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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3737


Mr FRYDENBERG (Kooyong) (12:46): I rise to speak on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012. The first bill will empower the Australian Electoral Commission to modify the address of electors when it believes the elector has moved address. The second bill will empower the AEC to add individuals to the electoral roll when it is satisfied they are 18 years old, living at a particular address and entitled to vote—that is, automatic enrolment. These are bad bills. That is why the coalition opposes them both.

At the heart of this legislation is a move by the Labor Party and the Greens to gain electoral advantage. The same tactic was adopted by the Labor Party in both Victoria and New South Wales, where they sought to gain electoral advantage by introducing automatic enrolment before the last state elections in each of those states. These automatic enrolments were failures. They should not be repeated at the federal level. In effect, these failures have corrupted the integrity and the reliability of the electoral roll.

There could not be many more important subjects than the future integrity of the one document which is relied upon to form the federal government—to elect the legislators that shape the future of our country. This is what is at stake: the heart of our democracy. These matters have been the subject of considerable discussion by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which reported in July last year. The dissenting report—and I want to pay particular tribute to my colleagues Bronwyn Bishop, Alex Somlyay, Senator Scott Ryan and Simon Birmingham—is very instructive. Let me say what a great job our special shadow minister for state, the member for Mackellar, has done, assisted by her Senate colleagues and by Alex Somlyay, in shining a light on the weakness in this dangerous legislation. The dissenting report found that, were we to proceed to automatic entitlement, the legislation would severely damage the integrity of the electoral roll. It would have extensive privacy implications and it would undermine the fundamental notion that people need to take responsibility for ensuring that they are correctly recorded on the electoral roll.

In terms of the integrity of the electoral roll, automatic enrolment opens up the real possibility of both error and fraud, As Professor Graeme Orr in his book The Law of Politics has written, the integrity of the role is paramount. He wrote: 'Like other official public registers, such as land registers, a chief feature of the electoral rolls is their finality. The purpose of a roll is to be a definitive statement of the entitlement to vote, leaving aside the provisional provisions, thus there is conclusive evidence of the entitlement to vote. Reinforcing this is the secondary rule in almost all jurisdictions that a court of disputed returns is not to inquire into the correctness of the roll.'

The problem here is that the AEC has sole discretion, and the data that the AEC would seek to rely on is not clearly defined. In fact, in their submission to the committee on the second bill, the Australian Electoral Commission said:

… the AEC would receive data from a third party data source, conduct a data matching process including a check of the eligibility of individuals to enrol, notify eligible individuals and, after a period of 28 days, make additions to the electoral roll and inform electors of the AEC’s action.

What data is deemed reliable? What restrictions are there on the type of data that could be used? What is the standard of proof that is applied in these matters? The AEC will make use of Centrelink, state government roads and traffic authority information, and even materials from Australia Post. They will, no doubt, even go to the Tax Office and other sources of sensitive information.

Use of this material raises real concerns. Previous parliamentary reports have found that there were 3.2 million more tax file numbers than people in Australia at the last census; there were 185,000 potential duplicate tax records for individuals; and 62 per cent of deceased clients were not recorded as deceased in the sample match. The Australian National Audit Office has also separately found that 'up to half a million active Medicare enrolment records were probably for people who were deceased'. The problem here is that the AEC is just trying to expand the role and the size of the roll for the sake of expanding it. In the process, they are undermining its integrity and increasing the margin for error.

Dr Roger Clarke of the Australian Privacy Foundation said:

I believe part of the problem is … that there is a desire to maximise the number of people on the rolls. I do not believe that is an appropriate objective. … The intention should be to maximise people's opportunity to enrol and to vote, and this goes well beyond that.

Indeed, in regard to the privacy implications of the legislation before us, Dr Clarke of the Australian Privacy Foundation has also raised real issues about publishing people's details on the electoral roll without their knowledge or approval and, importantly, without their having the opportunity to register as a silent elector. This is a particular concern for people who have been victims of domestic violence or who would like their addresses suppressed for a range of safety issues. At a hearing in February this year Dr Clarke said of this legislation:

We are not aware of any risk assessment having been performed. We were not aware of any privacy impact assessment having been performed.

This is really inexplicable, and it reeks of political advantage and political opportunism on the part of the Labor Party and their co-conspirators in this legislation, the Greens.

I have mentioned the experience in New South Wales and Victoria. What is instructive about the experience in New South Wales is that the people who had the automatic enrolment did not turn out in the numbers expected. In fact, only 64.3 per cent of these first-time new enrolments turned out to vote. Compare this to the overall turnout of 92.3 per cent for the 2011 New South Wales state election. This raises serious issues about the integrity of this automatic enrolment process and about the potential for fraud.

In conclusion, these are bad bills. These bills are motivated by an opportunistic desire for political advantage. There has not been proper and rigorous assessment. In fact, we have heard from experts, from parliament committees and elsewhere about the dangers involved. These bills, and the subsequent changes, will compromise the integrity of the Australian Electoral Act. They will raise significant privacy issues that will affect all Australians. What is more, they will undermine the personal responsibility that is incumbent on individuals in Australia when they reach voting age to take the opportunity to vote in Australia for their political representatives. There are not many more important subjects than this. I implore all the Independents, who will not have the same political motivations as those opposite, to take this opportunity to vote against this legislation and ensure that the integrity of the Australian electoral roll is maintained.