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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 2066

Mr DANBY (11:51 AM) —I wish the member for Mackellar’s arguments were as elegant as the way she is normally dressed when she comes into this House. They are not. What she describes as political, in my view, is clearly ethical. We have a compulsory voting system in Australia. The problem facing the Australian Electoral Commission and any democrat in Australia is the fact that 2.5 million Australians did not participate in the electoral system by not voting at the last election. That is an absolute scandal as far as democracy is concerned in this country, particularly given the fact that we have a compulsory voting system. Fewer and fewer Australians are participating in our democracy because of all of the kinds of traps that we have set deliberately and inadvertently for them which sees that they are excluded.

The integrity of the roll cited by the member for Mackellar is a code word for the determination of the opposition—the Liberal Party—to see that a non-evidence based proscription of people from voting excludes various categories of people. No evidence was adduced during the entire period from 1998 to 2006, when I was on the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters, that there was any substantial democratic violation of the integrity of the roll. The member for Mackellar referred to people enrolling in marginal seats. This is absolute piffle. Between 1990 and 2001, for instance, there were six electoral events—one of them a referendum and five elections. At those six events there was a total of 72 million votes recorded. The Australian Electoral Commission found that there were 72 proven cases of electoral fraud in that entire period of time—one per million. This is not the evidence on which to exclude large swathes of Australian people who are meant to be involved in a compulsory and democratic voting system—or attendance system it would be better referred to because you do not have to vote; you have to attend the elections and have your name crossed off.

The main purpose of this Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Enrolment and Prisoner Voting) Bill 2010 is to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 as to fix the seventh day after the issuing of the writs as the date of the close of the roll, to reinstate the constitutionally mandated right for prisoners serving less than a three-year term of imprisonment while excluding those whose term of imprisonment is three years or longer and to provide that all prisoners otherwise eligible can remain on or join the electoral roll.

The basis of the government’s policy commitment stems in part from the recommendation on prisoner voting made by the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters in its June 2009 inquiry into the conduct of the 2007 election. The proposed changes in this bill regarding prisoner voting amends section 98AA of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 so that it stipulates that prisoners serving a term of imprisonment for three years or more cannot vote in the House of Representatives and Senate elections. This provision would replace the current unconstitutional provision in which the legislation seeks to prevent anyone serving any term of imprisonment from voting.

Turning to the early closure of the roll, the member for Mackellar made a great deal of the fact that there were only 100,000 people at the 2007 election who missed out on getting their vote. The first principle is that we have a compulsory voting system. The fact that they missed out is the disgrace, not that there were only 100,000 of them. The reason for the drop was, of course, people had a much shorter time to apply; therefore, fewer of them did it. The advertising and the desire of the Australian Electoral Commission to efficiently enrol people has taken place at every election, including all of the elections between 1996 and 2007, at which the present opposition lost government. Worse, these categories of people that it sought to exclude in 2006 quite legitimately elected it previously.

The member for Mackellar is right: those of us who have a democratic ethos of including every possible Australian are going to be looking at issues of provisional voting and trying to include all of the people that were so unfairly excluded, including people whose names were on the electoral roll. That’s right! Thousands of people whose names were on the electoral roll were excluded from voting at the last elections by the malevolent legislation introduced by the Liberal Party in 2006 for the 2007 election.

This bill seeks to overturn the unconstitutional legislation invalidated by the High Court and introduced by the coalition in 2006. It proposes to change the date for the close of the rolls from the third working day after the writs are issued to the seventh day after the writs are issued. The government remains committed to reversing the Howard government’s unfair changes to the Electoral Act, which close the rolls immediately after the issuing of the writs, which I have repeatedly pointed out particularly affects younger people—deliberately so in my view. Their legislation requires photo ID for people wishing to enrol, to change their details or to pass a provisional vote.

The thing that I find the most outrageous and egregious about these previous changes is that the previous government was elected at all of the elections between 1996 and 2004 on the previous system. With all of these votes they did not claim after any of those elections that this was undemocratic and that it should have not been elected because of these outrageous people who were enrolled under the very sensible provisions that we then had in the Electoral Act. The coalition was quite properly elected—although, as the member for Mackellar pointed out, if the provisional voting changes that they made in 2006 had not been in effect Labor probably would have won four more seats at the 2007 election. This obviously would not have affected the overall result, as we won anyhow, but it just shows that changes to provisional voting can actually affect results in seats. I would argue that it was done deliberately so, perhaps not by the member for Mackellar, who was not behind all of this or aware of all of the nuances, but the categories of people that were excluded are identified by all of the psephologists as people who would vote either Labor or Green at a margin of 60 to 65 per cent. So you can understand that, if there was a political intent in these changes, it was designed deliberately to exclude categories of voters who might disproportionately vote for forces that were not part of the now opposition.

As a member of the Joint Committee on Electoral Matters from 1998 until 2010, I was astounded when, during an inquiry into the 2004 election, coalition members claimed that these changes were necessary to prevent false enrolments. This was despite the fact that the Australian Electoral Commission had testified that there was no problem with false enrolments in Australia. The measures introduced by the previous government to prevent and suppress voters, especially young voters, were undertaken on the basis of no evidence. It is outrageous to think that those on the other side of the aisle do not support legislation that seeks to amend the disenfranchisement of Australian citizens. It is shocking that for so long the coalition has been able to get away with denying Australian citizens the right to vote. The coalition’s atrocious legislation of 2006 has prevented young people in Australia and many others from having their say in who represents them in this chamber.

If we look at what occurred at the last election, in 2010, we will see that, as a result of this suppression of Australian citizens’ right to vote, there exists a democratic deficit in our electoral system. Looking at the statistics of those who did not cast a valid vote at the last election, 2.5 million Australians were affected. Even if the member for Mackellar were theoretically concerned about false enrolments—for which she cited no evidence, of which the Electoral Commission said there was no evidence and evidence of which she and her associates have not been able to produce in this House—she would at least, if she wanted to be taken seriously, have to balance it against the fact that 2½ million Australians did not participate in the last election. Surely that is the act of a responsible person in this parliament.

Of the 2.5 million Australians, 1.4 million were not enrolled, 729,000 were enrolled but did not show up, 400,000 cast informal ballots and 166,000 provisionals thought they had cast a valid vote but were excluded. Out of 15 million people of voting age, one in six Australians had no say at the last election. That is a disgrace. This legislation is the beginning of an attempt by this government to see that the majority of Australians are enfranchised. I am very pleased to see that the democratic ethos that informs our views on this has begun with these moves by the Special Minister of State. I strongly support them, I am sure the Australian people will support them and I know this House will support them.