Save Search

Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1955


Mr GRAY (BrandSpecial Minister of State and Minister for the Public Service and Integrity) (16:42): I am pleased to sum up debate on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Administration) Bill 2012, which amends the Commonwealth Electoral Act and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act to substantially improve interactions that Australians have with elections and referendums. The bill implements the government's response to several of the recommendations made by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, JSCEM, in its report on the 2010 federal election, specifically recommendations 3, 9, 10, 11, 15, 23, 29, 30 and 37, and makes some small technical amendments.

This bill continues the majority view of this parliament that the Commonwealth electoral roll should best represent those Australians who are eligible to vote. In a 2010 Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters report, the committee made three recommendations related to the maintaining of the electoral roll. This bill includes the last of those three measures, a recommendation to allow the Australian Taxation Office to provide enrolment-relevant personal information to the Australian Electoral Commission, the AEC. It is achieved by a small amendment to the Taxation Administration Act 1953, which appears in schedule 1 of this bill. Although it is a small amendment on the face of it, it is another important step in assisting the AEC to deliver the most inclusive electoral roll. The government is proud to be able to deliver this change. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters report makes it clear that there were an estimated 15.7 million Australians eligible to be enrolled but only 14.2 million on the roll. Consequently, the majority of the committee agreed with the recommendation that the AEC should have access to information from credible government sources such as the ATO to update and maintain the electoral roll.

There are also other small administrative amendments made in the bill. These amendments deal with when prepoll voting can commence, when postal voting applications can be received and removing the requirement that a person who is seeking to use prepoll voting for an ordinary vote should complete a certificate before they do so. One of the methods of voting is prepoll. There are currently two times set out in the Electoral Act when applications for prepoll votes can be made. These amendments clarify and establish one time at which prepoll voting will be available—that is, the fourth day after nominations are declared.

For a minimum election timetable, nominations are declared on a Friday, making the fourth day afterwards the succeeding Tuesday. Depending on the type of election—whether it is for the House of Representatives or the Senate or both—the act provides different days for the commencement of prepoll voting and varying minimal times are provided for the AEC to print and distribute ballot materials to early voting centres across Australia in time for polling to commence. This is a sensible, small amendment which provides a consistent time frame for when prepoll voting can commence. There is also currently a requirement that a voter complete a written declaration in order to vote by prepoll as an ordinary voter. This requirement is not consistent with other forms of ordinary voting, which only require a verbal declaration. It does not serve a useful purpose and will be omitted by this bill.

One of the matters considered by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters concerned incidents that had occurred in connection with the 2010 election, where some ballot boxes were opened before they were lawfully authorised to be opened. Since that incident extra training and support materials have been applied and it is less likely to happen again. Although this may be an excess of caution, the bill contains provisions which expressly clarify the action to be taken with respect to ballots that are contained in prematurely opened boxes. These provisions will be the subject of government amendments.

For the 2010 election the Electoral Commission processed over one million postal vote applications, which was a 17.8 per cent increase in the number processed at the 2007 election. Under the existing provisions, postal votes applications can be received up to 6pm on the Thursday—that is, two days—before polling day. Voters are required to cast their vote before the close of polling on Saturday. The limited time between the closing time for applications and election day make it highly unlikely that applicants will receive their postal ballots in time to cast their vote before the polls close. This amendment brings the cut-off forward by one day to 6pm on the Wednesday, three days before polling day. This change is to improve the chance the AEC can deliver postal voting papers to an elector before the close of the poll. Of course, there are equivalent amendments made to the Referendum Machinery Provisions Act 1984. All the measures of the bill are designed to assist in ensuring that we continue to have a robust and up-to-date electoral system and administration. The recommendations made by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in the majority report are both sensible and politically neutral. The government is committed to ensuring their implementation. I commend the bill to the House.