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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3800

Mr TUDGE (Aston) (17:03): Before I was interrupted for statements by members and for questions without notice, I was referring to Australia's great democracy and the pillars which underpin it. One of the essential pillars that does indeed underpin our great democracy is the confidence which we have in our voting system. There are many components to that. There is the way that the elections are conducted on the day and the way that the counting is done subsequent to the day, including having scrutineers and the like. But a critical component in us having confidence in the system is that we also have confidence in who is enrolled on the electoral roll and therefore who is eligible to vote. It is immensely important for all of us in this chamber, and indeed for everyone across Australia, to have confidence in that so that we can have confidence in the system overall. My great concern is that the amendments that have been put in front of us will diminish the confidence that we have in our system and that the integrity of the enrolments will indeed be diminished.

The legislation allows the Australian Electoral Commission to automatically update the voter records by taking into account a number of sources rather than leaving that in the hands of the individual. It is not clear exactly what sources the AEC will use to update that information, but it could have quite dramatic consequences if they get it wrong. That is our concern. You would think that they would look at, say, tax file numbers from the Australian Taxation Office, follow that path down its track and use the information to update voter records. But, if they did that, they could very well have many mistakes. An ANAO report found quite recently, in the last census, that there were 3.2 million more tax file numbers than people in Australia. Information as concrete as that, which you would think you would be able to rely on and therefore use to update the electoral roll, is in part not accurate. In fact, there were 185,000 potential duplicate tax records for individuals, and 62 per cent of deceased clients were not recorded as deceased in a sample match. There are some quite extraordinary figures from what we would typically regard as a very reliable source of information, let alone what they would be if we went to other potential sources.

I will use another example. We might think that Medicare is another source of information which is rock solid and something which the AEC might be able to use to update its records for the electoral roll. Again, though, I point out that an ANAO report found that up to half a million active Medicare enrolment records were probably for people who are deceased. So their records can be considerably wrong, and this report found half a million active Medicare enrolment records were, indeed, possibly wrong. That is one of our concerns. The last thing we want is for records which are incorrect to be updated because that will reduce the overall integrity of the electoral system.

The second problem I have with these amendments is they take away individual responsibility. We on this side of the House believe that individual responsibility is an incredibly important principle which should infuse all policymaking. We hold individuals responsible for enrolling to vote, accurately maintaining their enrolment at their permanent place of residence and casting their vote when an election is called, and we ask them to fully extend preferences to all candidates contesting elections for the House of Representatives in their local electorate. These are the basic responsibilities which individuals have, and we on this side of the House believe that individuals should rightly retain those responsibilities and the responsibility to update their records.

The third and final argument which I have against the amendments in front of me is privacy. This has been spoken about by the speakers before me. There is a significant concern that, if records are updated without the knowledge of individuals, they may not even be aware of being on the roll to start with or of what district or electorate they are enrolled in. Further, they may not be aware of the information which the AEC holds or what information the AEC is using to update their records. We believe there is no need for these amendments to occur. We do not believe there is a case to be made for changing the way the electoral roll has been managed so far. We believe the single most important principle is maintaining integrity in the electoral roll and, to date, both sides of the House have found, by and large, that we can have confidence in the electoral roll. We amend these laws and change this system at our peril. If we reduce the integrity that is inherent in the electoral process, that will be a poor result for democracy overall.