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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 2904

Mr GRAY (Special Minister of State and Special Minister of State for the Public Service and Integrity) (12:28 PM) —in reply—I thank all the members who have spoken on this bill. In particular, I thank the member for Fisher for his observations, which are interesting in many ways. The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Bill 2011 will repeal the requirement for provisional voters to provide evidence of identity as a precondition to their votes being included in the count for an election.

Provisional votes are a type of declaration vote cast at a polling place on polling day. There are four main reasons that a person will be asked to cast a provisional vote. First, the person’s name cannot be found on the certified list; second, a mark appears on the certified list which indicates the person has already voted; third, the polling official doubts the person’s identity; and, finally, the voter is a silent elector. When a provisional vote is cast, ballot papers are placed in an envelope and written on the outside of the envelope are the voter’s details, including name, address, date of birth and signature. This allows the Australian Electoral Commission to examine the eligibility of the voter before including the vote in the count. This is known as the preliminary scrutiny. The Electoral Act and the referendum act currently require a person casting a provisional vote to provide evidence of identity by the first Friday following polling day. If a voter does not provide evidence of identity by this deadline the vote does not progress to the preliminary scrutiny and is not counted.

This requirement was put in place by the previous government in 2006. It resulted in a situation where provisional votes were dealt with in a way that was inconsistent with the treatment of other kinds of declaration votes—namely, absent, postal and pre-poll votes. By repealing the requirement for provisional voters to provide evidence of identity, all declaration votes will be treated equally. The bill replaces the requirement to provide evidence of identity with a test which has been used in previous elections. The test provides for the divisional returning officer to compare the signature on the provisional vote envelope with the signature of the elector on previously lodged enrolment records if there is any doubt as to the bona fides of the elector.

This amendment is supported by the Electoral Commission which, in its submission to the inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into the 2010 federal election and matters related thereto, recommended that the requirement for production of evidence of identity by provisional voters should be repealed. The Electoral Commission supports the measure in this bill for two substantive reasons. First, the Electoral Commission believes that the details provided on the outside of the envelope including the voter’s name, address, date of birth and a signature allow the Electoral Commission to examine the voter’s eligibility to have the vote included without the requirement for additional evidence of identity.

Second, at the most recent general election over 28,000 provisional votes were rejected because the voter did not provide evidence of identity by the deadline. Out of the 28,000 rejected votes the Electoral Commission found that over 12,000 were instances where the name of the voter was subsequently found on the certified list, so they were eligible voters. Whatever the grounds were for issuing the provisional vote, the result is that otherwise eligible votes were being excluded from the preliminary scrutiny. So in effect, the 2006 amendments were simply unworkable. What we do by this amendment is restore the custom and practice in dealing with provisional votes through this bill. I would like to thank all members who have contributed to the debate on this bill and I commend the bill to the House.

Question put:

That the motion (Mr Gray’s) be agreed to.