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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 5371

Mr NEUMANN (7:17 PM) —I speak in support of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010, theElectoral and Referendum Amendment (Pre-poll Voting and Other Measures) Bill 2010, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2010 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (How-to-Vote Cards and Other Measures) Bill 2010. I spoke earlier on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010. It is interesting, because those opposite are railing against so many of the provisions of this legislation. They are in favour of some modernisation, but conservatives, generally, have been opposed to the opening up of rolls which would allow people from all strata of life to vote. Conservatives through the Western world have always opposed that.

For much of the history of Australia, from settlement onward, we were in a situation where the average person could not vote. It was only from the beginning of the 20th century that we saw a situation where the average Australian could cast a ballot at a local, state or federal election. It was often without the requirement of a property franchise and often without the requirement of ensuring that the person was of the male gender. Women were not allowed to vote throughout much of Australia’s history as a colony and also at the beginning of Federation. Universal suffrage for adults was not something that conservatives in this country universally supported. I am pleased to say that it is likely those opposite would now support the idea of universal adult suffrage, but it has not always been the case. Conservatives in this country have been opposed to many reforms, when it comes to electoral outcomes.

I come from the great state of Queensland, where the National Party, in particular, and the Liberal Party made gerrymandering and electoral maladministration an art form—where votes in rural areas had four times the value as votes in cities. With respect to this legislation before the House—

Mr Robert —Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order, with regard to standing order No. 90, relating to reflection on members. The member is saying that rural members on this side of parliament gerrymandered votes by 400 per cent. To say that that is outrageous does not even come close!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms S Bird)—The point of order has been made. The member will resume his seat. Firstly, I would point out that the member was talking about a different parliament and not this parliament and, secondly, I would point out that this is a normal process of debate. There is no point of order.

Mr NEUMANN —The coalition is always sensitive about this particular matter. The LNP in Queensland is particularly sensitive about this because of the zonal system that they introduced. At one time Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen was elected with 18 per cent of the primary vote. That is the extent to which they are involved in this process, so it is a bit hard to cop lectures from those opposite when it comes to alleged rorting. In 1983 we had dead people voting in elections when certain Liberals changed their enrolment—they ceased to be Liberals and became Nationals, to give Joh Bjelke-Petersen a majority. The truth is that, historically, in Queensland the coalition has made an art form of electoral rorting. That is the truth.

There is a bit of history to this and to what we are trying to address today. Let us have a look at the history. In 1996, the Howard coalition were elected to be the government of this country. They were re-elected in 1998 and again in 2001 and again in 2004. During that period, we did not see some great inquiry into electoral rorting or something like the Cole commission into this particular aspect of electoral law. What happened was that when they got control of the Senate they opportunistically changed the law to advantage them electorally. They closed enrolments early and made sure that proof of identity would be required in relation to provisional voting. Why was that? We have heard the perceptions and worries of the member for Fisher and the member for Mitchell over there about what will go on if we change these laws. You would think that since the seven-day closure of roll provision came in there had been some flurry of people giving false names and falsely enrolling. There is not a scintilla, a jot or an iota of evidence that that is the case. The truth is that the Howard coalition government opportunistically changed the laws with respect to this—changed the electoral process—to advantage them. Why did they do this? The truth is that history shows that provisional voting favours the Labor Party.

The amendments in these bills are important. But it is important to get to the reality of this. In 2004, the total two-party-preferred vote for Labor nationally was about 47.3 per cent. For provisional voting, the total was 53.5 per cent. In 2007, the two-party-preferred vote nationally for Labor was about 52.7 per cent. For provisional voting, the total was 60.9 per cent. You can see that, if they could reduce the number of people voting provisionally, it would advantage them. That is the truth. They knew that was the case. That is why they set about reducing the number of people who could vote provisionally. There was a reduction of 73 per cent in the number of people who could vote provisionally. Putting proof of identity provisions in the legislation was about advantaging the coalition electorally.

In the Blair electorate—my electorate—in south-east Queensland, in 2004, when I was a candidate, there were 483 provisional votes cast. When it became more difficult for those with disadvantage, those who are poor and those who may be itinerant to cast their vote—when they put in place obstacles and barriers to democratic participation—provisional votes went down from 483 in 2004 to 99 in 2007. What they were concerned about, obviously, was the high level of Labor voters voting provisionally.

So let us not have all this self-righteousness and sanctimony that we hear from those opposite on this matter. Somehow you would think that the Electoral Commission would not be able to cope. It was able to cope with a seven-day provision in 1996, in 1998, in 2001 and in 2004. What was the problem? They did not seem to have any concern then. But they changed it for their electoral advantage. Let us tell the honest truth about this: that is what they did it for. When they are over there complaining about what we are doing here, they are just whingeing, moaning and carping while trying to disadvantage people who want to exercise their democratic right to vote and participate in representative democracy but who cannot do so because those opposite are putting barriers in place. That is what this is about. That is what they are trying to do.

We Australians are a socially mobile group. One in five people, according to the Electoral Commission, changes their residential address in the three years between federal elections. That means that they move. Anyone knows that, when people move to a new estate or move house, one of the last things that they think of doing is changing their enrolment. They change their electricity account details; they change their licence details; they change their details for their doctor, dentist or accountant; they stop the newspapers being delivered to their old place. But electoral enrolment is often the last thing that they think of.

