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Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Page: 1668

Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce) (17:59): I will not take too much of the House's time today because, as has been clear from earlier speakers, there is a lot that can be said but it tends to be a bit repetitive. The fact is that what we are dealing with here are basically predominantly relatively minor reforms on what is, as earlier members have said, an excellent electoral system. It is an electoral system which has served us well for many years now. It is an electoral system which is international renowned. It is an electoral system that is independent. And it is an electoral system which is organic—it has evolved when change has been required. It has taken into consideration the nature of the changing patterns of the way society organises itself, the way technology has developed and the way people wish to exercise their democratic rights on an ongoing basis. For those reasons it is not unusual for us to be here in this House once again debating amendment of the acts that are involved. But in doing so we are building on a system which is, frankly, the envy of the world.

Having said that, because it relates to the very issue of how we achieve our arrival here and maintain our careers here, it is an area which is often subject to partisan comment—partisan comment from the coalition and, at times, from the Labor Party. I have certainly been part of that over the years. As a former shadow minister, in relation to the electoral area, I have had some impassioned debates about elements of our system, particularly with the member for Mackellar amongst others—

Mr Danby: And some on your own side!

Mr GRIFFIN: And some on my own side, indeed, and it has always been in good spirit. But the good thing about it is that we are always arguing about tinkering, in a situation where overwhelmingly it is a good system.

And so to the tinkering that we are dealing with today. As was outlined by the previous speaker, there are a number of recommendations which came from a report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, of which I am a member, as to the conduct of the 2010 federal election. The amendments are, in my view, best categorised as being about making it easier and better for people to be able to exercise their democratic rights—easier to exercise their democratic rights with respect to enrolment, and easier to exercise their democratic rights in terms of their vote.

We do sometimes find ourselves in a debate in this area around that question of ensuring we have a vibrant electoral system that gives people the opportunity to participate, versus the question of the what-ifs—what might happen in certain circumstances if people should endeavour to commit electoral fraud. I stand very firmly on the side of the debate that if there is a choice between giving someone the right to exercise their vote and not, then they should be given that right. I stand very firmly on the view that our system should be encouraging rather than discouraging participation.

If we look to the last election, one of the things that was quite disturbing was that we had one of the highest informal voting figures since Federation—in fact, it was the second highest, with the previous occasion being, I think, in 1984 when some changes had been made to the voting system for the Senate. That led to a situation where one could vote above the line—which meant that you only had to put a one in a box above a line for senatorial voting—and unfortunately part of the advertising campaign confused people around the question of what was a legitimate vote in the lower house. So, other than that occasion, the informal vote at the last election was the highest.

Also, in terms of the question of electoral turnout: the turnout at this last election was in fact the lowest turnout since the first election where we had compulsory voting, back in the 1920s. So during the time when we have had compulsory enrolment and compulsory voting, this was the lowest percentage.

This highlights some key points around the need to ensure that our rolls are capable of being updated easily and to ensure that, in the process of doing that, you do not throw the baby out with the bathwater and you still have a system of integrity. One of the key things around the changes that are being proposed, of which elements are in this bill, is ensuring that you are able to cross-reference data and ensure that there are checks and balances. I might add that, although this relates particularly to the Australian Taxation Office, the systems that have been developed with respect to several state jurisdictions actually involve a similar approach around the question of cross-matching of data in order to ensure that people are given the maximum opportunity to ensure they are on the electoral roll. I think that is an important principle.

So, to those who would argue that automatic enrolment opens a door to fraud, I would say it opens a door to greater levels of participation by people who are fully entitled to do so. It gives them the opportunity to take part in the democratic process. The previous speaker, the member for Riverina, raised some points about the question of this being an evil plot by the Labor Party to ensure that, through changes to the electoral roll, we would increase our capacity to be elected at the next election. There has been comment on this publicly. Frankly, what is really clear is that, when it comes to the question about any impact some of these changes might have on any electoral result, it is absolutely minimal, but it does take into account that key point around the issue of ensuring that all Australians have the right to participate in our democratic system.

I will speak briefly about a couple of other points that were made about some of the amendments that are here. As I said, I do not think there are a lot of matters here of great significance—and certainly of partisan politics—but I mentioned one. The other couple I will mention go to the issue of the signing of pre-poll certificates by voters, which, again, was mentioned by a previous speaker as having the potential for voter fraud. Frankly, it is about removing unnecessary processes that cause greater administrative difficulties with the whole question of the conduct of these ballots. Frankly, it will not have an impact with respect to fraud. It is part of a wider argument that is often raised around the issue of the potential for multiple voting. Time and time again, the Australian Electoral Commission has produced detailed research showing that, for all of the huff and puff that goes on from some about the potential for this to occur, it just does not. The fact is that our system is one we can all be very proud of.

On the issue of applications for pre-polls and the fact that there would be a longer period to allow pre-polling to occur, and the question of what has been occurring in more recent times, it is a recognition of the fact that more and more Australians are availing themselves of the opportunity to vote in the lead-up to election day rather than on election day. To be honest, I have some concerns about that, in terms of the question of how you conduct a campaign and ensure that you give people the opportunity to have the information before them to make a decision before they cast their vote. The more people who exercise that right prior to polling day the more people might be in a situation where they are not always in possession of all the facts. Having said that, it is a fact of modern Australian society that the mobility of people and the circumstances of their health have led to a situation where more and more people are availing themselves of that opportunity. In those circumstances I really do not see what the problem is.

We have a good system, a system we can all be proud of. We are in a situation where this legislation is part of an ongoing process that all governments engage in with respect to the finetuning of an electoral system that is the envy of the world. We ought to be proud of it. We ought to be proud of being part of the system and what it produces. We should pass these amendments because they are part of making sure that the system keeps pace with the times.