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Thursday, 7 December 2006
Page: 24


Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (10:26 AM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

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

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

ELECTORAL AND REFERENDUM LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2006

The bill gives effect to the government’s response to a number of the recommendations by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in its report on the 2004 federal election. Amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 contained in this bill relate to electronic voting trials, postal voting, pre-poll voting arrangements and defamation of candidates in response to the committee’s recommendations, and electoral enrolment by Australians who are overseas.

This bill is the second tranche of the government’s legislative response to the committee’s report and follows reform measures that were passed by the parliament on 21 June 2006 in the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Act 2006.

The bill establishes the framework for two trials for electronic voting at the next federal election, with the detail to be prescribed by regulation.

There will be a trial for blind or vision impaired people allowing them to vote independently through the use of electronically assisted voting machines. A printed ballot will be produced for inclusion in the count.

The trial will be conducted at 30 pre-poll voting centres located across Australia and any sight-impaired person will be able to cast their secret vote at any of these locations before, or on, polling day. The Australian Electoral Commission will advertise the locations where the electronically assisted voting trial will take place.

The trial will give thousands of blind and vision impaired electors the opportunity to cast a secret vote for the first time at a federal election.

The second trial will allow Australian Defence Force personnel serving outside Australia to cast a vote electronically. These people face considerable difficulties when casting their vote as the nature of their work means they are often serving in countries with unreliable postal services or disrupted communications infrastructure.

At the 2004 federal election, the Australian Electoral Commission estimated that about one third of ADF personnel deployed overseas were not able to vote or have their vote returned in time for inclusion in the count. Based on current deployment figures, this would equate to about 1,500 ADF personnel who potentially would not be able to vote.

This trial will overcome the many difficulties associated with voting options for ADF personnel overseas and will allow them to vote in safety.

In order to protect the security of the vote cast, the trial will be rolled out on the Defence Department’s secure network. The trial will be developed by the AEC in close consultation with the Department of Defence.

However, as important as these trials are, the government does not consider that either of these trials is a precursor to electronic voting generally.

As the integrity and security of the vote are paramount, the bill provides for the minister to decide in writing if either trial is not to proceed. A decision not to proceed with a trial would take into account consideration of risks to the security and integrity of the vote, including any software or hardware issues.

As the reason for not proceeding with the trial would be based on an assessment of the integrity of the vote, including a software or hardware failure, the government considers that it would not be appropriate for such a decision to be subject to disallowance by the parliament. While a decision not to proceed with a trial would be a legislative instrument, the bill provides that section 42 of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003 does not apply to such a decision.

The bill also contains measures to improve the arrangements for postal voting.

The bill provides for eligible overseas electors, and Australian Federal Police and ADF personnel serving overseas to register as general postal voters. This will mean that they will be sent ballot papers automatically for each election and referendum without first having to lodge a postal vote application. This should provide more time for these electors to be able to return their postal vote for inclusion in the count.

ADF personnel overseas will be able to lodge a postal vote and to vote as part of the remote electronic voting trial where they have access to the trial. However, and most importantly, only one vote per elector will be counted. This will ensure that their vote will be included in the count in case the trial does not proceed or if there is a delay in the receipt of their vote.

For reasons of operational security, the bill does not allow the release of any information that would disclose information about ADF and AFP personnel serving overseas.

In relation to postal vote applications, the bill provides a deadline for the receipt of postal vote applications after which postal voting material will not be required to be sent to the applicant. Postal vote applications must be received by the AEC by 6.00 pm on the Thursday before polling day in order for postal voting material to be sent to applicants.

For postal vote applications received after this deadline, the AEC will be required to make reasonable efforts to contact applicants to advise them of the need to vote by other means. That contact will usually be by telephone.

This will ensure electors who lodge their postal vote application too late will have the best possible chance of casting their vote by alternative means.

Further, the bill introduces revised delivery arrangements for postal voting material to be sent to electors. For postal vote applications received by the AEC up to and including 6.00 pm on the Friday eight days before polling day, the AEC is required to send the postal voting material to the applicant by post or other appropriate means, unless an alternative delivery option is specified by the applicant.

The AEC will have the authority to assess whether the alternate delivery option requested by the applicant is reasonable and practicable, and if so, must use that delivery method.

As the postal voting material sent to electors includes a postal voting envelope with the declaration certificate and the ballot papers, delivery of this material at any time using electronic means, such as by facsimile or email, will not be permitted.

For applications received after 6.00 pm on the Friday eight days before polling day and by 6.00 pm on the Thursday before polling day, the AEC is required to send the material by the most reasonable and practicable means. In assessing this, the AEC will take account of postal delivery schedules. In a number of cases, it may be that delivery by courier is the most practicable and reasonable means.

The delivery options for postal vote applications will enhance the prospect for applicants to receive postal voting material in time to complete and return for inclusion in the count, particularly for rural and remote communities with weekly mail deliveries.

The Commonwealth Electoral Act provides that an elector who casts a postal vote shall return the completed postal vote to the appropriate divisional returning officer. Where it is unlikely that the completed postal vote would reach the appropriate divisional returning officer within 13 days after polling day, the Commonwealth Electoral Act currently allows for the envelope to be returned to other AEC officers. These other officers are any divisional returning officer, an assistant returning officer outside Australia, a pre-poll voting officer or a polling place presiding officer.

