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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1961

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Mackellar) (17:02): In the course of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters discussions on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Administration) Bill it seemed to me that the proposal by the Electoral Commission to eliminate from scrutiny all ballot papers contained in a ballot box which has been opened prematurely—that is, before 6 pm on election day—was an invitation to unscrupulous behaviour, to allowing someone to tamper with a box in order to get rid of those ballot papers if they knew the sort of polling place they had come from. It also meant that an elector would be denied their validly cast vote through no fault of their own. I argued that way fairly vociferously, and I am delighted to say that the chairman and other members of the committee, together with some witnesses who appeared before us, agreed with that point of view and the result is this amendment as outlined by the Special Minister of State.

I do have some problems with the way this amendment has been drafted. I think it would be preferable if there were a count on the night of the ballot papers, which would allow us to know whether or not it was likely to result in an appeal to the Court of Disputed Returns and would allow the ballot papers to be properly tallied against those that had been issued. I did have drafted certain amendments, which are set out in the report of the committee, and the committee took the approach of doing the count on the night. The way in which the government has drafted the amendments means that the votes are parcelled up and sent to the DRO, the DRO sends them to the Australian electoral officer, who then looks at the ballot papers and makes a decision as to whether any of them have been fraudulently or otherwise tampered with so as to misdirect the intention of the voter. It is an unusually difficult thing for an electoral officer to determine what is a fraudulently tampered with vote and, because it is outside scrutiny, scrutineers will not be allowed at the process. I think that is a serious problem. However, the opposition will allow these amendments to pass, and should we be successful in being elected at the next election we will take action to clean up what we think are deficiencies in the draft as it is being presented.

We agree with the amendment that changes the penalty for electoral officers to make it the same as it is for an ordinary civilian. In the way the Electoral Act is currently presented, if you are an electoral official you get a lesser penalty than if you are an ordinary punter. We did not think that was right, and we are pleased to see that change. We think also that the provisions dealing with font are equally sensible amendments and will be agreeing with those.