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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3579


Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (20:29): As I continue to say in this place, it is my particular curse in life to be doomed to follow the member for Shortland in debates. Let's be nice—and that might be the slogan for the legislation we are considering today, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the cognate bill, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012. We could say to the 3.2 million tax file numbers, the 185,000 duplicates, 'You're not just a number,' except that they are just a number and they do not represent real human beings.

The member for Shortland made an extraordinary contribution, which I endorse in all its glory. In particular, it gave some reinforcement to my thinking—that is, if you were an architect of this legislation, what would be your intention? As a proponent of moving to voluntary voting one day in Australia's future, I would have to say that you would really be an architect of voluntary voting because these two bills undermine the integrity of the electoral roll.

Having listened to the member for Shortland, I am concerned that perhaps she is an advocate of voluntary voting because the Canadian system, which she referred to in eloquent and withering destruction of the member for Macarthur, is in fact a voluntary system. She says if an elector turns up to vote on election day in Canada and is not on the roll, they get to vote. That is because it is a voluntary system and completely different from ours. The entire point she was making goes to reinforce in my mind that this is a secret plot by the Special Minister of State to move us to voluntary voting. 'Bring it on,' is what I say.

The legislation before us does enormous damage to what has been a well-run system in Australia with a roll of high integrity. While there have been individual concerns and individual cases in elections and electorates over many years, generally we have seen high voter turnouts, high rates of integrity and good quality investigation and follow-up of problems. It is very disturbing to think that the New South Wales data referred to by many coalition members shows that up to 37 per cent of people do not turn out to vote. That is a real concern, which has so far not been addressed by the government. When we go from 95 per cent in Australia to a system where one-third or more, potentially 40 per cent of the people enrolling, are not turning out to vote, essentially we are turning to a voluntary system.

Having come back from Japan recently, I know that voluntary voting there works very well, with a 60 per cent turnout. If the government are suggesting 60 per cent is acceptable, that 37 per cent not turning out is acceptable, they are advocating a total change in our voting system.

Moving along, I want to endorse the member for Macarthur's contribution and the dissenting reports put forward by the member for Mackellar, Senators Scott Ryan and Simon Birmingham, and the member for Fairfax. These are really high-quality dissenting reports which outline specifically why these two bills are going to be a retrograde step for the quality of the electoral roll and the electoral system in Australia today. In particular I would draw the House's attention to the integrity of the electoral roll section in the dissenting report on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011. In that dissenting report there is a fascinating exchange between the member for Mackellar and Mr Killesteyn of the AEC about the process the AEC would undertake under the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill.

That dissenting report shows on pages 22 and 23 that, in writing backwards and forwards, the onus on an individual is completely and utterly removed, not just to enrol or prove where they live, not just to prove who they are, but even to respond to the Electoral Commission. People do not even have to respond to the Electoral Commissioner. In fact, not responding gets you a new address. It is completely and utterly counterintuitive. It is against the entire system on which our electoral set-up has been framed, which relies on the individual maintaining their own address. The frightening thing coming out of this exchange is that only 20 per cent of people currently respond to the Australian Electoral Commissioner. So 80 per cent of people do nothing, do not respond. They are obviously, as the member for Shortland so eloquently put it, having some confusion about their electoral roll details. The 80 per cent who are currently written to by the AEC are going to be given a new electoral roll address without their knowledge, without their consent and presumably with a high rate of error. Once again, this is a counterintuitive process, but at least it is consistent with the way government has been approached by the Gillard-Rudd government since coming to office—turning gold into lead, the counter-Midas touch.

Moving to the detail of this legislation and looking through the dissenting reports, members will find further concerning developments, including what is considered to be a reliable and current data source being open to interpretation. I do not believe, and I agree with the opposition's position, that this should be within the purview of the Australian Electoral Commission, and there are good reasons for that to be the case. There must be independent, legislated standards. I do not believe we want to add power to this agency to interpret what is a standard. It should be defined by this parliament. While I am not ascribing any ill motive to the Australian Electoral Commission, the power to deem data sources trusted, and to deem some not trusted, will leave future potential loopholes for things to be done incorrectly. When designing legislation, this is the kind of thing that you need to tighten. It is the kind of thing the government ought to look at and say, 'Oh dear, we forgot about that.' To say, 'What is deemed a reliable source? We will let a body outside this parliament determine that,' I do not believe is a good way to approach the consistency and integrity of the electoral roll, and I endorse the comments of the coalition members who put this dissenting report together. Moving along: this continues to tie into other matters such as privacy concerns. If the AEC determines that certain sources are trusted and accesses that information, as the member for Macarthur said, what are the privacy concerns with that? If that information is supplied for a particular purpose under the law, it is not to be used for any other purpose under current legal frameworks, so the questions start to come into play about what information is being used for what purposes. Privacy still ranks as a very serious concern in an age of data collection, in an age of cybersafety and other concerns to do with online presence, and I think it is a valid concern in relation to this legislation that people should be able to provide information, including tax file information and other information, without compromising their electoral roll address. As we know, if you do not respond, you are re-enrolled at a new address without your consent or knowledge, and 80 per cent of people, the Australian Electoral Commissioner advises us, fall into this category.

