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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 1826

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (10:21): The Greens do support the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Administration) Bill 2013. Much of the substance of this bill comes from the work of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiry into the 2010 election. I do congratulate the chair of the committee, Daryl Melham, on being able to gain consensus, often under difficult circumstances. While there is disagreement on aspects of this bill, there is also considerable agreement. On one of the areas, around the premature opening of ballot boxes, we were able to work out agreements, and I understand that the government has made some amendments there following on from the raising of those concerns.

There are really four aspects of this legislation we have before us. First, it sets out the time line where an additional round of objections is needed during a redistribution. Second, there is the issue about the electoral roll itself, as the bill will allow the Australian Taxation Office to share relevant information with the Australian Electoral Commission. Third, there is the issue about the ballot boxes—changes in procedures for dealing with ballot boxes if they are opened prematurely. Fourth, there is the issue of postal and prepoll votes with regard to changing the rules that cover those two aspects of the electoral process.

I will just take up two of the issues that have come up. I mentioned the ballot boxes, and I understand that this has been largely covered and that there will not be any amendments to it because the government has amended its own bill, and it is good that we have been able to sort that one out. It is interesting to note the ongoing very strong objections that are coming from the coalition with regard to the Australian Taxation Office sharing relevant information with the Australian Electoral Commission to assist with direct enrolment. This is something that the Greens do support. We see that it is very important in terms of the integrity of the electoral roll because any measures that can be taken to educate and encourage people about voting and to improve the electoral roll in terms of its reach of covering all those people who are eligible to vote is so very important.

What we have before us is a tightening up on some of the legislation that we have passed previously that has addressed this issue of sharing of information between government departments. The passage of the 2012 legislation that allowed this form of direct enrolment was certainly welcomed by the Greens. It is where the AEC uses government data to enrol new voters and to update existing enrolments without specific action by the voter. That is something that I think will in time see a great advance, and I am quite confident it will become widely accepted as people understand the importance of this and how we all have our role to play in casting our vote come election time.

Within this program, the Australian Taxation Office can share addresses of taxpayers with the AEC to allow them to enrol those taxpayers or update their enrolment. I have been interested in and followed closely what the coalition have been saying about this. Despite their claims that it will increase voter fraud, they still have not brought forward any evidence of that. It certainly appears that their opposition is largely due to the fact that direct enrolment will result in the enrolment of many voters who normally are not enrolled. I think that is worth focusing on because that is what is driving this very heated attitude coming from the opposition about this all-important issue of direct enrolment.

When you start getting voters, usually disadvantaged people who may not have had the same opportunities to gain an education and who, for various reasons, have not got onto the rolls, now being enrolled to my mind that is a very significant aspect of strengthening our democratic process. I remain concerned with some of the arguments I have seen conducted in JSCEM itself as well as in the other House and in the Senate when this issue comes up. These people who now have the opportunity to get on the rolls have every right to vote and we have, I believe, a responsibility to ensure that our electoral roll covers all those people who are eligible to vote. I believe that this is important legislation and on behalf of the Greens I am very pleased to be able to support it.