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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3583

Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (20:44): I rise this evening also to make a contribution on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012, but I will be focusing my remarks on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011. The coalition will be opposing this bill. The Labor Party unfortunately have form when it comes to amending electoral legislation and they have shown a disturbing tendency to rush in with a lot of legislation and sort out the problems later on. This bill raises a number of concerns. At the moment we are facing a state election in Queensland, where the Bligh government have introduced stringent caps on the amounts individuals can donate to political parties. They have, however, included a provision to allow certain third party organisations to spend up to $500,000 each on party campaigns. It will surprise no-one that the definition of 'third party organisations' just happens to include union bodies. So every union organisation can spend up to $500,000 on Labor campaigns whilst at the same time there is a restriction on the amounts that individuals and companies can donate—up to $2,000 per campaign and up to $5,000 to a party head office. This situation will hopefully be rectified on Saturday when a 20-year-old Labor government gets consigned to the scrapheap of political history.

But the specific bills we are debating tonight would allow the Australian Electoral Commissioner to update the electoral roll using data and information from other sources. Apparently, according to the explanatory memorandum, the commissioner will be able to directly update an elector's enrolled address following the receipt and analysis of 'reliable and current data sources'—whatever those are—from outside the Electoral Commission. As the Australian Privacy Foundation noted, this effectively changes our system from opt in to opt out. The coalition believes it is important to ensure Australian citizens maintain responsibility for their own enrolment.

I will come to the effect of these changes and why they will be detrimental to the electoral system. But I would like to make some comment on the basis for these changes. The government states, in the explanatory notes to the maintaining address bill:

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.

Firstly, I will address the decline in enrolment rates and then, secondly, the assertion that this will ensure the roll is as current and accurate as possible.

The Australian Electoral Commission claims that there are approximately 1.4 million Australians who are not on the electoral roll and that the participation rate is declining. This is based, as I understand it, on a simple theoretical calculation. The AEC believes the provisions in this legislation will help the AEC increase the participation rate.

However, it is clearly much more complex than this. An online article from the Age on 30 July 2010 said:

Aaron Martin, lecturer at the Australian National University's School of Politics and International Studies, said the reason was largely demographic - young people aren't interested in federal elections.

"Young people are not as interested in electoral politics, and this a trend found in other countries among young people," Mr Martin told The Age.

"Of the 1.4 million were eligible to enrol, the AEC said one-third of those people were aged 18 to 24, and 70 per cent of them were aged 18 to 39."

"The 18 to 39 group area also the most socially mobile. When they move house they could also drop off the roll."

Further, Mr Martin said issues like population growth, mining taxes and border protection simply may not excite young people.

This is an interesting observation suggesting that the real reason for declining enrolment rates lies with demographic issues. As Professor Martin says, this is reflected in the experience of many other countries, including countries in Europe.

I am supportive of efforts by the AEC to increase enrolment amongst young people through the provision of information. I must applaud them for the targeted campaigns they have run in the past to ensure that young people enrol.

We do not, however, support using external information to change the roll on behalf of people. The coalition believes this will lead to inaccuracy in the electoral roll and that it may compromise the integrity of the electoral process. Here is an exchange from a hearings of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters:

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: I want to go back to the process. Supposing you have decided, because of your checking with your material, that Mrs Bloggs has actually moved from her previous address. Under this legislation, you would write to the new address and say, 'We have changed you', because you are satisfied that she has moved.

Mr Killesteyn: We would not say that we have changed it; we would write to the individual and say, 'We have information which leads us to believe that you are at this address. You have 28 days to advise us whether that is not the case.' If there were no response, then we would change the address at that point.

There are many perfectly legitimate reasons why a person might provide different agencies with different addresses. I visited a friend of mine recently who runs a general store in a country town. She also runs the Australia Post franchise where, she tells me, some people have up to three PO boxes.

Another example is university students. In my inner city electorate of Brisbane, there are many students who live in temporary accommodation while they are studying. Their home or primary address might actually be outside of Brisbane. So the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads, the ATO and the AEC will have one address. But it is quite common for Centrelink and Australia Post to have a different address. According to this legislation, the commissioner would send them a letter saying, 'We think you have moved.' If the letter is not responded to within 28 days, confirming or denying that they have moved, their address will automatically be changed on the roll without them even knowing. This is one practical example of how this legislation will lead to the electoral roll being inaccurate. Some seats are very marginal—and I certainly know about that! Sometimes members might be elected to this place with margins of only 10 or 20 votes. So this is a serious issue. It is a serious issue about the integrity of the electoral process.

This legislation will also seriously affect people who move temporarily whilst changing their primary address. As I stated before, young people are a lot more mobile than young people were, say, 20 years ago. There are also people who own more than one home or who have multiple addresses. Here is another example where different government agencies might have different addresses, or more than one address, for the same person. As pointed out in the coalition's joint standing committee dissenting report, the ATO has confirmed that there were 3.2 million more tax file numbers than there were people at the last census. I am quite familiar with this, because several years back A House Standing Committee on Economics, Finance and Public Administration prepared an in-depth report into the ATO and tax file numbers. I think most of us were quite astonished that there were more tax file numbers than people in Australia, and that is the case here. So using this information as a primary source of data is filled with misconceptions. Clearly it is neither accurate nor appropriate to draw from information given by private individuals to government agencies.

The Australian Privacy Foundation also expressed very strong concerns about this bill in their submission to the joint standing committee. I refer to one quote in particular, where they say:

We submit that the existing basis of enrolment, only on the basis of a positive action by an eligible voter, should not be abandoned lightly. It is consistent with fundamental privacy principles, which favour use of personal information only for the purpose for which it is collected, with exceptions being strictly limited, and a preference for consent for any secondary use.

The other very concerning aspect of this bill is that the sources of data that the commissioner can draw from are not subject to government regulation and therefore parliamentary disallowance, so the commissioner has sole discretion on which sources of data he or she believes are accurate. Surely it is far better for electoral enrolment to be a proactive step on behalf of an individual, and we should do everything to encourage individuals to be proactive—as opposed to someone being enrolled at an address they have given to Centrelink and losing or missing the notification in the mail, therefore being wrongly enrolled.

This is another flawed bill from this incompetent government and it should not be supported by the parliament.