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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 5354

Mr SULLIVAN (5:58 PM) —I am very pleased to speak on this suite of four bills, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010, Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Pre-poll Voting and Other Measures) Bill 2010, Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2010 and Electoral and Referendum Amendment (How-to-Vote Cards and Other Measures) Bill 2010, amending the electoral and referendum processes in this country. I say at the outset that I have some experience in elections. I believe I have now participated in 27 in total, seven as a campaign director and five as a candidate, with my sixth as a candidate coming up. I strongly support the electoral system that we have in Australia and I have been pleased to be able to do that as a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.

We probably have the best electoral system in the world, and no lesser authority than a former US Secretary of State said so recently. We have a representative democracy. We have adult suffrage. We have equal suffrage. We also have compulsory voting, which is often a point of contention with some but I would contend that compulsory voting compels the government to give every citizen an opportunity to vote. Some of the amendments in this suite of bills actually go toward giving people the opportunity to vote, whereas obstacles have been put in the way of people doing that in the past. We also have—I am not sure that it is unique anymore—a wonderful system for the distribution of preferences. Elsewhere in the world this system is called the ‘Australian ballot’, because we invented it here. We can, if we will, also call it preferential voting, but the rest of the world calls it the Australian ballot—except in the United Kingdom, which is about to have a referendum on adopting the Australian system. They are calling it the ‘single transferable vote’  because, heaven forbid, that Westminster, which gave the world democracy, should import something from one of the colonies. I wish them well with that, and maybe they can pick up a few more of our advancements such as voting on the weekend so that workers do not have to get their boss’s permission to go out to vote. Ours is, without question, one of the best participatory democracies of a representative nature in the world.

There are a number of things that I would like to see happen in the future, some of which are non-controversial and others controversial, as the member for Goldstein would say. I am more than anxious to see a great deal more of our transactions, as voters, with the Australian Electoral Commission conducted online. It is quite clear now that most of us in this place, I am sure, would be using online banking. It is very difficult sometimes to get to a bank with our schedules, but we can do that with great safety and great security these days by banking online. I am sure a bank-like system could be adopted by the Australian Electoral Commission to enable voters to interact with the commission online.

I also dream of a day in the future when Indigenous Australians are able to participate in our electoral system in a manner similar to that enjoyed by Maori people in New Zealand. They are provided a separate Maori roll and people identifying as Maori are able to be on that roll or the general roll. There is a quota for Maori members elected to the New Zealand parliament. I think there are five Maori seats covering the whole country. This, of course, gives the indigenous people of New Zealand the enormous benefit of having seats at the table where the main decisions are made.

The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010 attracted the most opposition from the member for Goldstein in his presentation when he spoke before me on the suite of bills. In Australia today, we have an enormously mobile population. In my area, the population is mobile within the electorate as well as across electorates. In the Australian context, we do not have a 19-day campaign with a fixed election date, such as they have in New South Wales where the rolls are closed on the day that the writs are issued. We have an expectation, certainly amongst the community, that an election will be held this year but there is no certainty of that occurring because the election does not have to be held until 16 April 2011.

Mr Slipper —Are you telling us something?

Mr SULLIVAN —I am not telling you anything, member for Fisher. The idea that the rolls should close when the writs are issued has an interesting side to it. The member for Goldstein said that this is a bad measure. If it is such a measure why did the former Prime Minister, Mr Howard, wait five or six days after telling everyone when the election was going to be before issuing the writs? He did not announce the election and issue the writs immediately. He waited for a period of time. Any future government or future Prime Minister would also have the same facility available to them. Whether or not seven days is written into law, a simple administrative act by the government of the day can ensure that what is regarded as fair is put into place. So I question the suggestion by the member for Goldstein that the opposition’s proposals were 40 per cent more effective. I do not think he can draw that from the evidence that was given to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. It is not my recollection of the evidence given by the AEC that they believed that this measure provided an opportunity for identity fraud. In the past, people have had a week to correct their enrolment details. I doubt that that has acted as a discouragement in any way to people wanting to update their enrolments. In fact, it is more likely that in order to change the simplest detail, people have had to fill out the entire enrolment form again. This issue is being addressed in the bills before us.

The member for Goldstein was also very critical of the idea of people turning up to cast a provisional vote without having to provide proof of identity. We say that the AEC ought to be able to revert to the old system of checking the signature of a person casting a provisional vote against their previously held signatures. Whether or not we are fans of the genre, the forensic police programs that we view on television show us just how quickly material of that nature can be checked and sorted. The main point I want to make about this is that of course nobody attends a polling booth to make a provisional vote; they attend a polling booth to make an ordinary vote. They cannot make an ordinary vote when, for one reason or another, their enrolment details are not held and, hence, they need to make a provisional vote. I support—and I am not necessarily alone in this, but I have not had a great deal of support—each and every Australian voter being given a voter card, an electronic swipe card. Let us move towards using the technology. Every person’s right to vote would be directed by that card. However, that seems to be a little beyond what the people of Australia are looking for at the moment.

The evidence of identity for provisional voting and close of roll provisions in this legislation are going to be opposed by the coalition. The coalition will thereby be keeping in place barriers against people voting. One of the hallmarks of our voting system should be that people are able to vote with great ease. I note with a degree of pleasure that the majority of the measures in the modernisation bill are to be supported by the coalition. I think it is important, at a time when there are so many debates about the voting age, that we not lose sight of the issue at hand. People being able to place their name on the electoral roll at the age of 16 and vote in elections that occur no less than two years after they turn 16 will hopefully ensure that many more young people take an interest in the national affairs of the country.

