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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 3533


Senator ARBIB (Minister for Employment Participation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery) (6:04 PM) —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 Amendment (Pre-poll Voting and Other Measures) Bill 2010

I am pleased to present legislation that will bring real reform to key provision in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Electoral Act) and the Referendum Machinery Provisions Act 1984 (the Referendum Act).

Three of the four schedules implement the Government response to recommendations made by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters following their inquiry into the conduct of the 2007 federal election (JSCEM Report). These amendments will:

  • modernise enrolment processes to enable electors to update their enrolment details electronically;
  • allow the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to manage its workload more efficiently by enabling enrolment transactions to be processed outside the Division for which the person is enrolling;
  • enable pre-poll votes cast in an elector’s ‘home’ Division to be cast and counted as ordinary votes; and
  • provide a legislative framework for people who are blind or have low vision to cast an independent and secret vote.

Schedule 3 deals with an issue that emerged at the 2009 Bradfield by-election and relates to multiple candidates being endorsed for a single Division by the registered officer of a political party. This bill contains amendments that will prevent the registered officer of a political party endorsing more than one candidate for each Division.

The overriding aim of the amendments in the Bill is to enhance the ability of otherwise eligible Australians to participate in the electoral process by removing obstacles to their enrolment. The Electoral Act currently contains a number of hurdles to facilitating modern and technologically up-to-date interaction between the AEC and eligible electors.

Of particular concern is the estimated 1.4 million eligible electors currently not on the electoral Roll, with up to two thirds of the missing electors falling in the 18 to 39 year age group. It is intended that amendments introduced in the Bill will address declining enrolment rates and improve electoral participation in this age group, and more generally, by enabling flexible and modern interaction between eligible electors and the AEC.

Schedule 1 - ‘Home’ Division pre-poll votes as ordinary votes

The amendments contained in Schedule 1 to the Bill will enable pre-poll votes issued in an elector’s ‘home’ Division to be cast and counted as ordinary votes, wherever practicable.

The Electoral Act and the Referendum Act provide for pre-poll voting to take place prior to polling day. This provides electors who have specified other commitments to meet their voting obligations by voting early. Recent elections have seen a large increase in the demand for early voting; at the 2007 federal election almost 15 per cent of the total votes were cast as early votes.

The increase in demand for early voting has two major consequences. First, it requires the AEC to devote increased resources to deal with early voting as more resources are required to issue and count this type of vote. Second, the results of an election are more likely to be delayed as the counting of these early votes generally does not take place on polling night as the declaration envelopes containing the votes must go through the time consuming preliminary scrutiny processes.

The Bill provides for pre-poll votes cast in an elector’s home division, prior to polling day to be treated as ordinary votes, wherever practicable. An elector’s home Division is the Division in which the elector is enrolled. For elector’s to cast a pre-poll vote in this manner it will be conditional upon elector’s to make a declaration at the time of voting indicating that they are entitled to a pre-poll vote and each elector’s name being marked off the certified list. This will ensure that the integrity of this type of vote is maintained. Votes cast as ordinary votes in an elector’s home division, for counting purposes, will be treated in the same manner as ordinary votes cast in polling places on polling day. The AEC estimates that if this amendment had been in place for the 2007 federal election it would have resulted in an additional 667,000 votes being counted on polling night.

Schedule 2 - Efficient management of AEC workload & Electronic address update

Schedule 2 to the Bill contains amendments that can be grouped into two main themes. The first theme provides for the efficient and effective management of AEC workload. The second theme enables electors to update their address details electronically.

Recommendation 42 of the JSCEM Report recommends that the Electoral Act should be amended to enable the AEC to manage its workload in non-election periods by allocating work, principally enrolment applications and enrolment changes, throughout the AEC divisional office network. The Electoral Act as it currently stands provides that such workload sharing can only take place during the election period. There is no apparent rationale for limiting the operation of this workload sharing to the election period. Expanding this ability will result in a number of benefits to electors and reduce handling times.

Such changes will allow the AEC to manage its workload more efficiently by enabling enrolment transactions to be processed outside the relevant Division. These amendments will provide the AEC with additional tools to maintain the electoral Roll in a timely and efficient manner.

These changes will ensure that the Electoral Commissioner has the obligation to receive and action any enrolment related transactions rather than only the Divisional Returning Officer or the Australian Electoral Officer. The Electoral Commissioner will then use an enhanced delegation power to delegate the processing of the transactions to any AEC officer or member of staff, which may include Divisional Returning Officers and Australian Electoral Officers.

