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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 2892

Mr STEPHEN JONES (11:25 AM) —It is an interesting debate that we are engaged in here today, because it really does lay bare the lie at the heart of the name of the party which those opposite purport to represent. It is a truly interesting debate when the party of liberty stands here and seeks to defend rorts which would deny citizens their votes. The party of liberty seeks to remove the rights of citizens.

Mr Robert —Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Seriously, impugning the rights of a political party in the House is clearly not appropriate under the standing orders.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr KJ Thomson)—The shadow minister was not here for the earlier debate. I can assure him that members on my left made exactly the same allegation, but of a different political party.

Mr STEPHEN JONES —I seek to make the point, plain and simple, that if those opposite who represent the party of liberty had the courage of their convictions then they would vote in favour of these proposed amendments to the electoral laws in the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Bill 2011. They would vote in favour of it because a party of liberty which truly stood for the principle that the people should choose those who represent them in this august body would want to extend the franchise and ensure that everybody has the right to exercise their citizenship rights as Australians to cast a vote in their electorate for their representatives in this place.

Of course, those opposite have form on this matter. Prior to the last election they had so distorted the electoral rolls as to ensure that many hundreds of thousands of Australians could not even enrol to vote because of the early cut-off of the electoral rolls on the day that the election was called. This rort—and it was a rort—has been overturned by the High Court, and for the first time in four years we saw at the 21 August 2010 election over 100,000 mostly young people enjoy their right to vote in a way that the High Court found was true and proper.

This reform which has been brought to the House by the Special Minister of State for the Public Service and Integrity is a continuation of our intent to ensure that we correct many of the wrongs that have been visited upon our electoral system by those opposite, and it should enjoy the support of all members of this House. For a country which was founded in relatively modern times, and as a nation of convicts, Australia has nevertheless had a proud history of democracy, and has played its part in exporting democracy to the countries of our region.

We are rightly proud of the conduct of our elections, which are done with integrity and a level of scrutiny and transparency that puts even the closest of election results to the test. Indeed there are some of us who even enjoy and look forward to the festive atmosphere of polling day, with the community out together enjoying a sausage sizzle, the sharing of our democratic values and the real contest of ideas that surrounds an election.

In Australia, we do not change governments frequently, but, when we do change governments, it is without the mayhem or bloodshed that accompanies the change of regimes or governments in many other countries. That is something that we on all sides of the House are rightly proud of. When you hear that the recently deposed President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, was in power for 30 years, you really do know that something is not working in the democratic system of that country.

Our system of compulsory voting means that everyone gets a say. It is a system that continually needs refining and sometimes we need to wind back the egregious limitations that are placed on that system by representatives of those opposite. It is a system which enables everyone to cast their vote and it is a system that is the envy of the world. These are all good features of Australia’s voting system. Even on a bitterly cold winter’s day, as was the case in August last year, we are able to get out with the customary enthusiasm and cast our vote in favour of the representatives of our choice.

The bill before the House today will remove the requirement for provisional voters to show proof of identity within a week of voting to allow their vote to be counted. These so-called provisional votes are declaration type votes cast at a polling place on polling day. There are four main reasons a person will be asked to cast to a provisional vote. The first is where a person’s name cannot be found on the electoral roll by the polling official; the second is where a mark appears on the certified list, which indicates that the person has already voted; the third is where the polling official doubts the person’s true identity; and the fourth is where the person is a silent elector and their address does not appear on the publicly available edition of the roll.

The Australian Electoral Commission has stated that over 200,000 provisional votes were cast in the 2010 election. Of these, 28,065 provisional votes were rejected because the voter did not provide evidence of identity by the first Friday following the polling day. Importantly, further examination by the AEC of these 28,000 votes found that in over 12,000 instances—nearly half of these instances—the name of the voter was found on the certified electoral roll. So here was a person who was fully entitled to cast a vote but because, for one reason or another—their busy life or many other reasons—they were unable to subsequently provide proper proof of their identity to the AEC their vote was not counted.