The reduction in the material required as evidence of identity upon enrolment and upon change of name is a sensible move. People’s identities have to be proven in the first instance anyway, and I can think of no reason why people should have to continue, throughout their lives, to prove that they are who they say they are time and time again.

I am very pleased by the changes in the legislation to the postal voting system. I know, from the hearings of the Joint Committee on Electoral Matters, that the member for Maranoa was very keen to see some serious changes there—particularly because of the remoteness of a number of his constituents. I note that a number of members of my extended family are constituents in electorates just like Maranoa.

Mr Slipper —And they probably vote for our side of politics.

Mr SULLIVAN —There is indeed a chance that they do. I think it is unsafe for the law to rely on the postmark of an envelope in deciding whether or not a ballot has been cast in time. The committee had a rather lengthy session with officers from Australia Post, who agreed that a letter posted in western Queensland may not be postmarked until it reaches Rockhampton a number of days later. That can cause valid votes to be excluded from the count, and that is a disenfranchisement of those voters. As I said earlier, many of the provisions in the legislation are to ensure that people are given the opportunity to vote. The capacity to apply online for a postal vote is another means of ensuring that these situations do not occur. Anyone who has experience in trying to contact known supporters who are overseas when an election is sprung on us would know that getting their postal vote application back from overseas, getting the ballot paper back to them and then getting their vote back in time is often quite a trying exercise.

The mobile polling consolidation makes a great deal of sense because it places in the hands of local Electoral Commission officers the ability to determine when mobile polling will take place. That will address some anomalies in the system. One of the big problems I find is that too many government services in my area—and I am sure it is the same in everybody else’s areas—are controlled by black-and-white rules and local government services lack discretion. I am very pleased to support the fact that, in this legislation, we are giving some discretion to local offices of the AEC to make provisions according to what is going on in their local community.

In his contribution on the legislation, the member for Goldstein reserved most of his invective for the how-to-vote cards bill. Let us not beat about the bush—what occurred in South Australia has led to this. But let us not lose sight of the fact that it was not only the Labor Party that engaged in this kind of activity. Let us be quite clear about the activity that was engaged in in that election. Members of the Labor Party wore T-shirts of an unusual colour for the Labor Party, with a slogan printed on them that included the name of another party and handed out how-to-vote cards, properly authorised, that suggested how another party wanted people to vote. None of what was wrong in that circumstance is covered by this legislation.

Let us not be shy about it. The Labor Party were not the only people doing it in the South Australian election. Health Minister John Hill in the South Australian parliament the other day suggested that the Family First Party—the party who made the big song and dance about the activities of the ALP—also acted in a similar way by dressing their operatives in a T-shirt of a colour not normally associated with the Family First Party and by having slogans on those that were taken from union campaigns of recent times. I am not going to say that either of them was right or wrong, but a couple of interesting questions occur to me in all of this.

First of all, second preference cards have been around for years. As I look around the members gathered here, I suspect that I am not the only member of parliament who has used a second preference card. These usually came about when we were looking for preferences from a party who did not offer them in their how-to-vote card or who you felt might have been offering them to the wrong side. Let us use the Greens as an example. They usually started with something like, ‘If you are considering voting for the Greens, please consider giving your second preference to’—then insert the name of the major party that was distributing the card at the time.

Mr Slipper —Jon Sullivan.

Mr SULLIVAN —Or indeed Peter Slipper, as I have seen. This raises the question as to who owns that second preference. Certainly the Liberal Party does not own the second preference of anybody who votes 1 for the Liberal Party, nor does the Labor Party own the second preference, or the Greens or the Family First Party. The preferences are owned by the voter and the voter is entitled to get as much encouragement as he can get to place those preferences in a manner that he or she best sees fit. Clearly the voter owns their vote. I do not want to say too much because I know that there is an inquiry coming forward. We do need to make sure that, in placing that material in people’s hands, we do not engage in deceptive practices. In relation to that, these deceptive—

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Coming from the Labor Party that is a bit rich.

Mr SULLIVAN —Madam, coming from you nothing would be too rich.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop interjecting

Mr SULLIVAN —I am going to tell the House about the first time I met you in Western Australia. You were a senator and we were at a conference for legislative scrutiny committees. I love this story because at the time you were being touted as a potential Prime Minister. You sat down at a table with four Labor MPs from Queensland and proceeded to tell us that Bob Carr would never be Premier of New South Wales because he was not good looking enough. I have never thought of you as anything but a lightweight since then. We need to be careful that we do not create—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr AJ Schultz)—Order! The member for Longman will address his remarks to the core of the bill before the House.

Mr SULLIVAN —I am back to the bill, if you like, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —It is not if I like; I am instructing you to do so.

Mr Slipper —And his time is almost gone.

Mr SULLIVAN —The time is almost gone. I still have some white on the light. What I want to say is: we have a problem that we need to fix because it is deceptive practice. It is not fraud because it has been tested in the case of the South Australian election and found to be not contrary to the legislation. We need to fix it and make it sure. (Time expired)