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Wednesday, 26 May 2004
Page: 29220

Mr TUCKEY (7:14 PM) —Having been involved in the political process at both the local and the state government level for 40 years, I can bring a great deal of experience to this debate on the many ways that people have abused the electoral arrangements and law of Australia. But the most surprising thing that has occurred to me throughout this debate was watching a number of members of the opposition standing in the national parliament and putting a case for the abrogation of the laws of the national parliament and, in particular, the law we are seeking to amend—the Commonwealth Electoral Act—through the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Access to Electoral Roll and Other Measures) Bill 2004 and the cognate Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Enrolment Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2004.

Section 101 of the Electoral Act is headed `Compulsory enrolment and transfer'. We have had crocodile tears after crocodile tears being put forward that the provision contained in these amendments that closes the rolls on the announcement of an election is some removal of the rights of the Australian people. The obligation of the Australian people is to register to vote within 21 days of that entitlement becoming available. What is more, while some of those members, who for reasons of their own think there is an advantage to them as politicians in having these late enrolments, cry their crocodile tears in this place and then make mention of the young, that same Electoral Act makes provision for 17-year-olds to register ahead of their entitlement. So they can register and they are frequently invited to do so by the electoral authorities, who put advertisements in the paper. Most young people have parents who understand these principles. So why is it necessary to keep rolls open with all the administrative difficulties involved to accommodate people that have broken the law? In fact, section 101(4) reads:

Subject to subsection (5A), every person who is entitled to have his or her name placed on the Roll for any Subdivision whether by way of enrolment or transfer of enrolment, and whose name is not on the Roll upon the expiration of 21 days from the date upon which the person became so entitled, or at any subsequent date while the person continues to be so entitled, shall be guilty of an offence ...

Subsection (6) goes on to say:

A person who fails to comply with subsection (1), (4) or (5)—

and I have just read (4)—

is guilty of an offence punishable on conviction by a fine not exceeding $50.

Who is it that these people in the opposition are talking about? Are they going to stand up shortly and say that, notwithstanding that we have laws against home invasion and criminal activity in commerce, everybody should be let off? Or, if they believe that there should be provisions laid down in this legislation to entitle people to register after the event, why aren't they in here arguing for the removal of those clauses? Why, one after another, are the Labor Party opposing a proposition that is consistent with the law as it exists? You just have to wonder about their motive.

If one were to stand up with any degree of honesty and logic to make this point, it would be that a period of X days be allowed after the calling of an election for those who were still in the 21-day period, because everybody else in Australia has a legal responsibility to have registered or, in fact, re-registered in terms of relocating their address. You can only wonder what sorts of tricks people therefore plan to get up to when they trot out this massive rush of people at the last moment, confuse the application process and do all these things. Might I say of the commission—the statutory authority that we trust with the administration of this law—that one might wonder why they are so ambivalent about this process. Clearly they should be advising the government that they are not in the business of accommodating people who have broken the law and letting them get onto the electoral roll at the last minute.

There are things that members of parliament can and should do for the electoral process throughout the parliamentary term—roughly three years—which my supporters do in many parts of my electorate. During the period leading up to an election they go to a shopping centre, place a couple of printed electoral rolls on a table and put up a sign: `Do you want to check if you are on the roll?' It is amazing how many people are grateful for that opportunity. They do not even have to say who they are; they can just turn over the pages and find out if they are on the roll.

If the member for Lingiari and others who made such a fuss about this in previous speeches on this bill were to do something like that, I do not believe all their Aboriginal constituents would be off the roll. They would be on the roll. But there is nothing in this legislation that says if you are of a certain ethnicity you are absolved from this legislation. All Australians must register, and this, as far as I am concerned, makes a mockery of people who stand up in this place and virtually advocate a system that rewards people who have broken the law. Why doesn't the Electoral Commission use the law as it is and, when these people come along to register, say, `Thank you very much; we take that as evidence of your breaching the law because you are of age X or you have resided at locality Y and you haven't met the conditions of law and we will be sending you all a $50 fine'?

