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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 5358

Mr SLIPPER (6:18 PM) —I think it is enormously important for all of us, regardless of where we stand politically, to support the principle of the integrity of the electoral roll so that the people of Australia, when they vote at an election and a result is declared, receive the government for which they voted. The Liberal and National parties in government and in opposition have always supported the integrity of the electoral roll. Unfortunately, until amendments were made by the Howard government, we had an electoral roll that basically was based on the honour of those people purporting to vote.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I suppose I stand before you as a person who arguably was a victim of the lack of integrity of the electoral roll in the election when I was declared to be defeated by Michael Lavarch who was elected as the member for Fisher. At that time it was reported that during the period immediately prior to the election large numbers of nom de plumes were enrolled on the electoral roll, which meant that, because these enrolments happened so late in the day, there was no chance for the Australian Electoral Commission to check those enrolments. Consequently those nom de plumes were placed on the electoral roll and those nom de plumes allegedly voted.

There was an inquiry undertaken afterwards and it appeared that, for example, on Bribie Island—an area which is now represented by the honourable member for Longman—a substantial number of residents were enrolled to vote on both sides of a street called The Esplanade. The Esplanade has people living on one side of it and on the other side is the ocean. Yet the Electoral Commission did not have the facilities to inquire as to whether nom de plumes seeking to enrol were in fact entitled to enrol. There was no requirement to provide proof that one existed and there were suggestions that prior to the election a canvass was done and large numbers of people who allegedly lived in caravan parks were also enrolled to vote even though correspondence subsequently sent to those enrolees was returned unclaimed. So we had an electoral roll based on an honour system. While it would be wonderful to have a country where everyone, regardless of his or her political allegiance, was a person of honour, it is really important that we, as members of the Australian parliament, endeavour to ensure that the Electoral Act includes provisions to guarantee—or come to as close as we can to guaranteeing—that the electoral roll on polling day is genuine and that we have in place procedures and processes which guarantee, as much as one can, that the result as declared following an election is the result for which the Australian people voted.

We are dealing today with four bills: the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Pre-poll Voting and Other Measures) Bill 2010, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (How-to-Vote Cards and Other Measures) Bill 2010 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2010. As was indicated by the .shadow minister and by his representative in this place, the provisions in this group of bills contain ideas that are good and positive and ideas which are negative and destructive and which militate against the integrity of the electoral roll.

Let me place on the record my admiration for the local officers of the Australian Electoral Commission in my division of Fisher. Over the years I have been privileged to represent this area of the Sunshine Coast region. I must say that I have been enormously blessed with the quality of the officers of the Australian Electoral Commission who have been based in the division of Fisher. I think it is really vital that, as much as possible, the divisional returning officer is actually based in an office geographically situated within the division for which he or she is responsible.

Turning to the bills before the House, the first bill I wish to refer to is the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010. It really is the responsibility of all Australians who are eligible to vote to join the electoral roll as soon as they are legally able to do so. I think it is important that the government makes sure that people are aware of their obligations to enrol and we ought to create in Australia a culture that people do enrol as soon as they are eligible. I know that there are provisions to extend the early enrolment to those aged 16 just to make sure that they are on the electoral roll if they happen to turn 18 by the time an election is called and that is a good measure.

However, I think that it is very unfortunate that the government is trying to undo the reforms of the former Howard government. The former Howard government made sure that there was a higher level of integrity in the electoral roll because of the early closure of the electoral rolls. That should not disadvantage anyone entitled to vote if that person had in fact followed the obligations of the law—namely, that that person enrolled to vote as soon as he or she was entitled to do so. Labor wants to return to the former arrangement whereby there are huge numbers, I think half a million in the last instance in 2004, of enrolments or new enrolments in the seven-day period before the close of rolls.

Such an arrangement is a rorters dream because, even if one accepts that the Australian Electoral Commission is honest and has a high level of integrity, there is no way it has the wherewithal or the resources to inquire and guarantee that the 520,000 people who enrolled in 2004 before the close of rolls were in fact eligible to be on the roll. I understand that in that situation lots of people were written to and many of those letters came back unclaimed. So one has to put a big question mark against whether the ALP has a vested interest in rorting, whether by returning to the former system this government wants to again steal an election by not making sure that we have integrity of the electoral rolls. In fact, as the shadow minister pointed out, the scheme introduced by the former Howard government is some 40 per cent more effective than Labor’s in getting people onto the roll. We also made sure that there was a much higher level of integrity of the electoral roll, which is very much what all of us should be supporting.

It is the view of the Liberal-National opposition that, were the parliament to carry the proposal put forward by the government, it would in effect be a green light to those people who left everything until the last minute, those people who did not observe their obligation to get on the electoral roll and update their details so that when an election was called they were on the electoral roll at the correct address and were therefore able to vote. I might slightly digress at this stage without incurring your wrath, Mr Deputy Speaker, to say that I am a person who believes that in a democracy it is inappropriate for there to be compulsory voting. Although I do support the principle of compulsory enrolment to vote so that, when the election day comes along, people are able to determine whether they support one side or the other or an independent. If they feel that nobody is worthy of their vote, they ought to be able to abstain.

