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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 2902

Mr SLIPPER (12:20 PM) —Looking through the Special Minister of State’s second reading speech, the best explanation for the proposals in this bill appears to be that the current arrangement for there to be evidence of identity provided with respect to provisional voting is inconsistent with the rules that currently relate to other forms of declaration voting such as postal voting and absent voting. So what the minister is proposing, I gather, is that there should be consistency by removing the need for electors to provide evidence of identity with respect to provisional voting. I do believe that there is a sense of logic in wanting to have the same rules apply to provisional voting as to other forms of declaration voting, but I make the submission to this House that a better way of doing that would be to require evidence of identity to be provided by basically everyone seeking to cast a vote pursuant to declaration voting. I think that would enhance the integrity of the electoral system and overcome the minister’s reason for introducing the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Bill 2011.

It is important that the electoral system of Australia has as much integrity as possible, and all honourable members would claim that they support an electoral system with integrity which would ensure that, following an election, the result as declared is in fact the result voted for by the Australian people. However, our side—that is, the Liberal-National team—takes a very strong view that we ought to continually upgrade the integrity of the electoral system. The government, while supporting in principle that idea, does through their Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Bill 2011 seek to undermine the integrity of the electoral system. The minister may not have heard what I said a moment ago, but now that he is back at the table I will repeat that the reason for this bill appears to be the lack of consistency in treatment of different sorts of declaration voting. Minister, the best way to bring that consistency in would be to require all declaration voters to provide evidence of identity.

Let us face it, anyone can go to an electoral office, a prepoll centre or a polling booth on or before polling day—whenever those offices are open—and claim to be a voter. I think that when we make an improvement with requirements that can be met by the overwhelming majority of voters, there seems to be little reason to take this step, if this bill were to become law, which makes the integrity of the electoral system less sound. I am advised that at the 2010 general election 80 per cent of provisional voters provided evidence of their identity at the polling place on election day—the honourable member for Casey indicated that most voters have a drivers licence—and another 16 per cent provided evidence of identification in the required time frame—that is, by the following Friday.

It is my submission that the government has not sufficiently convinced the parliament that the proposal contained in this bill is worthy of support. There are a number of situations where people are able to obtain a provisional vote. One might be where the person’s name is not on the electoral roll. Other situations could be where the person’s name has been marked off or where the polling official on the day has concerns about the identity of the would-be voter. We know that currently the provisional vote is not counted until the elector’s identity can be confirmed and a careful check made of the circumstances.

Failure to provide the identification presently means that the vote is not counted and the integrity of the electoral process is not endangered by including dodgy votes in the count. It is a sensible and strict system that is really a commonsense system. It is a system that was introduced by the former government in 2006. It has proven, during the two elections when it has operated, to be solid and sensible. It simply does not require changing. As I mentioned a moment ago, 96 per cent of those who cast provisional votes at the August 2010 federal election did provide identification either on the day or by the following Friday. That gives people plenty of time to dust off some form of identification and to front up to prove that the person actually exists and that he or she is not simply a nom de plume.

The Liberal-National opposition opposes the retrograde measures of this bill. I think it is a pity that the minister, for whom I have the highest personal regard, is introducing legislation which seeks to undermine the integrity of the electoral system. The bill introduces loopholes that can compromise the integrity of our electoral system and I think it is important that the government reconsider this matter. The amendments which were made by the former government in 2006 were positive. They have not received any opposition from the community. There does not seem to be any compelling reason to water down the integrity of the electoral system by removing the need for provisional voters to prove that they exist. I suggest that, instead, the minister should require other declaration voters to provide identity. While he is at it, it would not be a bad idea if before casting a vote on polling day everyone should produce evidence that he or she exists as well. We really ought to have a situation where people prove that they exist before they are able to cast a vote. That should apply to declaration voters of all sorts, including provisional voters. It should also, in my view, apply to people seeking to cast an ordinary vote on polling day. Regrettably, I must join my colleagues in opposing this retrograde legislation which has been introduced to the parliament by the minister and the government.