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Tuesday, 2 February 2016
Page: 137

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (21:05): I rise tonight to congratulate Vanuatu on their recent successful election on 22 January. The President of Vanuatu invited the Commonwealth Secretariat to send an observers group and I was honoured to be invited to join with very experienced colleagues from literally across the Commonwealth. We were led by the Right Honourable Hubert Ingraham, the former Prime Minister of the Bahamas; Walter Rigamoto from Fiji; Jessica Nkuuhe from Uganda, who is a member of parliament and indeed in the middle of her own election; and Enrico Woolford from Guyana, who joined me on Tanna during the election process. I also pay tribute to the Vanuatu Electoral Commission because it literally was a logistics challenge. With 65 of Vanuatu's 83 islands inhabited and with just over 200,000 on the electoral roll, they then processed 262 registered candidates for 52 seats, comprising 18 constituencies, 28 political parties and 41 Independents. Sadly, from my point of view, there were only nine women candidates. But it was a logistics challenge. Many of the polling booths were quite remote and, of course, on islands such as Tanna, which had been adversely affected by Cyclone Pam less than 12 months ago, people were literally walking for hours to get to the polling booth, because in Vanuatu you have to vote at the booth to which you are registered. So the Vanuatu government declared a public holiday to allow people to get back to their particular place of registration. People were walking for up to two hours. When we started to go across the island, as early as five o'clock in the morning people were already out walking towards the booths and lining up early, with long queues early in the morning, to vote. They were taking pride in the fact that they had the right to vote even though voting is not compulsory in that country.

Prior to the election day we observed many great campaigns around Port Vila. I enjoyed the fact that each of the political parties seemed to have a campaign song. They were very polite and always waited for the other candidate to finish their rally and their song before the next candidate took over. They were much more polite than perhaps we are in Australia. They were also very polite at the polling booths, where it was quite acceptable for the polling clerks to bring elderly people, pregnant women or disabled people to the front of the queue, even in front of people who had been waiting many hours.

The interesting part is that 72 hours before the election there is a complete blackout. That gave us the opportunity to meet with many candidates and party leaders, and I do appreciate the time they gave us to discuss the issues on which they campaigned and the issues they wanted to bring to the attention of their parliament. There were many high-calibre candidates. As well as the women, there were some former director-generals and other people, and also other younger candidates, although the member for Longman will be disappointed to know that you have to be more than 25 years of age before you can nominate for parliament in Vanuatu.

I also particularly want to record my appreciation of the Commonwealth Secretariat, who were so professional in their support of our observation. Albert Mariner, who is well practised and very knowledgeable in this area, Sarah Linton, who is on loan from Australia, Natricia Duncan and Tiffany Chan were a great support to the team.

It was an interesting election because, as it was described locally, it was a snap election. I think it is a credit to the country that, while 15 members of parliament had been convicted of bribery and 14 of them jailed, they called this snap election and conducted it peacefully and, I thought, very professionally. I congratulate the electoral commission. One thing that may be of interest to my colleagues is the voting system. They have ballot book, where each candidate is on a separate piece of paper with their photograph and the name of the party. You tear out the page of the candidate you want, put it in a sealed envelope and put that in the ballot box. I thought that was a terribly efficient and effective way of handling that election. Of course they have election cards as well. I believe there is a role for Australia in supporting the electoral commission going forward, particularly in updating their roll, which is in registration number order, not alphabetical order, so it does make it a bit hard at times to check the roll and cleanse it of people who are duplicates. Congratulations to Vanuatu.