That is a reasonable argument. It would be interesting to know—and no doubt the commission has some idea—how many of those who register at the last minute or under the existing conditions in the act, which the opposition support, are legally entitled to register at that time. I would imagine that the 80,000 or 150,000 people that are said to be disenfranchised by this measure would come down to the odd thousand. We are being asked in this parliament to maintain a process which rewards people who have broken the law.

There are other matters that need to be addressed in the Electoral Act, some of which have not been included in this legislation because no preliminary agreement could be obtained. I am reminded of, and will never forget, the 1996 whitewash when John Howard's team virtually eliminated the Labor Party. An apparent victim during the count was the member for Brand. As the count proceeded the member for Brand was losing. Then, all of a sudden, they counted what I knew as `section votes'. These are votes where people come to the polling booth and claim a vote when they are not on the roll. They say, `I should be on the roll. I live at 10 Smith Street in such-and-such a suburb within this electorate.'

That is a reasonable provision if by some accident they have been excluded from the roll when they genuinely have resided there for a long period. But statistics are available as to the percentage of votes that would typically be claimed in any one electorate and, by the public admission of the Electoral Commissioner after the conclusion of that election, section votes in the electorate of Brand were substantially above the average. Furthermore, for those of us who understand elections, it is a well-known fact that absentee and various other votes might lean a little towards the sitting member but they tend to follow the trend at the polling booths. Yet the section votes in the electorate of Brand in that particular election went entirely against the trend to the extent that the member for Brand got his nose in front, was able to hang on and survive what had looked like imminent defeat.

The Electoral Commissioner was quite surprised at the number of section votes, but what I was never able to discover was whether the Electoral Commissioner, when he had these suspicions prior to the opening of the votes, sent his officials to some of the addresses to knock on doors and see that the people genuinely lived there. When an election is very close—and it might be a fact that they do not open these votes if it is not close—there should be a process of checking the validity of such claims. It is clearly an offence—in fact, it is fraud—to claim one of those votes if you do not reside there.

With the modern computer facilities available to members these days it is now possible to know the name of the person you should be addressing when you walk up and knock on a particular door. We are all surprised by how frequently a person does not live there anymore and has not declared it to the Electoral Commission. There are means of discovering this—sometimes we write letters to everybody in our electorate and get letters back that say `not known at this address'. In the last state election in Western Australia, in a seat which encompassed the town of Carnarvon, where I live, there was a mail-out and 600 voters were removed from a roll of about 12,000. The current state minister for local government, Tom Stephens, claimed that this was some sort of rort. The Electoral Commissioner had to draw his attention to correspondence to certain parties that was returned `not known at this address'. The Electoral Commission sends three letters to an address before they knock people off the roll, yet 600 of them had to go. It reversed the outcome in that particular electorate—the sitting member survived and no doubt he would have had very little opportunity otherwise.

Who were all these people? How do you think they voted? It was a mining electorate. They were all flying in and flying out. They were all living in Perth, but it was considered a good idea to keep their addresses in the mining areas in that electorate so that they could help win a seat. As I said, I was astounded to hear a minister for local government, as he turned out to be at that time, complaining that this was a dreadful act. Their rort had been uncovered.

These are practical examples of why the Electoral Act needs to be tightened up. As I said, I find it astounding that members of the Labor Party would argue against a measure in the amendments before us that simply says that the electoral roll should close when the election is called. That is not disenfranchising young people, because they have the legal obligation to enrol within 21 days of their entitlement occurring. As I say, with the present media blitz, who would not know that an election is getting close? Why wouldn't the young, even if they are not yet 18, take the opportunity provided in the Electoral Act to register prior to their 18th birthday? It is all covered. Of the people who line up—the 150,00 or the 80,000 or so—seeking to enrol in those last minutes, 90 per cent have broken the law by not enrolling at an earlier time.