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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3281


Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Mackellar) (16:26): by leave—In rising to speak to the report of the Joint Standing on Electoral Matters into its consideration of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012, once again, I note that this is a highly partisan report. The committee was split with the Labor Party and the Greens on the one hand and the members of the coalition on the other. As the government had the majority on the committee, that means the report becomes the majority report. But there was no agreement between the government and the opposition as to the need for this bill. In fact, the philosophical dispute is very strong.

The coalition believe firmly, as the Electoral Act sets out, that it is the responsibility of the Electoral Commission to maintain the integrity of the roll. That is its first, second, third or fourth, or whatever, obligation to do. There is plenty of case law which has been around to back up that contention. In 1993, Acting Chief Justice Brennan in the case of Muldowney and the Australian Electoral Commission said, 'The electoral roll is pivotal to the electoral system.' He held that the qualifications to vote include enrolment, noting that the term 'elector' is defined to mean someone on the roll and the mandating of an administrative hurdle like enrolment created is no undue hardship.

The legislation provides that it is the responsibility of an individual who is eligible to be on the roll to, firstly, enrol—and that means filling out a form with a signature—and, secondly, ensure that should you change your address that you will notify the Electoral Commission of that within 21 days—hardly onerous responsibilities. Yet the universal franchise that we have in this country and our compulsory voting system ensure that we have a very high participation rate in the voting system.

As in the Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four where you simply say things that are the direct opposite of what is really meant is very much involved in this process brought in by the government. The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill is really the 'automatic enrolment' bill, just as the other bill which we will be debating later this week, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill, is really about changing addresses without an elector's knowledge or consent.

The important thing to note here is that the government is proposing to allow the Australian Electoral Commission to have absolute discretion in whichever role it chooses, which the chairman of the committee referred to as 'trusted sources'. No evidence has been given by the Electoral Commissioner as to why he would be making one decision as distinct from another or what examination there would be of this system, which was brought in in New South Wales and Victoria in the dying days of those governments to try to enhance their voting ability. The bottom line is that this legislation is being brought in to give a political and electoral advantage to the government of the day.

This is a very serious matter. If you have a cursory look at what has transpired in New South Wales you will see that only 64 per cent of the so-called automatic enrollees turned out to vote and, when the Australian Electoral Commission contacted those people who were transferred, only 20 per cent of them had bothered to enrol on the federal roll. That is an 80 per cent failure rate and a nearly 40 per cent failure rate evidenced in New South Wales.

No evidence put forward by the Electoral Commission shows any attempt to properly examine those numbers in order to put out a warning signal that this is bad legislation and bad for the electoral roll. We will have the opportunity later this week to debate these two bills—it will be a cognate debate—but I think it is very important to say that the coalition believes that referring these bills to JSCEM for its consideration is an important part of our scrutiny process. The bottom line is that the evidence, or lack of it, from the Electoral Commission to substantiate their agreement with Labor and the Greens in bringing about a change—which Labor and the Greens believe will be to their advantage—is no reason to put at risk the integrity of the roll. I am perpetually disappointed that the Australian Electoral Commission seems to be in lockstep with Labor and the Greens.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): In accordance with standing order 39(d), the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.