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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3546

Mr MELHAM (Banks) (18:00): Let me say at the outset that, with that contribution, the member for Mackellar has shown that she will be never known as the guardian of the franchise. The debate we are having today in relation to these two bills, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012, is an argument about enfranchisement and disenfranchisement. The drivel that came from the member for Mackellar would have you believe that there is a conspiracy between the Labor Party and the Greens, in lockstep with the independent Australian Electoral Commission. During the hearings in relation to these two matters and on other occasions—and indeed, I am told, last night at a function held at the Electoral Commission; I had to leave early and so I have heard this second-hand—the member for Mackellar has continually asserted a connection between the Electoral Commission and the government.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Electoral Commission is independent and has shown itself to be independent. On Saturday I will celebrate 22 years in this place, and for most of that time I have been on the commission—yes, it was a Freudian slip. For most of that time, I have been on the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. I have seen arguments of the commission with all the political parties. The commission has on numerous occasions put submissions to the committee that the political parties have not accepted. In a number of instances in relation to these bills, a proper reading of the transcripts and submissions over time will show that the commission was ahead of the action when it came to some of these measures, as against the political parties, and was arguing for these measures because they would assist with enfranchisement.

The member for Mackellar did not tell you that, in the joint standing committee report tabled in February 2012, on the maintaining address bill, at paragraph 1.4, on page 4, the following appears in relation to the first bill we are debating today, which blows the conspiracy theory out of the water. There is a conspiracy. There is a conspiracy by the member for Mackellar to confuse and dissemble. At paragraph 1.4, the committee report says:

The Bill is described in the Explanatory Memorandum (EM) as implementing recommendation 10 of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters’ Report on the conduct of the 2007 federal election and matters related thereto. It was a unanimous recommendation. The members of the committee for that report were—

And there is a list of the Labor members and others. The Liberal members were: Scott Morrison MP, Bruce Scott MP, Senator Simon Birmingham and Senator the Hon. Michael Ronaldson. Senator Ronaldson was the shadow minister in charge of the Electoral Act. Mr Morrison is a former state director of the Liberal Party. The point I am making here is that they agreed to the contents of this bill before the House. The change to the recommendation only occurred when the member for Mackellar got onto the committee and, for political advantage, changed the position of the Liberal Party. These reports are based on amendments that were made in some instances by the former government and we now know their effect, which is that they resulted in the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of people. The report in relation to automatic enrolment and other matters obviously shows that there has been development in a number of the states, and it is all about enfranchising people from reliable sources.

In my time in this place there is only one area where I have argued for disenfranchisement, and I do not apologise for it. The member for Mackellar would be surprised to learn that my supporter in the recommendation I made arising out of the 2007 election was none other than Alan Jones. The recommendation I made was that those British subjects who have had their vote protected since 1984 should at least have to take out Australian citizenship by 2014 in order to maintain their right to vote in this country, so that citizenship should be a requirement. That is the only time in my time on the electoral committee and I was the only one who signed it, for a particular reason.

It is not unique to Australia. It happens in Britain and it happens in New Zealand, so there is an argument there. But on every other occasion what motivates me is not political. It is not: do these people vote Liberal or Labor? Or is it like the hanging chad instance in Florida? It is to ensure the franchise, protect the franchise and enable it, and not have administrative features that result in disenfranchisement. That is what some of the provisions of the former government have done in relation to prisoners and, in the second case, in relation to the declaration votes, where people might not have responded to correspondence and have had their name taken off the roll. They show up on the day and the proof of identity provisions and a combination of all these matters has resulted in a massive reduction in the reinstatement of people who were otherwise entitled to vote. So paperwork, a bit of slackness or an error resulted in their losing the important right to vote. We should err, with some constraints, on the side of the franchise. That is why the High Court in a number of recent cases basically said, of the former government's legislation in relation to prisoners, 'Bad luck. You got it wrong', and said in relation to the seven-day closing of the rolls, which was brought forward, 'You got it wrong. Fix it up,' because tens and tens of thousands of people were disenfranchised.

What I say to my colleagues who are listening and to those who are following this debate is: actually analyse what the member for Mackellar has said and you will find that most of it is rubbish—paranoid, delusional, conspiratorial theory about the Labor Party and the Greens being worried about a block of votes that votes for them overwhelmingly. That is not my concern. I am actually not frightened of losing, if that is what the people want. I have to say the member for Mackellar has been consistent; I will give her credit for that. But her view is not uniform, even within the Liberal Party, and it is the same on our side of the chamber. A number of the provisions are reinstating because we now have the results of what those changes meant. The proof of identity, which meant tens and tens of thousands, is an example.