The bill provides for an expanded range of AEC personnel who will be able to receive completed postal votes. The additional personnel will include:

  • mobile polling team leaders;
  • electoral visitors at special hospitals and prisons;
  • AEC office holders, senior executive staff, and AEC employees engaged on an ongoing basis under the Public Service Act 1999, located at the AEC’s capital city offices.

Procedures for dealing with completed postal votes received by the expanded range of people will be the same as those that apply for the AEC officers who can currently accept postal votes.

This will provide greater flexibility and options for the return of postal votes in time for inclusion in the count.

In addition to these legislative measures, the AEC will conduct an extensive advertising campaign to alert voters to the issues relating to postal voting.

The bill also provides for the AEC to be able to set up pre-poll voting offices in emergency situations, without the need for prior gazettal before the offices could operate. The AEC will be required to publicise information about the new pre-poll voting office (such as location, time and days of operation), notify relevant candidates and political parties, and gazette the details of the pre-poll voting office as soon as possible.

This will allow the AEC to respond quickly to unexpected and unanticipated changes to voter service requirements.

Electoral legislation passed in June 2006 introduced proof of identity requirements for enrolment, re-enrolment, changes to enrolment details and for provisional voting.

There are three levels for the proof of identity scheme:

  • the applicant is to provide his or her driver’s licence number (first tier);
  • if an applicant does not have a driver’s licence, the applicant needs to show a prescribed identity document (such as a passport or birth certificate) to a prescribed class of elector (second tier);
  • if an applicant does not have any of the identity documents, then he or she needs to have the application countersigned by two electors who have known the applicant for at least one month and who can confirm the applicant’s name (third tier).

As it may be difficult for overseas applicants to meet these requirements, the government considers that they should have the option to provide their Australian passport number as an alternative to the first tier requirement of the driver’s licence. The AEC will verify the passport details with the Passport Office.

The bill provides for regulations to allow for this alternative for Australians enrolling from overseas.

Finally, the bill repeals the provision of the Commonwealth Electoral Act that relates to defamation of candidates. Defamation cases will, instead, be dealt with in accordance with existing defamation laws in the relevant state or territory jurisdiction.

I commend the bill.


LAW AND JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (MARKING OF PLASTIC EXPLOSIVES) BILL 2006

This bill implements the obligations under the United Nations’ Convention on the Marking of Plastic Explosives for the Purpose of Detection, concluded at Montreal on 1 March 1991.

In October 2004, the government announced in its national security policy its intention to accede to the convention.

This convention is the last of the 13 United Nations counter-terrorism conventions to which Australia is not yet a party.

In September 2005, Australia was one of the first countries to sign the new Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

Accession to this convention is a further demonstration of Australia’s ongoing commitment to overcoming international terrorism, and further improve Australia’s counter-terrorism measures.

To date, the convention has 128 parties including Australia’s international partners, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand.

The convention and the bill will impose important obligations on Australia in regulating and monitoring the manufacture, possession, traffic, import and export of plastic explosives.

The convention was drafted and is administered by International Civil Aviation Organization following the December 1998 bombing of the Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which claimed the lives of over 270 people. The actual bomb which caused the disaster was located in a portable radio/cassette player and contained plastic explosives set with a detonator. The bomb had passed undetected through Customs.

The broad purpose of the convention is to provide for a scheme to detect plastic explosives. The convention does this by obliging state parties to restrict the manufacture, and place controls over the use by each state party, of plastic explosives which have not been ‘marked’ with a specific chemical agent prescribed in the technical annex to the convention. The marker is a chemical vapour which can be detected using specialised equipment.

The requirement to mark all plastic explosives manufactured or held by legitimate sources combined with a regime which more closely manages stocks of plastic explosives in the country, will minimise the risk of plastic explosives being diverted from legitimate sources and used for criminal activity.

The bill adopts the obligations of the convention by inserting a new subdivision B into division 72 of the Criminal Code, and creating offences of trafficking in, manufacturing, possessing, importing and exporting unmarked plastic explosives.

The bill has a six month delayed commencement period which will provide Australian manufacturers with a total of 12 months in which to comply with the provisions of the bill.

The bill also amends the Customs Act 1901 to ensure that Customs officers have appropriate powers of search and seizure where necessary to facilitate the application of the legislation at Australia’s borders.

The bill provides for exemptions from the requirement to mark a plastic explosive to permit the use of existing stocks, use for defence and police purposes and research uses.

Other exemptions will allow the Australian Defence Force and/or the Australian Federal Police to use unmarked plastic explosives for a seven day period, before requiring a specific authorisation for their use, in the event that unmarked plastic explosives are discovered or obtained in the course of overseas operations. The ADF or AFP will then be allowed to destroy that unmarked plastic explosive if required.

The bill also provides that unmarked plastic explosives which are forfeited as a result of court proceedings, or surrendered to authorities will become the property of the Commonwealth.

The bill has been the subject of consultation with industry as well as the states and territories and the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.

On 14 August 2006 the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties tabled its report into the convention. The committee supported the convention and recommended that binding treaty action be taken to accede to the convention.

The committee also noted that that accession to the convention will confirm Australia’s commitment to combating the global threat of terrorism, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

I thank the committee for their work in considering convention and this bill as part of their review of the convention.

Ordered that further consideration of this bill be adjourned to the first day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.