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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3726


Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (11:57): I rise to speak on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011. The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012 seeks to amend the Electoral Act to allow the Australian Electoral Commission, AEC, to directly enrol new electors on the electoral roll when the Electoral Commissioner is satisfied that an individual has been living at a particular address for one month and is eligible to be on the electoral roll. This bill follows on from the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011, which will give the AEC the authority to change the address of electors when it believes they have changed their residential address. As with the previous bill, the coalition opposes this legislation because it will greatly reduce the integrity of the electoral roll.

In 2011, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters conducted an inquiry into the 2010 federal election. One of the recommendations from the Labor and the Greens committee members was to introduce automatic enrolment. This is a process by which an individual elector is put directly onto the electoral roll—without them ever having filled out an enrolment form—based on information from other government sources. The coalition opposes this recommendation as it will greatly reduce the integrity of the electoral roll and will mean a number of electors are put on the roll without their knowledge. The bill seeks to implement this recommendation. We, on this side of the House, are not only concerned about the impact that this will have on the integrity of the roll; we also firmly believe that the responsibility to get on the roll and to protect the right to vote lies entirely with the individual.

Clearly, the right to vote is one of the great things about our democracy. At every election, we ensure that the elected representatives of our councils and state and federal governments are held to account. It is the right of every Australian citizen over the age of 18 to cast a vote. One of the things I love about Australia is that voting is compulsory—you can only whinge about the results of an election if you have had your say. But that vote comes with a responsibility to register and maintain your right with the AEC. It is a precious gift given to you by the country, and all the country asks in return is that you keep us up to date with where you live.

But what is a reliable source of information? We note that there were 3.2 million more tax file numbers than people in Australia at the last census. We also note that there were 185,000 potential duplicate tax records for individuals; 62 per cent of deceased clients were not recorded as deceased in a simple match. In Townsville we have a highly transient population. We have the Army, the Airforce, the Navy—ADF. We are a university city. We are fly-in fly-out specialists. We have a great number of renters. You only have to drive the streets of Townsville every weekend and see the number of utes piled high with furniture to see how many people are changing address. It is up to the individual to make sure that their bills get changed across and that their voting records are changed across.

We saw this government send cheques in the first version of the stimulus package to dead people, people living overseas and the like. Is this a reliable source? If the government cannot get it right when they are sending out free money, what hope has the Electoral Commission got of maintaining the roll without the actual person taking the responsibility to vote seriously?

I heard a member opposite state that the AEC spent $36 million on advertising in the lead-up to the 2007 election, and that the AEC stated that this cost would have to be ongoing election after election. So, I am not so sure that this measure will be a cost-saving measure. My question to the AEC is: how much will it cost them to maintain this roll using the new methods? What is the quantum of paying a huge number of public servants to act on tip-offs as to people's whereabouts? Will they be buying the membership lists from Video Ezy and cross-correlating the information? Will they be standing on street corners in trench coats, under a street lamp—lit cigarette dangling from the bottom lip—saying: 'Psst. Who lives in that house and have they lived there for more than a month?' Where will this end? Will we end up with a system where votes will be taken by electoral officials travelling from house to house saying, 'Pick a name, any name,' and moving on to the shops to finish their election while having a pie and a coke?

No, the right to vote is precious and it should be treated as such. The individual must take that right seriously and when they do shift house, they should remember to update their address details with the AEC, just like they do with their bank and their insurance. It is a simple process and the work involved to keep your enrolment up to date is not onerous.

We heard the member for Mayo earlier talk about the great democracy that is Australia, and that the winner of the election is normally the winner that is called on election night. The only disputed one I have heard of was the disputed election in the 1998 Mundingburra election, which caused a by-election, which of course led to the seat of Mundingburra going to the Liberal-National Party coalition and toppling a government, when Frank Tanti beat Tony Mooney. That led to the Shepherdson inquiry, which led to a whole heap of electoral roll rorting by some local branch members of the ALP in Townsville. So, if we are looking for reliable information, there is probably not a good place to start.

The coalition is also concerned about the difficulties experienced in New South Wales state elections. Both New South Wales and Victoria have introduced automatic enrolment at their recent state elections, which means a number of electors in these states are only enrolled for state and not for federal elections. This is due to the differences in state and federal legislation. What happens here is that, when an elector has their details changed or added to the state electoral roll in New South Wales and Victoria, they are sent an enrolment form by the AEC.

The ABC's election analyst Antony Green wrote in an article on 16 July 2011 that only 64.3 per cent of those people automatically enrolled for the first time during the 2011 New South Wales state election actually turned out to vote; so 35.7 per cent did not turn out to vote or were enrolled incorrectly. Surely this would suggest that some of the information used to put new electors on the roll is unreliable. Surely, the low turnout and nonparticipation could be blamed in no small part to the poor information installed in the first place. As with everything, if you put rubbish in, you get rubbish out.

My niece lived with us in Townsville for a couple of years. When she moved to Townsville from Brisbane, this 19-year-old had the sense, all on her own, to change her enrolment details with the AEC. She even told me she voted for me at the last election—but we had been arguing that week so I cannot be totally sure. She has since moved back to Brisbane and, hey presto, she has updated her address details on the electoral roll all by herself. She will be voting this weekend in Brisbane to make sure that Campbell Newman gets in up there. The three electorates of Townsville, Thuringowa and Mundingburra will also have new LNP members after this weekend.

Every month I send out letters of welcome to people who have enrolled in the federal seat of Herbert. All these people have done the right thing and completed the form to change their details. Many of my electorate's schools get the seniors of each year to pre-enrol when they are leaving school to make sure they have their right to cast a vote. In the ADF when they turn up to their new post, they have the AEC forms there ready for them. People are organised. It is not that hard to maintain your roll with the AEC.

No amount of legislation will cover every consequence. No amount of legislation will make up for personal responsibility. The right to vote is a right which carries but one tiny piece of responsibility—that is, to maintain your address with the AEC.

This government can go on and on about the amount of red tape we are going to put into this, the amount of things we are going to have to do, but if someone does not want to do it, they will not do it. It is a right to vote. It is something you should follow through with. It is something very precious that has been bestowed upon the people of Australia by this government. I think it is not too hard to understand that this can be done and I therefore do not support these bills.