What are we, as parliamentarians, to do—make it hard with lots of loops? The Liberal Party is supposed to be the party that gets rid of red tape. We had 11½ years of red tape inserted into the Electoral Act, which has resulted in numerous people being disenfranchised. We have one of the best electoral systems in the world and one of the best electoral commissions in the world. They are truly professional and truly independent. They should not have to put up with the rubbish and garbage that comes out of the member for Mackellar with an inference that they are somehow doing the Labor Party's bidding—far from it. I have some views that certainly differ from the Electoral Commission, but you can respect professionals who have different views. The member for Mackellar seems to be saying, 'Unless you agree with me, your view is not worth pursuing.' I say to the member for Mackellar that the worst thing she can do, or I can do, is pursue political advantage.

The Liberal Party have actually done quite well out of the electoral system. Some want to have optional voting. Compulsory voting was actually introduced by the conservatives in the twenties. Many good electoral features have been introduced by the conservative side of politics, and they have done pretty well at a federal level. Indeed, since Federation conservatives have ruled for 65 or 66 per cent of the time. But what they cannot stand, and what this is about, is a class of people, those whom they regard as a different class of uneducated and uninformed people, having equality and the right to vote at the same level. I have to tell you, a lot of people are confused by the electoral system because they do not have our obsessions. Some of us are obsessed with electoral systems. Why? Because it is a precious right to be able to go along and vote for your representative in your area, whether they be Labor, Liberal, National or Callithumpian. People are fighting overseas to defend democracies or to create democracies so that dictators, totalitarian regimes and tanks are not the basis of a vote.

In my humble opinion, we have one of the best democracies in the world, the best electoral systems in the world and the best commission in the world. Regarding the idea that fraud is rampant in our society, we have had members of the Liberal Party, the former member for McEwen, members in Adelaide, and Chris Gallus as well, elected by a handful of votes, and there has been the opportunity to put up or shut up and show there is electoral fraud. We have provisions in the Electoral Act where, if there is multiple voting that makes a difference, you provide the evidence and if it affects the result you get a fresh ballot. They are all there.

We make the rules and, in my opinion, if there is a problem it is our fault and not the commission's. They have to implement the rules and the law as they are. Do not blame them; blame us. In the time of the Howard government the former commissioner defended a number of matters that the government was pushing forward. That was his role, and we were critical of it in relation to some amendments to the Electoral Act. But an independent Public Service is required to provide the material as an independent Public Service, not to take a partisan position, and it is not right of me to criticise members of the commission if they do not happen to agree with me and are asserting it.

I am disappointed with the member for Mackellar. I know she is passionate. I know she genuinely believes in what she is saying. But there is a saying 'garbage in, garbage out', which is, really, how you can judge a lot of the contribution that has been made in relation to—

Mrs Mirabella: Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I find that offensive and I would ask the member to withdraw.

Mr MELHAM: I withdraw, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): I thank the member for Banks.

Mr MELHAM: It was not meant to be offensive but, if it is offensive, I withdraw. That is not the nature of what I am trying to say. What I am saying is: have a look at the quality of the material that the member for Mackellar is putting up. I have looked at it. I know she is genuine about it and I do not really question her genuineness. But she is wrong; she is absolutely wrong. If we followed what she said, tens of thousands of people would be disenfranchised. We were not inundated by submission after submission from groups who have an interest in electoral matters saying, 'You're on the wrong path.' This is not the first inquiry we have had in relation to each of these bills, because they arise out of submissions to the inquiries into the 2007 election and the 2010 election. People had an opportunity then to submit to the bills but we did not get many submissions. We struggled to get people and the member for Mackellar was allowed the opportunity to bring along anyone she wanted. If what we were doing was wrong, if what we were doing was crooked, if what we were doing was partisan, this parliament and the committee would have been inundated, before, during and after the event, with criticism.

The Privacy Foundation people again were genuine. I missed the first hearing—I had another commitment—but I was there for the second and I listened respectfully to them. Again, the transcript speaks for itself. It did not convince me that we were going down the wrong path. I believe in my heart of hearts that what we are doing by these two measures is enfranchising. We should pursue them to the end and enact them, because many tens of thousands of eligible people will then have their vote counted; otherwise, they will continue to be disqualified, morally and in every other way wrongly, from having their vote counted to elect their parliament, their representative, their government.