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Wednesday, 26 May 2004
Page: 29214

Mr CIOBO (6:47 PM) —I am pleased to rise this evening to speak in the cognate debate on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Enrolment Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2004 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Access to Electoral Roll and Other Measures) Bill 2004. In summary, both these bills serve to operate in such as way as would enable all Australians to have a greater degree of confidence in not only the sustainability but also the integrity of the Australian electoral roll. There can be no escaping the fact that all Australians need to have confidence in the integrity of the electoral roll. The reality is that an absence of confidence in the integrity of the electoral roll sees an erosion in confidence in the Australian government but, more importantly, also sees an erosion in the power of democracy in this country, full stop.

These bills contain a number of measures and I do not intend to go into detail on each and every measure. The main measures that I would like to touch upon include, inter alia, prisoner disenfranchisement, enrolment with regard to a specific address, the compulsory transfer of enrolment, requirements for proof of identity and address, the so-called early close of the rolls, requirements for the inclusion of one's sex and date of birth on the certified list and the requirement that scrutineers not actively assist. I would also like to touch upon the issue concerning minimum disclosure provisions and changes made in that context.

With respect to the first point, that of prisoner disenfranchisement, it is most certainly my fervent view that people who are imprisoned for a period—currently sentences of five years or more, but under the proposed reforms in this legislation it would be more widespread than that—forfeit not only their liberty but also their right to have a direct say in the government of the day. It is a measure that I believe strikes a chord with the great majority of ordinary Australians. In my view, all Australians—certainly the people I have had discussions with—are of the view that those people who have committed a crime and therefore are serving the time do not have the right to have a vote or a say in the future of this country. That is one of the privileges that goes with being an Australian and it is one of the privileges that we enjoy in a democracy. But with that privilege comes a responsibility. I do not believe that that privilege—or, as others might say, that right—should be extended to those people who have committed crimes so heinous that they in fact are serving time in prison, and I am proud that this legislation does not allow that privilege to be extended to those people.

The requirement that the electoral roll have reference to an actual address is an important safeguard and moves away from the previous more loose application which saw a requirement only that an elector be in residence within an actual subdivision. The requirement will now be that an elector be in residence at an address within a subdivision. That is an important difference because it enables the Australian Electoral Commission to undertake routine checks that help to ensure the integrity of the electoral roll. To cite but one example, you may have the situation arise where the Australian Electoral Commission has its attention drawn to the fact that there are several people listed at the one address. This, in the first instance, may indicate that there are some problems with regard to enrolment details at that address. It does not necessarily mean that there are; it simply raises a red flag which can subsequently be checked. That is an important safeguard. It ensures that the AEC is able to do its job effectively and also ensures that people can have a greater degree of reliance on the integrity of the electoral roll.

Another change in these bills is the compulsory transfer of enrolment. The legislation amends the Electoral Act to create an obligation to inform the divisional returning officer within 21 days after a person has changed address and has been living at a new address for a period of one month. The existing provision requires notification within 21 days after the change. The penalty for noncompliance is increased to one penalty unit—which is currently approximately $110—as opposed to the existing penalty of $50.

The next change is one that I most certainly endorse: the requirement for proof of identity and of address. The legislation before the House this evening provides for a requirement that evidence of identity and address be shown when enrolling, changing enrolment or claiming entitlement to vote when the elector's name is not on the certified list. There have been many instances in the past where there have been fraudulent enrolments. Need I say that the Shepherdson inquiry highlighted the way the Labor Party in Queensland had turned itself into a machine when it came to false enrolments. If we are going to ensure that Australians can have confidence in the integrity of the electoral roll then I believe they should justifiably be able to require that someone choosing to enrol should provide proof not only of their identity but of their address. It is something that most Australians take for granted. We have to do it when we go to a video shop; we have to do it when we do the most mundane and routine activities. So why would we not require Australians to provide proof of their identity and address when it comes to something as important as voting?

There are those that argue against this. I have heard the member for Calare, for example, raise his objections to it. But the reality is that we have seen the very grave consequences that arise from having too loose an entitlement and threshold for enrolment. We saw the Labor Party exploit these soft measures in Queensland. There are many instances in which marginal seat holders are threatened as a consequence of false enrolments in their constituencies. My concern is that, if we did not introduce into the legislation a provision such as this, we would continue to see marginal seats—where there might be only 50, 100 or 200 votes separating the successful candidate and the unsuccessful candidates—being decided on the number of false enrolments in those electorates such that, through false enrolments, overly enthusiastic or criminal supporters of particular candidates can work to get their man or woman up. This provision is a concrete way in which we can stop that from occurring.

