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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 5367

Mr HAWKE (6:58 PM) —I rise tonight to speak on this cognate debate of four bills, including the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010. The fact that we have four bills represents the first failure of leadership from this government in relation to the electoral reform measures that we see in front of us today. The member for Melbourne Ports spoke about the great shame of the Howard government in many of the measures that it sought to reform the Electoral Act, but the fact that we have such partisanship in relation to our electoral laws and in relation to many of the measures contained within these bills means that we are not meeting our fundamental responsibility as a parliament to ensure we have a fair and democratic system.

In fact, in reaching across to some of the speakers who have spoken in this debate, I would certainly reach out to the member for Longman. He came forward and stated that with all of his experience at elections, and he outlined some extensive experience, he would favour a vote card, a form of voter identification—that is, a voter identification card. I want it recorded that I want to reach out to the member for Longman and say that that is a very worthy idea. That is a missed opportunity within these bills. That is something that we have not seen brought forward by this government, and the fact that we have not, I think, underscores what is going on in many of the provisions within some of these bills before us tonight.

It is true to say that the integrity of the electoral system is paramount. It is not something that should be the subject of partisan politics. The public want to have confidence that if they are forced to attend a polling booth on polling day and cast a vote then they ought not to be at the mercy of those with malicious intent. They ought not to be at the mercy of those who have the goal of manipulating our electoral system—and there are those out there in our community who we have to assume will seek to manipulate our electoral system. Indeed, there are many notable examples and cases where people have attempted to manipulate the electoral system.

Some of the measures in these bills do have some merit. I am happy to say that and to extend my support for some of the bills that have been proposed. There are many measures in electoral reforms that both sides of this chamber can agree upon. In particular, I want to record my support for the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Pre-poll Voting and Other Measures) Bill 2010. That seeks to allow the counting of pre-poll votes on election night. That is something that we all support and endorse. It also seeks to allow the AEC to better manage the workload of the state and divisional offices of the AEC. That is common-sense reform.

In particular I want to record my support for the measure to prevent parties from nominating more than one endorsed candidate for a particular lower house seat. I am a New South Wales member and witnessed firsthand the Bradfield by-election, where a particular political party nominated multiple candidates—I think in the order of 11—for the same electoral division. We are all unenthusiastic about that outcome. We do not want to see any particular political party seek to manipulate the electoral process by nominating multiple candidates to confuse voters, to lift the rate of informal voting or to cause general disruption to the ballot system by extending the length and nature of the ballot papers. There are certainly some worthy measures in the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Pre-poll Voting and Other Measures) Bill 2010. The fact that we have two or three bills that we can support and yet there are bills that we cannot support underscores that really we ought to seek a consensus before we move on electoral matters. Indeed, that would be a worthy goal of this parliament.

We can also support, however weak, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (How-to-Vote Cards and Other Measures) Bill 2010. This is in response to the South Australian election, where we so recently saw an attempt to manipulate a democratic outcome of a state election. While it was not a federal election, all people interested in democracy and the fair and free flow of the democratic process would understand that by handing out Family First material in very questionable circumstances the Labor Party in South Australia, in particular, really put a severe question to the electoral system in Australia. We saw Labor people wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Put your family first’ handing out material. These people handed out what we would regard as misleading how-to-vote cards designed to get South Australians who were seeking to vote Family First to preference the Labor Party. There is nothing wrong with political parties seeking preferences, especially in a compulsory preferential system, as long as it is doing so honestly, and clearly articulating that it is a particular political party seeking the preference of another political party. That is why it is easy to support this measure. The token approach within this particular bill—fines of $1,100—is regrettable, however. It could have been dealt with much more substantially. Most voters out there, when considering this bill or thinking about what it is intending to do, would feel short-changed if a political party sought preferences and did not clearly say what it was doing. Most voters would feel that we ought to prevent that in the electoral system. This bill would require all how-to-vote cards to have placed at the top of the card and in a prominent size the name and the party of the authoriser or face a fine of $1,100. A false authorisation would similarly incur a fine. That is worthy legislation and worthy of this parliament’s attention.

However, turning to some of the more controversial measures, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010 is something that we cannot support. It is something that I have particular concerns with. We heard the member for Melbourne Ports articulate a case that hundreds of thousands of young people were deliberately short-changed at the last election by the Howard government. At the last election I was contesting a federal election for the first time and I saw a greater emphasis being placed on the enrolment of young people that I had seen at any previous federal election that I had borne witness to as a voter. I do not think it is a bad thing that there was a campaign conducted by all sorts of people saying, ‘You’ve got to get on the roll; you’ve got to get out there and vote.’ That is a fine thing. That is the way it should be. But to say that it was somehow the intention of the Howard government to prevent a whole range of young people from enrolling to vote is something I reject and regard as false. It naturally follows—and this argument has been made many times—that when you call an election you ought to prevent anybody seeking to engage in obtaining a large number of enrolments for anybody’s benefit for any reason. The roll ought to be consistently maintained and up to date and there ought not to be a penalty against those who maintain a correct enrolment at all times versus those who do not. If we are to be serious about future electoral measures and ensure we identify who voters are at polling booths, and if we are to have a system that has integrity and is above manipulation, then of course ensuring that the cut-off for people to enrol to vote prior to an election is not open to manipulation is something that is common sense.

The measures within this particular bill, seeking to close the roll seven days after the issue of writs in particular, goes back to that system which allows for that attempt at manipulation. I do not see that it disenfranchises young people at all. The member for Melbourne Ports had an odd construction on young people—that they do not have an interest in politics or voting. This is fairly typical of a Labor member of parliament’s approach to individualism. Every individual is different. Some young people have a passionate approach to politics, some have less passionate approach to politics and some have a combination. That is a matter for the individual. However, the electoral law requires that everybody over the age of 18 be on the electoral roll at their principal place of residence. We know that many people—in particular, young people—do not comply with that law in Australia. We ought not say that, if a person chooses not to comply with the electoral law, somehow they are worthy of an extension rather than all of those young people who go and take great care to maintain their enrolment from the day that they are able to enrol.