You will see, for example, huge areas of new estates across South-East Queensland—and we get these things from Electrac. There is one particular part of my electorate in which there are new houses going up everywhere. There are 256 people on the electoral roll in this CCD, the suburb of Springfield Lakes in my electorate, which is being redistributed to the electorate of Blair. I had a mobile office there the weekend before last. There are houses everywhere—hundreds and hundreds of houses. There are many new people coming into the area. Obviously, the number of enrolments is not keeping up with the number of people moving to that estate—that is clear.

If you do not think that that is the case with respect to South-East Queensland, you should have a look at the redistribution figures. In 19 February 2009, the quota was struck for redistribution. Queensland beat New South Wales in the State of Origin, and we will do it again on Wednesday night, and we beat them in the Electoral Commission: they lost a seat to us. We go up to 30 seats and New South Wales goes down to 48 at the next election. That is based on population. That is what the Electoral Commission looks at: the ABS data from different states. It looks at the population 13 months after the recall of parliament after the election. Queensland needed to get an extra seat and New South Wales needed to go down.

The interesting thing is that enrolments are not matching population growth. That is why it is important that these provisions go ahead. The quota struck in New South Wales for the 48 seats was 94,353 electors. In Queensland, it was only 88,343, which justified the increase in seats. Clearly, enrolment is not matching. That is the evidence that was given to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. At the 2007 federal election, more than two million of the 13.3 million votes were early votes. There were 1.1 million pre-poll votes and 830,000 postal votes.

The interesting thing in relation to all of that was the number of people who did not cast a ballot or were not on the roll. One of the things that was clear was that there were about 1.2 million Australians who should have been on the roll but were not. So those who are on the roll are deciding to cast their vote early, and that is an increasing trend with prepoll, postal and provisional votes, but the enrolment is not catching up with the growth in population, particularly in states such as Queensland. Socially mobile Queenslanders who should be on the roll are not. Giving people the opportunity when the election is called to think, ‘I’d better change my enrolment—I’ve just moved into Springfield Lakes where I’ve built myself a new house, so that’s a good idea to get on the roll,’ is a sensible reform that will increase the participation of Australians in the electoral process. I cannot see how that could possibly be about trying to rort the system. I cannot see how, with the Australian Electoral Commission universally accepted as an institution of integrity and real competence and effectiveness, that could possibly be considered to be Labor trying to undermine the electoral process. I think it is really about participation. It is about improving the situation for Australians.

Senator Joe Ludwig, the Cabinet Secretary and Special Minister of State, issued a press release on 2 June 2010 in which he said:

These bills remove a range of barriers which currently make it unnecessarily difficult for citizens to exercise their democratic right to vote.

Sure, there are some modernisation provisions. Sure, the legislation addresses issues in relation to the circumstances in the recent South Australian state election. I think the provision which aims to ensure that electors know on whose behalf a how-to-vote card has been distributed is an important reform. People want to know, when they go to the ballot box and are given a how-to-vote card, who is giving them that card and on whose behalf it is being offered. That is important.

The significant change to modernise enrolment arrangements and reduce the age of provisional enrolment from 17 to 16 years is a good thing. As members of parliament we go to citizenship ceremonies in our electorates all the time and see the AEC fulfilling their role by getting new Australians on the electoral roll. But we also see them at speech nights and graduation ceremonies at high schools and in shopping centres across the whole country taking steps to ensure that young people get on the roll. Young people often do not get on the roll until an election is called. They are often motivated to do so because they realise it is the first time they can cast a vote. Not every person over the age of 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 or even over the age of 18 years is a political junkie like most of us here in this parliament, who live and breathe and die by politics and are interested in it all the time. They are interested when an election comes around and they have a chance to exercise their democratic right to vote. On a number of occasions I have seen young people come to the ballot box with a camera and ask someone to take a picture of them outside the polling booth because they are casting their vote for the first time. They see that as an important rite of passage, like getting a drivers licence or graduating from high school. It is important for young people to be able to do that, so anything that allows and encourages young people to get on the roll to vote is important. The seven-day grace provision is important in that regard.

What we need to do in this country is increase our citizenship and civic responsibility education. That is very important. I think we are failing in that. I do not think we have adopted what I would consider a 21st century response to making sure our citizens choose to participate the way they should. We need to take steps to encourage our young people to be involved in this. The facts are that the seven-day period allowed hundreds of thousands of people to re-enrol. They were not able to do so because of the Howard government’s cut-off provisions which guillotined the franchise straight after an election was called.

I think these provisions restore integrity to the electoral process. They rid the electoral process of unnecessary barriers to people participating. They get rid of many of the burdens and irregularities and difficulties that people face in a very socially mobile country like Australia. The range of measures we are bringing in here are important to modernise our response. Keeping enrolment up to date is critical in a democracy. I applaud the AEC for the work they do, but there is more to be done. These reforms are important from the first point to the last. It is a disgrace, in my opinion, that the coalition cannot fully support every single one of them.