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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 3550


Mr GRAY (Special Minister of State and Special Minister of State for the Public Service and Integrity) (9:18 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to present the bill, to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Electoral Act) and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 (the referendum act) to implement two decisions of the High Court of Australia and to give effect to two other matters.

The first of the High Court decisions is Rowe v Electoral Commissioner, as decided on 6 August 2010.

This case relates to the period of time before the close of rolls allowed for voters to either ensure that they are on the electoral roll or update their details following the formal issue of a writ for an election.

While the High Court has not yet handed down the reasons for its decision, there is sufficient information to amend the legislation to reflect the High Court’s decision.

The second High Court decision is Roach v Electoral Commissioner, as decided on 30 August 2007, with reasons published on 26 September 2007.

This decision relates to the franchise for people who may be serving a sentence of imprisonment.

Schedule 1 to the bill addresses the Rowe decision and contains amendments relating to the close of rolls.

Schedule 2 to the bill addresses the Roach decision and contains amendments relating to prisoner voting.

In short, the bill will amend the Electoral Act to restore the close of rolls period to seven days after the date of the writ for a federal election and will reinstate the previous disqualification for prisoners serving a sentence of imprisonment of three years or longer from voting at a federal election.

In effect, the last two decisions of the High Court reversed amendments made to the Electoral Act in 2006, to alter the arrangements in relation to the close of rolls and prisoner voting, and restored the arrangements that applied before these amendments.

Consequential amendments to the referendum act will also need to be made to ensure consistency between the two acts.

In this context, a referendum is the formal constitutional amendment process, set out in section 128 of the Australian Constitution.

Two other matters are also addressed by the bill.

First, on 22 June 2009, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters tabled its report, entitled Report on the conduct of the 2007 federal election and matters related thereto.

The bill seeks to implement the government’s response, of 18 March 2010, to recommendation 47 of the committee’s report.

The amendments would ensure that while prisoners serving a sentence of imprisonment of three years or longer will be disqualified from voting, they may, during this period of disqualification, remain on, or be added to, the electoral roll.

Remaining on the electoral roll will ensure that a prisoner who has served his or her sentence does not have to enrol for a second time, and will, in part, assist the prisoner’s transition back into Australian society.

Second, the bill includes an interpretative provision to ensure that certain references in the Electoral Act to ‘an election for a division,’ or similar expressions, can operate in the event of a half-Senate election held independently from an election for the House of Representatives.

This addresses an anomaly in the Electoral Act.

This bill, though narrow in its scope, is important.

In my view, it is appropriate for the parliament to respond to these two decisions of the High Court of Australia to ensure that the Electoral Act reflects the current state of the law. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Ms Gambaro) adjourned.