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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 4161

Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (19:11): In recent times, we have seen many pieces of legislation where we seem to be in desperate search of a problem to match the solution we have just devised. These bills, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the Electoral and Referendum (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012, are yet another example of that. I have been reading the papers and I have not seen an overwhelming movement of Australian people saying that there are issues with our electoral system which require this legislation. I acknowledge fully that there are certain classes of people, especially the visually impaired, who need assistance, but this goes beyond that.

I note that, back in 2002, the Auditor-General did a study of the accuracy, completeness, validity and security of the electoral roll. He found then:

Australia has a system of compulsory enrolment and compulsory voting. By law all eligible individuals must enrol to vote. The audit found that the AEC maintains a balance between encouraging enrolment in line with the requirements of legislation and with not overly intruding in the lives of citizens. As a result, it is unlikely, nor indeed feasible, that the roll will achieve 100 per cent completeness.

For some years, the AEC has set a target of 95 per cent completeness for the roll. ANAO analysis indicated that, at the close of roll for the 2001 federal election, the roll was likely to be 95 per cent complete.

In other words, we were meeting our targets. So where is the problem which requires fixing?

One could be rightly suspicious that, when a government which has given us a long list of fiascos—and I will go into a few of them—decides to automatically change rolls and automatically make payments, it will be another fiasco. So why are we doing this? I think people in our nation have a personal responsibility, if they wish to vote, to at least have their details in place so they can. We have reached the ultimate nanny state if we have to chase people around to give them one of their most precious rights, their right to vote.

I want to go through a couple of things which I think clearly elucidate what is happening here. Remember when the stimulus payments went out? How could we forget? How could we forget the $22 billion which was borrowed from overseas and thrown around? Actually it was not borrowed at that stage; we actually had that money—one of the last bits of our savings. It was estimated that, amongst those to whom the money was sent, 16,000 dead people received payments. This, apparently, is the same system we are going to use and the same competency which is going to be applied in dealing with the electoral roll—16,000 dead people. I remember we had Mr Tanner saying that this was a good outcome—that a lot of stimulation came from the commerce of the graveyard; if money goes to people who are no longer with us, who have descended the pearly vale to the choir invisible, that is a perfectly reasonable outcome. It is no wonder that this is the same government that now finds itself $231 billion in debt. It is a clear example of this government showing no competencies in this area.

Are we going to have 16,000 dead people now getting the vote? One could suggest that in some areas even now there are some peculiarities. You can go to certain booths in the north of my state where I know the Labor Party is supported but its support in some areas seems to have been exceptional—absolutely astounding in some booths. One would not presume that anything untoward is going on, but it does beg the question whether the fervent support of the Australian Labor Party is a true reflection of the constituency. We would hope that people are not being guided in their vote. It is worth drawing attention to this. It is good to see Senator McLucas in here, and maybe she would like to address this matter.

So Mr Tanner was telling us that the stimulus payments to dead people would not go to waste. It shows the problem we have when the government is now deciding that we are going to have the electronic tracking of rolls and the changing electronically of people's place of voting. We know where this is going to end up—we are going to end up with a whole lot of people who are not entitled to vote and we will start to doubt the credibility in certain areas, including certain strategic areas, of the voting. So many elections nowadays come down to just a small number of votes. I remember when I got into the Senate, although I got up at the end after collecting preferences—I think from Pauline Hanson's One Nation, to be honest; right at the end they threw me up—before that, as we went through the exhaustive process of taking people out from the bottom, there were certain gates I got through by only 20 or 30 votes. I understand how important it is that there be absolute diligence and credibility to reinforce the absolute power of the vote. We have to make sure that this is not put at risk in any way, shape or form. I can see this process doing precisely that.

Another example of Labor Party competency concerns the gentleman who had made a pretty handy business out of collecting Centrelink payments for people who were deceased. He managed to rack himself up $330,000. A report of that case states:

A 33-year-old man has admitted to using the identities of dead people to rort about $330,000 from Centrelink and sending some of the money overseas.

Once more, this brings a focus onto the irregularities that are abundant when you use the electronic process as opposed to the process of someone turning up in person and enrolling to vote, pursuing their own responsibility in gaining one of the greatest rights you will ever have in this nation, which is the right to vote.

What are the checks and balances being provided to ensure that these problems will not happen? Maybe we are getting to a time possibly of new fracture in the Labor Party. We have all heard that the current Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, does not have the numbers and it is only a matter of time before those numbers against her are exercised and there is a change in arrangements at the top end of our nation again. We are aware that they are currently negotiating who is going to be the Treasurer, whether it is Mr Bowen or Mr Shorten. I am aware we will be possibly going to an election in the medium term, so is this a way to save some of the furniture in some areas? I want to make sure that the stringencies of these measures in our more remote areas is impeccable. I do not believe that the government in its other mechanisms which have relied on electronic analysis and databases has delivered those stringencies. In fact, its performance has been abominable. I could go on all night.