I find the government’s argument in relation to this odd. Yes, of course we want participation in our democracy. It is something that we all want to see in our democracy: greater participation and young people being enthused about politics and parliament. But it is not appropriate to say to all of those people who have correctly enrolled, ‘Now we are going to add an extension period for those who have not correctly enrolled.’ This is not for people who turn 18 within the extra week between the issue of the writs and the close of the rolls; this is not to get around a whole bunch of people who have been unfairly cut off from information or denied knowledge of our electoral system. In today’s society the opportunity for young people to enrol is the same as any age group. We should take measures to encourage all young people to be on the electoral roll and maintain the correct electoral enrolment, as we do all of our citizens.

The second measure that is quite difficult for the opposition to support is the removal of the requirement for declaration voters to produce identification. These are things we have always opposed. We have always supported the requirement for declaration voters to produce identification. Coalition members on the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters have rejected these proposals on the basis that we believe they substantially reduce the integrity of the electoral roll. I note that the member for Melbourne Ports also spoke to the Senate’s desire to ensure that voters’ signatures were matched by the divisional returning officers in the Electoral Commission. He reflected on the Senate’s will in that regard. We do not know what will happen in the other place yet except that there are proposals to amend this particular provision to ensure that there is matching of signatures. That reflects not just that this is a concern of the Liberal Party and the National Party but that there is concern on the crossbenches and in other places that, if you are casting such a vote, the simple requirement that it be identified and verified adds that integrity that the member for Melbourne Ports was speaking about—but then, of course, he argued that we do not need it in this case. We would support any move to strengthen the integrity of the electoral system, particularly those around a greater identification of provisional voters.

I also want to record at this point that I certainly support greater measures in relation to the identification of voters at polling booths, particularly photo identification. Societies like the HS Chapman Society, who have many times approached me about matters that they are concerned about, have highlighted cases over the years where it could be demonstrated that there was untoward activity in our electoral system. In a society like ours, when you go to hire a video you have to produce photo identification and verification of your finances and your place of residence. Simple activities require the highest form of identification and yet for perhaps one of the most sacred parts of our democratic system, the right to vote, we do not require even the most basic level of identification at the point of voting. That is a very difficult thing for us to continue with into the future. Of course, in older democratic societies in ancient times the numbers of people were much smaller. People and families were more readily identifiable because of the system and the nature of our societies. In our complex and distant modern societies, where technology is often the prime motivator and mover in our society, it is not unreasonable to argue that technology should be used to enhance democracy so that we all have complete and utter faith in our system going forward.

There are other parts of these bills that can be supported. In particular, there are plenty of non-controversial features in the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2010, including a move towards a more digital system of records management within the Australian Electoral Commission. It is similar to what I have been talking about in terms of the greater use of technology. This is the argument that I am making. Certainly in some of these bills, particularly the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill, there is this trend towards digital records and standardising practices in the management of the electoral roll—using technology in a way that will help us verify and make the process of voting simple, accessible and legitimate. They are things that we all in this place would seek to do.

There is a measure within this bill, however—the seventh measure, the provisions for homeless voters—the objective of which I find a little bit lost. The worthy nature of some of the intent behind this particular measure is lost in its actual application within this bill. There are concerns about item 9. The implication of this is that there would be no practical provision to ever remove an itinerant elector from the roll. We argue that you cannot do a habitation review on a homeless person. Under the current system, if a homeless person is unable to vote or does not vote in one election then they are removed from the roll. Under this provision, the repeal of 96(9)(a), you would see the situation where that would not happen and a homeless person would continue to remain on the roll, even though they had not voted, which would create a separation and a difference with other voters.

It just seems odd to me. Of all the priorities and problems that a homeless person would have—in particular, legitimate priorities such as the need for shelter and food, which are things that we ought to do more about in this place—this is really a lower order priority and an oddly designed measure. These are the sorts of things where partisanship ought not apply. We have a difficulty with this because it separates these particular voters from other voters. This is where more bipartisanship could produce a better result that all sides of the House could support.

There are more minor technical amendments within that particular bill that are easy to support, but, in general, the fact that we have this suite of bills before us today is regrettable. It is regrettable that we cannot all support electoral reform. Electoral legislation is a legitimate function of government. Some would argue that a prime function of parliament in a democratic society is to administer the electoral system and do it in a fair way, beyond partisan politics, and with integrity. I am happy to support some of the bills, as I outlined, but I have grave concerns about many of the measures contained in other bills, which we will oppose.

The ability of a third party to collect postal vote applications has been changed in what is the most unworthy measure within the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2010. This goes to the heart of the partisan nature of this legislation and to the breakdown of any agreement in relation to this. The Labor Party has seen that one side has an advantage. It is not an advantage that is in the legislation itself. It is not an advantage that exists because of a law. It is just an advantage because of the construct of the Liberal and National parties. Unions are an advantage for the Labor Party—but we do not outlaw unions, because they conduct a legitimate and proper activity in a free society. So is the behaviour of collecting postal votes on behalf of people, to lodge with the Electoral Commission. It is not a process that the government maintains is open to corruption or fraud. It is not a process that it suggests has been misused. But the government is now seeking to bypass that system, purely for partisan advantage—underscoring what has happened in relation to these bills and why we have this cognate debate today. With those grave concerns and rejecting those measures which would undermine the integrity of the system, I conclude my speech on these bills today.