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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 2078


Mr CRAIG KELLY (12:43 PM) —I rise to speak on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Enrolment and Prisoner Voting) Bill 2010. I support the comments of the members for Mackellar and Brisbane and those of my very good friend and neighbour, the member for Cook. This bill proposes to make a number of very undesirable changes to our electoral laws. All Australians have rights and freedoms, which they can rightfully expect to have unhindered access to. These include freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of movement along with the right to shelter, to food, to health care and, of course, the democratic right to vote for their representatives. These rights must be steadfastly defended at all times. They must be defended by laws, and sometimes they must even be defended at the point of a gun.

But for every right that we have in our society there is an equal and corresponding obligation. However, firstly, there are circumstances when this right to vote is forfeited, particularly in cases where one has broken the standards that a democratic society has agreed to live by. Secondly, we must balance the right to vote by ensuring the integrity of our electoral system and protecting it from the risk of fraud, as the integrity of the electoral system protects our democracy. Those who offend against the common good and those who have been sentenced to prison for one year or more have shown that they have no respect for the community and, therefore, they have forfeited their right to contribute to the governance of our society. The temporary suspension of the voting rights of criminals symbolises the community’s disgust for their acts. The temporary suspension sends a strong signal of the community’s revulsion at those who commit such crimes.

However, it is hardly surprising that, with Labor’s voter base in freefall, in a desperate attempt to enlist a few more voters, this government seeks to amend our electoral laws through this bill to give armed robbers, child pornographers, paedophiles and a variety of villains and common criminals the right to vote. This is at a time when the public is concerned about the decline of community standards, our ineffective laws and the need for harsher sentences. The coalition amendment seeks to enshrine in our law that, when someone is found guilty of committing a serious crime against an individual or our community and they are sentenced to imprisonment for one year or more, further freedoms should be temporarily restricted—namely, the right to vote.

To protect the integrity of our electoral system we must have an orderly, transparent process under which citizens enrol to vote. Back in 2004, a report by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters noted:

… the current close of roll arrangements—

which at the time was seven days after the issue of the writs—

present an opportunity for those who seek to manipulate the roll to do so at a time where little opportunity exists for the AEC to undertake the thorough checking required ensuring roll integrity.

To the argument that there was no proof of electoral fraud sufficiently widespread to warrant any action, the joint standing committee said it ‘missed the point’ and that it was important that steps should be taken to prevent the opportunity for fraud. Therefore, following the recommendations of the joint standing committee and after a further recommendation of the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee, amendments were effected to the Electoral Act that provide that a claim for enrolment made after 8 pm on the date of the writ for an election would not be considered until after the close of polling at the election. There are no legitimate reasons to change these provisions. The member for Melbourne referred to the High Court decision on this issue, but what he did not mention is that when this question came before the High Court it was deeply divided with a four-three split decision. The current provisions get the balance right between the right to vote and the protection of the integrity of our electoral system, and therefore they also protect our democracy.

The Electoral Act provides both a right and an obligation to all citizens. As with every right we have in our society, there is also a corresponding obligation. Section 101 of the Electoral Act provides an obligation on all citizens who are entitled to have his or her name placed on the roll to do so within 21 days. This bill seeks to give special allowance to those who have failed to comply with their obligations with regard to enrolment under the Electoral Act and it does so at the risk of undermining the integrity of our electoral system. Therefore, I cannot support this.

To ensure fair and free elections, we must have the integrity of our electoral roll and our electoral system. The intent behind the coalition amendments is to strengthen our democracy and our electoral process and to safeguard against electoral fraud. Our democracy is something we must never, ever take for granted. It is something that we must be ever vigilant to protect. Fair and competitive elections are the bedrock of democratic government. Fair and competitive elections are the essential mechanisms for providing public accountability, transparency and representation. Fair and competitive elections give ordinary citizens the opportunity to choose those who govern and to express their views on critical issues facing their community or nation. However, one of the greatest threats to democracy and fair and competitive elections is electoral fraud—conduct outside the spirit of electoral laws or in violation of the principles of democracy.

Acts of electoral fraud include the destruction or invalidation of ballots, vote buying, gerrymandering, ballot rigging, misrecording of votes, the dissemination of false or misleading information designed to alter votes, illegal voter registration, voter intimidation and tampering with ballots. But all election fraud has one thing in common: it is designed to affect the outcome of an election by dishonesty. We must take all types of electoral fraud seriously as electoral fraud reduces voters’ confidence in our democracy. Even the perception of electoral fraud can be damaging as it makes people less inclined to accept election results and creates a distrust of politicians and the political process, and that undermines our democracy. That is why the coalition seeks to amend this bill.

In recent years we have seen examples of electoral fraud around the world, including in countries such as Nigeria, Iraq and Zimbabwe, where those in government use dishonest means to cling to power. However, I am very sad to say that the Australian nation now joins the sorry list of countries that have been victims of electoral fraud. On the eve of the last election, we had both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer disseminating false and misleading information on the carbon tax in order to affect the outcome of the election. Those 11 now infamous words uttered by the Prime Minister on the eve of the election, ‘There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,’ will go down in history.


Mr Dreyfus —Mr Deputy Speaker, there has to be some attention to relevance.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Sidebottom)—There is no point of order.


Mr CRAIG KELLY —This bill addresses the issue of electoral fraud—how else could one describe the dissemination of such false and misleading information? The dissemination of false or misleading information designed to alter votes is no different from other acts of fraud, such as tampering with ballots or illegal voter registration, which coalition amendments to this bill seek to guard against. Put simply, the Prime Minister shamelessly lied to the Australian people just to win an election. All Australians should feel aggrieved by this act of gross betrayal. For the Australian electorate this is not only an unprecedented breach of faith; the dissemination of such blatantly false and misleading information is an act of electoral fraud.

If the Prime Minister wishes to punish working families with a carbon tax, if she wishes to punish them for driving a car, if she wishes to punish them for turning on the heater in winter or the air conditioning in summer, she owes it to our democracy and to those who have fought to protect it to call an election and seek a mandate from the people. If this Prime Minister seeks to punish small business with this carbon tax, if she seeks to push up people’s electricity bills and freight costs, she owes it to our democracy and those who have fought to protect it to call another election and seek a mandate from the people.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! Member for Hughes, I really am tolerant of a fairly wide range of things and I have given you an opportunity. I would remind you, and all members of the House, of the legislation before us, and I would ask you to be as relevant as possible, please.


Mr CRAIG KELLY —Bills such as the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Enrolment and Prisoner Voting) Bill 2010 and the amendments proposed by the coalition are all but meaningless while we have a Prime Minister who is prepared to commit election fraud to retain power.


Mr Dreyfus —Mr Deputy Speaker, you have drawn the attention of the member to the need to achieve some level of relevance to the bill that is before the House. This bill clearly deals with two procedural amendments—


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —So the point of order is on relevance?


Mr Dreyfus —It is.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Thank you. I would remind the member for Hughes, before I call him to continue his contribution, that I have asked people to be moderately relevant to what is in this bill in order to enlighten those who might be listening to or reading this debate. I have asked you if you would return to being a little bit more specific about the legislation before us. I will apply that on both sides. I do ask you again to take that into account.


Mr CRAIG KELLY —This bill proposes a number of undesirable changes to our electoral laws, and I oppose them.