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Thursday, 21 March 2013
Page: 2911


Mr GRAY (BrandSpecial Minister of State and Minister for the Public Service and Integrity) (10:16): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to present a bill to amend the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 to make two small amendments to the arrangements governing how referendums are run.

The bill implements one of the recommendations of the then House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs which reported on the machinery of referendums in the December 2009 report entitled: 'A time for Change: Yes/No'.

Recommendation 3 of this report was that:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government introduce amendments to the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 (Commonwealth) to require a Yes/No pamphlet to be delivered to every household, not every elector.

Subsections 11(1), (2) and (3) of the act provide for the printing and distribution to each elector of a pamphlet which outlines arguments in favour of the proposed constitutional change and arguments against the proposed constitutional change. These arguments are compiled and presented in one pamphlet known as the Yes/No pamphlet.

Printing and sending the Yes/No pamphlet to every Australian elector represents a substantial expense. According to figures drawn from the Australian Bureau of Statistics website there were approximately 5.7 million family households in Australia in 2006 and this figure is increasing. It is not unreasonable for persons who share a family household to share the Yes/No pamphlet.

Of course, it is not intended to restrict access to the Yes/No pamphlet. This bill replaces the requirement that a pamphlet be posted to each elector by requiring the Electoral Commissioner to send a pamphlet to each residential address, mainly those from the addresses that appear on the electoral roll.

However, as communication methods have changed since the last referendum in 1999, the bill also gives an additional capacity to send pamphlet information via email. Many Australians wish to communicate via digital means and this small amendment merely allows the Electoral Commissioner to send the information via email if that is what is sought.

Finally the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has the capacity to identify residential addresses where numerous electors are enrolled—for example, nursing homes. The AEC will ensure that multiple copies are provided to such establishments. And the AEC will also translate the pamphlet into other languages and formats which will be able to be accessed and read on the AEC's webpage.

The second amendment suspends the operation of subsection 11(4) to allow broader Commonwealth spending. This amendment has been drafted in similar terms to an amendment which the parliament passed to support the 1999 referendum. It broadens the capacity of the Commonwealth to spend money on promoting, educating and informing the public about the case for and against any referendum.

The proposed suspension of subsection 11(4) is only until the end of polling day for the 2013 general election.

The government is considering the final report of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Local Government, released on 7 March 2013. These amendments would keep open the option of a referendum at the forthcoming 14 September election, subject to continuing bipartisan support at the federal and state levels, and further consultations, in particular with the states and territories.

Finally, and in hope of coalition support, I emphasise that the introduction and passage of these amendments does not commit the government to holding a referendum at the 14 September 2013 election. However, the amendments contained in this bill are necessary to keep open the option of holding a referendum at the next election.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.