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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3732

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (12:19): I rise to support the previous speaker. In a nutshell, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 seeks to give electoral advantage to the ALP by bringing into question the integrity of our electoral roll. It is a shameful political act which goes to the heart of our democracy. The integrity of our roll is a cornerstone to the integrity of our voting system and to the integrity which brings every member to this place, and this bill brings this into question. The sad, sad fact is that it does this for base political purposes.

There has been no significant evidence put forward to show that this will have any other broader benefit other than trying to bring people onto the roll who, as previous members of the other side have said, are more than likely to vote for them.

Why should it be opposed? In the 2007 and 2010 election we had serious questions raised about the integrity of the role and, in particular, about people voting more than once. I know this from having been involved in the 2007 election campaign for the seat of McEwen. The vote was incredibly close. It had to be counted, recounted and ultimately ended up in the courts before we got a final decision on who would win the seat. During that process, examples came forward which showed some of the rorting that had taken place. In particular, there was an example of a priest from a country town who was written to by the AEC asking him why he had voted three times in the electorate McEwen. He wrote back to the AEC and said that in fact he had not voted three times within the electorate of McEwen because he had been interstate on election day and had voted interstate. Someone had walked into three different polling booths in that electorate and used his name to vote three times. So rorting does take place. We should be looking to strengthen the processes so that we do not see a continuation of that behaviour. Instead, sadly, what we are seeing with this bill is that process being weakened further.

We have seen why this will occur. Now it is possible for people to be placed on the roll without, at a minimum, having their signature on a piece of paper. There is a deafening silence and a dearth of action taken in instances of the roll being exploited. One of the requirements that we could have that could protect the integrity of the roll—a signature—is now being weakened. That will lead, sadly, to more rorting rather than less. I think it is beholden on all of us here to say enough is enough. We have to strengthen the system that we have; we do not need to weaken it.

This legislation also raises privacy concerns. We are in many ways becoming the world's greatest nanny state. This legislation takes away the responsibility of an individual to participate in the democratic process. Because we do have compulsory voting at federal elections, this legislation puts more requirements on individuals to enrol and does so with complete disregard for their privacy. It would be interesting to see, if the bill went to the Privacy Commissioner, what the commissioner's views would be on whether this process will actually benefit the privacy of individual citizens or whether it is another step in eroding it.

The government is putting forward another regulation, basically forcing people onto the electoral roll. This is not something that we should do lightly, because many people take their individual privacy extremely seriously. They do not want to see their privacy diminished because a government, for their own base political purposes, wants to put forward a bill which gives the AEC powers to put people on the roll when they might be already on the roll but it is unknown to the AEC or when there might be other compelling reasons that they have chosen not to do so. The privacy aspects of automatic enrolment are something which definitely need to be taken into consideration.

I now turn to the dissenting report of the Hon. Bronwyn Bishop, the Hon. Alex Somlyay, Senator Scott Ryan and Senator Simon Birmingham. I would ask all members of the House, before they vote on this bill, to read this dissenting report. I think in many ways the opening paragraph sums it up. It states:

Coalition Members and Senators strongly disagree with the Labor and Green members of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters that the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012 (i.e. automatic enrolment) be passed by the Parliament. The Coalition has long opposed moves by the Labor Party and the Greens to introduce automatic enrolment and notes that this Bill is being introduced solely to improve the electoral prospects of both Labor and the Greens. This follows similar moves by the former Labor Governments in NSW and Victoria prior to their last state elections.

Sadly, summed up in one: it is being done for base political reasons. We are starting to see a systemic desire by Labor and the Greens to do this, not only federally but at the state level as well. The dissenting report goes on to say:

This legislation will severely damage the integrity of the Electoral Roll by adding new electors who may not be entitled to vote without their knowledge and potentially without their consent, should the elector not receive the Australian Electoral Commission’s notice of enrolment.

An excellent report that in a nutshell sums up the basis of why we, on this side, are opposing this legislation.

The report then goes on to outline the main reasons for dissenting. I have touched on some of these, but it is worth highlighting the issues in this excellent report. The integrity of the electoral roll is the first issue raised:

It is imperative that the Roll which is used to elect our Parliamentarians is accurate and reliable, particularly in the wake of the 2010 Federal Election where no political party won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives and results in a number of individual electorates came down to only a few hundred votes.

As I have pointed out, I saw this firsthand in the 2007 election in the seat of McEwen, and I fully endorse this dissenting report for making that point, because it is entirely accurate and extremely worrying. Privacy concerns are also raised:

Coalition Members and Senators also note the risks relating to the privacy of individual electors raised during this inquiry and the previous inquiry into the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011. Dr Roger Clarke from the Australian Privacy Foundation told the JSCEM Roundtable hearing on 29 February 2012 that he was particularly concerned about the lack of consultation about the Bill, was not aware of any privacy assessments taking place and believed that the outcome of the inquiry appeared to be predetermined

Here we have someone from outside the political process sadly being able to sum up these concerns in a nutshell by saying that this inquiry and this legislation appeared to be predetermined. In many ways that says it all.

The dissenting report also goes into the issue of fraudulent voting. There is already some dismay at how fraudulent voting is dealt with by the AEC. There has been a worry that no prosecutions are occurring. It seems to be a practice that you receive no more than a slap on the wrist. Yet the fundamental basis of our democracy is the fact that we have one valid vote, and that is all that we should have. The dangers associated with fraudulent voting have been brilliantly summed up in this dissenting report.

The report also goes into issues regarding New South Wales, and we know the steps that the former New South Wales Labor government would go to. There is no doubt that these issues have been adequately addressed in the dissenting report as well. The report concludes:

Coalition Members and Senators realise that this Bill is being introduced by Labor and the Greens solely to increase their electoral advantage, despite the severe risk it contains to the integrity of the Electoral Roll and significant concerns about individual privacy.

It is a sad reflection on the other side that we are in here debating this legislation today. It shows that they will stop at nothing and that they are prepared to jeopardise the integrity of our electoral roll for their own base purposes. At some stage, those on the other side are going to have to understand that ultimately what they need to deliver for the Australian people is good policy—policy that is in their interest and in the national interest—rather than spending the whole time cooking the books to give themselves an electoral advantage. (Time expired)