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Thursday, 23 August 2012
Page: 9734

Mr MELHAM (Banks) (10:24): Yesterday I pointed out the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters recommendation, which has unanimous support, to remove the unsound-mind provisions in this legislation—and the government is proceeding with that. Today I want to look at other provisions in this bill before the House. The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Bill 2012 contains provisions that will increase the sum to be deposited by or on behalf of a person nominated as a senator from $1,000 to $2,000; increase the sum to be deposited by or on behalf of a person nominated as a member of the House of Representatives from $500 to $1,000; and increase the number of nominators required by a candidate for the Senate or the House of Representatives who has not been nominated by a registered political party from 50 to 100 electors. There are other provisions which I will not go into.

The justification for these deposit requirement provisions is set out on page 3 of the explanatory memorandum, and it is important to read it onto the record:

The amendments to increase the required nomination deposit and to increase the number of nominators required for unendorsed candidates seek to strike the right balance between providing the opportunity for all citizens to take part in elections while at the same time putting in place some reasonable thresholds that candidates must meet.

The Senate election in New South Wales in 2010 provides some context for these amendments. In this election there were 84 candidates distributed across 33 columns. Of the 84 candidates, 42 candidates received fewer than 200 first preference votes or less than 0.005% of the total formal vote. The total of the formal votes polled by these 42 candidates was 2,697 or 0.06% of the total formal vote overall. None of them came from a group which had a candidate elected and all lost their nomination deposits.

The current requirement of 50 nominators for unendorsed candidates has been in place since 1998 and the deposit amounts were last changed in 2006. Since then, both the Australian population and Average Weekly Earnings have increased. Therefore it is timely to increase the figures at this stage to continue to balance a workable and timely electoral environment against the rights of individuals to take part in elections.

These provisions have bipartisan support—and so they should. The current provisions can be abused and can, in effect, allow the stacking of ballot papers to the detriment of people who want to cast a genuine vote and create a ballot paper that confuses people.

Back in 1974, which was the first election I participated in at a federal level, the Senate ballot paper in New South Wales was stacked. There were 74 people on the ballot paper. Twenty of those people were put on the ballot paper by a number of independent aldermen from Bankstown City Council. They were designed to go onto that ballot paper to frustrate, because in those days there was no above-the-line voting; you had to number every square. The informal vote in the Senate at that time was ginormous. We have also had instances in which ballot papers were stacked in the lower house. There was a by-election in the seat of Werriwa with over 20 candidates. We had a recent by-election in the seat of Bradfield, where one political party had nominated six candidates from the same political party—I think it was the Christian Democrats.

From time to time the parliament is required to refine some of these provisions so that they are not abused, because the truth is that shrewd political players can do that. We have seen changes in New South Wales to the tablecloth ballot paper, to group voting and to voting one above the line, to try to bring down the informal vote. In this day and age it is a very expensive exercise to run campaigns. In my first election, in 1990, it cost $55 million to run the national election. My pocketbook here shows that the 2007 election cost $163 million. The Werriwa by-election in 2005 cost half a million dollars, and the Aston by-election in 2001 cost half a million dollars.

So what these provisions before the House today are designed to do is make sure that we have legitimate candidates nominating for election. We do not want to stop the nomination of legitimate candidates but we should not allow stacking of our ballot papers that seeks to manipulate the result. In electorates where there is a large non-English-speaking population, it can result in a high informal vote. Increasing the number of nominators as suggested, and increasing the deposit, is in my view a very modest way of doing things but it has got the balance right.

The member for Mackellar said in her speech that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has not produced unanimous reports in the past—on this we are unanimous. So this is not designed to achieve political advantage; this is about integrity in our electoral system and in our ballots and not allowing people to abuse generous provisions in our Electoral Act to try and influence results in that way. I commend the bill to the House. I think it deserves bipartisan support.