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Wednesday, 2 March 2011
Page: 2084


Mr CHRISTENSEN (1:09 PM) —While this Labor government is busy wanting to help convicted criminals and the generally apathetic retain their right to vote, people in my electorate are feeling a very deep sense of disenfranchisement from the electoral process. I rise to speak against the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Enrolment and Prisoner Voting) Bill 2010. In looking at this bill, I have to say that it does appear that the government is more interested in the enfranchisement of criminals and the generally apathetic than looking after the enfranchisement of law-abiding citizens, particularly those in my electorate of Dawson. That is a bizarre set of priorities from the government.

People in Dawson are feeling very disenfranchised because of the way that the boundaries of the electorate are drawn. We have people in the southern areas of Townsville who have been lumped in with the people of Mackay and people in Mackay who are living in the same electorate as the people of Rockhampton. I speak to people who are in Mackay who have been lumped into the seat of Capricornia. They tell me that they do not get the representation that they deserve and they never see their federal representative. I visit my constituents in Townsville regularly and they tell me that they want to belong to the federal seat of Herbert so that their community is in the one community of interest, and that is Townsville. I can very much understand that but it seems that the Gillard Labor government do not understand it. Instead, they are more interested in the enfranchisement of prisoners and the apathetic, and that is why this legislation is before this parliament—to ensure that those people get the right to vote. So I am confused about the priorities of the government in relation to electoral reform.

There are some severe problems with this bill. I have a strong view that the High Court actually got it wrong. The Constitution is quite clear in section 44(ii), where it talks about members and senators in this place and the requirements they have to meet in terms of imprisonment and convictions. The disqualification criteria for those people really should align with what is required of voters. It is my firm belief that, if you cannot sit in this place because you have been sentenced for more than a year, you should not be able to vote. If you cannot stand for an election, why should you be able to have a voice, a say, in that election? Section 44(ii) of the Constitution states:

Any person who -

…            …            …

(ii)   … has been convicted and is under sentence, or subject to be sentenced, for any offence punishable under the law of the Commonwealth or of a State by imprisonment for one year or longer …

…            …            …

shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.

With respect to the second part of the bill that the government is putting forward, we on this side have a strong concern with the capacity for electoral fraud. That is something that goes on. It has been documented to have gone on. It is certainly associated with high levels of enrolment activity that occur in the time immediately after an election is called. Looking at our own situation in Dawson, there were literally hundreds of people whose addresses did not match their enrolled address in the electoral in Dawson. That is a concern—and that would be replicated around the nation. It had been a favourite Labor pastime, particularly in North Queensland, to enrol dead people in vacant blocks. This was proved by the Shepherdson inquiry and by investigative journalists such as Bob Bottom. This is something that does go on. To open up a new set of rules that allows that sort of electoral fraud to continue is certainly of concern to me and it would be of concern to many people in this nation.

For all of the talk of disenfranchisement of young people—and I am one of the youngest people in this parliament, along with the member for Longman, on this side—the AEC figures show that under the rules of the Howard government there was a 40 per cent reduction from 2004 to 2007 in the number of people who missed the deadline to enrol. That shows quite clearly that the Howard government legislation was not disenfranchising anyone; in fact, it was helping the situation.

Labor were unable to get that legislative change that they wanted prior to the 2010 federal election in this regard. However, immediately prior to the election, GetUp!—that Labor front masquerading as a political activist group—confected a series of deliberate late enrolments and then appealed to the High Court to have those laws ruled unconstitutional. It must be of major embarrassment for the Labor Party to be connected to this group GetUp!—they are very well financed, this grubby little left-wing group, and they have tentacles that stretch right into the heart of caucus. They should be morally and ethically bound to show where their finances come from, because they get involved in the electoral process. They were handing out GetUp! how-to-vote cards in my electorate, basically advocating that voters vote for Labor or the Greens. And they try to claim that they are completely impartial! Then they have the hide to run campaigns such as the one they are running in Brisbane at the moment where they put up a big billboard and claimed that women are being jailed because of abortion laws in Queensland. No woman has ever been jailed because of abortion laws in Queensland. So these are the kinds of people who are linked to the ALP and who basically pushed it on them to put this legislation up before the House. So that is GetUp! and that is their problem, I suppose.

