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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 4184


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (21:10): Perhaps I will start at the same place that my colleague Senator Johnston did when he talked about vote early and vote often. This is a phrase that has often been used. It had its origins, as I understand, in the United States in the mid-19th century. Apparently, it had an early appearance in Britain when a newspaper reprinted correspondence from an American solicitor. But, of course, the phrase did not receive widespread recognition until its usage in the early 1900s, when it was used in relation to the activities of organised crime figures in Chicago, and it was best known in the form of Mr Al Capone.

So goodness knows! We have certainly seen this practice quite a lot in New South Wales. In particular, in recent elections, we had quite a number of instances with the usual people, inevitably from the union movement, turning up at different polling booths and well and truly advocating the Labor motto of voting early and voting often. Even when you take photographs of them and produce that sort of evidence, nothing much seems to be done; it is just not something that we worry too much about. And if the votes do not make too much difference for that particular electorate, why bother doing anything about it?

Senator Abetz, in his contribution to this debate, made reference to being a lone voice in relation to identification and the need to produce identification. I assure him that he is not a lone voice in this matter. I, too, share a hope that one day we will have photographic ID needed to be produced to vote. Also, I would like to go a little bit further. My personal view is that we should be voting in our own ward areas. I have had occasion over the years, being of Italian background, to observe the Italian political system. The Italians have got voting down to a fine art. They do it a lot. They have done it very often in recent history and certainly they seem to have perfected it to the point where they require not only your ID but also voting in your local ward, which could probably go a long way to resolving some of these issues and problems.

I now turn to the bills before us, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012. Certainly of concern to the coalition is the impact these bills will have on the integrity of the roll; but, more importantly, this goes to the question of responsibility of the individual elector. In Australia we talk about rights and responsibilities as citizens. We go to citizenship ceremonies. We often hear our rights and responsibilities talked about.

Our responsibilities as citizens include enrolling to vote, accurately maintaining our enrolment at our permanent place of residence, casting a vote when an election is called, fully extending preferences to all candidates contesting election for the House of Representatives in their local electorates and other responsibilities. But there are also rights and a very important right in this area is to know that the system you are participating in is one that is characterised by full integrity, a system that you can have faith in, a system that is fully transparent. That is your right as a citizen in this country. I do not think it is too onerous on us as citizens to have the responsibility to enrol and to keep our enrolment updated. It is the very least we can do.

Senator Abetz made reference to the reason for the urgency of this bill. I asked myself the same question and thought that an election is perhaps in the wind. But, as Senator Abetz correctly pointed out, it is very clear, and history has shown many times, that when the Labor Party think they are going out of office they always try to shut the door on the way out to make life a lot harder for those who come after them—whether that means leaving a huge bill to pay or something like this legislation. Perhaps an election is in the wind. Perhaps Mr Rudd will finally have the numbers, and if he becomes the prime minister he might suddenly decide that everyone loves him to go to an election. But we will wait and see.

Let us look at some of the concerns that were raised in relation to this legislation by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. I will start with the integrity of the roll. As parliamentarians, we are entitled to know that the roll is accurate and reliable. Errors, and the potential for errors, create difficulties and there is far more opportunity for fraud to occur under the proposals before us. It is very clear that the Greens-Labor alliance consistently plays down the issue of the integrity of the electoral roll. In the joint standing committee report there was a recommendation that the data sources used by the Australian Electoral Commission to automatically enrol voters should be subject to disallowance by the parliament, but that has now disappeared in this legislation, because we are now going to outsource this to the Australian Electoral Commission. Without denigrating the AEC, outsourcing to a bureaucracy causes an even more worrying situation, because of the scope for error—and, dare I say, fraud—if that data is hacked into or some other problem arises.

Another concern is that the bill does not give a specific definition of what the Electoral Commission may regard as a reliable and current source from which to change an elector's details. What is a reliable and current source? This, of course, is open to interpretation. I would have thought that as a very pertinent point it should have been clearly defined and delineated in this legislation, but it has not been. Therefore, as coalition senators have said, we are concerned that the power to deem data sources trusted in determining the use of such data in compiling the roll is a potential risk to the office. As they continue, the inclusion of such data, if erroneous, would be extremely damaging to public faith in our electoral process. Furthermore, the inclusion of such data may well be controversial due to lack of faith in its inclusion or utilisation. They go on to say that placing the Electoral Commissioner at the heart of such a potentially politically charged dispute can only damage the standing of the Australian Electoral Commission.

