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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3734


Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (12:35): I rise for the second time in less than 12 months to defend the integrity of our electoral roll in what is the greatest democracy on earth. I find this is one of the most important roles that we should have here as representatives of our parliament. That is why I feel compelled to stand up and speak against the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012, which we are debating today.

I have said before in this House that all Australians have rights and freedoms which they can rightfully expect to have unhindered access to. These include the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion and the freedom of movement, with the right to shelter, food, health care and, of course, most important, the democratic right to vote for your elected representatives. These are rights that must be steadfastly defended at all times, and sometimes they even must be defended at the point of a gun.

Once again we find ourselves in this House debating proposed legislation that is ill thought out and misguided, for in our society for every single right we have there is also a corresponding obligation. We must balance those rights. We must balance the right to vote with ensuring the integrity of our electoral system and protecting it from the risk of fraud, as this is the only way we can protect our democracy. The Electoral Act provides both a right and an obligation to all citizens and, as I have said before, for every right in our society there is an equal, corresponding obligation. Section 101 of the electoral act currently provides that there is an obligation upon all citizens who are entitled to have his or her name placed on the electoral roll to do so within 21 days, but unfortunately these bills will take away that obligation.

There are a few specific reasons why these bills should be opposed. The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2012 will allow the Australian Electoral Commission to automatically update details of an elector when they change their residential address based on information obtained from other sources. According to the explanatory memorandum, this 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 which indicate an elector has moved addresses. It simply seeks by default to introduce automatic enrolment and take away the obligation citizens have to update their address on the electoral roll.

There are five specific problems that this will cause and five reasons why we should be voting against this bill. The first is that the bill will greatly reduce the integrity of the electoral roll, with electors having their details updated without their knowledge, potentially leading to a higher number of irregularities. Secondly, this bill gives the AEC the discretion to determine what reliable and current data sources are. Could this be a credit card from one of the major department stores? No-one knows. This is not defined in the bill. There are many sources from which the Electoral Commission can obtain information, none of which you can be sure is correct.

Thirdly, the coalition believes in personal responsibility and if electors treat their democracy with the respect it deserves, they should be in charge of enrolling and maintaining their address details so that when they change their address they do not sit back and let the government do it on their behalf. This is all about individual responsibility. Fourthly, this bill is a step towards automatic enrolment. Those who have turned 18 and become citizens should have enough respect for our democracy, our history and our traditions to know that it is their obligation. If they wish to participate in our democracy, they have to take the simple step of enrolling. Fifthly, the coalition is particularly concerned about the reliability of other data sources. As the coalition members on the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters noted in July 2011 in their dissenting report:

The reliance on external data sources that have been collated and that are utilised for other purposes does not make them fit for use in forming the electoral roll.

That is exactly correct and is why the bill should be opposed. The dissenting report goes on:

As outlined in the p revious report into these proposals, a 1999 report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, Finance and Public Administration: Numbers on the Run - Review of the ANAO Report No.37 1998-99 on the Management of Tax File Numbers found that:

There were 3.2 million more Tax File Numbers than people in Australia at the last census.

Given this fact, how can we rely on this data to maintain the integrity of our electoral roll? Secondly:

There were 185,000 potential duplicate tax records for individuals; 62 per cent of deceased clients were not recorded as deceased in a sample match.

Similarly, an ANAO Audit Report (No.24 2004-05 Integrity of Medicare Enrolment Data) stated that ‘ANAO found that up to half a million active Medicare enrolment records were probably for people who are deceased’.

This dissenting report shows exactly why we cannot rely on the so-called 'other sources' for the Electoral Commission to take their records from. It must be the obligation of the individual citizen.

The second bill is the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012. Again I would like to give full reasons why this House must oppose this bill. Firstly, this bill will corrupt the integrity of the electoral roll, with electors potentially being put on the electoral roll again without their knowledge. It must be the obligation of every citizen to take that step, to fill out the AEC enrolment form to put their name on the electoral roll. That shows they are taking responsibility, and not taking that responsibility shows disrespect for our democracy. Unless people are prepared to do take those steps, people should not be allowed to vote.

Secondly, as with the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2012, this bill gives the AEC the discretion to determine what reliable and current data sources are. Again, there are so many data sources in our society today and we simply do not know the integrity of those data sources, but this bill will allow the AEC to use data sources to put names on the electoral roll, completely corrupting our electoral roll and therefore undermining the very principles of our democracy.

Thirdly, the coalition believes in personal responsibility, that electors should be in charge of enrolling and maintaining their addresses on the electoral roll. When details change, it should be up to the individual citizen to show respect for our democracy and make the changes on the electoral roll rather than leaving it for the government to do it. We see so many bills go through this House. We see a reduction of individual responsibility where roles for which citizens should be responsible are handed over to the government. This unfortunately is another of those bills and yet another reason why it should be opposed. Fourthly, the coalition is particularly concerned about the reliability of these other data sources. As the coalition members on the Joint Standing Committee On Electoral Matters emphasised in the same dissenting report, there are 3.2 million more tax file numbers than people in Australia, and there are 185,000 duplicate tax records for individuals.

Fifthly, and the main reason we should be opposing these bills, is it gets back to the importance of our democracy. It gets back to making sure that individual citizens respect our democracy and that they realise that it is something that has been fought for and passed down to them by previous generations—by their forefathers. It is not something that is just handed to them on a platter. It is not to be taken for granted. If these bills are passed, that is what they will do. It will take away the obligation of the citizen to take those formal steps to enrol which have been set out and followed throughout the history of our democracy. These are bad bills. I hope that, even if there are not a few government members that would stand up and oppose it and stand up for our democracy, we will at least see some of the crossbenchers realise how bad these bills are and that they should be opposed. The cornerstone of our democracy is to protect the integrity of our electoral roll. These bills will weaken our electoral roll. They will weaken its integrity and they will weaken our democracy. That is why they should be opposed.