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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3555

Mr BUCHHOLZ (Wright) (18:46): I rise to speak on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the cognate Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012. I take on board the previous speaker's comments with reference to the declining number of people not on the roll. From memory, the number was 2.9 million people not on the roll and, of those, 400,000 people cast their votes in an invalid format. Listening to the trend regarding Australians choosing whether or not to be on the roll, as a parliament we need to look at ourselves and do some soul-searching when it comes to asking why people are not motivated to be enrolled and participate in the direction of our nation.

I suggest that there is an increasing number of people who do not trust either side of government. I hear this often on polling days in Queensland. I will be joining state candidates and incumbents in Queensland this Saturday and I know I will get the standard line from a select number who roll up to polling booths and say, 'I don't trust any of you @#$%&* and I wish I could park my vote informally.' I suggest that maybe our behaviour in the House is one way we could address the concerns people have about the integrity of the parliament. I suggest a little more honesty and sincerity.

We do not have to go too far back before the last election when it comes to electoral matters to see that we had a potential Prime Minister looking down the barrel and saying one thing and then directly after being elected doing another. It comes down to the integrity of government. When you are watching which way the data is skewing there could be some collegial evidence to support why people are choosing not to vote.

We have supported nearly 78 per cent of the bills that have come before this House. That is a staggering number given the lines that the government throw out about us—that we oppose everything, that we say no, no, no. The data I received from the library in the last term—

Mr Gray: You're opposing this.

Mr BUCHHOLZ: Yes, I am opposing this one. You have that right. The point I am making is that we do not oppose everything. I do not suggest that the introduction of this legislation is going to change the trajectory of the figures. The coalition support the concept of less government, less intervention and the freedom for people to make a choice. Get your hands out of the pockets of business and let them have a crack.

These bills amend the Electoral Act to allow the Australian Electoral Commission to directly enrol new electors on the electoral roll when the Electoral Commissioner is satisfied that an individual is living at a particular address for a period of one month and is eligible to be on the roll, and gives the AEC authority to change the address of electors when it believes they have changed their residential address. The coalition oppose this legislation because we believe it will significantly diminish the integrity of the electoral roll. Let us have a look at some background to this legislation.

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters conducted an inquiry into the 2010 federal election and reported in July 2011. One of the recommendations of the Labor and Greens committee members was to introduce automatic enrolment. This is a process by which an individual can be placed directly on the roll without ever filling out a form and, more to the point, without their knowledge. I suggest that that is where we should not be heading. This process would enable the AEC to use information from other government sources to make a determination about who should be on the roll. There are a couple of issues here. Firstly, it is highly likely that this process will diminish the integrity of the roll—and I will talk more about that—and, secondly, it will remove the responsibility on electors to update or maintain their enrolment details when they change addresses. Currently, the honour of living in a democratic society where we have the freedom of a vote comes with some responsibility and that responsibility as an Australian is to keep the Electoral Commission informed of your whereabouts. Forms for that to happen are readily available throughout the community.

As we on this side of the House are fond of saying, we are big believers in individual responsibility. The nature of our compulsory voting system in Australia is unique among Western democracies; nevertheless, it has resulted in some of the highest voter turnout statistics in the world, which can only be a good thing. In the US for example, voter turnout frequently struggles to creep over the 50 per cent mark. At the last federal election in New Zealand, where the vote is not compulsory, turnout was about 73 per cent and, at the last British election, barely 65 per cent of voters turned out. In Australia, that figure is consistently over 90 per cent. One vote, one value—a new voter turning 18 carries exactly the same weight and the same value as the people the government scorns, such as the likes of Gina Rinehart or Clive Palmer. That is the great thing about our democracy.

The Australian population is engaged in a political process. As such, the coalition believes it is reasonable to expect that each Australian should take responsibility for enrolling to vote, maintaining their enrolment details, casting a vote when an election is called and fully extending preferences to candidates contesting elections for the House of Representatives. Nevertheless, the Labor Party and their rainbow coalition partners, the Greens, are still furiously insisting that the above requirements are simply too difficult for Australians and therefore government intervention is required to ensure that people carry out their democratic obligations.