Another concern is that people will be automatically enrolled. The bill does not specify which data sources are considered to be reliable sources, and there are no restrictions on the data sources the AEC can use to enrol an elector. There are no provisions for specifying the standard of proof the AEC needs to be able to enrol an elector. Every single one of these things is left in the air, left open to interpretation, which 99 times out of 100 may not necessarily lead to any problem. But for that one occasion when there is a potentially politically charged dispute, it can, as I have said, only damage the standing of the office of the AEC. During the hearing, we learnt that the Australian Electoral Commission would use information from Centrelink and state government road and traffic authorities. It had previously stated that information from Australia Post could also be used. Well, well, well. We saw with the mailing of the $900 cheques that some went to people who were deceased or even to family pets. What sort of reliability would that lend to a system based on similar data sources in relation to this legislation?

Previous speakers have referred to the ANAO report of 1998-99, which outlined that there were 3.2 million more tax file numbers than people in Australia when the last census was conducted at that time, 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. Previous speakers have also highlighted, and I wish to reiterate, the serious assault on the integrity of the system by these proposals. 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.

Another issue of concern is automatic enrolment. How many people will find their way onto the electoral roll who are not eligible to be on the electoral roll? We have seen the potential for spelling inaccuracies, so people may be enrolled under names with a combination of different spellings, and suddenly two or three voters are registered to vote when in effect there is really only one person. Where is the integrity in the system when you cannot ascertain an individual's eligibility to enrol? Has the potential for errors that can occur as a result of automatic enrolment been examined or has there simply been a process by the AEC of assuming that there will be errors but downplaying the effect that can have? It is like double voting at elections: unless the result gets really close, why bother about it? We are not going to pursue the issue. Again, there is a focus on issues of integrity.

Dr Roger Clarke from the Australian Privacy Foundation told the JSCEM roundtable hearing on 29 February 2012:

We are not aware of any risk assessment having been performed. We were not aware of any privacy impact assessment having been performed. We were not aware of consultation processed which the Electoral Commissioner has just referred to. We are not aware of the APF or any of the civil liberties organisations being involved in any of those.

It goes on and on. This legislation clearly has a deficiency in the risk assessment process, which, as I said, goes to the very heart of our democracy. Proper risk assessment of this legislation was not undertaken.

Dr Clarke was also very concerned that this legislation enables electors to be put on the electoral roll without their knowledge and for their address details to then be made available to members of the public, who can view the roll. There are legitimate concerns for victims of domestic violence or people who may be involved in custody disputes or those sorts of areas, where, for safety reasons, it is legitimate for that information to be suppressed. But of course this will all go on the roll automatically without the silent elector status being properly adhered to.

Then of course we come to fraudulent voting. I have mentioned before that I think the attitude to that has certainly been evident in the failure to prosecute any cases of fraudulent voting. This is despite the fact that, as the joint standing committee indicated, at the 2007 election there were over 20,000 multiple votes. An important point that was also picked up at the inquiry was the fact that when you enrol there is a signature, there is a verification of details, and that will not occur with automatic enrolment. That further waters down the possibility of prosecution for fraudulent voting. Not only do we have an attitude issue here—'It is not important; we will not worry about it'—but we are making it even harder by not having a proper verification process that at least allows you to have a signature on the record.

I take the opportunity to commend the HS Chapman Society for the work they do in relation to electoral fraud. They are very vigilant and they are very consistent in pursuing these matters. I place on the public record my admiration for the work they do. As members of the society who have approached me have said, despite their efforts at various elections to produce evidence of electoral fraud to various electoral commissions, regrettably the attitude remains the same. It is not a high priority. They do not want to know too much about it, despite certain instances in which there has even been photographic evidence.

I would like to look at some issues relating to difficulties with automatic enrolment, which have been evidenced in particular in New South Wales and Victoria. Automatic enrolment at recent state elections has meant that a number of electors in those states are enrolled only for state and not for federal elections, given the differences in the two sets of legislation. People who may have been enrolled for one think that they may have been enrolled for both. So, all in all, it is little wonder that the coalition will not be supporting this legislation.

The PRESIDENT: The question is that the bills be now read a second time.