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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3568


Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (19:43): I rise to address the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012. I oppose both bills. They are designed to tilt the electoral system in Australia in the Labor-Greens direction.

Why is that? It is because they enrol the uninformed. We know the best chance Labor has of scaring up votes is by appealing to the uninformed, because if they knew what a Labor Party government was like they would never vote for them. The member for Throsby, who has just left the chamber, justifies these bills by quoting the findings of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. This was, of course, a Labor-Greens based committee. Both bills devalue the integrity of the electoral roll.

Australia has generally enjoyed a reasonably clean electoral system. It is the norm. I often say that the reason it is relatively clean in Australia is that we just expect this to be the natural course of events. We are not naturally cheaters—but you do not need many. Not everyone is as pure as the driven snow, which is why we should have robust systems.

I am particularly concerned about these bills' ability to identify identity integrity. I am wary of the electronic world when it comes to security. Just type the word 'hacking' into a search engine on your computer and you will bring up hundreds of examples of individuals having hacked into computers such as NASA's and the US Senate's, not to mention the actions of WikiLeaks. We are advised by our banking institutions that we should change our passwords every three months at least. These bills represent great opportunities for those wishing to corrupt the system, promote mayhem and undermine the system by suggesting electronically that people live in places that they do not. It is a very dangerous area, because these bills will place people on the electoral roll without their knowledge. Individual electors will be put directly onto the electoral roll without ever filling out even an electoral form.

The bills empower the Australian Electoral Commission to update the rolls from 'reliable and current data'. It does not say what the objective measurement for reliable and current data will be. It is a case of beauty being in the eye of the beholder. If the AEC decide on a particular day that a certain list looks good to them that is what they can use. It raises many questions, including questions about where people live, because people do not actually have to respond to their compulsory enrolment. What about people who have two addresses—a primary address and a secondary address? They may well elect to receive their electricity, phone, gas and rates notices directly at the secondary address—the address they do not live at. It is quite conceivable that some reliable and current database may well pick this up as their place of residence and the AEC will send them a letter welcoming them into the new electorate. What if people are overseas for an extended period and have a mail forwarding address—maybe their relatives' address—in a different electorate?

Would a reliable and current database be the tax files database? I am indebted to the member for Mackellar, who raised in the inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters the fact that in 1999 there were 3.2 million more tax file numbers than people. I hope they do not use the database that sees mail still being sent to my father, who died three years ago—it comes pretty regularly. Would that be a reliable and current database? The Australian National Audit Office found that up to half-a-million Medicare enrolments were probably for people who are dead. I would think that, at this stage, the electoral roll itself is the database in Australia with the most integrity. Anything we choose other than that will be of lesser value.

Under the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill, the Australian Electoral Commission will write to you at your new address. If you do not answer you will be enrolled at that address. That seems illogical. Surely, once they write to you, you should have to respond and say: 'Yes, it's me. I'm here. I'm hearing what you say. I've been put on the electoral roll.' But, no; if you do not answer, you will be enrolled.

The second bill is innocuously subtitled 'Protecting Elector Participation'. It should be called 'Undermining Electoral Integrity'. There is no way in the world that this protects elector participation; it mandates automatic enrolment. In New South Wales, where there is already automatic enrolment, Antony Green of the ABC raised the fact that, of those automatically enrolled for the first time for the 2011 New South Wales election, only 63.4 per cent voted. Did the other 37 per cent even know they were on the roll? Did they have any idea at all? This probably came as a complete surprise to them. If that 37 per cent did not know they were on the electoral roll, there is a possibility for someone else to exercise their right to vote. Remember, you do not know that you are on the roll. Imagine, for instance, that your electricity supplier sent you a bill at the end of the month but you did not respond to it. Would they then consider it settled? Would they say: 'You didn't respond to the bill? Don't worry about that mate. We'll fix it up for you. Just forget about it'? In fact, the way electricity prices are rising, it might be a good thing for the government to institute!

It is preposterous that we would automatically enrol someone without their knowledge and leave them on the roll, possibly still without their knowledge, for other people to move into that space. How long will it be before someone inevitably leaks the list of those who have been enrolled but have not responded? An electronic list of that style would be of great value to people who wish to distort the system. Someone who does not know they are on the roll is obviously the person to vote in place of, particularly because when we roll up at a polling booth on election day we are not asked to prove our identity—although that would be a true reform of the electoral system. That kind of electronic list, of people who have been enrolled against their will or without their knowledge and who have never responded, would be a green light to those who choose to cheat the system.

The passage of these bills will mean the immediate death of the traditional enrolment method. I heard just before I rose to my feet the member for Throsby going through the many things the Electoral Commission does now to educate voters, to encourage voters to enrol and to engage with them. What would be the point of any of those things if they were going to be automatically enrolled? Why would schools, for instance, spend any of their time trying to educate children about their future responsibilities? I know this happens now within my own electorate. Schools will, in fact, help the kids fill out their electoral forms and give them a lesson about the Australian political system. There will be a distinct disincentive for them to waste their time on these matters, so the very small amount of engagement that we have with young people now, in trying to bring them up to speed and engage them with the system, is likely to be obliterated virtually overnight. Why would the Electoral Commission encourage anybody to enrol to vote in the traditional manner if in fact it is all going to be done electronically, without their knowledge and superquick overnight?

These bills are a terrible move. They will open up the opportunity to bring Australia's electoral system into disrepute. I understand why the government are putting the bills forward. It is because they think that this is going to be a free kick for them. That is the worst reason to bring these bills into the House, and I oppose them.