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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 2895

Mr TEHAN (11:40 AM) —It gives me no joy to be speaking on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Bill 2011 today, because all this bill will do is affect the integrity of our voting system. The honourable member who just spoke mentioned the 2007 election and the seat of McEwen. I had some experiences with the voting and the vote counting in the seat of McEwen. There were multiple votes cast in that election and there was nothing that the AEC could do about it. I will give one example which I think illustrates why we have to be so careful to maintain the integrity of our electoral system. There was a parish priest who received a note from the AEC inquiring as to why he had voted three times in the electorate of McEwen. It turned out that someone had voted under his name in New South Wales and then twice within the electorate of McEwen at different polling booths. There was nothing that the AEC could do about it, apart from giving him a ‘Please explain’. When he explained that he had voted only once and had voted within the local community where he works, that was the end of the story, and those other two votes were counted.

The interesting thing about the McEwen electorate during the election of 2007 was that there were multiple cases of people casting more than one ballot, and it was the first time that the union movement en masse had been up to scrutineer and to also hand out how-to-vote cards at polling booths in that electorate. During the Work Choices campaign they bussed union officials into the electorate so that they could hand out how-to-vote cards and do the scrutineering. And—surprise, surprise!—we also saw an increase in multiple voting.

Mr Craig Thomson —That is drawing a long bow.

Mr TEHAN —It is not a long bow. If you look at the historical facts you will see that that is what occurred. First the coalition candidate was declared the winner, then the Labor Party candidate was declared the winner, and eventually the coalition was. It was that close, and that multiple voting could easily have been the thing that decided who won that seat. It goes to the heart of why we need to protect the integrity of our electoral roll, and the changes in this legislation will do nothing to do that.

We are heading for a system whereby anyone will be able to turn up and vote and be able to vote on multiple occasions. We are not moving to protect the integrity of the electoral roll. In fact, we are looking to weaken it and, by weakening it, we will harm our democratic processes here in Australia. People will begin to wonder whether we truly do have a democratic system when it is possible for people to be able to vote on more than one occasion.

The honourable member who spoke previously talked about the 200,000 provisional votes which were cast at the last election: 28,000 of those were rejected under the changes introduced by the coalition in 2006, and 12,000 of those would have been eligible. What about the other 16,000? What was the situation with those votes? They were not found to be legitimate voters on the roll. Those 16,000 votes remain a mystery. How can we have a system whereby we allow people to cast their votes provisionally and not ask them to provide some identification? They do not have to do it on polling day. This change was a reasonable change; it just required them to provide some proof of who they are within seven days, to make sure there was not fraud and to protect the integrity of our system.

If you cannot provide identification in seven days, then you are not taking your vote seriously—the importance of that vote, the importance of our democratic system and the importance of providing integrity within that system. Sadly, in Third World countries, we see continual rorting of the democratic system and we have all seen what that leads to and the types of governments that we get from that. That is not what we want to see here in Australia. We want people to know that when they cast their vote every other citizen is casting their vote in exactly the same way. We want people to be confident that there are not some citizens voting maybe one, two or three times when others are doing the right thing. We need to have some safeguards, because, unfortunately, if you do not have the safeguards in the system, people will rort it. We as the coalition in 2006 did not make an onerous requirement. All we said was that people needed to provide some identification within seven days.

It is important to note that, at the 2010 general election, 80 per cent of provisional voters provided evidence of their identity at the polling place on election day and another 16 per cent provided evidence of their identification in the required time frame, the following Friday. So only four per cent of voters did not provide identification. We need to ask the question: why? Was it because they were frightened that it would be found out that they had voted earlier? If that is the case then surely we should keep this requirement within our electoral system. When people cast their votes in polling booths on polling day, we continually get attempts to rort the system. Sadly, some attempts to rort the system are bound to work. Why shouldn’t there be, especially when it comes to provisional voting, some measure to make sure that the person casting the vote is casting a legitimate vote?

We need to remind people what provisional voters are. These are the people who turn up and their name is not on the roll or there is a query on the roll about their identification. Why shouldn’t we be able to ask them a simple thing before we allow their vote to count: ‘Prove to us who you are. There is a query about who you are; therefore, we need you to do this.’ We do not do it to people who turn up on polling day or to people who cast a postal vote or to people who do a pre-poll vote. We only do it to these provisional voters. The reason we do it is that there is already some unease about whether this person has the right to cast that vote. So there is nothing wrong with asking them to provide some identification within seven days.

Our voting system is integral to our whole democratic system. We have seen, sadly, in other places—for instance in Florida—the unease and doubt caused by voting systems which were seen to be potentially able to be manipulated. We have seen what that can lead to and the distrust and general outrage from the community that a proper system is not in place. We do not want to see that occur here in Australia.

In the seat of McEwen in 2007, in an extremely close vote, we saw that there was the potential for rorting in our system. We have to make sure that we take steps to stop that from happening. We do not want it to lead to the situation where we disenfranchise people. This is not about disenfranchising people. This is about requiring people—if there is uncertainty and unease about whether they are qualified to vote—to prove that they are qualified to vote. This is not disenfranchising people; this is protecting the very integrity of our democratic system.

Mr Melham —What evidence?

Mr TEHAN —What evidence? The evidence the honourable member missed earlier on was just one example—but we saw numerous—of a parish priest being asked to explain why he had voted three times in the 2007 election in the seat of McEwen.

Mr Melham —Was he charged?

Mr TEHAN —No, he was not charged because he was able to demonstrate that he had only voted once, but the other two votes where people used his name to cast their ballot remained legitimate votes. They were not withdrawn because no-one knew who or what those ballots were or where the voters were. Two votes were counted, and no-one knows who cast them.

By making this amendment, we are saying: if you want to potentially rort the system, do it by turning up and casting a provisional vote, because no-one is going to check your identification as to whether you are legitimately able to cast that vote or not. This is not the type of electoral system that we need here in this country. People have confidence in our electoral system. The integrity of our electoral system is seen as world class; yet, this is an area that has been identified as having some risk of fraudulent behaviour. The government is saying, ‘We’re going to open it up and make it easier for fraud to take place. We’re not going to put in one little small requirement that you need to show identification after seven days.’ What this government needs to say is, ‘There seems to be some risk here of fraudulent behaviour.’ Instead it is going to make that risk greater and put that system at further risk of losing its world-class reputation.

Sadly, the fact that this change is coming from the Gillard government should make the Australian people very worried. Everything that the government do turns into a mess and the fact that they are meddling in our voting system, which is seen to be world class, sends shivers up my spine. Are we going to see a pink batts fiasco? Are we going to see a BER fiasco? Look at the record of the government: everything they touch turns into disaster. I am worried that we are going to see another disaster with this change to something that is absolutely vital to the very fabric of Australian society—our democratic processes.

These changes were brought about in 2006 because they were required to protect the integrity of our voting system The only reason the government want to change these laws is that they know that any rorting that will take place is more likely to benefit them than anyone else. This change is a sham.