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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 2880

Mr FLETCHER (10:27 AM) —When I was rudely interrupted last night, I was saying all of us in this place are united by our pride. That is the point at which I stopped—and obviously that sentence could admit of many possible ways in which it might be completed—but the particular aspect that I wish to point to, in which I say that all of us in this place are united by our pride, is our pride in the fact that Australia is one of the world’s great democracies. We are one of the world’s oldest democracies and we are one of the world’s most successful democracies. Clearly, at the base, at the foundation, of being a successful democracy is to have a voting system of integrity—a system in which the people can have confidence and a system which is beyond reproach in its operation in reflecting the people’s will in selecting their parliamentary representatives.

It follows from that that it is of the first importance to protect the integrity of the voting system by ensuring that persons who claim to be entitled to vote can demonstrate that entitlement and that there is no risk of persons who claim to be entitled to vote but are not in fact entitled to vote being able to lodge a vote and having that vote counted. It is of the first importance that there is no risk that such a scenario can come to pass.

When you consider that it is often the case that there are results in particular divisions determined by very narrow counts, it adds weight to the conclusion that we must be scrupulous in protecting the integrity of the voting system and scrupulous in ensuring that not one person who is not entitled to do so under the law is able to cast a vote. Let me instance just one recent result which demonstrates that proposition. In the seat of Bowman in the 2007 election, if a mere 33 votes had changed direction, the result would have been different—and, I venture to suggest, this parliament would have been a vastly poorer place had the present member for Bowman not been returned, as he happily was, albeit only very narrowly.

In the ordinary course of events, persons who are on the roll and can demonstrate that—because their name is there in front of the returning officer or AEC officer when they turn up to vote—are permitted to vote with no further formalities required. They have carried out the necessary formalities in the exercise of getting on the roll. But that is not the scenario we are talking about in this legislation. We are talking about people wishing to cast a provisional vote, and a provisional vote, if I may remind the House, is a vote cast in circumstances where an elector’s name cannot be found on the roll or the name has already been marked off the roll. The law as it stands states that, in these exceptional circumstances, there is a requirement that the person who has turned up at the polling booth asserting a right to cast a vote but whose name cannot be found on the roll or whose name is on the roll but is marked off as having already voted, is required to provide proof of identity.

As I have already observed in the earlier proportion of these bifurcated remarks, it is not unusual in our society to be asked to produce identification. Frankly, it is slightly surprising to see the confected indignation from the other side of the chamber at the requirement that identification be produced in the circumstances I have just described—circumstances I think we can all agree are exceptional and very much in the minority.

The proposition that I put to the House is, first of all, that it is very important that we protect the integrity of our voting system. That is of the first importance, given the reputation that this nation has as one of the world’s great democracies, a reputation that I am sure all of us in this place are united in our determination to protect. The second proposition I wish to put to the House is that the costs of requiring identification in these circumstances are modest and the benefits are significant. The report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters concludes that some 80 per cent of persons in this category—that is, seeking to cast a provisional vote—were able to provide identification. In other words, the claimed burden of this requirement is nowhere near as great as those on the other side of the chamber would have us believe.

We also heard further confected indignation about the remarkably onerous nature of this obligation—again remembering that it is a relatively small proportion of people who face this obligation because either their name is not on the roll or it is on the roll but when the official goes to cross out the name he or she finds it has already been crossed out. It is not, I would submit, an unusually onerous requirement of people in these circumstances to provide identification. As a requirement in terms of individual responsibility, I suggest it is not an onerous one. The costs of the present arrangement in public policy terms and in terms of the imposition on individuals are modest indeed. The benefits are significant, because they go to preserving the confidence of all Australians in the integrity of our voting system and, in turn, in the integrity of our democracy.

The third point I wish to make—and I do so with some reluctance, but the historical record commands me to make it—is that there are reasons, regrettably, to raise questions about the rationale of those on the other side of the chamber for putting forward this change in the first place. It gives me no pleasure to note that the Labor Party has form in bringing forward changes to the electoral system, the voting system and much of the regulatory apparatus dealing with our democracy which are supposedly motivated by a high-minded concern for the public good but which are in fact substantively driven by a desire to achieve partisan political advantage. You would appreciate, Mr Deputy Speaker Thomson, that it gives me absolutely no pleasure to make this point, but unfortunately the historical record is simply impossible to ignore.

We saw some years ago in Queensland the unedifying spectacle of a former state secretary of the Australian Labor Party, then a serving member of the Queensland parliament, appearing before the Shepherdson inquiry. When he appeared, he was asked about the address at which he had enrolled some years before as a younger man, when he was starting out in the pursuit of his political ambitions. He initially attempted to avoid the question, but after taking a break, presumably to receive legal advice, he returned to the box to advise that it was in fact correct that his name appeared on the roll at that address but it was also correct that he had never actually lived at that address. It was apparently an unfortunate administrative error—such an unfortunate administrative error that the consequence was that he abruptly resigned as a member of the Queensland parliament.

So there is very clear evidence of the Labor Party—including its most senior officials and, indeed, Labor parliamentarians—seeking to play games with the electoral system in this country for partisan political advantage. It gives me no additional pleasure to note with some concern that this gentleman has now been appointed as a senior executive of the National Broadband Network company at a salary of well over $400,000 a year—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr KJ Thomson)—I would ask the member for Bradfield to relate his remarks to this bill.

Mr FLETCHER —his principal qualification apparently being that he was a good mate of the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Bradfield will cease speaking while I make the observation to him that he needs to relate his remarks to the bill before the House, which is a bill concerning provisional voting.

Mr FLETCHER —Mr Deputy Speaker, you are quite right—it is a bill concerning provisional voting. And amongst the policy matters to consider as we assess whether the change which is proposed in this bill is good policy are the implications it will have for the integrity of our voting system, and that necessarily asks us to consider what might be the possible motives of the political party that has brought forward this amendment.

In the state of New South Wales we have also seen the Labor government, after spending years enthusiastically hoovering up donations from certain categories of donors, now banning those donations from tobacco companies, from alcohol companies and from gaming and gambling companies. This is a remarkably late conversion to this new-found standard of virtue, and it could cause any objective observer to ask, ‘How could they be so shameless and transparent?’ Yet this is the party which is putting forward the set of amendments in this bill.

Our voting system is of the highest importance to the integrity of our democracy. The measures which this bill puts forward are not in the public interest. They undermine a well-established and important safeguard, and on this side of the House we say they should be rejected.