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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 195

Senator HAINES (Leader of the Australian Democrats)(5.32) —I want to raise only one issue with regard to the report of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. Before I do so I would like to recommend that as many people as possible read this report. It is an extremely detailed one and, in the main, the Committee members are to be commended for the sorts of issues they cover and the amount of time they spend looking at this area. The particular recommendation I want to look at is not one which I support. Recommendation 18 (e) recommends that the Electoral Act be amended to provide:

the surname, given names, addresses, occupation, sex and date of birth of each elector should be available on the Electoral Roll and on the publicly available microfiche of the Electoral Roll;

I have to say that I feel some considerable concern at the fact that the Committee majority has seen fit to recommend this. I compliment my colleague Senator Macklin on his dissenting report on this matter. It does not sound as though it is something that one ought to get particularly fussed over, but I suggest that some concerns may have been raised to the Committee and that, if they were raised, the Committee clearly did not pay sufficient attention to them. The word `occupation' was deleted from the electoral roll a couple of years ago, and I can think of several good reasons why. Those people who, like myself, were, or still are, in the teaching profession and others who are members of, say, the medical profession, the accounting profession or any other profession which has a reasonable remuneration behind it will recollect that one of the more irritating aspects of having our occupations listed in the electoral roll was that we were fair game to some quite legitimate activities on the part of enthusiastic sellers of things such as insurance and encyclopaedias. It was easy enough to find out who was in what profession and who was, therefore, likely to be either interested in, or able to pay for, extra insurance or some of the luxuries of life such as encyclopaedias. In itself that is perhaps not a real problem, but when it is extended to the sorts of shonky deals that can be put to some unsuspecting people I think we ought to beware of it.

The other problem, of course, is that there is an interesting number of families in which the pair in the home both work-that is, it is a dual-income family and both husband and wife are habitually absent from home. Again it would not be difficult for somebody in a specific area to run his eye down the list of names in the electoral roll and discover whether both occupants were likely to be at work all day, leaving the home vacant. Given the increase in breaking and entering, certainly in South Australia-and I presume that that is reflected in other States-I would not have thought that we would be trying to do anything at all that would exacerbate that problem. I do not think it is hysterics to be concerned about those sorts of issues. While I certainly do not wish to impede the money-making of people who sell encyclopaedias, insurance or anything else, I think we need to watch just to what extent we give people licence to find out information about other people.

The date of a person's birth is something which appears, on the surface, even less of a concern until we think of the number of occasions on which we have seen newspaper reports of elderly people being harassed in their homes by people who sell ideas for repainting roofs or doing other sorts of renovations around the home and who have absolutely no intention either of providing an adequate service for the money they receive or of actually performing the service after they have received some sort of payment in advance. This is distressing to elderly people, who are quite frequently on pensions or low superannuation payments. Again these people ought not to be encouraged by having the date of birth listed in as readily accessible a public document as the electoral rolls or the microfiche of the electoral rolls in each State. I would have thought that, in this day and age, we ought to be acting to protect people from invasions of privacy that modern technology can assist.

I know that there are a lot of members of parliament who argue that it would be useful for them to know people's ages or occupations so that, again using the computers that many of us have in our offices, we can send out letters to target groups-people between the ages of 19 and 22 who are likely to be at university if we are trying to sell our education policy, or people over the age of 65 if we are trying to convince them that our concern for the welfare of pensioners is greater than the concern of anybody else-or anything else that politicians are want to do when they are trying to win elections from time to time. But I would have thought that even that-or maybe even especially that-was something we ought to be prepared to give up if putting this sort of information back on the electoral roll were likely to lead to quite unwarranted and intrusive abuse of the information, a loss of privacy to many families and individuals, and in some cases a very real threat of fraud, breaking and enterings, loss of possessions and so on, to say nothing of the problems that we all know exist for elderly people or women who are alone at home at night or even during the day.

I would like to indicate my concern, shared by my colleague Senator Macklin and by the rest of my Party, at the fact that the majority report recommends that the Electoral Act be amended to put back information that was recently taken out-that is, the occupation of the person named-and the inclusion of a piece of information which, to the best of my knowledge, has never previously been included on the electoral roll; that is, somebody's date of birth. As for the requirement for sex identification, apart from the fact that I cannot see why it is particularly necessary, I would have thought that in any case most people with even a modicum of intelligence ought to be able to work out somebody's sex by looking at his or her given names. Why they would particularly want to do that is beyond me.

Senator Harradine —Like Robin Gray.

Senator HAINES —Senator Harradine raises Robin Gray's name. Perhaps in that case it would be useful to know Robin Gray's sex but I would have thought that in the majority of instances it would not be a particularly useful piece of information. I would certainly urge the Government not to accept this recommendation because of all the potential problems and threats that it could cause for large numbers of Australians.