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Tuesday, 22 March 2011
Page: 2751

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (8:51 PM) —I rise to speak to the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Bill 2011. I do so in the knowledge that in 2006 the then government introduced amendments to ensure that a loophole that was identified as existing in the rules surrounding provisional voting was closed. We realised that the integrity of the electoral roll was at risk because the system was vulnerable to potential abuse by people who enrolled in marginal electorates, despite not living in them, and voted to influence a close result. Accordingly, we introduced legislation, which was passed, which required anyone wishing to make a provisional vote to provide evidence of identity, either at the time of voting or within seven days of the voting day, to show that the vote would be valid.

There are four basic reasons why one would cast a provisional vote. The first is that you are found not to be on the roll, the second is that somebody has already voted in your name, the third is that the electoral officer does not like the look of you, and the fourth is that you are on the confidential or secret roll because you are a person who for personal security reasons does not wish to be on a published roll. On 21 February 2011 the Electoral Commission presented a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. That submission contains a section dealing with the integrity of the electoral roll. It says:

3.7.1 Maintaining the integrity of the electoral roll is a key component of the AEC’s work. The AEC defines roll integrity as consisting of the following elements:

  • Entitlement - the person meets all legislative qualifications for enrolment on the electoral roll, information provided by the individual is tested to detect and prevent enrolment fraud;
  • Accuracy - the person is enrolled for the address at which they are entitled;
  • Completeness - all persons who are entitled to enrolment are enrolled;
  • Processing Correctness - information provided by persons and organisations is entered correctly and completely on the roll, addresses are correctly and completely described, classified and aligned; and
  • Security - the electoral roll is protected from unauthorised access and tampering.

3.7.2 As part of standard AEC processing procedures, all enrolment applications are checked to determine if they have been completed in accordance with legislative requirements and that information on the enrolment form is accurate.

The number of people casting provisional votes has steadily grown over the years. In 1993, 112,344 provisional votes were taken, and virtually 60 per cent of those were rejected. In 2004, the year before the 2006 amendments were made, 180,878 provisional votes were taken, of which 50 per cent were rejected. In 2007, after the amendments were made to further protect the integrity of the roll, 167,682 provisional votes were taken and 85.56 per cent were rejected. In 2010, 203,488 provisional votes were taken, of which 81.65 per cent were rejected.

The interesting things are as follows. In 2007, between 75 and 80 per cent of people who wanted to cast a provisional vote presented with evidence of identity. In 2010, this number rose, and 96 per cent of those people presented evidence of identity. In that year, of the 81 per cent of votes that were rejected, only 28,000 were rejected on the basis of evidence of identity not having been provided. The other reasons that votes are rejected are entirely different than not presenting evidence of identity.

The Special Minister of State in his second reading speech said that the reason he wanted to get rid of the evidence of identity requirement was that the 2006 amendments treated provisional votes as different from other classes of declaration votes. They include postal votes, prepoll votes and absent votes as well as provisional votes. That argument does not hold water because the government itself, in the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Pre-poll voting and other Measures) Bill 2010, treated prepoll declaration votes differently by saying that they no longer had to be placed in an envelope with a signature and be subject to preliminary scrutiny—they would be put straight into the count. So already the government has said that there is no need to have all classes of declaration votes treated in exactly the same manner. It was sensible to say that prepoll votes should be counted on the night and therefore not be subjected to preliminary scrutiny, as this class of vote previously was. We sometimes did not see that result for an inordinately long time, so this was sensible—just as our 2006 amendments to require people who wanted to make provisional votes to present with evidence of identity were sensible. The efficacy of these provisions resulted in the situation where, in 2010, 96 per cent of people who wanted to cast a provisional vote presented with evidence of identity—80 per cent on election day itself and a further 16 per cent in the allowable time after the casting of that vote.

The argument put forward by the Special Minister of State indeed does not hold water. It is more likely that there is a perceived advantage for the Labor Party if the integrity of the roll is not protected in the way we think it should be. I cite an article written by the member for Melbourne Ports where he asserts that all 166,000 votes that were rejected in the 2010 poll were rejected because they did not have evidence of identity and really all those people would have had a chance to vote Labor, which would have won four more seats. It is not an argument which can be supported.

On this side of the House we are very concerned that the integrity of the roll is always protected. We are concerned to see that amendments or changes that are made to voting procedures are done to enhance the integrity of the roll. I am concerned, for instance, with the proposition that has been put forward that for future federal elections we might go the way of, say, the New South Wales Labor government, which have changed the enrolment provisions to encompass automatic enrolment whereby people’s details will merely be taken from other agencies such as the Road Transport Authority, school rolls or whatever they decide can be dealt with.

Those people in New South Wales being put on the roll for the election next Saturday will simply have been written to twice to say that they have now been put on the roll and if they have not written back and said ‘No, you can’t put me on the roll’ they are automatically on. How then can you check the validity of someone and their address against their signature when there is no signature because they have been put on automatically? The problem with going to the provisional voting situation is that we have the requirement, if a vote is in question, under these new provisions going back to the old system that the electoral office checks the most up-to-date signature, which is most likely the application for enrolment. There does seem to be support for the government wanting to go this route. Should that happen and these amendments are cast then there will simply be no application for enrolment, which the electoral commission holds and against which any signature on the declaration vote can be compared. Again, it opens up the difficulty that is encompassed in trying to protect the integrity of the roll.

The submissions being put to the JSCEM are starting to come in. I know that there are submissions saying that the original dissenting report of the opposition to the JSCEM report of 2007 should be upheld. In that report it was said that:

According to the Electoral Commission, approximately 75 per cent of provisional voters showed evidence of identity when voting. Of the 33,900 provisional voters who failed to provide such identification on polling day, only one in five subsequently provided proof of identity by the cut-off date—that is, the close of business on the following Friday.

That was the 2007 report and, as I mentioned in my earlier remarks, in 2010 there was a 96 per cent compliance with providing evidence of identity. The rejection of the large number of provisional votes was for reasons other than failing to present evidence of identity. The case being made by the member for Melbourne Ports that this was somehow a rort imposed by the Liberal Party when we had control of the Senate simply is not borne out. In fact, it was introduced with the very best of motives—that is, to protect the integrity of the roll. It remains the position of the opposition that we wish to see the integrity of the roll protected in the very best possible way, and the best way in which that can be done is to maintain a system of having evidence of identity required to be presented by those seeking to make a provisional vote.