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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 4169


Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (19:49): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the Electoral and Referendum (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012. I think the matter that causes me the greatest concern about both these bills is that they are another endeavour by the Australian Labor Party to junk the principles that underpin our democracy. It is of great deep, personal regret to me that it is, I fear, being done for cheap political purposes. I also need to express my profound disappointment that the Australian Electoral Commission, which ultimately should be the greatest protector of the integrity of the roll, I am advised supports these moves. I have enormous respect for the senior officers of the Australian Electoral Commission; there is one here tonight for whom I particularly have great respect. But this is ultimately the great protector, surely, of the integrity of the roll. The junking of the principles that underpin our democracy with these bills tonight is an absolute outrage. It does this chamber and it certainly does this government no credit at all to be part of this cheap political stunt.

I have heard talk over the last 24 hours about the people missing from the rolls, and of course that is an issue—and I acknowledge that is an issue. But what about the rights of those who are properly enrolled? Who is protecting their rights with these two bills? The answer to that is no-one. The greatest right we have in this country is the right to vote. But with that comes enormous responsibility. As the coalition dissenting report of the recent inquiry by the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters states, their right is to enrol to vote; their responsibility is to accurately maintain their enrolment at their permanent place of address, to cast a vote when the election is called and to fully extend preferences to all candidates contesting election for the House of Representatives in their local electorate. What about the right of the person casting their vote in the ballot box to know that the person beside them is the person who they say they are and is properly enrolled? If the person standing there cannot trust the process to ensure that the person standing beside them fills those two requirements, then why would it be that the properly enrolled person casting their vote would not question the integrity of the system? Why is it that in these bills we are passing responsibilities attached to the right to vote to someone else? Surely it is not too much for us to ask those who are enrolled to fulfil some requirements in notifying the AEC of change of address, to ensure that we know that the person is the person they say they are when they go in to vote.

I am utterly amazed that the Australian Greens and, quite frankly, some of my colleagues in the Australian Labor Party are letting this go through. Can you imagine what would happen in any situation other than this, which has been rammed through this chamber, if someone had the right to write to a person and tell them that they were going to be placed on a public record and that the only way they could be removed would be to object to that? What a remarkable notion. I know what the response would be from those opposite in any other circumstance. I know what the response would be from the Australian Greens and I know what my response would be—that it is an absolute outrage that a government institution can place someone on the public record without their knowledge and that the only way they can be removed is to object.

Senator Abetz talked about return mail. I do not know how many tens of thousands of letters in this country are returned every week because someone has changed address. But to put the onus back on the person who has been written to by the Australian Electoral Commission and effectively say, 'Unless you object, we are going to put you on the public record' is outrageous. It would not be tolerated by the Australian Labor Party or the Australian Greens in any situation other than this, where there is some political benefit to be gained from ramming these bills through. That is the most outrageous aspect of these two bills. If you do not maintain the integrity of the electoral roll, what right do properly enrolled voters have left in this country? That is what these bills are about.

A number of my colleagues have made reference to what data the Australian Electoral Commission will use. There was an expression used by Senator Abetz, which I will get to shortly. Ultimately, we are placing on a de facto government bureaucracy the right to determine what is or is not appropriate information on which they should act. That is the responsibility of this chamber. It is the responsibility of this chamber to say what information should or should not be used in relation to these matters. One of my colleagues earlier referred to the ANAO Audit report No. 37 1998-99: Management of tax file numbers, which found that there were 3.2 million more tax file numbers than people in Australia when the last census at that time had been conducted. The report also found that there were 185,000 potential duplicate tax records for individuals and that 62 per cent of deceased clients were not recorded as deceased in a sample match. Similarly, ANAO Audit report No. 24 2004-05: Integrity of Medicare enrolment data found that up to half a million active Medicare enrolment records were probably for people who were deceased.

So we have this sort of information, we know we cannot rely on this data, but we are giving to a semi-government body the right to determine whether that information can or cannot be used. What an abrogation of the responsibilities of this Senate to the Australian Electoral Commission. When you lose the integrity of the electoral roll, what else in this country have we got left to protect the democracy that so many people have fought and died for? What have we got left if we diminish that? They fought and died to ensure that we had a democracy that, as far as possible, delivered appropriate rights and responsibilities to the Australian community. In one fell swoop we are throwing that right out the door.

