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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3711


Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (10:51): I was listening to the comments of the member for Fraser with great interest and was very surprised to hear him cast aspersions on us on this side of the House, saying that we do not want to encourage people to participate in the democratic right of voting, which is an absolutely outrageous claim. He was talking about welcoming 100 people to his electorate every month. I also have a high turnover on my electoral roll and I really care about making sure that the roll has integrity. At the moment my roll does not have integrity. So I am disappointed that the member for Fraser would cast such aspersions on this side of the House.

The bills before the House are the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012. The first bill seeks to provide a mechanism whereby the Australian Electoral Commission, the AEC, can automatically update details relevant to an elector in terms of residential address, based upon information obtained from sources other than direct advice to the AEC by that elector. The second bill is designed to expand the implications of the first by allowing the AEC to enrol new voters directly to the electoral roll where the Electoral Commissioner has been satisfied the person is eligible to be on the roll and has been residing at an address for a period of one month. Quoting directly from the explanatory memorandum, the bills will:

allow the Electoral Commissioner to directly update an elector’s enrolled address following the receipt and analysis of reliable and current data sources from outside the Australian Electoral Commission that indicate an elector has moved residential address …

The amendments afforded by both bills move the AEC toward an automatic enrolment capability whereby the AEC can automatically update when an elector changes address or becomes eligible to be on the roll.

I hold grave concerns about the current quality of the electoral roll, particularly within my own electorate, as I have already mentioned. Only within the last month I was in contact with the AEC directly in respect to inconsistencies in the roll for my electorate, specifically the omission and removal of persons from the roll. In several cases, this related to electors who were removed from the roll without a change of address or change of electoral details in any way, shape or form. In this instance the AEC investigated and advised my office of the outcome, that being that some of the processes they had in place had inadvertently removed a number of eligible electors, without justification, from the electoral role. It just so happens that those people that contacted my office that were removed from the roll were actual conservative voters. There is a bit of a concern there.

This hiccup in the system I understand has now been fixed. But what concerns me most about this seemingly minor procedural error is how it could happen in the first place. How can a system based on a premise that details can only be changed following formal advice from the elector remove people from the roll? If this can happen now with a system reliant on elector contact, what are the checks and balances to be in place when the system no longer relies upon an elector as the best source of information? The explanatory memorandum, as I have been stated, notes 'analysis of reliable and current data sources'. My question remains: what are the checks and balances? By whom and how is this analysis of data determined to be reliable? Integrity of the electoral roll is an absolute must. At no time should the opportunity exist, or be allowed to develop, where corruption of the data contained within the roll occurs or can occur, nor should the situation be allowed to develop where the individual person can shirk their responsibility in terms of maintaining accurate records for the AEC. It is not optional to vote in local, state and federal elections; it is mandatory. The ramifications in terms of electoral validity, should there be doubt in the integrity of the electoral roll or corruption of data, are broad and erode the very foundations upon which our voting system sits.

Similarly, the legislation has been designed by Labor and the Greens solely for electoral advantage. In preparing this speech I noted the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters released a report in July 2011 relating to an inquiry into the 2010 federal election. The Labor and Greens members on that committee prepared recommendations, one of which was the introduction of automatic enrolment—a situation whereby an individual elector will have their details entered directly onto the electoral roll without the need for them even to contact the AEC. This, in the view of the coalition, has privacy implications on top of the concerns relating to data integrity. I can think of many a situation whereby an elector may have an address other than their specific home address in order to address some set of circumstances in their life, be it personal or otherwise. Government has yet to mandate that a person can only have one address. What of the people who are employed in fly-in fly-out occupations where they have multiple addresses? What of people who own multiple properties? What of people who are forced to move temporarily due to circumstance—for example, bushfires, floods and cyclones? Certainly this is the case within my own electorate. I can cite further examples of why people may have alternative addresses. But the issue is not the address; the issue with these bills is once again a government seeking to again denigrate the personal responsibility expected of individual Australians when it comes to managing their own privacy and their obligations in terms of correct and accurate electoral details for the AEC and ultimately the electoral roll.

