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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2436


Senator RYAN (Minister for Education)(7.00) —I thank honourable senators for their contribution to the second reading debate. At the Committee stage there will be a lengthy consideration of the various amendments that have been foreshadowed. I indicate at this stage that the only acceptable amendment foreshadowed by Opposition or Democrat senators is that to be moved by Senator Macklin.

There are a number of points which need to be addressed in reply although Senator Robert Ray's speech addressed many of the matters raised in the second reading debate. Senator Archer expressed concern about the width of the definition of `an electoral matter'. The definition is in two parts. Firstly, clause 3 (b) inserts the provision:

`` `electoral matter' means matter which is intended or likely to affect voting in an election;'';

This is a more meaningful expression than some of the present definitions which are expressed in terms of a matter likely to affect the result of an election. Secondly, clause 3 (e) inserts a new sub-section (9) in section 4 of the Act. The matters set out at paragraphs (a) to (f) are a legislative statement of matters that shall be taken to be intended or likely to affect voting at an election. The need for such a legislative statement of matters that may be encompassed in the more general definition is supported by the Director of Public Prosecutions as set out in the Australian Electoral Commission's submissions to the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform. It is not possible to provide the sort of itemised list sought by Senator Archer over and above what is in paragraphs (a) to (f) of new sub-section (9), but the sub-section would, for example, cover historical material such as an attack on the record of the Lang Government of the 1930s, or matters raised by a group of citizens who are not candidates for or supporters of a particular party, for example, a group of sugar cane growers who had complained about the closure of their sugar mill and the performance of either government or opposition or both in looking after the sugar industry.

Concerns were also raised about the possible non-enforcement of the compulsory enrolment and voting provisions of the Act. The Australian Electoral Commission is also concerned that there may be shortcomings on its part on the enforcement side. On the other hand, on the enrolment front its main aim is to get potential electors on the rolls and not into court. This, in part, would explain the low statistics in this regard. On the failure to vote front, the Australian Electoral Commission is itself concerned that previous enforcement action may have been a little on the benevolent side. It is in the process of revising its procedures in this regard and laying down firmer guidelines for divisional returning officers to follow.

Questions concerning the wisdom of the mail-out of voting information to electors in the pre-polling period have also been raised. Recommendation No. 87 by the Joint Select Committee follows its view that the direct communication approach of the Commission's trial leaflet used at the Scullin by-election in 1986 was successful. At the 1984 general election the division of Scullin had at 13.3 per cent the highest informal vote of all 148 divisions. After the mail-out, there was a consequential drop in the informal vote to 6.07 per cent, an improvement I am sure that all senators will agree was significant and which justifies, in our view, the proposals for the mail-out. As I said, other matters will be dealt with at the Committee stage. I thank honourable senators for their contribution and I recommend the Bill to the Senate.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be added (Senator Sheil's amendment) be added.