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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3562

Mr RANDALL (Canning) (19:14): I am very pleased to speak on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the cognate bill, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012. I am pleased to speak on these bills because I have always been very concerned about maintaining the integrity of the electoral roll. One of the great features of the Australian electoral system and our system generally is that we were able to maintain the integrity of our electoral roll to the best of our ability for many years without the technology that we have today, but we certainly knew where people lived, we knew who they were and we were able to track them when they moved.

The dissenting report by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters on the maintaining address bill said:

… this legislation has been designed by Labor and the Greens solely for their own electoral advantage.

It went on to say:

The Coalition believes that the Bill will lead to a weakening of the integrity of the Electoral Roll, a significant decrease in privacy for individual electors and will remove virtually all responsibility for individual electors to take care of their own enrolment.

That is really at the nub of the bills. It has gone from the individual looking after their own status on the electoral roll to allowing the Australian Electoral Commission to take over that responsibility. Everything else between that goes to the discussion that we are about to have. There have been a whole lot of reasons given as to why you would shift the onus from the individual to the Australian Electoral Commission, but, at the end of the day, what was the matter with the individual getting themselves on the roll, maintaining themselves on the roll, notifying when they shifted and notifying when they were not on the roll? It really takes away the individual's responsibility in this area, and I think that is a quite disappointing aspect of what is happening with these bills.

For many years there have been concerns about the agenda for watering down the integrity of the electoral roll. We also have integrity issues involving border protection—those who come here not through the proper channels but by boat. We think that maintaining the integrity of our borders is very important. The government changed those rules so that border protection has been watered down. With these bills, integrity is again being questioned.

As a person in a marginal seat, I have always been very interested in the integrity of the roll. One of the things that has happened since I came to this place in 1996, and came back again, is that I did my best to assist the AEC in maintaining the integrity of the roll in terms of those people going on and those coming off. That is one of the reasons I sign every letter to new electors personally. Not one has been electronically generated. When somebody is getting on the electoral roll I think it is quite rude for a member of parliament to send an electronic signature on a letter that says: 'Welcome to my electorate for the following reasons.' It is not only about that, but signing those letters allows me to find out a whole lot of interesting things: multiple people at addresses or an interesting drift towards new parts of my electorate, like Piara Waters. That is an interesting area, because people have to get themselves on the electoral roll.

Part of what the bills are saying is that the AEC will use a whole lot of government agencies to track people, such as the tax office or Centrelink. One of the ways to help them track who is new in an area is by the number of bins given out by the local government authority. I suppose that is one way of doing it, but it is not very scientific.

In terms of electoral integrity, we know that the Labor Party has form in this area. Dare I refer the House to the book The frauding of votes? by Dr Amy McGrath, which is introduced by Bob Bottom who, as we know, was a very good crime fighter. There have been a whole lot of books written, such as this, about fraudulent electoral practices.

You can look at some interesting anecdotes. The Labor Party have done it to themselves. Many years ago there was the great story about Paul Keating and Laurie Brereton heading off into the night with a box of electoral votes on the back of his motorbike to run them away so that they could not be counted, to skew their own electoral result. It is all in history. How the Labor Party like to manipulate their elections is folklore.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): Order!

Mr RANDALL: Well, it is part of Australian folklore, as I said, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member will address the bills.

Mr RANDALL: And I am. I am just giving an illustration of how—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The honourable member will resume his seat. The honourable member will address the bills and deal with the matters before the House. The honourable member for Canning.

Mr RANDALL: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a sensitive issue—we know—and I am dealing with it as sensitively as I can.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The honourable member will address the bills and not reflect on the chair.

Mr RANDALL: When I talk about the responsibility for individual electors, there is the incentive for eligible voters to update their address details when they move. For example, if they fail to address this in 21 days they can be fined $110. That is part of the rules. That is an incentive to do so. We believe that the bills are a mere ploy by the Australian Labor Party and the Greens to improve their own electoral chances at the expense of the integrity of the roll. This was in part of the dissenting report, which is part of the deliberations that have been taking place in this parliament.

I give the example of the marginal seat of Canning. When I first won the seat of Canning in 2001, I won by about 526 votes. When there are 46 polling booths you do not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that I could have lost if something like 12 people—15 people at the most—at each polling booth had either voted twice or manipulated their vote.

