Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 3 March 2011
Page: 2214

Ms HALL (10:44 AM) —It is a pleasure to follow the member for Indi because she always gives me good information to dispute. When we look at the issue we are debating, which is the closure of the rolls, it is interesting that she highlighted in her contribution the fact that governments change laws to favour themselves. It is also interesting, when we look at her reference to the High Court decision on this issue, that she concentrated on the dissenting judgments, because they favoured her argument, rather than on those judges who supported the majority verdict. The member for Indi is always a person who will speak on a piece of legislation or a motion and really distort the facts in some way to give an interesting view of the legislation or motion before the parliament.

The legislation that we are debating today is the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Enrolment and Prisoner Voting) Bill 2010, which gives effect to majority decisions of the High Court. I rise in this place to acknowledge those decisions and to work to see that the problems that were identified in Rowe v Electoral Commissioner are rectified, because that is what this legislation is about. In both Rowe and Roach the High Court declared that certain amendments to bring about the early closure of the rolls and to disqualify all prisoners from voting were invalid. This bill will update the text of the Electoral Act to reflect the current constitutional position. That will restore the close of the rolls to a period of seven days after the date of the writs for the election and reinstate the previous disqualification of prisoners serving a sentence of imprisonment of three years or longer.

One of the really good sources of information relating to this legislation is the Report on the conduct of the 2007 federal election and matters related thereto, from the inquiry conducted by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. It made some very good points. I refer to the section in chapter 3 that talks about enabling the franchise. It highlights that when we are looking at enrolment it is about getting the appropriate balance between ensuring that those people who are qualified to vote are able to exercise their vote and ensuring the integrity of the electoral roll. It then goes on to talk about whether the changes that were brought in under the Howard government were actually about ensuring the maximum ability for people to cast their vote or whether they were really distorting the electoral rolls so that those people whom the Howard government perceived were less likely to vote for them would be disenfranchised.

The background to this legislation is highlighted in the report. The report goes through the history of voting in Australia and enrolling to vote in Australia. It has always been the case that Australia has had an inclusive entitlement to vote. That was fully established in 1962, when all Aboriginal people were granted the right to vote. It has gone through a process, but generally the aim of the changes that have been made has been to absolutely ensure that everyone who is entitled to vote can vote and that that vote is based on Australian citizenship.

That changed when the Howard government came to power, because instead of working to maximise the ability of people to cast their vote, they looked at ways that they could restrict the number of people whom they perceived were less likely to support them in a ballot. People who were identified as being more likely to enrol at the last moment were people who were homeless, people who were itinerant and people who were young. In the lead-up to the last election, a number of young people came into my office who attended local high schools and were trying to enrol to vote. They had only just turned 18. They had not been 18 for very long at all. They wanted to cast their vote, but they were denied the ability to enrol and cast their vote in the last federal election because of the change that was introduced under the Howard government that prevented them from enrolling.

The early close of the rolls was opposed in a number of areas. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission submission to the committee inquiry, I thought, was very impressive. It started by saying:

A healthy democracy makes sure that all members of a community have equal access to the political process.

It went on to highlight that we are a democratic nation, that politicians are elected by popular vote and that to actually maximise that democracy you need to ensure that all people are registered.

The report highlighted the fact that the commission was very concerned about the early closing of the rolls because of the disenfranchisement of many Australians, particularly those that I mentioned before, that are marginalised: young people, Indigenous Australians, people in remote and rural areas, homeless, itinerant or ill people or people with some sort of intellectual disability or, for that matter, any disability because they find it more difficult to access the paperwork that they need to complete before they can enrol.

The early closure of the rolls was also opposed by a number of community groups, groups representing the disadvantaged and rural Australians. I must be upfront with the House and say the changes did have some support. My reading of this report showed that the Liberal Party of Australia supported the closing of the rolls when the writs were issued, as did the Festival of Light Australia. The report shows that the majority of the submissions received by the committee supported the closing of the rolls seven days after the writs were issued but that the Liberal Party of Australia supported retaining closure at the time of the issuing of the writs. They felt so strongly about it that they prepared a dissenting report. It supported the previous scheme and supported the disenfranchising of all those Australians that actually wanted to enrol to vote.

Now might be an appropriate time for me to mention the Canadian system. The Canadian system of voting is based on maximising the ability of people to vote, it is based on trying to ensure that no voters are disenfranchised and voters in Canada can enrol to vote on the day of the election. Provided that they can show the appropriate identification and verify that they are who they say they are and that they live where they say they live, they can enrol on the day of the election and they can vote. I am not advocating the Canadian system, but I am showing the two extremes here. The Liberal Party want to close the rolls on the day the writs are issued and the Canadian system allows people to enrol on the day of the election.

I think what has been recommended in the legislation before us today is appropriate. It gets the balance right between ensuring people are not disenfranchised and ensuring the integrity of the roll. I know that in the community, in the electorate that I represent in this parliament, people do support the notion that if a person wishes to vote they should be able to vote. They support a system that ensures maximum flexibility of the electoral roll and, at the same time, ensures the integrity of the roll.

I noted that the member for Indi was talking about political parties and the voting systems in different states. She seemed to refer a lot to Queensland. We all in this House remember the Joh Bjelke-Petersen years when there definitely was not a system of one-person one-vote and the government of the day distorted the system of putting the same value on each person’s vote. I am sure the member for Indi would be very supportive of that system being reintroduced not only in Queensland but throughout the whole of Australia whereas we on this side of the parliament believe that we should have a fair system of voting that is part of our democratic process and that reflects the overall voting pattern of people within the community. We should not seek to introduce laws that will prevent people that we as members of parliament feel may not support our particular party or ideology.

This is important legislation because it is about enfranchising people to vote. The other aspect of the legislation, which refers to Roach v Electoral Commissioner, refers to the disqualification of all prisoners serving a sentence. What this legislation does is reinstate the previous disqualifications of prisoners serving a sentence longer than three years. This is a very fair provision, and it will be constitutional, not like those changes made by the Howard government. This legislation is very good legislation. It is fair legislation. It is about ensuring that Australians are not disenfranchised from voting when they choose to enrol. It is maximising the ability of all Australians to enrol to vote when a federal election has been called.