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Thursday, 23 August 2012
Page: 9741


Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (10:55): The key word in the title of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Bill 2012 is 'improving'. If, as its title suggests, that is what this bill will achieve, then the bill represents a positive and sensible step. The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Bill 2012 is before us and has support from both sides.

However, I will make a few points on this legislation. Much of this bill has to do with postal vote applications. The bill centralises the power or the authority to deal with postal vote applications—in other words, packages will be sent out in a centralised manner once an application has been made. Also, the bill empowers the Electoral Commissioner, rather than the district returning officer, to be responsible for postal vote applications.

The coalition believes that the determination and processing of postal vote applications ought to stay with the district returning officer for each electoral division. At present, political parties send out applications and voters respond. The forms then come back to the office of the candidate and are taken to the district returning officer. This enables people to receive the same political information as they would receive if they were attending a polling booth and getting it as they went in to vote. The commissioner has given the shadow Special Minister of State an undertaking that the necessary authority would be delegated to district returning officers so that at the next federal election—which will most likely occur in 2013, though it cannot come soon enough for many—postal vote applications would be handled in exactly the same way as they are now. The centralisation legislation will not alter the way in which postal votes applications are dealt with, because in 1999 the Electoral Commissioner obtained legal advice about the centralising of postal vote applications and that the issuing of PVA packages was permissible.

There is agreement about the increase in the nomination fee for both the House of Representatives and the Senate and the need for 100 people—as distinct from 50, as the law now provides—to nominate for an ungrouped individual. The government tried to redefine the term 'unsound mind' earlier this year when introducing the Electoral and Referendum (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012. This bill was amended in the Senate to take away the 'unsound mind' provision, and it was passed as amended in the lower house.

Voting in a democratic election—having a say in how your country is governed—is one of the most important things that anyone 18 years of age and over can do. It is a birthright of being an Australian. It is a privilege also bestowed upon those who have come to this country and been granted citizenship. The way the Commonwealth was formed in 1901 is unique—we as a nation were established with a vote, not a war. Any improvements to the system through which Australians exercise their democratic voting rights are desirable and, as time progresses and technology changes, further ways of bettering the voting system will be adopted.