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Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Page: 4912


Mr GRAY (Parliamentary Secretary for Western and Northern Australia) (9:58 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to present a bill that brings much needed reform to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Electoral Act) and the Referendum Machinery Provisions Act 1984 (the referendum act).

The bill:

  • repeals redundant provisions;
  • gives the Electoral Commissioner flexibility rather than prescription; and
  • places more technological tools at the Australian Electoral Commission’s (AEC) disposal so that the AEC can continue to deliver the best enrolment and election practices.

The majority of reforms in this bill are based on unanimously supported recommendations of the report by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters following its inquiry into the 2007 federal election (JSCEM report).

Schedule 1—Publishing forms and information about places to vote

The Electoral Act and the referendum act currently require information such as the location of polling places and the various enrolment forms to be published in the Gazette.

The requirement to gazette this information is intended to provide transparency in the electoral process and ensure that members of the public have access to such information.

In recognition of the trend for people to use technology and websites to interact with government, schedule 1 provides for the publication of electoral information on the AEC’s website.

These amendments will give effect to recommendation 41 of the JSCEM report.

Schedule 2—Evidence of identity for enrolment

Schedule 2 amends the evidence of identity requirements for enrolment. The amendments require a person making an application for enrolment, or a person changing their name, to provide evidence of identity with their enrolment application.

Such persons may provide any one of the following forms of evidence of identity:

  • driver’s licence number;
  • passport number; or
  • the signature of a person currently on the electoral roll who attests to the identity of the person.

If an elector is simply changing his or her address details then evidence of identity is not required.

These amendments give effect to the unanimously supported recommendation 7 of the JSCEM report.

Schedule 3—Age 16 enrolment

Currently a person who is 17 years of age may provisionally enrol. These electors will automatically attain full enrolment on their 18th birthday. Provisional enrolment is voluntary.

The AEC has found that provisional enrolment for such people allows the AEC to target enrolment of young people in schools, educational institutions and youth events. Schedule 3 reduces the age of provisional enrolment from 17 years to 16 years of age.

Schedule 4—Electoral rolls, related lists and ballot papers

Schedule 4 makes four sets of amendments relating to the use of technology in elections and election related matters.

First, the amendments provide for senators and members to receive electoral roll information in electronic form. This amendment is based on the unanimously supported recommendation 50 of the JSCEM report.

Second, the amendments provide for the use of electronic certified lists. An electronic certified list will be known as an ‘approved list’. The approved list will be required to be approved by the Electoral Commissioner and will contain the same information as the certified list. Electronic approved lists and hard copy certified lists may be used at the same polling place. This amendment implements the unanimously supported recommendation 43 of the JSCEM report.

Third, the amendments remove the technical requirement for ballot papers to be ‘overprinted’. This requirement is replaced by the requirement for ballot papers to contain a feature approved by the Electoral Commissioner. This amendment gives effect to the unanimously supported recommendation 38 of the JSCEM report

Finally, schedule 4 amends the process of authenticating ballot papers by a divisional returning officer. A divisional returning officer will be required to mark a ballot paper that he or she believes is authentic with the words ‘I am satisfied that this ballot paper is an authentic ballot paper on which a voter has marked a vote.’ This amendment implements the unanimously supported recommendation 37 of the JSCEM report.

Schedule 5—Mobile polling

The Electoral Act and the referendum act currently provide for mobile polling to be conducted at special hospitals, prisons and remote divisions, with specific provisions applicable to each type of mobile polling.

To provide for consistent mobile polling arrangements, schedule 5 consolidates the various mobile polling provisions into a single mobile polling provision.

In general, schedule 5 provides for mobile polling to be conducted on polling day and the 12 days prior to polling day.

The Electoral Commissioner is given the power to determine the places at which mobile polling can be conducted. The Electoral Commissioner will publish information about the availability of mobile polling on the AEC’s website and by any other means deemed appropriate.

The practical process of issuing ballot papers remains unchanged.

These amendments are based on the unanimously supported recommendations 18, 20, 28, 29 and 30 of the JSCEM report. The amendments differ from the recommendations as they will provide for a single mobile polling provision that allows the delivery of mobile polling where and when it is needed.

