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Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Page: 1340


Mr GRAY (BrandSpecial Minister of State for the Public Service and Integrity and Special Minister of State) (10:05): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

It is just over 100 years since the Australian parliament voted to introduce a scheme of compulsory enrolment. Since the scheme commenced in 1912, it has served Australia well.

As late as 2001, the Australian National Audit Office commented that the electoral roll was likely to be 95 per cent complete—not a bad achievement.

Things have changed. The Australian Electoral Commission now estimates that only 90 per cent of eligible Australian citizens are actually enrolled to vote.

That is 1½ million Australian citizens who cannot choose their representatives in parliament. That is 1½ million Australians who cannot have their say when proposals to change Australia's Constitution are put to the people. That is 1½ million Australians excluded from exercising one of the most important rights—and responsibilities—of their citizenship.

This bill will protect the participation of eligible Australian citizens in the electoral process by establishing a safety net for enrolment and voting.

It is just that—a safety net. The bill will not change the grounds on which a person becomes entitled to enrol and vote. This amendment will enhance the integrity of the Australian electoral roll.

The bill will protect elector participation in two key ways.

Firstly, the bill will ensure the accuracy and completeness of the roll by allowing the Electoral Commissioner to directly enrol a person if the Electoral Commissioner is satisfied that the person:

is entitled to enrolment;

has lived at an address for at least one month; and

is not currently enrolled. If the Electoral Commissioner is satisfied that a person meets these criteria, the bill allows the Electoral Commissioner to give the person notice in writing that the Electoral Commissioner proposes to enter that person's name and address on the electoral roll.

This notice will advise the recipient that they have 28 days to inform the Electoral Commissioner that they do not live at that address or are not entitled to enrolment. The bill provides the opportunity for a person to seek a review of a decision, including by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

It is expected that the Electoral Commissioner will use data from sources external to the Electoral Commission to identify people who are entitled to be on the electoral roll but are not. This is similar to the successful processes currently used in New South Wales and Victoria.

Information from reliable sources is already used by the Australian Electoral Commission to monitor the accuracy of the roll and to remove a person from the roll through objection action. The Electoral Act does not currently permit the Electoral Commission to use this information to enrol a person.

Rather than use the information to object a person off the electoral roll, it is expected that the Electoral Commission will analyse the most reliable and current data available to facilitate a person's enrolment.

It is not an automatic process. Every potential elector will be given an opportunity to dispute the information before any action occurs.

In its report on the March 2011 election, the New South Wales Electoral Commission advised that their SmartRoll process had a 93 per cent success rate for all enrolment transaction types. There is no reason to think that a similar high success rate could not be replicated at the federal level for new enrolments.

The second way in which the bill will protect elector participation is by ensuring that certain people who have been removed from the electoral roll by objection action will have their votes admitted to further scrutiny.

This will take place after the Electoral Commission has verified the elector's entitlement to enrolment and voting.

The existing law provides that where electors have been removed from the electoral roll due to an administrative error or a mistake of fact, their votes can be admitted to further scrutiny after the Electoral Commission has verified the elector's enrolment and voting entitlement.

However, being removed from the roll through objection action does not currently constitute an administrative error or mistake of fact.

The bill removes this limitation to ensure that an administrative error or mistake of fact does not hinder an otherwise eligible elector from exercising their right to vote at an election.

The bill further provides that the Electoral Commissioner may enrol a person who casts a declaration vote if they meet certain criteria.

These are that:

the person has made a declaration vote;

the declaration envelope satisfies the requirements of schedule 3 to the Commonwealth Electoral Act;

the person is entitled to be enrolled for the division; and

the person was omitted from the electoral roll for the division due to an administrative error by an officer or a mistake of fact.

The bill leaves unchanged the rule that if a redistribution or more than one election has occurred between the removal from the roll and the current election, the new provisions do not apply.

The process undertaken by a citizen to enrol to vote has remained largely unchanged for a century. One hundred years is a long time to keep a process, even one that has served Australia well.

With the trend in declining enrolment participation, it is no longer possible to keep doing the same things in the same way, particularly as superior processes have been successfully implemented in New South Wales and Victoria.

The bill provides the Electoral Commissioner with the ability to use modern processes to protect the participation of eligible Australian citizens in the electoral process. This is fundamental to maintaining the strength and resilience of our democratic system of government. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.