Returning to the integrity of the rolls and to these bills, I find it fascinating to see, when I look at the JSCEM report into the last election, that Labor Party members wanted automatic enrolment. When the maintaining address bill was introduced, the then Special Minister of State, Gary Gray, said in his second reading speech:

The bill will not provide the capacity to directly enrol new electors. Persons who are not on the roll will need to enrol in accordance with the current requirements in the Electoral Act.

The other bill we are dealing with today, the protecting elector participation bill, delivers what the Labor Party members of the JSCEM wanted—automatic enrolment. They have got what they wanted. What happened between the introduction of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill? What a nonsense of a title that is, incidentally. This is protecting no-one at all, but it is diminishing the rights of people in this country who are properly enrolled. Their rights are diminished, because you are allowing people who are not properly enrolled the opportunity to be casting a vote. You are providing an increased potential for the person I spoke about before, standing in the ballot box, properly casting a vote, to have no confidence that the person beside them is casting a vote similarly.

Why is the Australian Labor Party not upfront about the cheap political nature of these bills? It is a philosophical issue that it has been pursuing for decades. It has finally got its wish. But the penalty that this precious democracy of ours will pay for having it play in this space and using voting as its own philosophical plaything will come back to haunt it, as it should. It is not the right of the Australian Labor Party to play with this democracy. It is not the right of the Australian Labor Party to interfere with the right of ordinary Australians to know that the vote being cast by the person beside them is being cast in the same manner as theirs. While those opposite will walk out of the chamber tonight, having guillotined this debate, go back to their offices and say, 'Wow, we've finally got these through! Isn't it fantastic?', I hope they wake up in the morning and reflect on what they have done.

I wonder whether the Australian Greens, and Senator Rhiannon, who is in the chamber now, have not just created the most appalling precedent for themselves by supporting a bill that places onto an individual who does not know they have been identified the onus to object. Senator Rhiannon, through you Madam Acting Deputy President Crossin: tonight you are voting for the placement on an electoral roll of someone who does not know that has happened. The only way they can be removed is if they object. If they are not aware of it they may well be placed in a position where they will have to pay a fine if they do not vote. Senator Rhiannon, through you Madam Acting Deputy President: if that is what you really believe in, please do not come in here and bleat about the rights of ordinary Australians ever again, because the Greens and the Labor Party have abrogated your right to represent that group of Australians. This is a gross abrogation of that right. I cannot believe that you are allowing the Australian Electoral Commission to interpret what is or is not appropriate information to be used when you know full well that there are numerous cases of information being held about Australians that is either not correct or is grossly out of date. You know that as well as I do, but you are still prepared to come in here tonight and diminish the rights of properly enrolled Australians. You are prepared to throw away the right they treasure when they walk into the ballot box. I find that a quite remarkable interference in the due democratic process of this country. This is just another example of the Australian Labor Party's preparedness to junk the principles that underpin our democracy. Why, as Senator Abetz said, does this bill need to be guillotined tonight? Why can't we have an appropriate level of debate in relation to this matter? Why can't the rest of my colleagues who want to talk about this and represent the rights of ordinary Australians have the opportunity to do so? Why is it that we need to put these bills through tonight? As Senator Abetz said, in the three years that we had the balance of power in this place there were 36 bills guillotined, and there will be 36 bills guillotined over the next two weeks alone. I was here and I heard the bleating from the then opposition about bills being guillotined. I heard bleating from the Australian Greens when bills were being guillotined. Yet you sit here and watch 36 bills being guillotined in two weeks. Why aren't you screaming about that now? Where are the Australian Greens when we are seeing this disgraceful behaviour over these last two weeks? Senator Di Natale is smiling. If he believes this is funny, that is okay, but please can the Australian Greens never come in here and complain about due process again, because you have thrown that out. I will finish with this.

Senator Polley: That's a good idea.

Senator RONALDSON: Senator Polley says it is a good idea. I will tell you what is finished, Senator Polley, as a result of these bills. In these two bills you have trashed something that I would have thought every single person in this place believed was precious, and that is the integrity of the electoral roll. Yes, I will finish, because I have 51 seconds left. But when you withdraw a right from a group of people who have accepted the legitimate responsibilities which come with that right, when you create an environment where that level of trust can no longer exist, then this is a legacy that the Australian Labor Party and the Greens will have to live with. It is a cheap philosophical stunt with quite dramatic ramifications which will come back to haunt the Greens and the Labor Party. But, regrettably, they will haunt the very things that underpin this democracy of ours.