Australia brought in compulsory voting at a federal level in 1924. It was rushed through the parliament in just a matter of a few hours with the suggestion that the compulsory voting arrangement would bring about, as I think someone said, a wondrous new understanding of our electoral system and how we are governed, with the implication that it would remove the level of ignorance and misunderstanding that we now have. I understand that Australia is one of only two English-speaking countries which actually do have compulsory voting. I think that it is the antithesis of democracy that after the 1993 election a substantial number of people were imprisoned because they chose not to exercise their theoretical right—which is not in fact enshrined in law—to vote. In other words, these people decided that no-one was worthy of their vote and they elected to vote with their feet by not going to vote. In many cases people who did not pay their fine were actually imprisoned. In my view, that is the antithesis of democracy, because in a democracy people ought to have the right to vote or not to vote as the case may be. However, Madam Deputy Speaker, the matter of compulsory voting or otherwise is not included in this debate, so I ought not tempt your wrath by proceeding further down that particular line.

The former government required that persons who claim a provisional vote at an election be required to produce evidence of identify—in other words, evidence that they exist and also evidence of their enrolled address—either on polling day or during a period of seven days following polling day. The Liberal-National opposition is opposed to any watering down of the requirements for proof of identity in relation to provisional voting. That is on the basis that it removes one of those disincentives for people to rort the electoral system by engaging in multiple voting. When I became interested in politics, I was told that Labor Party supporters liked to vote early and often. While I know many Labor Party people, like the honourable member for Melbourne Ports, who is sitting opposite, would not support any such arrangement, I think that, regardless of whether one considers that a political party has integrity or that its supporters have integrity, we ought to have enshrined in the legislation ironclad guarantees as to the integrity of the electoral roll, the electoral system and the voting process so that we are not dependent on the goodwill of people, regardless of the party that they support, to make sure that the electoral system and elections are not rorted. I understand that it is seen in the Australian community as being highly undesirable for the proof of identity provisions to be watered down. I hope that the government provision to give a green light to rorters will in fact be rejected by the parliament.

There are matters that are supported by the Liberal-National opposition. For instance, the pre-poll votes bill will be supported by the Liberal-National opposition. Currently these votes are treated as declaration votes. It really does not make a lot of sense for this to occur. It seems to me—and I suspect other honourable members, regardless of the parties they represent, would confirm this—that as elections go on more and more voters, particularly elderly voters, seek to cast pre-poll votes. If a pre-poll vote is cast in an electorate it does make a lot of sense that the government is proposing to treat such votes as ordinary votes. That would mean that the count would be more streamlined. I cannot see that there would be any undermining of the electoral system were this to occur.

The Liberal-National opposition will also support the electronic updating of voter records. Indeed, the Liberal-National opposition will support a provision that only one nominee of each party should able to nominate in each seat. I do not agree with this provision that the opposition is supporting. I think that in a democracy if a political party wants to put up a couple of candidates, to allow the community to determine who ought to be the elected representative, then it should be a matter for the community and we as a parliament ought not be mandating against that particular requirement. The first Indigenous representative in the Queensland parliament, Eric Deeral, was elected in 1974 for the state electorate of Cook. He was one of two National Party candidates who were put up and obviously there were a multiplicity of other candidates. Through the preferential system Mr Deeral was the first Indigenous person to be elected as a member of the Queensland parliament. In the same election my former father-in-law, Max Hooper, who was previously the Independent mayor of Townsville, was one of two endorsed National Party candidates in the seat of Townsville West. The Liberal Party had a candidate, the Democratic Labor Party had a candidate and undoubtedly there were also other candidates. Through the preferential system Mr Hooper was actually elected as the member for Townsville West and subsequently served as the minister for marine services and fisheries in the National-Liberal government of Queensland.

So I do not see that there is any problem with a political party endorsing a couple of candidates. It might be that in some of these huge rural seats, where it is perhaps two or three thousand kilometres from one end of the electorate to the other, a political party, for geographic reasons, might want to put a couple of candidates up and they exchange preferences and the people determine who is actually elected. It does seem that I am very much in a minority here, because the government is putting forward a proposal that there should be a single nomination from each political party and the Liberal-National opposition appears to be supporting the government on this. I think that is regrettable. However, I suppose that there is nothing much that I as a single member am able to do about this and that, obviously, that particular proposal will pass through the parliament even if, hopefully, some of the other proposals put forward by the Rudd Labor government will not.

The member for Goldstein highlighted the important initiative of the former Howard government to give blind and vision-impaired people the opportunity to cast a secret ballot. It is a scandal that the current government—that is, the Labor Party government—has discontinued this on the basis that it was too expensive. This provision in the bill is supported by the Liberal-National opposition on the understanding that this is only an interim arrangement ahead of further consultations which will be held with various community organisations. I just think, however, that if people are disadvantaged as far as their sight is concerned they—like you and me, Madam Deputy Speaker Bird—ought to be entitled to have a secret vote.

Time is short and I am not able, therefore, to address in detail the provisions of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (How-to-Vote Cards and Other Measures) Bill 2010. That particular bill has been well covered by the honourable member for Goldstein in his contribution. It is important, however, that the shams we have seen from the Australian Labor Party in South Australia and elsewhere are brought to an end. It is important that voters are not tricked. (Time expired)