Personally, I feel that this sort of condescending paternalism is unbecoming of the government of a politically literate and engaged country. As we often say, the coalition believes in individual responsibilities. We believe that the voter should be in charge of enrolling to vote and maintaining their own details. They do not need the government to do it on their behalf. Again, we believe in less government and, as testament to that, we are on the record as saying that when in government we will reduce the size of the Public Service. That is why every second bit of legislation the government brings to this place involves unnecessary meddling in people's lives. Why does every policy come bundled with a year's supply of cotton wool and a subheading which reads, 'We don't believe you can be trusted to do the right thing so we're going to do it for you'?

As I mentioned a moment ago, one of the big concerns the coalition has with this legislation is that it will corrupt the integrity of the electoral roll because of electors being put on the roll without their knowledge. This in turn will lead to a number of potential irregularities in the electoral process. This bill gives the AEC the discretion to determine what sort of data sources are appropriate for determining an individual's eligibility to be on the roll. We believe this goes far beyond the purview of the AEC and that it should be up to the individual elector to supply details about their enrolment. Furthermore, there is reason to be extremely concerned about the reliability of the data sources used to determine eligibility to vote. As coalition members on the joint standing committee in their dissenting report noted:

The reliance on external data sources that have been collated and that are utilised for other purposes does not make it fit for them to use in informing the electoral roll.

As outlined in the previous report on these proposals, a 1999 report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, Finance and Public Administration titled Numbers on the run: a review of the management of tax file numbers found that there were 3.2 million more tax file numbers than there were people in Australia. How can that be? How can there be 3.2 million more tax file numbers than people in Australia? It also found that there were 185,000 potential duplicated tax records for individuals and that 62 per cent of deceased clients were not recorded as deceased in sample matches.

That is where this legislation potentially takes the roll. That is where this legislation will end up. I know it is not the intent of any like-minded government to jeopardise this document of integrity. Similarly, not too long ago an Australian National Audit Office report found that half-a-million active Medicare enrolment records were probably for people who were deceased. But, suddenly, it all makes sense. Suddenly we can see why Labor is so keen to implement this legislation. Those of us with long memories might recall that approximately 10 years ago, hot on the heels of the Shepherdson inquiry, the committee on electoral matters conducted an inquiry at which it was revealed that members of the Australian Labor Party, particularly in Queensland, had been systematically rorting the electoral roll for their own advantage. During its hearings, committee members heard not only of long-dead people miraculously coming back to life and casting a vote but also one bizarre incident of a cat voting. Is that what we have come to?

This is the response from the Labor Party to the fact that those who are living are so unlikely to vote Labor; it looks for ways to start enrolling the dead. I remember being part of a football tour to Blackwater. I caught up with the local candidate a couple of weeks after a state election in Queensland. He made the point to me that he thought things were travelling all right on the ground, but he was absolutely devastated when he did not get over the line as a candidate. Later, when he made investigations, every single vacant block of land in that township had people linked to the electoral roll. Obviously, the electoral roll in that process was fictitious.

All I can say is that if we are about to start using government data to automatically enrol people, it would need to be an awful lot more reliable than the data that I have just mentioned. There is incredible evidence that automatic enrolment does not work anyway. Both New South Wales and Victoria recently introduced automatic enrolments ahead of their state elections. As the ABC's highly respected election analyst Antony Green noted in an article on 16 July 2011, only 64 per cent of those people automatically enrolled for the first time during the 2011 New South Wales election actually turned out to vote. Such a high non-participation rate suggests that information used to put new electors on the roll is unreliable and could result in electors being issued with a fine for not voting when they should not really have been on the roll in the first place.

Again, I make the point that I have come into the House as part of a coalition team and collectively we have supported 70 per cent of the bills that have gone through this place. Of the bills that we have not supported, we have had real concerns about them. I join with my coalition partners in raising suitable concern about the integrity of this bill and the unintended consequences that will be a by-product of the legislation. There are so many potential issues with this legislation that it is hard to know when to stop. Suffice to say, the coalition will not be supporting this bill.