As I have demonstrated, there are factors at play which cause me great concern. To add further substance, all we need to do is look at the New South Wales and Victoria examples. Both Labor governments prior to the last state elections introduced automatic enrolment, a tactic designed to advantage both Labor and the Greens. Unfortunately, a number of the electors were enrolled for only the state election and not for the federal election, due to differences in state and federal legislation. Additionally, when an elector has been added to the roll or has had their details changed, they are sent an enrolment form by the AEC. Antony Green noted in an article on 16 July 2007 that only 64.3 per cent of the first-time voters who were automatically enrolled prior to the New South Wales state election actually turned out to vote. The low turnout suggests that the information used to put those electors on the roll may have been unreliable. To take this example a step further, if the lower rate of turnout was a result of those electors being unaware that they were on the roll, how could they be fined for not voting if the AEC chose to follow that path?

The coalition remains concerned with the potential for electoral fraud. At present the process of being added to the roll or changing one's details is evidenced by an AEC document signed by the elector. This singular event in any formal legal proceeding for fraudulent voting activity provides a sound basis for the determination of elector knowledge. With the implementation of an automated system utilising data sources external to the AEC determined by the AEC to be reliant and current, it is my assertion that this in fact dissolves elector responsibility and makes the process of investigating and prosecuting electoral fraud substantially more difficult. We on this side of the House have voiced our disappointment with the AEC's attitude to the questioning of prosecuting cases of fraudulent voting. Despite there being over 20,000 multiple voters at the 2007 election, not one has been prosecuted.

If I thought for one moment that the initiatives being proposed by these bills were without risk to the integrity and ongoing confidence of the electoral roll, ensured the integrity of the roll and were measures designed to ensure equality in the roll I would consider supporting these bills. However, clearly these bills ring alarm bells and prompt more questions than answers. Any measure to divest individual electors of their responsibilities in terms of accuracy in AEC and electoral roll details is not warranted, nor do I believe it is the role of the AEC to make a determination as to what resources are reliable and accurate. The view of the coalition echoes this point. The AEC is not equipped, nor should it be empowered, to make determinations as to what is reliable and accurate in external data sources. In addition, I have been unable to determine whether a suitable risk assessment has been undertaken on the roll or if in fact a document risk analysis reviewing the potential impact of the measures being introduced by these bills has been conducted.

To add further food for thought, how accurate are the sources of data being considered? Are they actually fit for purpose? An audit report by the ANAO, 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.

Such inconsistency in Commonwealth data is clearly not acceptable or legitimate for the AEC to update the electoral roll. How accurate and trusted are other Commonwealth data sources? It is the assertion of the coalition that any external data sources which the AEC may draw on to update electoral roll details are potential risks to the integrity of the roll. Without integrity, the roll becomes a tainted record, one that potentially has the capacity to damage public trust in the roll and the electoral process.

In conclusion, the amendments proposed by these bills before the House in essence provide the mechanisms for the AEC to automatically update elector details and to automatically enrol new electors. The New South Wales and Victorian state Labor governments introduced such measures prior to recent elections in both states not as a value-added initiative to the electoral roll or to boost integrity in the roll but for electoral advantage for Labor and the Greens. We talk about responsibility and empowering people, yet the measures sought through these bills would diminish the responsibility of the elector to maintain accurate records in terms of their address and electoral compliance. As I have stated, the integrity of the electoral roll must be maintained. Opening the way for the AEC to source data from external resources without the proper risk assessments and without definitive knowledge of the accuracy of those records can lead to only one result—that is, a loss of integrity. Without integrity, the very electoral system which the electoral roll underpins will became tainted, resulting in a loss of public faith and credibility and in the potential for illegal electoral activities, including the instance of electoral fraud.

So, no, Mr Deputy Speaker, I cannot support these bills. Without 100 per cent compliance to integrity and without value of data, the only way to ensure the electoral roll remains true is the continuation of current practices. That includes the responsibility of individual electors to maintain accurate details for the roll and the prosecution of those who fail to enrol or who seek to manipulate the roll for some advantage.