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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5498


Mr RAMSEY (11:25 AM) —I rise to address the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (How-to-Vote Cards and Other Measures) Bill 2010, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Pre-poll Voting and Other Measures) Bill 2010, and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2010. Some of these electoral reforms are good—undoubtedly. Some are bad. I will go first to those that I think offer to improve the Electoral Act.

The acceptance of signatures on postal votes will be met with a considerable amount of pleasure in parts of my electorate—the more remote areas. We have seen in the past, because of the mail system, people receiving their postal voting papers quite late in the process. It might be a week before they get their mail delivered and then it is another week before they turn it around. In one case from the last federal election, I was aware that a vote was posted in the local town on the Thursday evening, but the mail did not go out until the next Tuesday. Australia Post will not postmark mail until the day that it is dispatched from the post office. So that vote became null and void. To accept the signature on the postal vote is a good move forward—for a fairly small section of the community, it must be said, but their votes should be recognised. They are certainly trying to participate in a correct way in the political system.

The attempts in these amendments to address the South Australian election fraud that went on at the last state election are welcome. I know that you, Deputy Speaker Georganas, would be quite well informed on this issue. It was in fact the lowest form of blatant cheating that we have seen in an electoral process for some time in Australia. It is worth noting in the House just what happened on that day. The ALP and members of the ALP actively sought to mislead the public. Election day, 20 March this year, was a beautiful day. I spent all of it in Whyalla, working on various booths to support my local candidate. It was a day that the Family First Party will well remember, for it was a day on which they were about to be deceived in a number of seats within Adelaide—not in the country, it must be said.

ALP supporters wore t-shirts that I will describe. In small letters at the top of their t-shirts they had ‘Put Your’. Then in large letters they had ‘Family First’ in the same blue colours of the Family First support team. What were these people dressed up in these blue t-shirts with the slogan ‘Put Your Family First’ across the front doing? They were handing out how-to-vote cards. Once again, it was the same deal. At the top of the card, in small letters, there was the line ‘Put Your’. Then there was ‘Family First’ in very large letters. These how-to-vote cards expressly directed preferences to the ALP, in total contrast to the correct Family First cards, which actually directed preferences to the Liberal Party. It was a hijacking of votes. In fact, some Family First members rolled up to the booths and saw the workers there working and figured that they were not needed as someone else was doing it—someone that they did not know, but as they were out handing out the Family First material, the real members went home.

Where did these misleading cards come from? They were authorised by M Brown of 141 Gillies Street Adelaide, the address of the headquarters of the Australian Labor Party’s South Australian branch. There was no mention of the Labor Party on the ticket. It did exactly what the designers wanted it to do: it made people think that it was from Family First to steal those second preferences. Respected Flinders University political scientist, Professor Dean Jaensch, described this cheating ‘as the worst example of its kind I have seen in a 40-year career’.

And it was no isolated incident; it was run in four seats. Leon Bignell, subsequently elected in the marginal seat of Mawson, defended his own partner, Sandra De Poi, who handed out the how-to-vote cards in that electorate. Incidentally, De Poi is the Director of WorkCover Corporation and a director of HomeStart. In Hartley, now state cabinet minister Grace Portolesi was not beyond plumbing the ethical depths by employing the same tactics. Tony Piccolo, a once trusted and respected mayor of Gawler, did it too in his northern suburbs seat of Light. All were successful in their respective marginal seats. Lindsay Simmons had a go too in Morialta, but in this case the desperate act went unrewarded when Liberal candidate John Gardner was successful. What a sorry story. It is a Labor Party performance that would have raised an eyebrow even in New South Wales, where we see a new Labor minister resign most weeks. To be fair, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas—and I know you will know these people well—both Chloe Fox in Bright and Tom Kenyon in Newland refused to participate in this great deception, and I say: well done. But we are in a sorry state when we are reduced to congratulating someone for being honest.

South Australian voters were deceived in an election that was largely about trust by a political party that apparently has no moral qualms about duping its way into government. There was a newspaper outrage. For three weeks the Advertiser was full of letters from people totally outraged by this blatant fraud and vowing never to vote for the Australian Labor Party again. I am afraid they will have to wait four more years before they get to pass judgment, but I am sure that if an election were held now the Labor Party would lose in a landslide. The anger is palpable. All I can say to those people, those disappointed people who feel as though their vote was stolen from them, is: have a long memory and remember these actions when you next go to the ballot box.

So the proposals to address this behaviour in the federal arena are to be welcomed—but, seriously, a $1,100 fine? That would be quite a bit of money for an Independent running a $5,000 campaign. For the Australian Labor Party, who will probably have $30 million to spend in the coming election, it is not even insurance money. It was Graham Richardson who said, ‘Whatever it takes.’ If it takes a $1,100 fine, I have no great confidence that will be a sufficient deterrent.

I support the measures in the bill to allow postal votes to be counted as long as the signature date is to be accepted, and I have already spoken about that.

So much for the good in this group of bills. Unfortunately, as I said, it is not all good. The plan to keep the rolls open for another week after the calling of the election is not good process. We are all aware that the Electoral Commission is already overloaded trying to process the number of changes on the electoral roll in any given month, let alone trying to handle the rush that will come with the calling of the election as all those people realise they are not registered in the right electorate or not on the roll at all.

Only a fool would say there is not electoral fraud in Australia. In fact, there was another report from the recent South Australian election, of a family that voted 159 times. The electoral process is for honest people. It works largely just because it works—because people have faith in its integrity and do not cultivate the idea of trying to distort and defraud the process. That is not to say we can accept that all people are honest; unfortunately, there are some who will defraud the system.

The proposed change to the roll closure gives the Electoral Commission a very short time frame in which to get the roll in order, and I do not think there is any real possibility of their being able to properly process the late rush of enrolments that will come in the first week after the calling of the election. You would be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, as I am, that if you report dead mail to the Electoral Commission it takes months to go through the system; it takes much longer to check than a week.

The proposal that ID need not be presented for declaration votes is just absurd. It leaves voting open to easy, organised and non-traceable fraud. It is a green light for those who would defraud the system. After all, you cannot go into any institution like a bank, or even enrol your kids in school or apply for a drivers licence—or apply for anything—without proving who on earth you are. Why would we allow people to just walk in off the street and say, ‘I’m Joe Bloggs,’ as many times as they like without ever having to produce evidence of who they are? Our voting should be taken much more seriously than that. Our commitment to democracy should be taken much more seriously. So we should oppose the roll extension at all costs. No fair-minded citizen would say less.

I am a trusting man. I take what most people tell me at face value. I believe most people conduct their business in good faith. But some behaviour that has been reported to me from recent elections really does test that faith. You would be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, that my electorate has a large remote area and we have a number of mobile polling booths. Interference with how-to-vote material and standover tactics have been reported to me. It lessens my faith in human nature and it certainly lessens my faith in the political process.

That is why we need to make sure that at every opportunity, without being overly invasive of the Australian public, we provide a structure that is credible and cannot be distorted or rorted. The reprehensible behaviour of the Australian Labor Party in the last South Australian election is but the most recent and glaring example, and that party should be ashamed of its performance. Even though the South Australian Electoral Commissioner has said the acts were not illegal, they should be illegal and those responsible should at least be held to account within their own party.

So, as I said at the beginning, there are some good things and some bad things in this brace of amendments, and I will cast my vote accordingly on each section.