP were convicted for enrolment fraud. One member from the Queensland ALP was sentenced to three years imprisonment after pleading guilty to 48 charges relating to electoral fraud. These sorry incidents sparked two inquiries: the Shepherdson inquiry, launched by the Queensland criminal justice system, and the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiry into the integrity of the electoral roll. Both these inquiries recommended the introduction of ID systems for enrolment. As the Special Minister for State put it in his recent address to the University of New South Wales Law Society Speakers Forum: `Many people, including myself, are concerned that it is easier to get onto the roll than it is to hire a video.' I am very pleased to say that one by one these loopholes have been closing, and this legislation tightens the procedures even further to prevent such practices. This is good news for our political and electoral system, if not such good news for the Australian Labor Party. Still, we welcome their newly found support for these measures.

Another measure which I strongly support is the inclusion of the voter's date of birth and sex on a certified list to be used on election day, with discretionary powers for the presiding officer at any booth to ask questions about the voter's date of birth or sex if they have any doubt about their identity. This is another commonsense measure that will provide greater scope for identifying fraudulent activity.

Another measure introduced in this legislation concerns the removal of the right to vote for prisoners who are in full-time detention. Only those prisoners held in full-time detention will lose their eligibility to vote, not those serving alternative sentences such as home detention or non-custodial sentences. The current position is that prisoners can still vote unless they are serving a sentence of five years or more. I strongly support this amendment. When you are imprisoned it means you are deprived of many rights enjoyed by the rest of society. That is the nature of this form of punishment. I think therefore that it is entirely reasonable to suspend a person's right to take part in elections or referendums. Their right to help choose governments or change the Constitution will be withdrawn as part of their imprisonment. These amendments implement a recommendation of the government's response to the joint standing committee report on the 1998 federal election.

An amendment in relation to the close of rolls is also in response to that report. It provides that for new enrolments only the rolls will close at 6 p.m. on the day that the writs are issued for an election. This simply means that those becoming eligible to vote, either because of age or citizenship, should ensure that they enrol as soon as possible after becoming eligible rather than waiting until an election is actually called. Electors who were previously enrolled but who wish to change their enrolment details will have until 8 p.m. three working days after the writs are issued to make any changes.

It is interesting to note that over 370,000 changes to enrolments or new enrolments were submitted to the AEC in the seven-day period leading up to close of rolls during the last federal election. Such a huge volume does not allow for close scrutiny. The earlier close of rolls will enable the AEC to make better preparation of the rolls for the forthcoming election and to better check and verify the details of the enrolments. It is another measure to help reduce electoral fraud and I strongly support it, along with, I am sure, other members of this House. I will be doing my duty to inform my electors in Forde that they must be properly enrolled to vote and that the time frame for changes of enrolment has been shortened.

In seeking accountability and transparency, good government should not involve individuals or organisations in unnecessary bureaucracy. That fits today's economy. That is why this bill will raise from $1,500 to $3,000 the minimum total threshold beyond which a donor must lodge an electoral office return on their donations to a political party. I stress the word `total', because the legislation cannot be evaded through multiple small donations throughout the year.

If you are going to raise the threshold for donor returns then good sense dictates that you also need to align the donation threshold over which a party must provide the name and address details of any such donor or lender when the party completes its electoral office return. We are a government of good sense, so that is precisely what we have done with this bill. This raising of the threshold was again a recommendation of the joint standing committee report after the 1998 election. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes those on the other side of this House a very long time to recognise plain good sense and good processes. They find this very difficult to understand because they have their own agendas that have little to do with good government and good sense.

Which brings us to the next amendment: one regarding deliberate multiple voting at an election. This amendment adds a new offence with regard to elections and referendums: that is, the offence of intentional multiple voting. The penalties for this new offence are heavy: either a $6,600 fine or 12 months imprisonment or both. However, the amendment is in addition to and not replacing the current offence. This means that the lesser penalty remains for multiple voting where perhaps it was unintentional. More severe penalties can be applied if the multiple voting proves to be deliberate. I support the breadth of legal discretion given by the two types of offence. But I would have to take advice from opposition colleagues on how a person can genuinely accidentally vote two or more times on one election day, because I find that very hard to comprehend. I believe it is behaviour that should be discouraged, not only because it devalues the vote of others but also because it devalues our democratic system.

One of the key elements of this bill is the tying of electoral enrolments to an enrolment address rather than to a subdivision or an electorate. That means that an elector must be living at an address and have lived there for at least a month before being entitled to enrol at the address. It means that, when you move from one address to another within the same subdivision and have lived there for a month, within the next 21 days you must submit a form to the DRO changing your enrolment address. It also means that an objection can be made either by the AEC or by an individual to an elector's enrolment on the grounds that he or she does not live at that enrolled address and has not done so for at least a month. Such an objection can lead to the elector being removed from the roll, which will give us a more accurate roll and one that is more difficult to manipulate for individual purposes.

It should also be noted that these amendments do not in any way interfere with the current rights of overseas voters or of those working in the Antarctic. In fact, for most people, these amendments will mean little because they already do the right thing regarding changes to their address. The amendments are not about catching or penalising people; they are about ensuring cleaner, more accurate electoral rolls at the core of our voting system.

Most of the measures I have spoken about so far are contained in the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Enrolment Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2004. In the short time I have left, I would like to speak about some measures in the other bill under discussion, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Access to Electoral Roll and Other Measures) Bill 2004. I support a number of the measures in this bill very strongly, including improving public access to the electoral roll while ensuring that the roll is protected from being sold in any format, especially for commercial purposes. In this day and age, information contained on the electoral roll is very valuable. The measures in this bill set out very clearly who is entitled to access the electoral roll and exactly what information they are entitled to.

The other measure I welcome is the provision to allow for scrutineers to attend pre-polling offices. Scrutineers play a very important part in the voting process and provide a strong defence against fraud for the parties and candidates they represent; yet under existing provisions of the Electoral Act scrutineers are not allowed to attend pre-polling offices. This is a ridiculous position, particularly when you consider that nearly 600,000 people pre-polled in the last election. This measure will rightfully allow scrutineers to carry out their normal range of duties. I take this brief opportunity to thank the many local residents and party members who act as scrutineers for me at each election. I know that they take their responsibilities very seriously—and they always do a great job. They certainly instil in me a greater faith in the outcome of the election.

There are a number of other amendments in both these bills that I have not yet discussed. Time does not permit me to go into further detail, but they are each an important part of streamlining the electoral system and improving the integrity of the electoral rolls. I commend these bills to the House.