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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 2901

Mr ANTHONY SMITH (12:10 PM) —In speaking briefly on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Bill 2011, the shadow special minister of state and other colleagues from this side of the House in defending the reforms that were put in place back in 2007. We are hearing the Labor Party state in the House today their long held view—a view which would lead to our electoral roll being left open to abuse. It is as simple as that. At present, if a voter attends polling booths on election day, and they not on the electoral roll and seek to cast a provisional vote, they are asked by virtue of the fact that their enrolment criteria and enrolment details are nonexistent or unclear to provide simple evidence of identity—the sort of evidence of identity that Australian citizens are asked for every day in the modern economy.

It was interesting how the previous speaker from the other side danced around that point with great awkwardness in his contribution. We are talking about electors who are not on the electoral roll or whose details are unclear turning up at polling booths and simply being asked to provide evidence of identity. If they are unable to provide that simple evidence of their identity at that time—and I say to the member opposite, who must have ignored the evidence or been oblivious to it, that we know from the statistics that that is absolutely not the case in the majority of instances—they have until the next Friday to provide it.

I am very familiar with these reforms. They were a recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which I chaired back in 2004 and 2005, and they were then embodied in the legislative reform introduced by the government at that time. We have heard a lot of rhetoric from those opposite about the right to vote. We all cherish the right to vote. But with rights come responsibilities. For every voter whose details, for whatever reason, are out of date or who is not on the electoral roll and must cast a provisional vote, which by its very nature and definition is provisional and requires further checking, to be asked to provide stipulated identification—namely, a drivers licence—is not too onerous. The member opposite would have you believe that this will be news to his electors and that a drivers licence is a new thing, but we know that most people have a drivers licence, and we know from the statistics that, as the shadow minister pointed out, most had no problem providing it on the spot.

But of course the legislation as it exists at the moment makes provision for those without a licence. The absurd and incompetent notion from the member opposite that those without a licence would have to go and acquire a driver licence to vote is an unfortunate reflection on his lack of capacity to look at the detail of the act as it stands today. For those without a licence it is very clear they can provide alternative forms of identification if not on the spot then at some point within the next five working days. What those opposite are saying here in this House is that it is a fundamental belief of those in the Labor Party and those in the government that if someone casts a provisional vote, which by its very nature has an uncertainty about it at the time, it is too much to ask for some identification on the spot and too much to ask that voter to provide that simple information sometime in the next five days—information that should be asked for on a daily basis.

This reform was introduced in 2006. It has operated at two elections. The shadow minister made very clear that the statistics tell the story: the vast majority of electors in that situation had no problem providing the identification on the spot. Those who could not provide it on the spot had Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to provide that information. In a democracy, with the right to vote comes responsibility. It is very interesting: back in 2005, when the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters reported on this and many other issues, the dissenting report from those opposite was quite long. It will not surprise you, Madam Deputy Speaker Burke, that the dissenting report dissented with most parts of the committee’s deliberations to improve the integrity of the electoral system. I know my friend and colleague Shadow Minister Hartsuyker would have thought that, given the vehemence of the debate he has witnessed from those on the other side, there would be a long, comprehensive, analytical, absolutely academic piece from those opposite about why this reform introduced in 2006 should not go ahead. When you look at their dissenting report and cut through the volume of those opposite such as the member for Banks and the member for Melbourne Ports, who return on these issues with the regularity of Thunderbirds episodes on a Saturday morning, you see that their big, compelling point was that, when they had considered it, there had not been any evidence provided that there had actually been fraud.

It was not that they were worried about fraud or the integrity of the electoral roll; it was that there had not been any evidence presented. I quote from the report: ‘No evidence was presented to the inquiry of fraud in the casting of declaration votes.’ This is very like saying, if you are working in a bank, ‘We’ve left the bank vault open, but nothing has happened up until now.’

This reform introduced in 2006 was a sensible reform. The Australian public, I believe, would find it a very straightforward reform. As a member representing a seat in Victoria I can say I have had no feedback from a provisional voter finding the provisions unnecessary or intrusive. They would be understood by Australians as something to protect the integrity of the roll. Those honestly voting and casting provisional votes would want to know and would understand that there are integrity provisions in place. The arguments we have heard from those opposite, particularly from the previous speaker, whom I have had more time to listen to, really demonstrate the hollowness of their opposition to this measure. It is a measure that does them no service at all.