The second theme of amendments in Schedule 2 provide for modern enrolment processes to enable electors to update their address details electronically. Despite recent trends encouraging Australians to communicate with government agencies electronically, the Electoral Act still requires voters to complete and sign paper forms when enrolling or updating their enrolment details. These forms are then required to be sent to the AEC by post to be entered into the electronic database used to maintain the electoral Roll.

These amendments give effect to Recommendation 9 of the JSCEM Report and will enable persons who are already on the electoral Roll to update their address details by providing this information to the AEC in an electronic format. In addition to the requirement that the person is already on the electoral Roll, the Bill foreshadows the making of regulations which will prescribe minimum verification information that the elector will need to provide to the AEC before the Electoral Commissioner can act on the electronic communication. The regulations will enable the AEC to request prescribed information from electors, for example date of birth and drivers licence number, to ensure that the electronic transaction is authentic and is being undertaken by the elector to whom the information relates.

These amendments will facilitate the maintenance of an effective electoral Roll by enabling voters to communicate with the AEC by electronic means rather than by written hardcopy forms.

Schedule 3 - Limitation on the number of endorsed candidates per Division

Schedule 3 to the Bill contains reforms which will restrict the number of candidates that can be endorsed by a political party in any one Division. At the by-election in the Division of Bradfield on 5 December 2009 there were 22 candidates, nine of whom were endorsed by a registered officer of a single registered political party.

The ability for a registered officer of a political party to endorse candidates for an election was introduced into the Electoral Act in 1987 to provide a streamlined way for political parties to nominate candidates. If not endorsed by a registered political party, a person seeking to be a candidate for an election must obtain the support of 50 electors in the Division in which the person is seeking to nominate. The current provisions of the Electoral Act do not prohibit political parties from endorsing more than one candidate in each Division for an election.

For a voter to cast a formal vote they are required to number a ballot paper from ‘1’ to the number of candidates on the ballot paper without errors in the numbering sequence. At the above mentioned by-election for the Division of Bradfield the rate of informal votes was 9.00 per cent. This is a record for any election for the Division of Bradfield and more than double the informality rate for the Division at the 2007 federal election. The average national informality rate at the 2007 federal election was 3.95 per cent.

The practice of multiple candidates for a single Division being endorsed by the registered officer of a political party has not emerged on this scale prior to the 2009 Bradfield by-election. Legislative amendment is required to prevent a similar rise in the informality rate in multiple Divisions at the next federal election.

Schedule 4 - Electronically assisted voting for people who are blind or have low vision

Schedule 4 to the Bill will provide a mechanism for people who are blind or have low vision to cast an independent and secret vote. Without the amendments in Schedule 4 there is no provision in the Electoral Act or the Referendum Act for such voters to cast a secret vote.

The amendments in Schedule 4 provide a framework for the making of regulations that will provide for a flexible regime of electronic voting while maintaining the integrity of the voting process.

This approach provides the flexibility to amend the mechanics of the electronically assisted voting process as technology changes from election to election.

This integrity of the voting process is ensured in the amendments as any regulations made under the amendment may include:

  • a process for casting an electronically assisted vote;
  • methods to ensure the privacy, secrecy and integrity of the vote;
  • places, days and hours at which the electronically assisted vote will be available;
  • recording of each person who has been issued with a vote; and
  • recording of the vote and how this vote record will be treated.

Conclusion

The Government is committed to restoring the integrity of our electoral processes and systems. The first step in that process was the introduction of the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2008, and the subsequent 2009 Bill, which aimed to restore accountability, integrity and transparency to our system of donation disclosure. Unfortunately, those provisions have been blocked by the Senate. The reforms contained in this Bill will continue the important process of updating the Commonwealth Electoral Act.


Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010

I am pleased to present legislation to meet two of the Government’s 2007 election commitments.

This bill contains two schedules that will:

  • restore the close of Rolls period to seven days after the issue of the writ for an election; and
  • repeal the requirement for provisional voters to provide evidence of identity.

Schedule 1 - Close of the Rolls

Schedule 1 to the Bill deals with the close of the Rolls for an election. There is a deadline for every federal election after which the roll will be ‘closed’ for an election. This is known as the ‘close of the Rolls’ and specifies the date after which no additions or deletions can be made to the electoral Roll. The certified list of voters for an election is a list of persons who enrolled or updated their details before the close of the Rolls deadline.

