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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 5381

Mr BRIGGS (7:58 PM) —I also rise to speak on these 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 (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2010 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (How-to-Vote Cards and Other Measures) Bill 2010. These are very important bills to ensure that our democracy remains strong, that the integrity of our electoral roll remains and that we can continue to have successful and corruption-free elections—and we face one in the very near future.

I think we should be very proud of the system we have built in this country over a long period of time. As Parliamentary Secretary Shorten talked about in his contribution before me, we do have a proud history in Australia of having an electoral system of great integrity. The occasions when election results have been questioned have been very rare; there have of course been some but none were examples of enormous voter fraud, or electoral fraud, in our country. If we compare ourselves to some of our democratic friends, we can be proud of our record. Anyone who is interested in United States history, as many of us in this place are, will remember some examples of questionable results in their past—something we in Australia have not faced, which is a very good thing. We should continue to maintain the integrity of our electoral roll, and I believe very much that we must always protect the roll and our electoral system, especially from weakening it to the point where it can be misused or corrupted in any way. So the bills before this House are very important and we should treat them as such.

It was disappointing, though, that the Rudd government originally decided to introduce bills that combined controversial aspects of electoral reform with non-controversial aspects of electoral reform, a practice which is unusual in this place. It is usual to split the bills. There is some controversy over policy decisions rather than the mechanics of how the electoral roll operates. So it was pleasing that the Rudd government took our advice in the end and split these bills into the four separate bills we are dealing with this evening in this cognate debate.

The main bill, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010, contains the most controversial aspect of the original bill before it was split. The coalition continue to oppose these measures for very good reasons. The government is seeking to overturn the move introduced by the previous government to close the roll at 8 pm on the day the writs are issued. The very good reason we oppose it is that the reform brought in by the previous Howard government has worked, in the sense that it reduced quite significantly—I think by about 40 per cent, from a comparison of the 2004 and 2007 elections—the number of people ‘missing’ from the electoral roll at the election. This is a measure which has worked. It protects the integrity and adds to the strength of our roll, and that is why we will maintain our opposition to the Rudd government trying to overturn this decision. It will put into question the integrity and the accuracy of the roll and it will open up the possibility of fraudulent enrolments in very tight marginal seats. Of course, coming into a very close election like this one will most probably be, we want to ensure that the electoral roll information is absolutely spot-on so that the government has complete legitimacy to make decisions, important decisions—like great big new taxes on mining—when it is elected. So we maintain our very strong opposition to this provision.

We also oppose the reduction in the identification requirements of provisional voters, again to protect the integrity of the roll. We believe very strongly that our system needs a corruption-free electoral roll and we do not support any measures which reduce the protections of that roll and increase the possibility that it can be rorted in any way. So we do not support this measure. Provisional voting is a small subsection of our voting system; however, we think that we need to have not-too-onerous requirements for producing identification. It is something I believe should be added to the system much more broadly. To add an additional strength to our system, we should have much more of a requirement to produce identification to prove who people are. I think it is right and proper, and it gives an additional strength to the electoral roll and its integrity.

We are in large part supporting the second bill, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Pre-poll Voting and Other Measures) Bill 2010. We are in large part also supporting the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2010, summarised as the modernisation bill, except that we do not support the provisions in relation to the postal vote applications going directly back to the AEC. This prevents parties from having the opportunity to add how-to-vote cards or additional material to the postal vote application. This, I think, is an attempt by the Labor Party to reduce a strength of the coalition, which has been to very efficiently and properly process postal vote applications, which means we have done better out of the postal vote system than the Labor Party have. Instead of trying to improve their campaigning systems, the Labor Party are trying to ban us from having that advantage. That is very typical of the Labor Party: where there is an advantage to someone else they will try and ban it; where there is an advantage to them they will try and drive a semitrailer through it—for example, union donations, which of course are so enormous these days that they very much call into question the system itself. I think there was $60 million before the last election, from wholly owned subsidiaries of one section of Australian society. That is a problem I think we have in our electoral system—absolutely something which should be addressed at some point in time.

I think a failing of the Howard government—if I can say that—was that we did not address election funding, we did not address the millions of dollars being spent on election campaigns and we certainly did not address the outrageous campaign contributions by one section of Australian society: the trade union movement, who wholly and solely fund the Labor campaign and their own campaign, which backs up Labor’s as well, with massive amounts of money. We will see that in the coming months as we head into the next election. The Labor Party are in trouble and it will be a very tight election. We will see this Labor Party outspend the coalition by most probably four to one, largely fuelled by the massive union donations they get. The unions do not seek permission from their members to do so; they just hand it straight over to the Labor Party.

We do not support the provisions in the modernisation bill. While we support many of the measures in the bill and agree with bringing a modern approach for the AEC into the system, we do not support the sixth measure in that bill.

The third bill is I guess an attempt by the Labor Party to hide its shame over what it did in the South Australian election. David Nason in the Australian wrote:

Democracy was seriously diminished by this low exercise and those behind it … should feel ashamed.

He wrote that two days after the South Australian election, on 20 March this year. As the House is aware, the Labor Party in key marginal seats got their campaign workers to dress up and act like they were Family First booth workers. Many were shipped in from Queensland and other places. In fact, the partner of one candidate was photographed with this T-shirt on, but he denied that he knew that that actually occurred in his seat of Mawson. The T-shirts were blue, which is the Family First colour, and had printed on them ‘Putting your Family First’, which is the Family First slogan. They handed out false, deliberately misleading how-to-vote cards which had changed the order of the preferences that were to be allocated by Family First. Family First had preferenced the Liberal candidate, but instead the cards preferenced the Labor candidate.

