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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3573


Mr MATHESON (Macarthur) (20:03): The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012 seek to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984. The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 seeks to allow the Electoral Commission to directly update an elector's enrolled address following the receipt of analysis of reliable and current data sources from outside the Australian Electoral Commission that indicate an elector has moved residential address. What this bill fails to do is set controls on what is a reliable current data source outside of the Australian Electoral Commission. This bill hands over the burden of responsibility for updating a person's electoral address from the voter to the Electoral Commissioner, with no controls, no checks and balances and no parameters as to where the Electoral Commissioner can source the information. To me that is very, very disturbing. This bill will bypass many of this government's own fundamental privacy principles and add yet another element of Big Brother to this government's already overregulating and overreaching scope of authority.

The second bill that this government has put forward, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012, is yet another attempt by this government to take our nation down the very, very slippery slope of automatic enrolment. Automatic enrolment has been the brainchild of the Greens for over a decade. The travesty of this bill is that it represents a key component of their Orwellian nightmare for this nation and our prestigious democratic record. Australia has long been a shining example of democracy to the world. While we may only be a young country, we have been fortunate that until recently we had a good national leadership, a booming economy and a healthy democratic system of government. Indeed, we were envied across the globe. But these two bills represent a paradigm shift in the way our system of democracy operates at its most fundamental level.

In this great nation voting is a right, but it is also an obligation enforced by the law. The right to have your voice heard and the right to have your vote counted is a sacred thing. It should not be taken lightly and it should not be handed out frivolously. People in nations less fortunate than ours have died trying to exercise this right. Voting in our nation comes with rights, obligations, responsibilities and duties. These obligations are not onerous. They do not require a citizen to jump through legislative hoops. A person need only fill in a form and provide identification in order to enrol to vote. Once enrolled, an elector can update their details by fax, mail or in person. In fact, an elector can even update their details online; it is not too hard to do. If a person can jump on the internet and update their drivers licence online, why can't we trust them to do the same thing through the AEC?

The Special Minister of State in his second reading speech for the maintaining address bill asserted:

The bill will assist in meeting the urgent need to arrest the decline in enrolment rates across Australia by ensuring the federal electoral roll is as current and accurate as possible.

However, in spite of the minister believing this to be an urgent need, he did not make a single mention in either the speech or the explanatory memorandum of any evidence of the scale of these inaccuracies. I submit that in Australia we have a far more urgent need to crack down on multiple voting and voter fraud than to directly update voters' addresses without the voters' knowledge or consent. You have only got to look at the last federal election—I am standing here next to the federal member for Hume—to know what the Labor Party's policy is: it is vote early and vote often. If that was not enough of an assault on the integrity of the roll, now they want to add electors to the electoral roll without their knowledge or their consent. These two bills create the possibility of a person being enrolled without their knowledge at an address where they may or may not reside. There are a couple of examples in my electorate, with the urban renewal programs in our public housing areas, the One Minto Project or the Airds renewal program or Rosemeadow and Claymore. People are put into temporary accommodation in hotels and motels out of their electorate. The member for Grey mentioned people being informed voters. These people have lived most of their lives in my electorate. If they are moved out of the electorate for temporary accommodation and live outside the electorate for one month, they might find themselves on a roll in a different electorate, when they do not want to even participate in the election of that candidate. These informed people want to vote for the person they know who is doing the right thing by their community, and, all of a sudden, because we are going through this urban renewal process and they have been shifted out of their area, they will be put on a roll without their knowledge and asked to vote for somebody else. Some great thought must have gone into this legislation! Who is the Einstein who came up with this one?

What about people with domestic violence issues? You might have a couple who have a domestic violence issue and one takes out an AVO, with part of the condition of the AVO being that the other person must live in another electorate. They might have to live there for four, five, six, nine, 12 or 18 months or longer to resolve their dispute with their spouse, and all of a sudden they will find themselves on an electoral roll somewhere else. Once again, it is a case of an informed voter being taken out of their electorate through secondary advice given to the Australian Electoral Commission, who will put them on another roll without their knowledge. Absolutely incredible—how good is this legislation! There are people on the other side of the House saying, 'We're proud of this legislation'! Not enough thought has gone into this legislation.