The amendments proposed by Schedule 1 implement one of the Government’s pre-election commitments to restore the close of rolls period to seven days after the issue of the writ for an election. This amendment will provide sufficient time for new voters to enrol to vote for a federal election or existing electors to update their address details with the AEC.

Schedule 2 - Evidence of identity and provisional votes

Schedule 2 to the Bill repeals the requirement for provisional voters to provide evidence of identity. Provisional votes are a type of declaration vote cast by an elector at a polling place on polling day. The Electoral Act and the Referendum Act currently specify that a person who needs to cast a provisional vote at a polling place on polling day must provide a polling official with evidence of identity at the time of voting or by the first Friday following polling day. If the elector does not provide such evidence of identity by the deadline, his or her provisional vote will not be counted. The AEC estimates that over 27,000 provisional votes were excluded from the count at the 2007 federal election due to the operation of the existing evidence of identity provisions.

In accordance with JSCEM Recommendation 2, the Bill will repeal the requirement for voters casting a provisional vote to provide evidence of identity and will instead insert the new requirement that, where there is any doubt as to the bona fides of the elector, the signature on the envelope containing a provisional vote be compared with the signature of the elector on previously lodged enrolment records.

The amendments in Schedules 1 and 2 to the Bill implement recommendations of the JSCEM supported by the Government as necessary to provide eligible electors with the greatest opportunity to enrol and vote in an election.

Conclusion

The Government is committed to removing the barriers that prevent Australians from voting by:

  • restoring the close of Rolls period to seven days after the issue of the writ; and
  • repealing the requirement for provisional voters to provide evidence of identity.

Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2010

I am pleased to present a bill that brings much needed reform to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Electoral Act) and the Referendum Machinery Provisions Act 1984 (the Referendum Act).

The Bill:

  • repeals redundant provisions;
  • gives the Electoral Commissioner flexibility rather than prescription; and
  • places more technological tools at the Australian Electoral Commission’s (AEC) disposal so that the AEC can continue to deliver the best enrolment and election practices.

The majority of reforms in this Bill are based on unanimously supported recommendations of the Report by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters following its inquiry into the 2007 Federal election (JSCEM Report).

Schedule 1 - Publishing forms and information about places to vote

The Electoral Act and the Referendum Act currently require information such as the location of polling places and the various enrolment forms to be published in the Gazette.

The requirement to gazette this information is intended to provide transparency in the electoral process and ensure that members of the public have access to such information.

In recognition of the trend for people to use technology and websites to interact with Government, Schedule 1 provides for the publication of electoral information on the AEC’s website.

These amendments will give effect to recommendation 41 of the JSCEM Report.

Schedule 2 - Evidence of identity for enrolment

Schedule 2 amends the evidence of identity requirements for enrolment. The amendments require a person making an application for enrolment, or a person changing their name, to provide evidence of identity with their enrolment application.

Such persons may provide any one of the following forms of evidence of identity:

  • driver’s licence number;
  • passport number; or
  • the signature of a person currently on the electoral roll who attests to the identity of the person.

If an elector is simply changing his or her address details then evidence of identity is not required.

These amendments give effect to the unanimously supported recommendation 7 of the JSCEM Report.

Schedule 3 - Age 16 enrolment

Currently a person who is 17 years of age may provisionally enrol. These electors will automatically attain full enrolment on their eighteenth birthday. Provisional enrolment is voluntary.

The AEC has found that provisional enrolment for such people allows the AEC to target enrolment of young people in schools, educational institutions and youth events. Schedule 3 reduces the age of provisional enrolment from 17 years to 16 years of age.

Schedule 4 - Electoral rolls, related lists and ballot papers

Schedule 4 makes four sets of amendments relating to the use of technology in elections and election-related matters.

First, the amendments provide for Senators and Members to receive electoral Roll information in electronic form. This amendment is based on the unanimously supported recommendation 50 of the JSCEM Report.

Second, the amendments provide for the use of electronic certified lists. An electronic certified list will be known as an ‘approved list’. The approved list will be required to be approved by the Electoral Commissioner and will contain the same information as the certified list. Electronic approved lists and hard copy certified lists may be used at the same polling place. This amendment implements the unanimously supported recommendation 43 of the JSCEM Report.

