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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2155


Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(4.04) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

The Bill before this House seeks to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Act 1983 and the Representation Act 1983. The amendments proposed result from a further review of electoral legislation. The amendments are in the main of a minor or machinery nature.

There are, however, a number of proposed changes to the Commonwealth Electoral Act which honourable members might note.

The Bill provides for the consecutive renumbering of provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. A reprint of the Act incorporating the renumbering will be published as soon as possible after this Bill comes into effect.

The franchise of service personnel on overseas service at the commencement of the 1983 Amendments is also preserved. Under Section 39A of the Commonwealth Electoral Act as it stood prior to the 1983 Amendments, service personnel overseas and persons accompanying defence force units in an official capacity were eligible to vote even if unenrolled. Consistently with the recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Act 1983 repealed this section and substituted a new provision (new section 39A) which broadly speaking allows persons going overseas to retain their enrolments if they notify their divisional returning officer in the months prior to their departure.

However, the 1983 Amendments did not preserve the franchise of those service personnel and persons accompanying them in an official capacity who were already overseas. To avoid a situation where some 1500 servicemen are disenfranchised, clause 6 of the Bill provides that they have until the issue of the writ for the next general election to apply for registration as eligible overseas electors as if they were about to depart for their postings. Once the service personnel are registered, their spouses and dependents will also be able to register as overseas electors. Clause 6 does not cover service personnel who have been posted since the commencement of the 1983 Amendments.

Still on the question of overseas electors, doubts have been expressed whether the provisions of section 39A enable an enrolled person who is going overseas to register as an eligible overseas elector if, at the time of his departure, he is intending to return to the place of living for which he is enrolled. The proposed amendment will remedy this situation.

The format of the Senate Ballot-Paper is also to be changed. Currently the Act provides that in the printing of Senate Ballot-Papers the letters ''A'', ''B'', etc. be printed before the squares opposite the names of grouped candidates. This requirement is reflected in the Senate Ballot-Paper which appears as Form E in Schedule 1 of the Act.

The Government has accepted an interim recommendation from the Joint Select Committee on electoral reform that the present statutory requirement of printing letters before the squares should be repealed. If in the committee's final report some form of lettering to identify groups is recommended for Senate Ballot-Papers, this and any other recommendations regarding format can be given effect to by regulations made under the Act.

Mr President, Section 42 of the Act provides for a claim for enrolment or transfer of enrolment to be lodged with any divisional returning officer, but does not provide for such claims to be lodged at the central office or state head offices of the Electoral Commission. This may disadvantage some electors in a close of Roll situation. The proposed amendments will enable a claim to be lodged with an Australian Electoral officer in additional to the divisional returning officer.

A new section 58W is proposed to provide for separate registers of candidates for each Senate election, general election for the House of Representatives, and for each By-Election.

New provisions are also to be inserted requiring candidates seeking registration to do so before the close of nominations. Similarly, parties and candidates desiring to receive public funding in respect of their campaign expenditure will have to register for that purpose respectively by the issue of the writ and by the close of nominations.

Mr President, there are a number of proposed amendments which deal with the preliminary scrutiny of postal votes. The amendments will expressly permit divisional returning officers to do this in stages as the votes are received and to this extent they will reflect current practice. Divisional returning officers will be required to give notice of any such scrutiny on the day before. This will enable scrutineers to attend.

In the past the substantive provisions regulating absent voting have been contained in the electoral and referendum regulations. The government has decided that it is more appropriate that they should be dealt with in the Commonwealth Electoral Act itself. The Bill contains a number of amendments to this end.

Mr President, the Bill amends the act in a number of respects to allow the scrutiny of Senate ballot-papers to be conducted at a central point in each state or territory rather than in divisional offices. The introduction of the ' fractional transfer' senate scrutiny system last year will greatly increase the number of counts required at a typical Senate election. If a centralised scrutiny is not adopted, the need for communication between divisional offices and state head offices of the Electoral Commission as part of every count, would greatly lengthen the time required to conduct a Senate scrutiny.

The proposed amendment of section 135 (26) is intended to make it clear that the transfer of all the surplus votes of an elected candidate constitutes a single, separate transfer of votes. This clarification becomes important where the transfer of a particular elected candidate's surplus elects two candidates. If the distribution of a surplus were regarded as a series of separate transfers , the order of election, in the case of two candidates, would be dependent on which of them first received his share of the surplus. However, if the distribution of all of the elected candidates' surplus is regarded as a single transfer, the order of election of the two candidates depends on which of them has the larger surplus over quota. This latter process of determining the order of election is not as arbitrary as the former process.

Section 135 also provides that at a Senate scrutiny where, in a transfer of votes, the number of continuing candidates is equal to the number of remaining unfilled vacancies, those continuing candidates shall be elected. The section, however, requires an unnecessary transfer of votes to be carried out before these continuing candidates can be elected. The amendment of sub-section 135 (16 ) is designed to remedy this situation.

Mr President, the current legislative requirement in respect of disclosure of gifts also requires amendment. The effect of the existing provisions is that candidates are required to disclose gifts, even of an entirely personal nature. The proposed new paragraph 153J (5) (B) excludes such gifts from the disclosure requirements.

The final Commonwealth Electoral Act amendment to which I would draw the attention of honourable senators is new section 216B. Over the years the electoral administration has had a real administrative burden arising from the need to retain original claim cards in respect of new enrolments and transfer of enrolment. The new section will enable these claim cards to be destroyed where a record of their particulars is kept on microfilm, microfiche or another approved permanent form. The section further provides for these records to be admissible in evidence in any proceeding and to be prima facie evidence of any such particulars.

Mr President, as I have already said, the amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Legislation Amendment Act are of a minor nature. They are designed to correct a number of drafting anomalies which have been detected since its passage, and will have no substantive effect on its operation.

The two amendments proposed to the Representation Act are in the same category. The amendment to sub-section 5 (7) is designed to correct an anomaly. At present , the formula for determining which of the successful candidates at the next Senate election will take their places on 1 July 1985 and which will take their places on the date of the first meeting of the next House of Representatives would be incapable of operation if the date of the first meeting were to fall after 1 July 1985. The amendment resolves this problem.

Mr President, the introduction of this Bill demonstrates the government's on- going commitment to sensible reform of our electoral laws. The changes involved here are not controversial and deserve the support of all honourable senators.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Collard) adjourned.