There are going to be other circumstances where people will be out of their area temporarily, put on a different electoral roll without their knowledge and asked to vote for someone they do not even know, because they have lived most of their life in another electorate. I am talking about informed voters who know their candidates and want to make a decision that will change things in their electorate, but they will be asked to vote in another electorate where they do not know what is going on.

Mr Schultz interjecting

Mr MATHESON: Absolutely. Anything to hold their seats. You are right, member for Hume. They then could be sent a fine for not voting, which they may not receive and, as a result, they could have their drivers licence cancelled, because this government wants to allow the Electoral Commissioner free rule over additions and amendments to the electoral roll, with no restrictions and no requirements for identifying or regulating information sources. I just keep looking back. How good is this legislation! There has been a lot of thought put into this! I hope that those of us in this chamber today respect and uphold the values of democracy when voting on this bill. Put some thought into it, guys!

We must stop this insidious campaign launched by the faceless men of the ALP, who are attempting to compromise the integrity of the electoral roll for their own selfish purposes. Just last month we saw the damage that the same faceless men in the Australian Labor Party have done not only to the parliamentary wing of the ALP but to what is left of the grassroots movements of their party. These bills represent the same phenomenon in our nation. They give the AEC the power and authority to add electors to the roll without their knowledge or consent. These bills allow the Electoral Commission to access private information and records from secondary sources to update the residential addresses of electors. This is not and should not be the function of the AEC. Not only will people have their addresses updated without their knowledge, but it may result in electors being incorrectly enrolled or even removed from the electoral roll entirely, denying them the chance to vote in an election. There will be many circumstances like this brought forward, I can tell you, by disgruntled voters who cannot vote for the candidate that they love. This will be further exacerbated by the government's second bill, which will use information and data from unspecified secondary sources to determine if a person has been living at that address for at least a month and is eligible to be on the roll. A month is not a long time. It is an incredibly short period of time. This legislation is very, very poor.

Antony Green exposed the fundamental flaw of automatic enrolment in his July 2011 article analysing the dismal failure of automatic enrolment in the most recent New South Wales state election. We all know about Antony Green, don't we? He is a great expert, on top of his game. While the New South Wales Labor Party had hoped that the automatic enrolments would be their saving grace at the ballot box, only 64.3 per cent of the electors that were automatically enrolled actually turned up to vote—64.3 per cent! This incredibly high non-participation rate demonstrates the point that a massive number of those people automatically enrolled to vote were completely disenfranchised by the electoral system or, alternatively, those people were not actually entitled to vote in the first place or were not living at the address where they had been automatically enrolled. So there are systematic failures already.

The notion of directly updating a person's details on the electoral roll or enrolling them to vote without their knowledge or consent will lead to a high number of potential irregularities. Further to this point, the bill is lacking in consistency and detail. It gives the AEC complete discretion to determine what it believes are reliable and current data sources to obtain information about elector addresses. This goes far beyond the scope of authority traditionally bestowed upon the AEC. Imagine some of the information they might get from the courts or the local police about people who have been locked up and charged and part of their bail conditions is that they have got to go and live in another electorate—away from their local member, all their family and their house. This is incredible legislation! It's brilliant!

While on this point, I refer to the submission by the Australian Privacy Foundation to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in February 2012. The Australian Privacy Foundation makes two very valid arguments relating to the collection and use of secondary sources of information. The first argument is that this bill seeks to undermine the fundamental privacy principle that personal information collected by a government body or agency should only be used for the purpose for which it was collected. If the government body or agency intends to use this information for a secondary purpose, then consent of the person from whom it was collected should be given. They have got to legally give consent. I tell you, this legislation is fantastic! Of course, there will be exceptions for special circumstances where the public interest outweighs individual privacy. Does the public interest outweigh individual privacy? I do not think so. The minister's supposedly urgent need to arrest the decline in enrolment rates across Australia does not weigh up against any public interest test. I have got to meet the person who put this legislation together. It is absolutely brilliant! Perhaps he is trying to weigh it up against his own party's self-interest! That might be the key to it all—his own party's self-interest.

