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Thursday, 25 February 2010
Page: 1849

Mr HOCKEY (9:39 AM) —The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill 2010 contains five schedules which will, firstly, restore the close of rolls period to seven days after the issue of the writ for an election; secondly, repeal the requirement for provisional voters to provide evidence of identity before their votes are admitted to scrutiny; thirdly, enable prepoll votes cast in the electors’ home divisions to be cast and counted as ordinary votes wherever practicable; fourthly, allow the Australian Electoral Commission to process enrolment transactions outside the division in which the person is enrolling and enable electors to update their enrolment details electronically; and, finally, restrict the number of candidates that can be endorsed by a political party in each division.

Schedule 1 deals with amendments relating to the close of rolls. The amendments in this bill that relate to the closing of rolls seven days after the writs are issued will be opposed by the coalition. The previous government, in line with longstanding policy, moved to protect the integrity of the roll and prevent fraudulent enrolments by reducing the time period between the calling of an election and the closing of rolls. The closure of the rolls seven days after the issue of a writ is a significant threat to the integrity of the electoral roll. The coalition considers that the existing arrangements ensure that the electoral roll contains a high degree of accuracy and integrity, and we are concerned that the extra time period allows for a return to a system which permits calculated fraudulent enrolments to take place.

The coalition believes a return to the previous system of seven days will serve to discourage citizens from making or maintaining their enrolment during the ordinary course of the year, as they will have the opportunity to delay such action until an election is called. It also increases the opportunity for selective fraudulent enrolment. This policy was reaffirmed by the coalition senators’ minority report in the June 2009 Report on the conduct of the 2007 federal election and matters related thereto of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. This minority report was of course ignored by the government in this legislation. The government is seeking to open a loophole whereby people are able to enrol fraudulently in electorates to provide political advantage to a particular candidate or political party. I will talk a little bit more about that in a moment.

Schedule 2 amendments relate to evidence of identity for provisional votes. The amendments relating to the evidence for provisional votes will also be opposed by the coalition. The previous government, in line with longstanding policy, moved to prevent fraudulent voting by people impersonating other voters. The previous government did this by requiring that people who claim a provisional vote in an election be required to produce evidence of their true identity and their enrolled address either on polling day or in the week following polling day. This was an important protection against fraudulent voting, something I will touch on again in a moment. People who live at a location for 21 days are, by law, required to enrol at that address. If they do not do so, they are breaking the law. It s true that they may not be aware of any changes to boundaries, which could affect which electorate they reside in; however, they are aware of the fact that they have changed address.

Effectively, the changes proposed by the government mean there is no consequence for breaching the Electoral Act. The benefits of correctly enrolling are reduced to nothing and there is no disincentive for any person who fails to correctly enrol, leading to a situation where the whole basis for the AEC’s Continuous Roll Update program is severely undermined. Any proposal to weaken the rules related to proof of identity for provisional votes should be opposed, because they may encourage people to ignore the necessity of maintaining a correct enrolment and because the proposed amendment makes fraudulent voting easier. This policy was also reaffirmed in the coalition senators’ minority report which I referred to a little bit earlier.

Schedule 3 contains amendments relating to prepoll voting. The coalition will support the amendments relating to prepoll voting. At the current time there is a significant and unnecessary administrative burden on the AEC for processing prepoll votes cast within the elector’s own division. At the current time, these votes are treated as declaration votes and must go through an administrative checking procedure in the weeks following polling day. The government’s proposal seeks to treat these votes as ordinary votes; although, electors who wish to cast them will still be required to fill out and sign a declaration asserting the elector’s need to cast such a vote. The net effect of this proposal has no ill consequences for either the integrity or the role of polling day practices. This is because the elector’s name will be immediately crossed off the roll on polling day, and notification of who has cast prepoll votes is circulated to each polling booth. In many ways this system actually has more integrity than the issuance of provisional votes on polling day. An additional benefit will be that these prepoll votes will now be able to be counted on the night, leading to an earlier, more accurate result of the vote. This is especially useful, given that prepoll levels are usually quite a significant percentage of the total vote.

The amendments in schedule 4 concerning the processing of enrolments will also be supported by the coalition. This is an administrative amendment which allows the AEC to transfer workload relating to the processing of enrolments between different divisional returning officers. There are strong efficiency arguments to be made in allowing DROs to farm out work to other officers, particularly during high levels of demand or sickness of staff, or if staff leave requirements leave a DRO short-staffed for a period and they are unable to manage the unexpected workload. This schedule also allows for people who are already on the roll to update their details electronically—and this is a welcome development. There is no provision for new enrolments to be lodged electronically. People who wish to use electronic update will have to provide confirming details such as a drivers licence, passport or citizenship number, which already form the basis of identity checks used by the AEC.

