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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 2074

Ms GAMBARO (12:28 PM) —I also rise to speak to the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Enrolment and Prisoner Voting) Bill 2010. This bill is part of the government’s broader electoral reform agenda aimed at relaxing the electoral process. Lax enrolment procedures and processes may also lead to ambiguous voting activities and irregularities. This bill comes after a much-publicised campaign by the activist group Get Up! Claire Bongiorno of the Sydney Morning Herald on reported that:

The win by two young members of activist organisation Get Up! that overturned the Howard government’s amendments to the electoral enrolment laws is a great victory for democracy.

That was on 16 August 2010. But this is where I beg to differ. Democracy is about transparency. We talk about transparency in this House, across departments, and across the parliamentary process day in and day out, and that is where GetUp! promotes itself as being independent and non-partisan. But let me outline some of the facts. Our colleague in the other chamber Senator Abetz has been contacted by various members of the GetUp! organisation concerned about their activities. It was revealed on the morning of the poll that six progressive unions had poured more than a million dollars into GetUp!’s coffers in the previous three weeks. GetUp! outlined in the last federal election campaign that their strategy was to expose Tony Abbott as a radical conservative. Lachlan Harris is a founder and former member of GetUp! who then went on to become press secretary to Kevin Rudd. He once said:

… if you are a supporter of, like, conservative governments, is not for you.

They never once criticised Greens leader Senator Brown. Also, the ALP leader in waiting, Mr Bill Shorten, is a past board member.

Having a strong and transparent electoral system is designed to eliminate such ambiguous and misleading activity around election times, and this is paramount when we are ensuring that those voting are legitimate voters, that everything about voting has its legitimacy and that they are not engaged in dubious voting activities. Integrity is a key principle of our Australian electoral system. It is designed to preclude anyone from voting more than once and to preclude voting by persons not qualified to do so.

The ALP have resisted any changes to close loopholes in the act, and I feel that these loopholes can lead to and encourage electoral fraud. Allowing seven days after the issue of the writs for people to enrol seems to me like a great opportunity for potential fraud and threatens the integrity of our roll. The ability to adequately check information—and we know as members of parliament that the Australian Electoral Commission regularly checks enrolments—is, I think, compromised by having that short period for new enrolments during the election period. The AEC is unable to check that. Under the old scheme, to which Labor proposes to return, there were some 520,000 changes to enrolments or new enrolments submitted to the AEC. A return to the old scheme would make it relatively easy for those intent on any fraudulent voting activities to flourish. It just does not give the AEC enough time to check particular enrolments. The voting process is too important to allow loopholes for potential dodgy voting practices to occur.

Enrolment and voting in federal elections was voluntary from 1901, and permanent electoral rolls were established in 1908. Enrolment became compulsory in 1911. My home state of Queensland was the first state to introduce compulsory voting, in 1915. Compulsory voting for federal elections was introduced in 1924 and first used in the 1925 elections, where 91 per cent of the electorate cast a vote. Since this time, we have had improved or increased scrutiny of the electoral roll to ensure that there is absolute integrity of the electoral roll.

It is our view also that, if you are serving a sentence of three years or longer, you are not entitled to enrol or vote. Once released from prison, you are entitled to enrol and vote, and of course we would support this part of the bill, but part of the punishment for a criminal sentenced to prison is to lose their right to vote.

Being able to vote is not only something that a law-abiding citizen is entitled to; it is also a civic duty. I attend so many citizenship ceremonies, as do many of us who are members of parliament, and people who are becoming Australian citizens cannot wait to vote. Yet we have our own citizens that have a responsibility to vote. The member for Deakin said that young people are a bit lax and do not vote because they have other things and they have busy lives. But young people do register for things like youth allowance and Medicare. Why is the basic principle of enrolling to vote any less important than those things? It is much more important, and people have a civic duty.

Elections will produce good governments only if voters act out of the public or greater good and not merely in the hope of gaining an advantage at general expense. It is up to criminals to change their behaviour, not up to us to change our behaviour to modify their behaviour. I think the member for Cook also spoke about that. So it is not up to us to be responsive to their needs, and that is what this bill does. We are becoming responsive to their needs. They have a civic duty and a responsibility to behave in an appropriate manner that would give them a well-deserved vote. So we need to have no regret for that. We need to have no reform in any part of this bill that will give them that right. If that right were important to them, they would not have engaged in the activities that they have done. I think that they really have a civic duty, as all of us have in all areas. When they have repaid their debt to society by serving their particular time, I think they should be given a second chance, and they would be welcomed back and given that second chance. Those who have been detained on remand at home or in periodic detention should still be eligible to be enrolled to vote.

This bill is about the government attempting to relax the electoral process. It also opens it up to potential irregularities. The electoral process should be held in the highest regard by all citizens. For citizens to maintain this esteem, the process needs to maintain its integrity and it needs to maintain its transparency. Behaviours like those that I spoke about by the union-backed GetUp! during the last election do nothing to enhance the integrity or transparency of the electoral process. This bill also concentrates on being able to vote as something that a law-abiding citizen is entitled to do but also a civic duty. Voters should undertake their duty with their best interests and the wellbeing of the nation at heart. That we can vote gives us a right to choose a representative in this parliament and to influence how our country is governed. In return for these rights, all of us have an overriding duty to Australia. We should accept the principles and the civic values of our community.