Second, and equally important, is the reality that data and information collected by any government agency is collected for a specific purpose and in a very different context to the Australian electoral roll. The coalition members on the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters noted in July 2011 in their dissenting report:

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

It had to be the coalition—a bit of thought has gone into it. Of course, it is a dissenting report. To demonstrate this point, we need to look no further than our own government agencies' records. Let us look at a bit of history here. Let us look at the data. Let us have a think about it. It is one month. Do not rush into things. Have a chat about it. Talk it through. You will get a bipartisan approach on good policy in this chamber.

For instance, the Australian National Audit Office Audit Report No. 24 2004-05: Integrity of Medicare enrolment data stated:

ANAO found that up to half a million active Medicare enrolment records were probably for people who are deceased.

Further to that point, the Review of the ANAO Report No. 37 1989-99 on the Management of Tax File Numbers, found that at the time of the last census—namely, 1996—there were 3.2 million more tax file numbers than people in Australia. Who is going to get that data? Is it going to be the Labor Party, with the old vote early, vote often policy? Are they going to know who all these deceased people are or who has all these tax file numbers? Are they going to run around and vote at so many booths it is not going to be funny? We know who is putting this legislation together. It is a beauty. It is vote early, vote often and try to vote Labor if you can.

The data included 185,000 potential duplicate tax file numbers of individuals, and a sample match showed that 62 per cent of deceased clients were not recorded as deceased. Who picks up on that? We know who picks up on that. The AEC's reliance on secondary data sources, as stipulated by this bill, is very concerning. However, what is of even greater concern to me is that this bill gives the Australian Electoral Commissioner the discretion to determine what reliable and current data sources he should use to derive information regarding elector addresses and voter eligibility.

That is a huge responsibility. It is unbelievable. There has been no real train of thought behind any of this. It has been rushed through at a hundred miles an hour: 'Let's get as many votes as we can while the opportunity exists. The crossbenchers will probably support it so let's get this legislation right through because it helps us.' As a former police officer for over 25 years, I have a keen understanding of the challenges posed by relying on secondary sources of information to make an informed and accurate assessment. A lot of people go out of their way to supply secondary sources of information that are not correct. They do not want to be found. They will be on a couple of electoral rolls; it is absolutely brilliant!

My point is that secondary sources, any secondary source, are of variable quality. Even secondary sources that one would think would be up-to-date and accurate, such as Medicare, Centrelink or the department of immigration, collect their information for different purposes and in widely different contexts than that of maintaining an electoral roll. That is the crux of the matter. A document as important to our democratic process as the electoral roll should only ever be updated, amended or added to based on primary information, not secondary information. You actually have to know where they really do live. This is astonishing. Secondary information to create an electoral roll. This is great stuff! You should be proud of it! It should be primary information collected for the sole purpose of updating or amending the roll itself. Anything less constitutes a profound lack of respect for democracy in this great nation.

We have heard a range of arguments from the other side of the House about how voters find it too difficult to update their addresses on the electoral roll. Mr Deputy Speaker, I ask you this: regardless of whether the government thinks that people are too lazy to update their own address or apply to be included on the electoral roll, why do they believe that the government should take this responsibility themselves? In Australia, our traditional personal responsibility has resulted in a nation of concerned, sympathetic and proactive citizens. Australia's democratic system is unique in the world and, simply put, we should not be messing with it if it is not broken—and it is not broken.

Democracy is alive and well in this nation, much to the chagrin of the faceless men of the ALP. Voters have been updating their electoral addresses and applying to be placed onto the electoral roll for decades past, and they will do so for decades to come. We as a parliament must stop this insidious encroachment of the Big Brother style of government that is so beloved by this Prime Minister and this government. (Time expired)