Constitutional issues are usually put into place by the votes of reasonable people, and there are so many other things right now that are vastly more important than this. I think of the recent Williams decision in the High Court. That is an area we should be putting our efforts towards when we have a judgment by the High Court that says, by majority, that funding agreement and payments—such as Roads to Recovery—were invalid because the executive power of the Commonwealth did not allow them. A summary of the decision goes on:

In the absence of legislation authorising the Commonwealth to enter into the Funding Agreement, the Commonwealth parties relied upon the executive power granted by s 61 of the Constitution. ... A majority of the High Court held that, in the absence of statutory authority, s 61 did not empower the Commonwealth to enter into the Funding Agreement or to make the challenged payments. In particular, a majority of the Court held that the Commonwealth's executive power does not include a power to do what the Commonwealth Parliament could authorise the Executive to do, such as entering into agreements or contracts, whether or not the Parliament had actually enacted the legislation.

This is a vastly more important issue. When we read that reference to Roads to Recovery, these programs might be happening but they are probably not legal. That is what I think the nation should be focusing on; that is what I think we should be concentrating on. That is the issue I am hearing loud and clear.

Over the last couple of days, when the local government conference was here, one person brought up with me issues regarding the roll. Yet we have a government that tonight is going to bring in a process that we know will be as totally and utterly mismanaged as everything else they do. They will be true to form. They will show the same competency in this as they showed in the ceiling insulation debacle, the school hall funding, the carbon tax—another fiasco; we now have Mr Windsor amending the thing that they said would never be amended—the payments to dead people in the stimulus package and the defrauding of the Australian taxpayer through their so-called stimulus payments. That is the sort of fiasco that the electoral roll is going to end up being. But this time it is important, because our voting system determines the path of our nation. People will lose confidence in who is electing and where they are, and start having suspicions not only when the vote in certain remote areas is all for one particular party but also—particularly in areas where we suspect there might be some difficulties—when the completeness of the vote is spectacularly, incredibly high. One would have to ask why the informal vote in other areas of the nation was lower. But I am sure that Senator McLucas will very soon be able to give us a very good—

Senator McLucas interjecting

Senator JOYCE: clear understanding of why that is the case. It might be something on which you will be able to instruct the rest of Australia. You will be able to instruct the rest of Australia, Senator McLucas, as to how we could get—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Moore ): Senator Joyce, I remind you that you do not speak across the chamber to another senator.

Senator JOYCE: Fair enough, Madam Acting Deputy President. Senator McLucas might like to inform the rest of Australia how we can get such a high formal vote in other parts of our nation, because Labor have done exceptionally well in some of these areas, exceptionally well—and, I must say, there has been overwhelming support, incredible support, for the Labor Party. But Senator McLucas will soon tell us why and how that comes about, because we are all fascinated and ready to hear why.

So that is the reason why we need to have absolute stringency in how people enrol to vote. We need to have absolute stringency in how people obtain the right to vote. We have to make sure that, when a vote is cast, expressing whatever view, it is actually cast by a person. That would be a good start! A person who is still alive would be even better still! If they are breathing, I think that is a good credential, seeing as we are managing to pay money to people who are no longer with us.

I remembered that there was one person who forgot to enrol to vote. I was trying to think of who it was and then it came to me—

Senator Abetz: The member for Kingsford Smith.

Senator JOYCE: It was the Hon. Peter Garrett. He had not enrolled for three years. But it is good, because that sort of competency has put him on the front bench of the Australian Labor Party; he is part of the government. Maybe Minister Garrett would be assisted by this. He would not have to worry about the inconvenience of enrolling—the fact that, to become a member of parliament, it helps if you are actually on the electoral roll. Maybe there are some other potential Labor Party frontbenchers who need this legislation; maybe that is where this legislation has appeared from.

On a more serious note, no, we should not be reducing the stringency we have in making sure that all votes are authentic, that there is no question of their authenticity. The only way you can judge what will happen in the future is by looking at how a government has acted in the past. This government has been totally and utterly incompetent, and this is yet another instance of that—just like another issue in Senator McLucas's area, the shutting down of the vast majority of North Queensland fishing areas. What marvellous representation that was, Senator McLucas!

Senator McLucas: You are a joke.

Senator JOYCE: What an oracle! What an orb of shining light you are for that part of Queensland, shutting down the fishing areas! In your town, Cairns, where we should be broadening the economic base, you are shutting it down—

Senator McLucas: How many fishers are based in Cairns?

Senator JOYCE: I went out the other night in Cairns, to the Splash Seafood Restaurant. It is very hard to find an Australian fish because of the—

Senator McLucas: I'll tell you where to go!

Senator JOYCE: tutelage and guidance of the government you represent. What an adornment you are to the north of Queensland, letting that happen! What an absolutely splendid outcome we have, Senator McLucas, as you sat back idly while the north of Queensland shut down its fishing area.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Joyce, do not speak directly across the chamber to another senator.

Senator JOYCE: Absolutely, Madam Acting Deputy President. But it is a shame that Senator McLucas was not a better advocate for the people of North Queensland; they might have managed to broaden their economic base rather than narrowing it, rather than shutting it down and exacerbating unemployment issues in that part of the world. We shut down so much at the whim of those in the inner suburbs of Sydney. It would be handy if we had advocates in the north that had the capacity to stand up for those people. But they do not. Sometimes they do not even stand up there.

One would hope that the concentration of attention on that area is keeping the economic base open, keeping the fishing grounds working and broadening the economic base, not letting the Greens run riot and shut the show down. But maybe these bills can in some way assist a certain party to get a higher vote, because, if we break down the stringency of how people are able to enrol, that might well work to a certain party's advantage. It might well work as an addition to the serious questions that have been asked in certain areas of our state already.