Third, the amendments remove the technical requirement for ballot papers to be ‘overprinted’. This requirement is replaced by the requirement for ballot papers to contain a feature approved by the Electoral Commissioner. This amendment gives effect to the unanimously supported recommendation 38 of the JSCEM Report

Finally, Schedule 4 amends the process of authenticating ballot papers by a Divisional Returning Officer. A Divisional Returning Officer will be required to mark a ballot paper that he or she believes is authentic with the words ‘I am satisfied that this ballot paper is an authentic ballot paper on which a voter has marked a vote’. This amendment implements the unanimously supported recommendation 37 of the JSCEM Report.

Schedule 5 - Mobile polling

The Electoral Act and the Referendum Act currently provide for mobile polling to be conducted at special hospitals, prisons and remote divisions, with specific provisions applicable to each type of mobile polling.

To provide for consistent mobile polling arrangements, Schedule 5 consolidates the various mobile polling provisions into a single mobile polling provision.

In general, Schedule 5 provides for mobile polling to be conducted on polling day and the 12 days prior to polling day.

The Electoral Commissioner is given the power to determine the places at which mobile polling can be conducted. The Electoral Commissioner will publish information about the availability of mobile polling on the AEC’s website and by any other means deemed appropriate.

The practical process of issuing ballot papers remains unchanged.

These amendments are based on the unanimously supported recommendations 18, 20, 28, 29 and 30 of the JSCEM Report. The amendments differ from the recommendations as they will provide for a single mobile polling provision that allows the delivery of mobile polling where and when it is needed.

Schedule 6 - Postal voting

Schedule 6 provides four reforms to postal voting. First, Schedule 6 removes the requirement that a postal vote application be signed by an applicant and a witness. This reform enables postal vote applications to be lodged online or electronically and reduces potential delays in the delivery of postal vote applications. The amendments require an elector making an application for a postal vote to make a declaration that he or she is entitled to make an application.

Second, Schedule 6 prohibits extraneous material being attached to, or incorporated into, a blank postal vote application form. It is currently common practice for political parties and candidates to undertake large-scale reproduction and distribution of their own version of the official AEC postal vote application.

These amendments prohibit the inclusion of extraneous material, including political material, being attached to, or incorporated into, a postal vote application. However, extraneous material may be included in an envelope along with the postal vote application.

Third, the amendments require a completed postal vote application be returned directly to the AEC. To avoid delays in the issue and return of postal vote applications, these amendments provide that postal vote applications must be returned directly to the AEC. This is intended to ensure that the application is not returned via a third party, including a political party.

Finally, the amendments introduce a new requirement for both the elector and the witness to make a written declaration that the requirements for completing the ballot paper were completed before the close of the poll. The amendments also provide for the date of the witness signature on the postal vote to be the determining date for completion of the postal vote, rather than the post mark on the certificate.

These amendments are based on the unanimously supported recommendations 5, 6 and 33 of the JSCEM Report. The amendments differ from recommendation 33 as they require the completed postal vote application to be returned directly to the AEC and prevent extraneous material being included on, or affixed to, a postal vote application.

The intention is for Schedule 6 to commence at the default time of six months after Royal Assent.

Schedule 7 - Other amendments relating to rolls and enrolment

Schedule 7 amends enrolment practices and the provision of Roll information.

The Electoral Act requires a version of the electoral Roll to be publicly available for viewing. Schedule 7 clarifies that there is no right to copy or record by electronic means the publicly available Roll. This amendment is based on the unanimously supported recommendation 53 of the JSCEM Report.

The AEC maintains the electoral Roll for federal elections and also state and territory elections under ‘joint roll arrangements’. The AEC collects information from every eligible elector and then forwards that information to the relevant state or territory. Schedule 7 provides for a regime under which the roll information provided to the states and territories may be used for additional purposes. The regime provides for regulations to prescribe the purposes for which roll information may be used, for example, the compilation of jury lists. This amendment is based on the unanimously supported recommendation 44 of the JSCEM Report.

Finally, Schedule 7 introduces specific provisions to facilitate enrolment and continued enrolment for people who are experiencing homelessness.

A person experiencing homelessness will not lose their itinerant elector enrolment because he or she has been living in crisis or transitional accommodation for one month or longer.

In addition, a person experiencing homelessness will not automatically be removed from the electoral Roll if they do not vote at a general election. This amendment implements the unanimously supported recommendation 19 of the JSCEM Report.