These are the people that the member for Hinkler recently chose to blithely disregard as rorters. I prefer to call them ‘citizens’ in my electorate, but he chooses to call them rorters. He really did bell the cat—and this goes to the heart of the opposition’s objection to these provisions—when he said that the real reason that he did not want to vote in favour of these proposals is that he thought the people who would cast a provisional vote in accordance with these proposed amendments would not vote for him; and this was coming from a representative of the party of liberty, the party of free speech, the party of democratic rights. The member for Hinkler could not have stated his case more clearly. The reason that he does not support these amendments is that he fears that the people who will use them will not vote for him. The over 12,000 people in the 2010 election who were precluded because of the Howard government rorts will be able to eligibly cast a vote in an election and have their vote counted—have their democratic say counted. The member for Hinkler and many others on the other side of the House choose to call these people rorters. We call them citizens and eligible enrolled voters. They will once again be enfranchised by this provision.

Indeed, it was a similar story in the 2007 federal election, where there were 167,500 provisional votes and 27,000 votes that were rejected at preliminary scrutiny because an elector did not provide proof of identity. This is a situation that was created by the coalition—and it is a sad state of affairs. It means a significant number of people turned up at polling booths on polling days in both 2007 and 2010, keen to have their say and cast their ballot, found that they were not on the electoral roll and then cast a declaration vote only to have it rejected because of unnecessary red tape and an onerous process.

Those opposite choose to laugh, but the reason that it is unfair is that these voters would have had their vote counted if they had instead stayed home and voted absentee. If they had cast a postal vote, a pre-poll declaration vote—their vote would have counted, with no need for proof of identity. There is simply no reason that otherwise valid provisional votes should be treated differently to other forms of declaration votes. The real reason—which was made crystal clear by the member for Hinkler—that they do not require proof of identity for pre-poll postal votes is that those opposite believe that the majority of those people are going to vote for the opposition. Those opposite fear that if we redress this rort, this discriminatory treatment of declaration votes on polling days, those people will not vote for them. That is a shameful exposition of your political philosophy. The party of liberty is the party of electoral rorts.

It is interesting to look back at how this disenfranchisement affected the outcome of the 2007 federal election. Some interesting research by Mr Peter Brent from the Australian National University contained in his paper on provisional voting rejections in the 2007 election claims that the ‘missing provisional votes’ might have affected the outcomes in two electorates, McEwen and Bowman, and added ‘0.1 per cent to Labor’s national vote’ in that election and probably would have turned the election the other way in those two electorates—two of Australia’s most marginal electorates.

There is no high principle here. The only principle that is in evidence here is that those opposite are afraid that people will not vote for them. They are afraid of this because, quite clearly, they do not have confidence in their ideas, so they are attempting to rort the system. They do not have confidence in their own ideas or in their own capacity to get out there and campaign.

As we know, it is a relatively uncommon outcome of our electoral system for one political party to hold the balance of power in both houses of parliament. It occurred in 2005 and that was the first time it had happened since 1981. We know that the first thing the Howard government did when it was presented with a blank cheque from the electorate was to get to work on an ambitious rewriting of Australian industrial relations laws—the odious Work Choices laws. Fortunately, the machinations of democracy saw off both those laws and the government that introduced them in 2007. But that was not the only piece of legislation that the Howard government rammed through the parliament during those unfortunate years. The Howard government’s agenda was driven by the coalition’s conservative ideology as it sought to gain political and electoral advantage over its opponents on this side of the House.

It is well known to many in this place that in December 2005 the coalition introduced the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill. Like so much of the Orwellian doublespeak that characterised the Howard government’s term in office, it had nothing to do with electoral integrity and everything to do with rorting the electoral system. This bill had absolutely nothing to do with electoral integrity. The measures in the bill included raising the threshold for anonymous political donations to $10,000, which eroded an important transparency measure. It closed the electoral rolls early, as I have already stated; it disenfranchised some votes by prisoners; it made it harder to enrol to vote; and it disenfranchised provisional voters. It was all done for political advantage. It was all done for partisan politics. It was empty of ideology except the ideology which drives those opposite to cling to power at all costs. They junk their co-called liberal ideology in favour of an anti-liberal proposition to disenfranchise voters. We in this House have the opportunity today to fix this historical anomaly to ensure that those who truly do believe in liberty, in democratic values and in the right to vote will be able to exercise their right to vote—as is every Australian’s birthright. I call upon the House to support the bill.