It was an absolute disgrace. The tactic was authorised and endorsed by Michael Brown, the South Australian State Secretary of the Labor Party, so you can bet your bottom dollar that it was endorsed, authorised, supported and encouraged by Premier Mike Rann and the highest levels of the Australian Labor Party. I note that the Australian Labor Party have not ruled out using this tactic federally. The provision in this bill is a weak, insipid response to what was an absolute and utter disgrace. It was the lowest act we have seen in an election for many years, certainly since brown paper bags have been around.

In addition to that you had the tactic of registering with Australia Post the South Australian Leader of the Opposition, Isobel Redmond. They used these low-rent tactics because they were so desperate to hang onto power. They chucked out morality to win. That is the modern Australian Labor Party. They will do anything. They will climb through any sewer and use any tactic they have to to win an election. In this case they were well behind in the lead-up to election day and they used every tactic in their marginal seats to win.

They scraped over the line with less than 50 per cent of the vote. Some people say that that means it is an illegitimate government. I do not agree with that. You need to win 50 per cent plus one of the seats. That is our system. The two-party preferred is an indication about where people want their government to come from; however, that is not our system. Our system is based on how many seats you win. However, I say the Rann government is illegitimate in that it used tactics like the Family First how-to-vote cards. That makes it completely illegitimate. It is an illegitimate government because it defrauded the Australian public. It intended to. It deliberately went about using this absolutely outrageous tactic. This low-rent tactic lowers the level of our democracy.

It should never have come from a major party in this country. Of course, parties on the fringes in this country have in the past done things at polling booths which we would never agree with, but that is what happens when you are a fringe party or a fringe element in our political system. But never before has a major party stooped to such levels, to such low-rent tactics, to slip through and hold onto an election. It is an illegitimate government led by an illegitimate Premier who should go. Of course he will go shortly. It was reported in the Advertiser today that he will be out of the state by Christmas and off to some appointment if the federal Labor Party gets re-elected. You can be sure of that.

This modern Labor Party, who pretend to believe in democracy, will use any tactic and will throw morality out of the door to win an election. I would not be surprised if we see similar tactics used and authorised by their national secretary in the federal election campaign coming up. That is the level the Australian Labor Party have got to. Their response in this bill is so insipid. It is purely public relations media spin to try to appear like they have acted on their own disgraceful behaviour, their own disgraceful tactics, which should never have been endorsed or allowed.

All credit goes to Chloe Fox in Bright. She held on by about 50 or 60 votes in the end. When she got the call from Michael Brown she said: ‘That is too low rent for me. I will not do that. I would rather lose than sell out my principles.’ It is unfortunate that more of those on the other side do not have the strong principles that Chloe Fox did in ensuring that she did not act in that manner. She refused to use that tactic.

The response in this bill in my view is completely insipid. The Labor Party lowered our democracy on the day of the South Australian election. They did it purely to hang onto state government. They did it because they were so desperate to hang on and were so out of touch that the South Australian people wanted them gone that they had to find any way, any gutter to crawl down, to hold onto government, and that is what they did. It makes them illegitimate.

Any Labor Party member who stands up in this place and pretends that they believe in democracy and pretends that they believe in protecting our electoral system, should distance themselves from the tactic used by Mike Rann and his cronies in South Australia. They should also rule out using it later this year because the Labor Party will use any tactic to hold onto government.

Mr Melham interjecting

Mr BRIGGS —It is insipid, member for Banks, and you know that. You know that what they did in South Australia was a disgrace and you would not have agreed with it. It is an absolute and utter disgrace, and this is an insipid response. There should be a much stronger response than this. It should be ruled out completely and your national secretary should rule it out being used this year.

Mr Melham interjecting

Mr BRIGGS —Give me a break—a $1,100 fine would be a union whip-around. This is an insipid response which should be stronger, and that is my very strong view on this. It was a deliberate tactic used at the booth and authorised by the state secretary of the Australian Labor Party, and you can bet your bottom dollar that it was authorised at higher levels than that. We need to see it ruled out before the next election because the Australian Labor Party will use any tactic. We have already seen the campaign start with negative ads about the Leader of the Opposition. It will be a purely personal, negative campaign just as they ran in South Australia and they will crawl along any gutter to hold onto government.

I support moves in this place to protect the integrity of the electoral roll and our electoral system. We have a very proud record in this country. We should be extremely proud of the fact that we are largely corruption-free particularly at federal elections. We have an election nearly upon us, which will be very tightly fought. I believe that one of the great aspects of our democracy is that the government that wins the day will have a mandate and support of Australian people because they trust the result.

I give credit to the AEC for the role that they undertake. It is a difficult role and they need support. There are, of course, always difficult and close ballots and we need to ensure that our electoral roll and our electoral system are very well protected. Acts such as handing out fake how-to-vote cards and dressing up as someone you are not to try and fraud someone else into an election outcome they do not want should never be supported. It should be completely ruled out in this place by both major parties and by those who seek to govern both Australia and the states of our Commonwealth.

In that respect we support some of the moves by this government on some of these bills but we do not support the close of rolls bill. And we certainly think there should be a much stronger response to the outrageous, disgusting tactics used by the South Australian Labor Party.