I am not sure whether the ALP are going to be against this provision. I have seen some media commentary that indicates the ALP may be against this. With the form that the Labor Party has, I would not be surprised. Nonetheless, I hope they see the good commonsense in this. If you are required to provide proof of your name and address when you go to your local video shop, why shouldn't you be required to provide it when you vote in an Australian election? It is a simple and straightforward requirement that is thoroughly worthy of support.

I would like to touch on another aspect of the cognate bills: the so-called early close of the rolls. Traditionally it has been the case that, following the issuing of the election writs, individuals have had a significant period to enrol—specifically, seven days. Under the proposed reforms in these cognate bills, for new enrolments individuals will only have until 6 p.m. on the day the writs are issued. I have seen much media commentary on that. I have seen the Labor Party stand up and try to portray this as an attempt to disenfranchise young people. Nothing could be further from the truth. This requirement came about because of the huge workload placed on the Australian Electoral Commission when individuals do not take the time to exercise the responsibilities that are associated with the privilege of voting. Some people sit around waiting to enrol. If they were proactive about it, they could enrol.

I firmly believe that individuals should be required to enrol once they have turned 18 or once they have entered into a status that would make them eligible to enrol—for example, at a citizenship ceremony or something like that. That would provide those people an opportunity to vote on the day of an election. It is not as though elections sneak up on people; it is not as though no-one knows there is a federal election in the wind. Individuals have a great deal of time—often months—in which they can choose to enrol. It is a choice for many people. Many people say: `It is not a priority. It is not something I want to do. I will leave it till tomorrow'. If this bill provides a reason for them to take more responsibility with regard to the exercise of their democratic vote, I think that is a good thing.

In addition, I would also like to turn the provision in the legislation for the inclusion of sex and date of birth on a certified list. This is another simple but effective safeguard to ensure that Australians can have confidence in the integrity of the electoral roll. It means that, on election day, AEC workers will be able to check that the sex and approximate age of individual voters line up with the details provided on the certified list.

The second last point I would like to touch upon is the provision in the legislation that scrutineers not be able to actively assist. This provision is to prohibit scrutineers from assisting disabled voters to cast their votes. It does not mean that voters cannot receive assistance; it means that scrutineers cannot be the people that provide that assistance. Given that scrutineers generally wear their party loyalty on their sleeve, it is little wonder that they should be prohibited from assisting those particular people.

The final aspect I would like to touch upon is the change to the minimum disclosure provisions. Currently disclosure is required when funds at the $1,500 mark in any one year are donated to political parties and the like. The enrolment integrity bill will raise that to $3,000. In my view, that still does not go far enough. People should have the opportunity to make a contribution towards an election campaign without necessarily having the headache of each and every transaction being recorded. Campaigns in this day and age cost a lot of money and I think that, whilst the spirit of the legislation is to ensure that someone does not have undue influence on a politician, to suggest that undue influence can be bought at $3,000 or indeed at $1,500 is quite simply farcical. It is a relatively minor and small amount. We have seen so many occasions when the Labor Party has, through very expensive raffles, I think, perhaps raised some concerns in that regard. That may in fact need to be the focus, more than the $3,000 amount.

The Independent member for Calare and, I have no doubt, the Greens and the Democrats will wax lyrical about how this is in some way an affront to democracy and that to raise the threshold from $1,500 to $3,000 is a great concern and represents an erosion of democratic principles. I assert once again that the notion that someone who donates $3,000 to a central campaign—I know from a Liberal Party perspective that candidates or indeed members do not have anything to do with the fundraising in terms of accepting cheques, payments or anything like that; it goes through the party organisation—in some way casts an undue influence on a member is quite farcical.

All in all, the measures contained in these two bills are important. They do a great deal to ensure that Australians can have confidence in the integrity of the electoral roll. They are certainly well overdue—in particular, the requirement that someone display identification with their name and address when they sign onto the electoral roll. I urge all members to support the bills, and I hope that the Labor Party supports both of these bills through not only this House but also the other place.