We have heard quite an extraordinary set of arguments in relation to this, which really lead one to think there is no real motivation for legislation such as these two bills except for electoral advantage. The member for Shortland discussed disadvantaged people being on the electoral roll. I just do not think that the purpose of these two bills is to enrol masses of disadvantaged people who are not on the electoral roll—except, as one of my colleagues pointed out, perhaps dead people or people who have existential challenges, because that is what will happen if the provisions of these bills are enacted by this parliament. We are going to have a massive increase in non-existent people being enrolled on the electoral roll, leading to higher nonturnout, higher opportunity for voter fraud, and an electoral roll where—if we look at the stats in New South Wales—almost 40 per cent of those in the new enrolled data do not turn out on election day.

It is of great concern, and I think that these sets of arguments, whether they be about disadvantaged people or arguments that we are trying to just enrol our friends, were quite a difficult pattern to understand. It does lead one to think that, as the electoral situation federally gets much tighter, we are seeing more and more bills from the government in relation to amending the electoral roll and the Commonwealth Electoral Act, seeking to enrol so many people.

There were of course, as we know and have heard so many times, up to 3.2 million more tax file numbers than people in Australia at the last census, so why would we possibly go there? That is from the ANAO report. There are 185,000 potential duplicate tax records for individuals. Sixty per cent of deceased clients were not recorded as deceased in a sample match. These are serious statistics. So, when a government is saying that automatic enrolment will apply to these categories of people and statistics, you have to ask yourself the question: what is the government doing with this legislation? There has not been any coherent explanation as to why.

Other electoral bills that we have seen in this House in the past few years have ensured that prisoners with custodial sentences will have the right to vote. The franchise being extended to people who exist and also the people here who clearly—according to the ANAO audit report, the tax office and other agencies—just do not exist or are duplicates is a very problematic question. I think the opposition is right to say, 'Let's not have tampering with the electoral roll which weakens the integrity of the roll.' This government has accused the Howard government of doing that, but the Howard government simply set up a firm set of deadlines for individuals to meet their obligations and responsibilities.

This government talks frequently about the responsibility of voters to vote but not the responsibility of voters to enrol themselves to vote. So you take the responsibility that you have to vote, that you should vote and that it is a good thing but not that it is a good thing for you to maintain your right to vote—or that responsibility will be taken from you by this nanny-state government, which of course will enrol millions of tax file numbers and duplicate records and all sorts of people who do not really exist. It is a great concern.

It is, of course, the duty of each Australian citizen to enrol to vote in a compulsory system, to accurately maintain their roll and their residence and to cast a vote—and of course to ensure that they extend their preferences. That is the current legislation. That is the current system that we have.

I do not believe this is too onerous for individuals. I do not accept the member for Shortland's dark construct of Australian society that there are masses of confused people in her electorate. I find this entirely ridiculous. I do not accept that there are masses of confused people in the electorate of Shortland who do not know how to put themselves on the electoral roll, who do not know how to maintain their own address and who do not know their responsibilities about voting. In fact, I would suggest that every electoral statistic since Federation and since the seat of Shortland was created would suggest that the vast, vast, vast majority of people understand that obligation, have met their obligation and are quite capable of meeting their responsibility. As to this contention that there is massive confusion over the electorate of Shortland, I think the member for Shortland should step outside her electorate office more often. She would find that the world is not such a confused place beyond the doors of her own electorate office.

While there has been some humour in the last few presentations, this is actually quite a serious issue. I think the matters that we are considering here today—giving an agency like the Electoral Commission the power to deem their own trusted sources of reliable data; automatic enrolment of people regardless of whether they exist or not; and the other tampering that we see in the so-called 'protecting elector participation' and so-called 'maintaining address' bills, following the Orwellian approach of this government of naming bills for the almost exact opposite of what they represent—are serious and they are going to lead to a detrimental effect on the integrity of the electoral roll.

As an advocate of voluntary voting in Australia's future, I would say that I believe that these two bills, if passed today, will actually help us along that path towards voluntary voting because our system will be degraded. I think people will see, when they start seeing the integrity of the electoral roll degrading, that we would be better off having a system where people vote voluntarily and enrol themselves voluntarily.