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Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Page: 9647

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Mackellar) (18:18): This bill, euphemistically called 'improving electoral procedure', is a bill where there was an agreement between both the government and opposition parties in the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, to which the bill was referred, as to the way forward and the way it should be treated. The bill basically deals with postal vote applications, PVAs. It deals with increasing the amount of money to be paid on nomination for the House and for the Senate. It deals with an increase in the number of people required from 50 to 100 for somebody to be nominated who is not a grouped individual. It also deals with the question of the term 'of unsound mind' being in the present legislation, wishing it to be removed in the amending legislation on the basis that the AEC had recommended it and also some people in the disability movement feel strongly about the term. Currently 'of unsound mind' is the manner in which someone is removed from the roll or from voting.

If I can deal, first, with the question of postal vote applications, the bill centralises the power or the authority to deal with postal vote applications—that is, to send out packages once an application has been made in a centralised manner. It also makes the Electoral Commissioner himself responsible rather than the DROs. That caused concern to me and to the coalition because, although the commissioner has a power to delegate, there is no obligation in the legislation for that delegation to be given to the DROs. I and others were concerned that this could mean that people would not be able to deal with their postal vote applications which, of course, presently is that political parties send out their applications, people respond, they come back to the office of the candidate and then they take them down to the DRO. This enables people to get political information as if they were standing at a polling booth and receiving it as they went in to vote.

However, I did receive from the commissioner an undertaking—he was, as the chairman of the committee pointed out, speaking under oath or the equivalent thereof—that he would delegate his authority to the DROs so that at the coming election postal vote applications will be dealt with in precisely the same manner that they are now. Even the change in the centralisation legislation will not change the way in which the matters are dealt with because in 1999 the Electoral Commissioner obtained legal advice that the centralising of postal vote applications and the sending out of packages was legal under the existing law. So nothing will change in that sense. However, I do believe that the delegation of power to the DROs would be better in some legislative form be it primary or subordinate. But, for the moment, we are accepting the undertaking given by the Electoral Commissioner. There was agreement about the increase in the nomination fee for both the House and for the Senate and there was agreement about the need for 100 people to nominate as distinct from 50 as the law now provides.

When it came to the question of the term 'unsound mind' and therefore incapable of understanding the enrolment and voting process, the committee heard evidence from a number of people. We went back and had a look at a previous report of the joint standing committee's inquiry into the 1996 election when the Electoral Commission gave its opinion that the term should stand and not be changed. We heard other evidence that said it should remain as it is because it at least has a fixed meaning within the law. In any event, if it were changed it would make the ability to exclude people from the roll and from voting easier because the proposal was to increase the number of people who could be qualified to say that the person should be taken off the roll and that would have included a social worker, not just a medical practitioner.

The government has agreed with the recommendations of the joint standing committee that the legislation should remain as it is. The government has agreed that it will, when we get to the consideration in detail stage, remove that part of the act that would change those provisions. I pointed out when I spoke on the tabling of the committee's report that it was a highly unusual report because for once it was a universal or unanimous report. Normally it is a very partisan and political report that we bring down but on this occasion there was agreement; therefore, the opposition will be supporting the government's amendments during the consideration in detail stage and will support the bill in that final form.