Schedule 8 - Eligibility for early voting

Pre-poll voting and postal voting are known as ‘early voting’. An elector who wishes to cast an early vote must apply and make a declaration that they are eligible for such a vote. Once the elector has made such a declaration the elector is issued with ballot papers.

Schedule 8 implements the unanimously supported recommendations 25 and 26 of the JSCEM Report. The amendments provide two additional grounds upon which an elector may apply for an early vote.

First, throughout the hours of polling on polling day, the elector will be absent from his or her Division. Second, the elector will be unable to attend a polling booth on polling day due to a fear for his or her personal safety or wellbeing.

Schedule 9 - Minor technical amendments

Schedule 9 makes several minor technical amendments to:

  • remove gender specific language;
  • amend incorrect cross references; and
  • provide for consistent use of terminology.

The amendments in Schedule 9 do not affect the voting or enrolment rights and obligations of electors.

Conclusion

Taken together these amendments provide the AEC with the necessary flexibility and technological tools needed to deliver modern electoral practices for the benefit of all electors.

The reforms are significant, and they are overdue.

This Bill demonstrates the Government’s continuing commitment to update the Electoral Act and the Referendum Act for the benefit of all electors.


Electoral and Referendum Amendment (How-to-Vote Cards and Other Measures) Bill 2010

This bill implements two amendments relating to the important area of electoral advertising generally. First, it regulates the authorisation of how-to-vote cards to make it clear who will benefit from the preference flow suggested on the how-to-vote card. Second, the Bill prohibits a person from causing to be printed, published or distributed including by ‘radio, television, internet or telephone’ anything that may mislead or deceive an elector in relation to how to cast a vote.

Schedule 1 - How-to-vote cards

Schedule 1 to the Bill expands the authorisation requirements on how-to-vote cards. As how-to-vote cards are a subset of electoral advertising they are currently regulated under section 328 of the Electoral Act. In general terms, this means that how-to-vote cards must contain the name and address of the person who authorised the card and the name and place of business of the printer. This authorisation information is currently required at the end of the how-to-vote card.

The amendments proposed by Schedule 1 will provide specific and expanded authorisation requirements for how-to-vote cards and introduces two new offences for a breach of the authorisation requirements.

How-to-vote cards will be required to include at the top of each printed face the name and address of the person who authorised the how-to-vote card. If the how-to-vote card is authorised on behalf of a registered political party, the card must include the name of the registered political party. If the how-to-vote card is authorised on behalf of a candidate who is not endorsed by a registered political party, the card must include the name of the candidate and the word ‘candidate’ printed next to the name.

The authorisations must conform to certain requirements in relation to the size of the characters in the authorisation. This amendment is intended to ensure that the authorisation is clearly visible and identifiable to electors.

The amendments make it an offence for a person to publish or distribute a how-to-vote card that does not comply with the authorisation requirements. The penalty is 10 penalty units.

There is a further offence for a person who publishes or distributes a how-to-vote card with false authorisation details. The penalty is 10 penalty units.

The Government is mindful of the views expressed by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in its report on the 1998 election. That report concluded that how-to-vote cards serve a useful purpose to inform voters, enable the franchise and minimise informal votes. Consistent with these views, the measures in Schedule 1 to the Bill are aimed at ensuring voters are clearly advised of the source of the how-to-vote cards before casting their votes.

These amendments will make it clearer who will benefit from the preference flow suggested on the how-to-vote card and reduce the potential for voters to be misled. These amendments are important to give voters the means of making informed decisions when voting.

Schedule 2 - Misleading or deceptive publication

Section 329 of the Electoral Act currently prohibits publications that are likely to mislead or deceive an elector in relation to how to cast a vote. Section 329 of the Electoral Act provides a definition of the term ‘publish’. Schedule 2 to this Bill expands the definition of publish to include anything that is published by radio, television, internet or telephone.

As the offence in section 329 is expanded to cover material published on the internet, the offence is amended to provide extended geographical jurisdiction for such offences. The extended geographical operation captures material published overseas by an Australian citizen or resident.

Conclusion

The Government is committed to reducing the potential for voters to be misled and to give voters the means to make informed decisions about voting.


Debate (on motion by Senator Arbib) adjourned.

Ordered that the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Pre-poll Voting and Other Measures) Bill 2010 be listed on the Notice Paper as one order of the day, and the remaining bills be listed as a separate order of the day.