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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3724

Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (11:58): I rise today to speak on two bills this government is introducing to amend the Electoral Act, allowing the Australian Electoral Commission to automatically update the details of an elector when they change their residential address, based on information obtained from other sources, as well as when an Australian turns 18—again, based on records obtained from other sources. According to the explanatory memorandum, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 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;

What will those reliable and current data sources be? Will they indeed be reliable or current? Enrolling to vote is a wonderful privilege afforded to all Australians. We have one of the best electoral systems in the world and one of the fairest. Walking into a polling booth on an election day certainly conjures a tremendous feeling of pride for many Australians. With the current state of affairs, many Australians wish they were exercising their vote sooner rather than later. There will be an opportunity to change this nation for the better at the next election—something that residents in my electorate speak to me about on a daily basis. Residents in Macquarie are concerned about many issues, and they are particularly concerned when they have arisen because this government has failed to consult with the electorate on important issues—like the carbon tax, the mining tax, cutting the private health insurance rebate for Australians it deems too wealthy to be given a break, and the list goes on. With this legislation the government has again failed to consult with the people it will impact on, meaning that it is again dictating to the Australian public what it wants for Australia.

What will this legislation achieve? We already have a system of compulsory voting. Socially we have come leaps and bounds since Federation, with every single Australian citizen being given the right to vote. It will achieve more votes for the very group of people that Australians are unhappy with: Labor and the Greens. That is all this government is concerned with—gaining votes the only way it knows how, by deciding who is and who is not on the roll based on information that may or may not be reliable or accurate. What about people's personal responsibility? I think everyday Australians know when they need to change their details. They are very capable of deciding when to fill out a form or when to contact the Electoral Commission and make the recommended changes.

Clearly, this government does not concern itself with personal responsibility. It imposes responsibility on people without so much as giving them the choice or the chance to correct what may or may not happen on the electoral roll with regard to their capacity to vote. The government purports that its proposed amendments to the bills will restore the integrity of the electoral roll. These amendments will do just the opposite. These amendments will mean that many Australians may not be aware that they are registered to vote or that they are no longer registered to vote.

I note in the 2010 dissenting report from the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters that the committee outlined the duty of each Australian citizen when it came to voting, and I would like to highlight them now. Firstly, it is the duty of each Australian citizen to enrol to vote. Secondly, it is also the duty of each Australian citizen to maintain their enrolment at their permanent place of residence. Thirdly, Australian citizens have a duty to cast a vote when an election is called. Lastly, and most relevant to this House and the reason we are able to stand here and debate these poorly constructed amendment bills, Australian citizens have a duty to fully extend preferences to all candidates contesting election for the House of Representatives in their electorate. These duties are the cornerstone of our democratic system of parliament and governance. If we strip away these duties and responsibilities from everyday Australian citizens, we expose our system of parliamentary democracy to fraud and irregularities. These amendments contravene the very idea that is basis on which our democracy resides and, if this legislation is passed, it will be a very dark day for democracy and for this nation.

The coalition takes issue with the amendments proposed by the government for several reasons. The first is something that I have already alluded to, and that is a reduction in the integrity of the electoral roll. If electors are to have their details updated automatically and without their knowledge, it will lead to a high number of potential irregularities. It so often happens that mail is returned to my office because of incorrect details on the electoral roll. Flaws already exist in the system. I understand that a database of millions of people will not be without some flaws; I accept that. But what I do not accept is this government providing a platform for potential additional flaws to our system to take place, not to mention the potential for fraud that could result from automatic enrolment. This would not achieve anything except to give a greater power and a vague power to the Electoral Commission and allow this government to capitalise on those flaws.

It is all too often the case that we see legislation that gives the government broad and vague powers and that plays to the Greens rushed through this House. It seems that this government is far too concerned with a track record of introducing as much legislation as it possibly can before Australians exercise the little power and choice they have left to vote it out at the next election.

This brings me to the second matter that the coalition takes issue with regarding the government's amendment bills, and that is that the AEC is empowered with the discretion to determine what are current and reliable data sources. That a broad scope for discretion is inserted into legislation is not an uncommon practice by this government. In fact, with most of the government's bills, when they are debated in this House, I and many of my colleagues on this side of the House have on a number of occasions taken issue with the vague and broad discretionary powers given to departments, to ministers and to the government. The broad discretionary powers given to this government is the reason that so many Australians are placing importance on their vote at the next election. They are unhappy about being dictated to and dealing with uncertainty.

The third issue is that these amendments undermine the confidence that this government has in its own citizens. Governments should exist for the people, not in spite of the people. It seems this is the unfortunate position that the government has forced Australians into. The coalition is not in support of these changes. They are broad, they are vague and they provide the unfortunate opportunity for the system to be abused and for people to potentially front up to a polling booth to find that their name has been removed from the poll without them knowing it or that they are listed at an address where they are not residing. In view of these challenges, I do not support the bills.