Schedule 6—Postal voting

Schedule 6 provides four reforms to postal voting. First, schedule 6 removes the requirement that a postal vote application be signed by an applicant and a witness. This reform enables postal vote applications to be lodged online or electronically and reduces potential delays in the delivery of postal vote applications. The amendments require an elector making an application for a postal vote to make a declaration that he or she is entitled to make an application.

Second, schedule 6 prohibits extraneous material being attached to, or incorporated into, a blank postal vote application form. It is currently common practice for political parties and candidates to undertake large-scale reproduction and distribution of their own version of the official AEC postal vote application.

These amendments prohibit the inclusion of extraneous material, including political material, being attached to, or incorporated into, a postal vote application. However, extraneous material may be included in an envelope along with the postal vote application.

Third, the amendments require a completed postal vote application be returned directly to the AEC. To avoid delays in the issue and return of postal vote applications, these amendments provide that postal vote applications must be returned directly to the AEC. This is intended to ensure that the application is not returned via a third party, including a political party.

Finally, the amendments introduce a new requirement for both the elector and the witness to make a written declaration that the requirements for completing the ballot paper were completed before the close of the poll. The amendments also provide for the date of the witness signature on the postal vote to be the determining date for completion of the postal vote, rather than the postmark on the certificate.

These amendments are based on the unanimously supported recommendations 5, 6 and 33 of the JSCEM report. The amendments differ from recommendation 33 as they require the completed postal vote application to be returned directly to the AEC and prevent extraneous material being included on, or affixed to, a postal vote application.

The intention is for schedule 6 to commence at the default time of six months after royal assent.

Schedule 7—Other amendments relating to rolls and enrolment

Schedule 7 amends enrolment practices and the provision of roll information.

The Electoral Act requires a version of the electoral roll to be publicly available for viewing. Schedule 7 clarifies that there is no right to copy or record by electronic means the publicly available roll. This amendment is based on the unanimously supported recommendation 53 of the JSCEM report.

The AEC maintains the electoral roll for federal elections and also state and territory elections under ‘joint roll arrangements’. The AEC collects information from every eligible elector and then forwards that information to the relevant state or territory. Schedule 7 provides for a regime under which the roll information provided to the states and territories may be used for additional purposes. The regime provides for regulations to prescribe the purposes for which roll information may be used, for example, the compilation of jury lists. This amendment is based on the unanimously supported recommendation 44 of the JSCEM report.

Finally, schedule 7 introduces specific provisions to facilitate enrolment and continued enrolment for people who are experiencing homelessness.

A person experiencing homelessness will not lose their itinerant elector enrolment because he or she has been living in crisis or transitional accommodation for one month or longer.

In addition, a person experiencing homelessness will not automatically be removed from the electoral roll if they do not vote at a general election. This amendment implements the unanimously supported recommendation 19 of the JSCEM report.

Schedule 8—Eligibility for early voting

Prepoll voting and postal voting are known as ‘early voting’. An elector who wishes to cast an early vote must apply and make a declaration that they are eligible for such a vote. Once the elector has made such a declaration the elector is issued with ballot papers.

Schedule 8 implements the unanimously supported recommendations 25 and 26 of the JSCEM report. The amendments provide two additional grounds upon which an elector may apply for an early vote.

First, throughout the hours of polling on polling day, the elector will be absent from his or her division. Second, the elector will be unable to attend a polling booth on polling day due to a fear for his or her personal safety or wellbeing.

Schedule 9—Minor technical amendments

Schedule 9 makes several minor technical amendments to:

  • remove gender specific language;
  • amend incorrect cross references; and
  • provide for consistent use of terminology.

The amendments in schedule 9 do not affect the voting or enrolment rights and obligations of electors.

Conclusion

Taken together these amendments provide the AEC with the necessary flexibility and technological tools needed to deliver modern electoral practices for the benefit of all electors.

The reforms are significant, and they are overdue.

This bill demonstrates the government’s continuing commitment to update the Electoral Act and the referendum act for the benefit of all electors. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Billson) adjourned.