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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3552


Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (18:31): It is a great pleasure and honour to speak on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address Bill) 2011 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012 and to respond to some of the points made by the members for Indi and Mackellar. I particularly want to commend the Special Minister of State for tackling this matter and taking up the decline of enrolment across Australia.

This legislation will mean that, when it comes to elections, more Australians will have a say in who represents them. I will provide some of the extraordinary facts—as opposed to the rhetoric from obscure professors cited by the member for Mackellar—outlined by the Electoral Commission in their report on these changes to the roll. In 2001, there were 0.9 million electors not on the roll; in 2004, there were 1.2 million electors not on the roll; in 2007, there were 1.1 million electors not on the roll; and, in 2010, there were 1.4 million electors not on the roll. At the parallel elections of 2001, there were 12.6 million Australians on the roll; in 2004, there were 13 million on the roll; in 2007, there were 13.6 million on the roll; and, in 2010, there were 14.1 million on the roll. The Australian Electoral Commission estimate that, at the end of 2011, the federal enrolment participation rate was 90.2 per cent. This means that around 1.5 million people who are eligible to vote are not enrolled and consequently cannot vote.

Indeed, at the 2010 federal election, 2½ million Australians did not effectively exercise their vote. Of these, 1.4 million were not enrolled, 729,000 were enrolled but did not show up, 400,000 cast informal ballots and 166,000 provisional voters thought they had cast a valid vote but in fact had their vote excluded. These issues were all handled by other aspects of the government's electoral legislation, but I want to go back to the Electoral Commission's cool, rational, dispassionate explanation of the decline in the percentage of people who are enrolled and of the massive increase in the absolute number of Australians who are not enrolled.

The estimated enrolment participation rate on 31 December 2011 was, as I said, 90.2 per cent of the eligible population. That sits near the bottom end, the Electoral Commission said, of any recently recorded measure of enrolment participation. The problem of non-enrolment extends beyond an asserted disengaged youth issue. Enrolment rates do not reach 90 per cent of voters until voters reach 40 years of age and the AEC's whole-of-population target of 95 per cent enrolment is not met until electors reach their mid-50s or late 50s. Worse than that is the fact that not only is the absolute number of Australians not enrolled increasing but the percentage of the population not enrolled is also increasing. So the Electoral Commission has a very substantial problem, a problem not addressed in the remarks of either the member for Indi or the member for Mackellar.

The member for Indi spoke of a class war and used the Liberals' favourite cliches—'the integrity of the electoral roll' and 'Big Brother'. The integrity of the electoral roll involves more than just cutting people off and making it harder for them to be enrolled; it involves seeing that the Australian electoral roll accurately represents the broad mass of citizens of Australia as best it can. Some of the remarks of the member for Indi would make former Prime Minister John Howard turn in his grave—if he were in it, which thankfully he is not at the moment. But the point is that continuous roll update was used by the previous Howard government to—

Mr Robert: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: as much as it pains me to interrupt the member for Melbourne Ports, under standing order 90, 'Reflections on Members', it is inappropriate for him to reflect on the member for Indi and what the former Prime Minister may or may not have thought of her.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): I do not think there is any point of order.

Mr DANBY: I was reflecting on the content of what the member for Indi said, not on her or on former Prime Minister Howard. My point was that continuous roll update using existing databases has been used for years. Mr Howard, I seem to remember, won every election from 1996 until 2007—and what were the sinister databases provided by Big Brother? They were the very same databases that are to be used by the Electoral Commission in this proposed enrolment procedure.

The member for Indi was complaining about the failure of prosecutions which have to be initiated by the police at the recommendation of the Electoral Commission. I have often recounted to the House that between 1999 and 2010 there were six electoral events, including a referendum, and 72 proven cases of electoral fraud. In those six events approximately 72,000,000 votes were cast and there were only 72 proven cases of electoral fraud. The effect of this fraud on individual electorates has not been identified by any of the premier electoral experts—Professor Mackerras, Professor Hughes and Professor Costar.