Amendments relating to nomination of candidates are in schedule 5. The amendment relating to the restriction on the number of nomination of candidates by a party will be supported by the coalition. At the Bradfield by-election in 2010, the Christian Democratic Party endorsed nine candidates to contest the seat. That was a political mistake and not just a procedural flaw. It is understood that this was a deliberate tactic to try to drive up the informal vote amongst those voters with poor English and numeracy skills. Previous AEC research has demonstrated that the more candidates there are in an electoral contest the greater the likelihood of informality. This is especially the case in electorates with a high non-English speaking background population. Further analysis indicated that most of the informality related to a failure to correctly number all boxes on the ballot paper.

So we have taken a very reasonable approach in opposing the first two initiatives and accepting and supporting the last three initiatives. It reminds me of the fact that you cannot always trust the Labor Party when it comes to electoral reform. There is a history of a number of people in this place in relation to electoral matters and alleged electoral rorts. Quite obviously, the recent appointment by Senator Conroy of Mike Kaiser to a $450,000 unadvertised, uncontested job reminded me of Mr Kaiser’s engagement in electoral fraud in Queensland. The Canberra Times reported on 11 January 2001:

In the Shepherdson inquiry yesterday, Mr Kaiser admitted his signature appeared on a fraudulent enrolment form.

It goes on to say that he signed the form but claimed to have no memory of doing so. It also said:

A third Queensland Labor back-bencher fell on his sword yesterday after admitting to electoral fraud …

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—Order! Member for North Sydney, resume your seat. The Attorney-General has a point of order.

Mr McClelland —I draw the attention of the House and my friend to the issue of relevance to the debate and I ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, to keep an eye on that issue.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—There is no point of order. The member for North Sydney has the call. We are debating electoral matters. I thought the member was quite relevant to the bill before the House.

Mr HOCKEY —That was a valiant effort from the Attorney-General. So there was electoral fraud. Mr Kaiser admitted at the Shepherdson inquiry that he was engaged in a fraudulent enrolment form. How is he rewarded? Within a short period of time of Labor coming into government, Mr Kaiser gets a $450,000 a year job. He actually earns more than the Prime Minister as a PR consultant for the National Broadband Network, and the job was organised by his good friend and fellow right-wing colleague, Senator Conroy. But I needed to refresh my memory about the Shepherdson inquiry—

Mr Danby interjecting

Mr HOCKEY —It was an investigation into electoral fraud, as the member for Melbourne Ports will remember. And that reminded me of the relationship between Mike Kaiser and the now Treasurer, Wayne Swan. And again, thanks to the Canberra Times for this quote—although we did dig a little deeper—25 November 2000:

Mr Swan, with Mr Kaiser, has been mentioned in relation to alleged ‘war stories’ told by senior Australian Workers Union faction figures at a camp for faction workers. Mr Swan was said to have boasted that he once had about a dozen people listed as living in his house in the 1980s, while Mr Kaiser was said to have talked of having nine people registered as living in his small flat.

Mr Danby —That’s a proven allegation, isn’t it? In a newspaper—a press cutting!

Mr HOCKEY —Well, the interesting thing about this relates to the role of the AWU. And Peter Beattie, whom the Canberra Times described as ‘beleaguered Queensland Premier Peter Beattie’, had to come back from Japan to deal with this issue. Perhaps the Shepherdson inquiry should be left to another day, if necessary. But that is not the Treasurer’s only engagement. He had to be stood down by the then Leader of the Opposition some years ago—

Mr McClelland —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would just draw to my friend’s attention that if he wants to make—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—What is your point of order?

Mr McClelland —That if my friend wants to make allegations against another member of this House, he is required to do so by the appropriate form. That is my point of order.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The bill before us is on electoral matters and the integrity of rolls. I take the Attorney-General’s point in relation to personal attacks, and I would ask the member for North Sydney to keep his remarks confined to the bill and to be aware of the Attorney-General’s comments in relation to personal allegations against members.

Mr HOCKEY —Far be it for me to engage in personal slurs, in the same format as used by the Treasurer. Far be it for me to go down that path. I am noting allegations of electoral fraud and an inquiry into electoral fraud that dealt with allegations involving the now Treasurer. I am simply reminding the House in the context of this bill of those events. I am not going into it a great deal. That will be, if necessary—and I hope it is not—for another day. I am reminding the House and the Australian people of the form of the now Treasurer—that is all.

I remind them of an Australian Federal Police investigation into a cash for preferences wrongdoing back in 2001. An Australian Federal Police spokesman said that Mr Swan, who had been stood down from Labor’s frontbench during the investigation, was cleared of allegations that he had paid the Australian Democrats money in a preference deal in 1996. The Federal Police spokesman said:

There will be no further action taken in relation to Wayne Swan. I can’t say there is no case to answer, but no further action will be taken.

The Treasurer is very keen on firing bullets under the cover of parliament—making allegations and, slurring people. He spends a lot of time doing that. But he has history and, when it comes to electoral matters and matters of integrity, there are allegations that have been placed on the record—that have been cleared.

When it comes to playing with the electoral rolls and when it comes to electoral reform, the Labor Party has form. Therefore, we come to this debate very sceptical of the role of the Treasurer, the role of the Labor Party, the links with Mike Kaiser, the history of the Shepherdson inquiry and a range of other events that colour our impressions of whether the government is truly determined to do something about electoral and political fraud.