But I really do want to speak on the real disenfranchisement on which the government should be legislating and which it should be addressing, to do with the community of interest issue that I talked about earlier. The situation in my electorate is akin to someone living in Werribee in the Prime Minister’s electorate of Lalor having their federal member living in Albury, New South Wales, 400 kilometres away. Electoral divisions in the north of Queensland are really that bizarre. How would the Prime Minister’s constituents feel if they were lumped together with the community of Albury in New South Wales? Maybe then we would be here debating a bill that gave greater access to representatives rather than a bill that makes sure prisoners retain their right to vote.

The people living in the southern suburbs of Mackay and Townsville feel as though their new federal electorate boundaries have disenfranchised them—none more so than the former federal member for Herbert, Peter Lindsay, now my valued constituent in the electorate of Dawson, who said in this House in August 2009:

I happen to live in Annandale … Where I live, in the new seat of Dawson, is two kilometres from my electorate office.

That is, the Herbert electorate office.

In fact, it is two minutes and 45 seconds away by car. How bizarre is that!

It certainly is bizarre, because Mr Lindsay lives 400 kilometres away from Mackay and would need to take an 800-kilometre round trip to visit the Dawson electorate office. In fact, there are people living 10 minutes from where I live in the centre of Mackay whose federal representative is a 3½ hour drive—a seven-hour round trip—from where they live. Yet, 4½ hours north, I still have residents in the seat of Dawson.

In his speech back then, Mr Lindsay pointed out that the creation of the federal seat of Flynn in 2007 had caused the seats of Capricornia, Dawson and Herbert to move north, Capricornia being pushed into the southern areas of Mackay in the seat of Dawson. Sarina and Mirani, whose community of interest is with Mackay—and, I would say, the Pioneer Valley as well—are now in the seat of Capricornia and are not being represented effectively. And that is a complaint that I get time and time again from those residents.

The seat of Dawson was pushed right into the southern suburbs of Townsville, where the community of interest is with Townsville, obviously, and not with Mackay. But the AEC, in their infinite wisdom, basically said they were not concerned with that. What they were concerned with was the inclusion of Lavarack Barracks in the Townsville seat of Herbert. They did that because they said there was an affinity and community of interest between these soldiers and those in the garrison city of Townsville. They must have Mr Squiggle employed there because—to cut that out, when suburbs right around it are in Dawson, and to cut the barracks out and put that in with Townsville—that is an interesting boundary! Mr Lindsay did point out that there are many soldiers—probably more soldiers—living in Annandale, which is in the seat of Dawson, than there are living at Lavarack Barracks. So the argument that the AEC put forward there defeats their argument in terms of the boundary alignments.

The situation is the same as in Mackay. I have seen those issues as a local government councillor in a previous life, prior to coming here. As I said, you have got areas of the Mackay region—Sarina, the Pioneer Valley, Walkerston, Plainland—which are just completely disempowered and disenfranchised. They are not represented adequately. They complain about it vigorously. And yet the government does nothing to strengthen the community of interest provisions in the Electoral Act. Instead, we are here talking about enfranchising and empowering criminals. We are talking about helping those who could not be bothered to enrol by giving them extra time to enrol, and allowing a whole heap of problems to happen in terms of electoral fraud. So I would call on the government to immediately legislate to make community of interest the guiding principle in all redistributions that happen from now on, and in fact to look at existing electoral boundaries and question whether they do fit with community of interest.

Labor should be legislating to improve the electoral laws, not trying to empower criminals beyond what is constitutionally required. What about law-abiding electors and their sense of disenfranchisement with the electoral process? How come Labor is not legislating for these people? Community of interest provisions in the Electoral Act should be strengthened. And that should be the priority over and above any others right now.