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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3549

Mrs MIRABELLA (Indi) (18:16): In speaking on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and cognate bill I will attempt to be more sober in my approach than the member for Banks. It is understandable at times that there is a competition about who can be more hairy-chested about being more democratic in this place, and the integrity of the electoral roll is absolutely fundamental to the integrity of our democracy. We do not have huge variations in the number of seats which switch from one party to another when there is a general election. Often an election is decided on a handful of votes in a handful of seats. That places an even greater emphasis on doing what we can to have as accurate an electoral roll as possible. That is why the integrity of the electoral roll is absolutely central to the integrity of our democracy.

I was rather perplexed by some of the comments made by the member for Banks when he spoke of some people in the opposition wanting to disenfranchise people and somehow having different classes of people. What absolute rubbish! What absolute rubbish, invoking some nebulous class war argument that here is the opposition thinking there are classes of people who we should lock out of the voting system. How absolutely absurd. This is obviously just another time filler, because at the moment everyone is equal. Everyone who qualifies as an Australian citizen has gained the privilege of enrolling and of voting in our system. Somehow there is this Orwellian language when we speak of our democracy and elections—it is quite perverse—saying that somehow we are a better democracy if Big Brother decides on people's enrolment and their change of address details; Big Brother is there to look after all these people who are incapable of doing it themselves. That, friends on the other side, is the arrogance and the elitism that is a central part of your argument, because, in our current system, Australians who are eligible to vote have the right and the obligation to enrol.

We have significant problems on this side, and it begins with but goes beyond the fundamental belief that individuals should be active participants in their democracy. We cannot force people to be active or to care. Quite frankly, when they look at the state of the current political system federally, do you wonder why they do not care and that they watch events in this place with utter despair and disappointment?

This legislation removes personal responsibility from an elector to fill out an enrolment form, to fill in their details. At the 2007 election over 20,600 votes were multiple votes. It has been noted, particularly by opposition Senator Scott Ryan, who takes a particular interest in these matters, with great disappointment, which I have to say I share, that the Australian Electoral Commission did not prosecute any cases of fraudulent voting. It disturbs me that there were so many multiple votes, and these sorts of things should be investigated. If we want to say that we have an open and transparent democracy, we need to look at these issues and examine them. Another significant problem is: how can you arm appropriate authorities with the best information to tackle fraud when you remove one of those matters that is examined in determining whether there has been electoral fraud—that is, an elector's signature? When they enrol, they fill in the enrolment form and sign it. Automatic enrolment just does away with that. That disturbs me significantly. And we see how automatic enrolment will occur. We are told that the AEC will use data sources. They will have the sole discretion to use so-called 'reliable and current data', and it is an opt-out system. If you do not object within 28 days, then you are automatically added to the roll. There are significant problems with that. Can someone in the Labor Party please explain why a potential elector is not trusted to fill in their enrolment form but they are trusted with a vote? Why cannot those opposite, who are pursuing this legislation, have the basic respect for potential voters to allow them the privilege to actually enrol to vote and to change their details?

We can see an enormous array of problems when it comes to updating people's enrolment details, for a whole number of reasons, and yet these are utterly brushed aside. When we look at the so-called reliable data that is going to be used, let us look at some government information. I can see the member for Melbourne Ports bursting to have a go. I think you are on next, mate, so just do not get too excited. The fact that one government, which may have been of my persuasion, at some time in the past used data for a particular purpose does not mean that that data was absolutely accurate and infallible. No government data in an aggregate sense would be more accurate than an individual actually choosing to fill in the electoral form, whether to go onto the roll or to change their details.

So what is reliable and current data? We are told that this will be determined by the Australian Electoral Commission themselves, and we have serious concerns about this because there are flaws in data that the government collects. Let us just look at some details. There are 185,000 potential duplicate tax records for individuals; 62 per cent of deceased clients were not recorded as deceased in a sample match; and, when we look at tax file numbers, there were 3.2 million more tax file numbers than people in Australia at the last census. So there are flaws. There are mistakes with data because it requires data entry. There is human error involved in all of that. So let us not pretend that Big Brother, assembling and amassing a whole lot of information, is superior to that individual Australian who has the privilege of filling out that enrolment form. It just makes absolute nonsense to say that that is the case. The Labor Party goes on to essentially say: 'Well, everything is excusable. There'll be a few mistakes. That's okay because our overriding concern is maximising the franchise.' That is the argument.

Mr Danby: Democracy! Democracy!

Mrs MIRABELLA: 'Democracy!' my friend from Melbourne Ports calls out. As a proud custodian of the culture and philosophy that gave the world democracy, Member for Melbourne Ports, I am a very proud advocate of democracy, but don't we find it somewhat ironic that we have a government saying, 'We want democracy'? What is democracy? If we break it down, it is the will of the people. So we have Big Brother telling the people: 'This is your will. We will enrol you.' How utterly absurd. How counterintuitive. The Labor Party can talk about democracy all they like, whilst they disrespect the intelligence of the Australian people to enrol to vote. If there are issues, we have worked over decades on electoral education, on getting people onto the roll. But this attempt to introduce automatic enrolment and to have automatic changes to people's address details will only increase problems with the integrity of the roll because there are already embedded problems with the correctness of the information in the data with which this automatic enrolment and changes to the enrolment will be undertaken.

It is not actually that difficult and it is not actually that onerous to fill out an enrolment form. It is absolutely absurd to say, 'That is such a high bar.' If you take that to its logical conclusion, then, for so many things that we need to be proactive to fill in forms about, why don't we just dispense with that? Why don't we have Big Brother in every department just making decisions about what we should do? That is the logical conclusion of what the Labor Party are proposing. They expect us, on this very, very important issue of the integrity of the electoral roll, to just have blind faith that the 'reliable and current data source', which has no definition, which will be at the discretion of the commission, will be absolutely flawless. We cannot accept that because we have seen data that is flawed.

They hold up the automatic enrolment in New South Wales, and that has not been without its problems. Only 12 per cent of people who had their details automatically changed in New South Wales—at the state level—then enrolled themselves federally. As a result, electoral commissions at both federal and state level are having extraordinary difficulty in contacting people. This is just one example of the problems you get with automatic enrolment.

We do not believe that government knows best. We do not believe in the nanny state. We believe in upholding and respecting the rights and responsibilities of individual Australian citizens to change their enrolment forms and details. Beyond that, we think there is great scope to water down the integrity of the electoral roll. I do not have a view about the voting intentions of one group of people as opposed to another—we see a very fluid change in the Australian community. What I am concerned about is Big Brother making big mistakes and watering down this great democracy of ours.