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Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Page: 5385


Mr MELHAM (8:17 PM) —I rise to support the four electoral 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 before the House this evening that are being dealt with together. I am pleased that it looks like the opposition will be supporting three of those bills with some qualifications. I look forward to the amendments coming from the opposition in relation to the how-to-vote bill.

The member for Mayo correctly summarised my position. I do not condone what happened in South Australia; I condemn it. Indeed, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which I chair, is undertaking a reference into that matter which was sent to it from the Senate. We will not be pulling our punches in relation to that. It is in the interests of all parties that we have some integrity in the system and that those sorts of events are not allowed to occur again. If the opposition has amendments that they believe can strengthen this bill, I suggest to them that they place those amendments before the Special Minister of State so that they can be looked at.

In relation to the pre-poll voting and other measures bill and the modernisation and other measures bill I understand from what members opposite say that they are broadly supportive. Those bills arise from unanimous recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. We looked at a lot of those issues as a committee and there were a number of unanimous recommendations. I want to point out a couple in particular to the House which are to do with pre-poll voting and other measures. In the second reading speech it was pointed out that the amendments followed our inquiry and will:

  • modernise enrolment processes to enable electors to update their enrolment details electronically;
  • allow the Australian Electoral Commission (the AEC) to manage its workload more efficiently by enabling enrolment transactions to be processed outside the division for which the person is enrolling;
  • enable prepoll votes cast in an elector’s ‘home’ division to be cast and counted as ordinary votes; and
  • provide a legislative framework for people who are blind or who have low vision to cast an independent and secret vote.

They are amendments to the act that all sides can support, and I anticipate that support to be forthcoming from the opposition. In relation to the bill on modernisation and other measures, that bill:

  • repeals redundant provisions;
  • gives the Electoral Commissioner flexibility rather than prescription; and
  • places more technological tools at the Australian Electoral Commission’s (AEC) disposal so that the AEC can continue to deliver the best enrolment and election practices.

Again, that comes off some unanimous recommendations. One in particular that I am proud of, which the commission supports and which the committee took up unanimously, is allowing provisional enrolment at the age of 16 rather than 17, thus dropping the age that people can provisionally enrol by 12 months. That will allow people to automatically attain full enrolment on their 18th birthday. Provisional enrolment is voluntary but the beauty of bringing it back to 16—I think this is the sort of enrolment that can take place in the UK—means that electoral officials can actually capture more students while they are at school. They do not get as many at age 17 because they are doing their HSC year at that age.

The commission’s response to provisional enrolment at 16 was very positive and the committee was unanimous. That measure does not favour one party or the other, but people at 16 are, I think, more interested in politics or maybe they are not as cynical as some of those who are 17. Once they are on the roll, if an election comes around and they are 18 you have captured them. The statistics show that enrolment is not as high from the age of 18 all the way through to 25. It is not until you reach the 25-year-old age group that you are getting 95 per cent enrolment. I think this provision is an improvement. I think that this bill is also not contentious.

I turn to the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (How-to-Vote Cards and Other Measures) Bill 2010. It regulates the authorisation of how-to-vote cards to make it clear who will benefit from the preference flow suggested on the how-to-vote card. Secondly, the bill prohibits a person from causing to be printed, published or distributed, including by radio, television, internet or telephone, anything that may mislead or deceive an elector in relation to how to cast a vote. I do not want to repeat the second reading speech, but the conclusion of the second reading speech says:

The government is committed to reducing the potential for voters to be misled and to give voters the means to make informed decisions about voting.

I again repeat my challenge to the members of the opposition: if there are deficiencies in this bill, we should be told about them—we should be told how it can be improved—and not on the day the bill is going to be discussed in the Senate. Come up with some meaningful amendments that the Special Minister of State can have a look at to ensure that what happened in South Australia does not happen federally. I do not intend, as my learned colleague was once captured saying, to be seen to defend the indefensible. What happened was indefensible. It was a cute trick. It might have got people over the line, but it was immoral. It has no place on a continuing basis in our system.

That is why I favour regulation. I do not allow the free market to determine what the parameters should be in these sorts of circumstances. I believe in regulations, tight regulations, so that the system is fair to everyone. Deception should not be part of our electoral system, the system that determines whether a government or opposition wins an election and whether someone wins a seat. I am actually quite proud of our electoral system, and I am quite proud of our Australian Electoral Commission, because I think they are the finest in the world. I support compulsory voting and I support full preferential voting, because 95 per cent of people attend on election day and 95 per cent cast formal votes. That gives credibility to the result at the end of the process.

You only have to have a look at what happened in the United Kingdom recently to see the stalemate they achieved. You had 35 per cent of the vote for the Conservatives, 29 per cent for the Labour Party and 22 per cent for the third force, the social democrats. They now have a coalition government. But when you have a situation like ours, you do not get 60 per cent attendance, you get 95 per cent attendance. You do not want activities such as those which occurred in South Australia to discredit a system—or activities like those in Greenway in 2004. Unknown persons ran a smear campaign that cost the Labor Party the seat of Greenway. In 2007 they were pinged in Lindsay. They were caught and, to his credit, John Howard disowned them at the drop of a hat. He did not defend what they did. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters looked at that situation and we ended up with a unanimous report. We came up with recommendations for the parliament so that those sorts of things do not happen again.

The one bill that I do want to spend a bit of time on—and I know my time will run out shortly—is the close of rolls and other measures bill. It restores the close-of-rolls period to seven days after the issue of the writ for an election and it repeals the requirement for provisional voters to provide evidence of identity. The coalition put forward the age-old chestnut that fraudulent activity is the reason for the measures they put in when in government, measures that disenfranchised many tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands. Let us be clear: under the old system for provisional voting, if you rolled up and your name was not on the roll, you could get a provisional vote and then you signed the envelope. That envelope and signature were then checked against the Australian Electoral Commission’s repository—from when you first enrolled or when you transferred your enrolment from one electorate to another. Signatures were compared in the event of doubt. That is the best proof of identity there is. Instead, the Liberal Party came up with this concoction that you had to produce a licence—and 27,000 people got disqualified. In all the time I have been on the committee—some 12 years out of the 20 that I have served in this place—we have had no evidence at all of wholesale fraudulent activity. Indeed paragraph 3.59 of the report said:

The committee has received no evidence that fraudulent activity was reduced as a result of the amendments to the close of rolls. On the contrary, there is no evidence available that indicates systemic fraudulent activity exists.

It is the same with provisional voting.

A lot of people missed out because of the withdrawal of the seven-day rule. There was a $30-odd million campaign and there was a reduction in the number of people who missed out compared to 2007, but, if ten miss out, if a hundred miss out or if a thousand miss out, that is ten, a hundred or a thousand too many. We have computerisation. Seven days into a 33-day cycle allows the Electoral Commission to produce a roll that can be looked at. We have a more mobile population—young people moving. If you look at the census figures you will see the level of movement. The party that says it is not in favour of red tape introduced red tape to knock people off. At the last election in 2007, you could have had the rolls close on the day the Prime Minister called it. The reason we got three days was that there were public holidays in two states, so there was actually a three-day grace period. That three-day grace period before the close of rolls allowed a lot of people to get on the rolls who otherwise would not have been on them. These were people legitimately tidying up their electoral enrolment. It is red-hot that a system in place since 1983, about which there was no evidence of systemic fraud, was withdrawn, leading to hundreds of thousands of voters being disenfranchised.

Debate interrupted.