We know that the electoral roll on the day is not electronically connected to all the polling booths. Somebody gets a pencil out and rules a line in a particular book. That is fine when they collate them all after election day and find out that somebody has voted early and often—you know, a Labor Party mantra: vote early and vote often. The fact is that when you actually line them up it is too late because the votes have been taken and collated. The scrutineers have no ability to do anything about this because there is no corroboration with the other 46 polling booths—as is the case in my electorate—to check whether somebody has voted more than once.

Another issue—and I have done a fair bit of doorknocking in my time—is that people put themselves down at some very interesting addresses. I noted with interest when I was doorknocking over the years that around Falcon in my electorate there are a lot of empty beach houses, yet it was brought to my attention by some of the residents there that people were receiving electoral enrolment information at houses that had not been occupied for years. I am sure that the only body that would have the ability to control a whole lot of those sorts of votes would be something like a union that has a huge database and that can say, 'Look, you need to put yourselves down at that address because if you can get a couple of hundred people in that area that will help us with our votes.'

Mr Gray: Lots of union officials own houses at Falcon!

Mr RANDALL: They not only have houses but they probably have a lot of good friends. They might be workers in some of the drive-in drive-out areas in and around my electorate. That is how you warehouse votes in areas like that to dilute the high conservative vote. That is my suspicion when neighbours say to me, 'No-one has been living here for years but they have been getting electoral enrolment information.'

Further to that, when the AEC officers came into my office the other day—and I am sure the member for Brand will enjoy this—I handed them some letters from people who had written 'Return to sender. This is a vacant block,' on the envelope. People had been registered at that address for the purposes of enrolment.

Mr Gray: Report it to the commission.

Mr RANDALL: I did. I handed them to the officers when they came to visit my office. That is the sort of thing that causes people to question the integrity of the electoral roll.

The other area is caravan parks. There is a very transient population in caravan parks and it is difficult to track them and make sure that they stay on the roll in the area they have previously designated. It is the same with homes with tenancies and with fly-in fly-out workers. The member for Brand has the highest number of fly-in fly-out workers in a metropolitan electorate in Western Australia. I have the second highest number in my electorate. They are very mobile and very transient. Tracking them is very interesting. I note that the AEC is trying to do something about dealing with them at the airports. This has been a little bit difficult to deal with over the years. They are having to find new ways of either getting the people on the roll or, when they need to vote in the various state or federal elections, getting them to vote in time. As you know, those workers can have two or three weeks on and one week off. They might miss the opportunity to vote. I had people from mines ringing me and saying, 'I'm on a mine and I haven't voted. I don't know how I'm going to vote because I don't get back until after Saturday. Can you tell me what I can do. They do not have a polling booth at the mine.'

It is all interesting stuff. What I am saying in relation to this bill is that giving the onus to the Australian Electoral Commissioner to make a judgment, based on a range of factors where he believes somebody should be entitled to vote, is drawing a very long bow and it is rather risky. For those who want to rort the system this is a precarious position in a marginal seat. Over the years there has been plenty of evidence to that effect from inquiries that have delved into the rorting of these systems.

We do not want to be a Zimbabwe or somewhere where you have to dip your finger into a bottle of indelible ink to check that you have not voted twice. We have been to those countries and we know that we are better than that. We need to ensure that the maintenance of the electoral roll stands up to scrutiny. We do not want to see the support diluted by taking away resources such as electoral officers from our electorates.

Return mail is another example. We used to be able to send bulk return mail to the AEC for checking. You will recall that the member for Hinkler said in this place that, if he had not kept the return mail in one particular election some years ago and checked it against those wanting to do provisional votes, he would have lost his seat. He was able to provide that database to the scrutineers and to the Electoral Commission during the count and have those votes set aside until they were checked.

Mr Gray: You still can.

Mr RANDALL: We are not able to return the return mail now, Member for Brand, because they do not accept it any longer.

Mr Gray: Yes, they do.

Mr RANDALL: My Electoral Commission office told me recently that they do not want any of my return mail because they are doing it themselves.

In their endeavours to reduce spending, the Australian Electoral Commission are undertaking very few habitation surveys. That is a real worry. In new areas and new housing estates, like mine, they need to get out there and undertake habitation surveys in areas of growth or areas where there is quite a transient population due to certain demographics. I ask, through this mechanism, that that be looked at further, because that is another way you can maintain the integrity of the electoral roll.

We will not be supporting this bill because we do not think it does the right thing in terms of maintaining integrity. I would like to see it beefed up rather than watered down.