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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6780

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (8:56 PM) —I rise to say a few words, from the opposition’s point of view, in relation to the tabling of these two very important reports. I acknowledge the significant effort that has gone into the preparation of these two reports: the report on the Conduct of the 2007 federal election and matters related; and the Advisory report on the Commonwealth Electoral (Above-the-Line Voting) Amendment Bill 2008. The committee chair, the member for Banks, tried to accommodate all of us all of the time. I commend his chairing of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters; it really was fair and he gave us all a great opportunity to bring forward issues. The deputy chair, the member for Cook, is on paternity leave because his wife has recently had a baby. I am standing in for him, so I speak on his behalf as the deputy chair of the committee.

The committee members have had a substantial workload and I believe our robust discussions have gone to the core of some very important issues in relation to electoral matters. I acknowledge also the work of our committee secretariat, some of whom are here tonight in the advisers’ boxes. Their diligence and their patience have served us well, but more importantly, have served the Australian people well as we have gone about the task of compiling these two very important reports. As one of the opposition appointees to this committee, I have appreciated the chance to see concerns raised and openly debated. As might be expected, we do not always get the full agreement across the committee membership and this is reflected in a dissenting report to the 2007 federal election report that my colleagues and I have felt was absolutely necessary.

Before I comment on the points of difference, I want to underline what we found important and where we found common ground. The opposition agrees with the conclusion 2.55 of the above-the-line voting report, which states that the current voting system for the Senate, in place since 1984, appears to be widely accepted by the community. I also note that some 97 per cent formal votes at the 2007 election were cast above the line. We also agree as a committee that there should be more ongoing work and discussion on this whole subject, having not yet made any formal recommendations. My coalition colleagues and I appreciated the spirit and manner in which the committee discussions and hearings were held. We have brought down a dissenting report—and it is never easy to bring down a dissenting report, but we felt it was necessary for very good reasons—and I commend the full detail of the dissenting report to members of the House and to the Australian people.

But this does not mean the opposition believes the report as a whole should be ignored. Far from it. To give you one example, I am particularly pleased that we have reached a joint view under recommendation (5), which deals with the issue of postal voting. From the point of view of my own constituents and people in rural, regional and remote Australia it has been a particular issue for people who cast their vote—and it is not only rural Australia—by a postal vote. Recommendation (5) is that the government consider amending the Commonwealth Electoral Act to allow the date of the witness signature on the postal vote certificate to be the determining date for the validity of that postal vote, and to require postal voters and witnesses to confirm that the required voting actions were completed prior to the close of poll in the state or territory in which the electoral division for which the voter is enrolled is located.

Out of the some 262 rural and remote post offices, 205 do not postmark their mail. That is the core of the problem. People have cast a legitimate ballot; it has gone into the system prior to the close of polls but may not be received by a central agency for franking until after the close of polls, which means that those votes become invalid. It disenfranchises many Australians and recommendation (5) would certainly address that.

In the time left I would like to talk to some of the positions we took in relation to our dissenting report. The Commonwealth Electoral Act mandates that Australians have some basic rights and responsibilities: upon reaching enrolment age to enrol to vote; to accurately maintain their enrolment; to vote at an election; and to fully extend their preferences to all candidates in their electorate who are contesting election for the House. As our dissenting report makes clear, these are basic building blocks of our system of compulsory preferential voting. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—The time allocated for statements on the reports has expired. Does the member for Banks wish to move a motion in connection with the reports to enable them to be debated on a future occasion?