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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3811


Mr FORREST (Mallee) (17:55): I find myself agreeing with the member for Wentworth and the member for Gilmore and would like to follow their themes as I indicate my opposition to the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012. Firstly, I would like to describe my own experience and then make some useful suggestions about the real challenges that confront us in maintaining the integrity of the electoral roll.

I spend a lot of time out of my office working with my Electoral Commission officer in cleansing the roll. I am also a regular 'corresponder'. It alarms me that especially new enrolees—the younger group; the 18-year-olds—are so mobile. From the time that I am alerted about a new enrolee to the time that I write them a welcome letter—welcoming them to Mallee and telling them a little bit about the democratic process—it astounds me the number of letters I get back with 'Not known at this address'. In general correspondence, where I might want to communicate with my constituency, I send out a broadcast letter. Again, the number of responses that come back to me with 'Not known at this address' is astounding. We then forward that information on to the Electoral Commission in an attempt to cleanse the roll. I work very closely with the electoral office based in Mildura.

We try to reinforce the real value of our democracy on the younger generation. When schools visit Parliament House, we entertain them in area of the building where they can see the War Memorial. Walter Burley Griffin has done us an enormous favour, I think, in that Parliament House can be seen from the War Memorial and vice versa. The War Memorial reminds us that our democracy has not come cheap. It was very expensive in that men and women had to be prepared to defend it and fight to keep it. I sometimes worry that the importance of being able to vote is not generally understood by the Australian populace because they are so busy trying to make ends meet. They have very busy lives.

A considerable number of my constituents are exempt from having to vote. Their objection to voting is for religious reasons. If they come into my office to complain about something, I will often say to them, 'If you don't vote, you can't come into my office and complain,' which is my way of trying to encourage them to be part of the process. The roll is so important. We all need to do what we can to make sure that it has absolute integrity.

The number of letters that I send on to the Electoral Commission to make sure that the roll does have that integrity alarms me. So I am with the member for Gilmore, who argues that strong case to get in early with the younger generation and get the Electoral Commission to visit the schools. That is being done in my electorate. I encourage it. I do what I can to make sure that youngsters in particular understand the value of voting and that it is their individual responsibility, not somebody else's responsibility. It is such a precious right for them to have and they need it to be their responsibility to make sure that they are recorded on the electoral roll. I was alarmed when I first read what these bills contain—an automatic enrolment!—and what information may be relied upon to make this enrolment. I am, frankly, alarmed. My constituency is based along the Murray River, where there is a huge amount of horticulture that has an enormous demand for labour—people come from everywhere—and the populations of my small Murray River towns grow enormously during the harvest season. One of the most substantial complaints from—