The issue of the integrity of the electoral roll is a nonsense, and it has been raised to avoid addressing the major issue—the increasing number of Australians who are not enrolled. The number enrolled is down to 90 per cent. That means very large numbers of our fellow Australians are excluded by a process that used to take place of cutting them off the roll. As the member for Mackellar correctly pointed out, only 20 per cent of them responded to letters from the Electoral Commission. We know they can be at new addresses, and that is confirmed by two or three independent databases—whether they be Centrelink or Transport Accident Commission or other databases. This hollows out the electoral roll and makes it less valid. If you indeed value democracy, if you indeed believe the words of the members for Mackellar and Indi about the integrity of the electoral roll, you cannot have more and more people being affected by the unintended consequence of cutting people from the electoral roll, as the Electoral Commission used to do when people did not sign bits of paper. We know the reason young people do not do that is that most of them are on email and they do not respond to hard mail. We see the huge numbers of Australian tourists going overseas. How many people are doing fly-in fly-out all around the country? We can see how mobile modern Australians are. All of these factors contribute to the old snail mail CRU 'cut them off the roll' system, effectively disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of Australians over time. This is something that any democratic parliament should have to weigh against a few cases of electoral fraud—as I said, 72 out of 72 million votes cast over a 10-year period.

This legislation is part of an effort to ensure the majority of Australians are enfranchised. Those opposite speak of the integrity of the roll when they oppose changes to our electoral laws. Today I would like to tell them we are doing something to maintain the integrity of the roll—we are ensuring that Australians have a chance to cast a vote at the ballot box. It is not Big Brother telling them how to vote; it is just giving the opportunity to vote to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been kept off the roll by the unintended consequences of a system of continuous roll update that the Electoral Commission had been legislated to undertake. Keeping people off the roll is a wrong attitude. Disenfranchising Australians is a wrong attitude. It is reprehensible that those who are now in charge of the Liberal Party oppose giving more Australians a chance to be involved in the electoral process. I am not surprised—the Liberal Party now opposes us along every step of the way, and this includes opposing changes proposed by the government to the egregious and toxic legislation the Liberals passed in 2006. As the member for Banks correctly pointed out, and as have former members of the Electoral Commission and members of the opposition—Ronaldson, Morrison, Scott et cetera—this process of more and more Australians not participating in the vote, not enrolling, being cut off, was covered in a unanimous committee report and a unanimous recommendation: no conspiracy by the Electoral Commission there.

The Liberal Party and the National Party, which remembers the good old days when 5,000 persons and 100,000 sheep were accepted as part of a rural electorate, now oppose the changes made to repeal early closing of the electoral rolls. They oppose changes to amend provisional voting laws. In my electorate, and it would be the same in everyone's electorate, you would have 1,800 people apply for a provisional vote—they had changed their address at the last minute but they lived within the electorate and they were able to provide an electricity bill or some other identification. Increasingly, because of the Liberals' 2006 changes, more and more people were cut off between 2007 and 2010. In my electorate—it is typical of what happened across Australia—of the 1,800 people who applied, only 370 got their vote. Some shocking things have happened recently. I cited the electoral experts before—Professors Mackerras, Hughes and Costar—and they agreed that the existing laws were partisan and unfair and bad for our democracy. No-one can say, having gone to the last election with these issues in front of us, that we do not have a mandate for this measure. We have a compulsory voting system in Australia and it is disturbing to me, as it should be to every Australian, that, with a democracy like ours and compulsory voting, 2½ million Australians at the last election did not exercise a vote. It is the responsibility of this parliament to look at the fact that 1.5 million of the 15.5 million people who should have been on the electoral roll at the last election were not. The integrity that the members for Mackellar and Indi spoke about so passionately is not a matter of excluding as many Australians as you can—it is a matter of seeing that the electoral roll is current, accurate and, yes, has integrity as a result of including as many Australians as possible.

My colleague the member for Banks, who is the Chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, neglected to point out one other political factor. Not only do we have the Electoral Commission, the government, others in the House and independent electoral experts supporting this legislation, but we also have the governments of New South Wales and Victoria supporting it. Excuse me, but as far as I understand it they are both of the conservative hue. Mr O'Farrell is the Premier of the New South Wales and Mr Baillieu is the Premier of Victoria. Neither of those two gentlemen or their governments seem to share the prejudices of the members for Mackellar and Indi. They do not seek to overturn the attempts to enfranchise as many Australians as possible—or, in their cases, as many Victorians or New South Welshman as possible. They are quite happy with these changes—changes accepted with the more rational support of people like Morrison, Ronaldson and Scott, who were on this committee previously.

Over time, the changes will see more Australians on the electoral roll. That will ensure its integrity. If there is any attempt to enrol people unfairly or illegally, this should be looked at by the Electoral Commission and by the Australia Federal Police. As I have said on previous occasions, attempts to look at this kind of behaviour have been minimal at best. In fact, most of the 72 cases were of people in northern New South Wales who were trying to get drivers licences in Queensland and had nothing to do with trying to rort electoral procedures. These are very great amendments and a great progress towards democracy of which this government can be very proud.