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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 1830


Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (10:37): The speech I was going to give and the speech I will now give on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Administration) Bill 2013 will be two entirely different things on the back of those quite extraordinary allegations from Senator Polley; her unfounded use of words such as 'corrupt' is entirely inappropriate.

Senator Polley: But accurate.

Senator RONALDSON: The senator knows full well that that is not correct.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Fawcett ): Senator Ronaldson, resume your seat. Senator Polley, you were given the courtesy of being heard in silence. I require that you extend the same courtesy. Senator Ronaldson.

Senator RONALDSON: Thank you. I think Senator Polley protesteth too much, because she knows that she has gone far too far in her comments. I will tell you what the difference is, Senator Polley, between those on this side of the chamber and those on your side—

Senator Polley: We have got open—

Senator RONALDSON: On our side of the chamber—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Ronaldson, you will address your remarks through the chair.

Senator RONALDSON: I will address this to Senator Polley through you, Mr Acting Deputy President. The big difference between those on this side and those on the other side is that we believe that, if you are entitled to vote and if you are properly enrolled to vote and you go into that polling booth, you are entitled to know that the person beside you is equally entitled to cast a valid vote. The Australian Labor Party have put their own sectional interests above that fundamental right to know that the person beside them is entitled to cast a vote. I invite Senator Polley to look, for example, at the figures for multiple voting. Those figures are going up, not down.

We are quite happy to see legitimate changes to the Electoral Act and I pass no negative judgement in relation to the Australian Electoral Commission for some of these changes. But the changes have been, from the Electoral Commission, designed to spread the net further without, in my view, sufficient intention for the maintenance of the integrity of the roll. If we do anything in this nation, if we do anything in this place, it must be to maintain the integrity of that roll. If we do not do that then it is a gross abrogation of our responsibilities to those who are entitled to vote legitimately in this country.

I find it extraordinary to hear Senator Polley's comments when I reflect back to a bill that I had a bit to do with in a former life, which was the Commonwealth electoral amendment bill. There were bills put in by the Labor Party that sought to entrench the scant veil of reasonableness that was placed on the Australian trade union movement, that sought to reinforce the right of the trade union movement in this country to not be accountable for what funds they were raising and what funds were going to the Australian Labor Party. In a moment of gross hypocrisy, the government refused to refer a motion that I put into this chamber. It was a reference to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in relation to holistic and wide-scale campaign finance reform. The Labor Party opposed it. They opposed a holistic reference to JSCEM in relation to campaign finance. They have the gall to come in here and cry crocodile tears about a process and then, when they are challenged in this place to do the right thing, they fall at the very first hurdle. Thankfully, that failed. Thankfully, this chamber saw through the Australian Labor Party in that matter.

The Labor Party has over the last four years done everything possible to ensure that the integrity of the electoral roll is not maintained. We need to be absolutely serious about protecting the fundamental rights of those people who vote to have their votes cast the same as everyone else—that is, that the person beside them is entitled to vote. If we abrogate that responsibility then the democracy that we all uphold in this place can be cast aside. It will cast aside what must underpin what we do. I most certainly will not countenance any lectures from the Australian Labor Party in relation to electoral reform. The parties that are determined to maintain the integrity of the electoral roll sit on this side of the chamber; those who want to cast it aside sit on the other.

In 2010 the ALP put forward the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2010. My colleague in the other place Bronwyn Bishop, the member for Mackellar, said in relation to this bill:

Two and a half years ago we were willing to take Labor at their word on a promise that a comprehensive reform bill based on the outcome of the green paper process would be dealt with by the parliament before an election was called, but it never came; it simply never came. Instead this bill—this zombie bill, twice killed by the parliament already—is disinterred by Labor and the Greens and seeks to walk among us like the living dead. We will not support the bill …

Senator Sterle interjecting

Senator RONALDSON: I do not know why Senator Sterle thinks this matter is a yawn. Through you, Acting Deputy President Fawcett, to Senator Sterle, the integrity of the electoral roll is no yawning matter. Listening to what has been said on the other side in relation to this, if they were really serious about maintaining the integrity of the electoral roll then they would stop this bastardisation of the process by their own.

This bill does a number of things, including setting out the procedures to be followed when a ballot box is opened prematurely, removing the requirement for an applicant for a prepoll ordinary vote to complete and sign a certificate, providing that prepoll cannot commence earlier than four days after the date fixed for declaration and nominations for any type of election, bringing forward the deadline for applications for postal votes by one day, providing further fixed periods to be provided for the Electoral Commission to complete its inquiry into objections against the proposed redistribution of electoral boundaries, and amending the Taxation Administration Act to allow the Commissioner of Taxation and other taxation officers to provide some forms of taxpayer information to the AEC.

As my learned colleague Senator Ryan has already told the chamber, the coalition do not oppose recommendations 9, 15, 29 and 30 of the JSCEM report which would be implemented through the passage of this bill, but we do oppose those parts of the bill relating to recommendations 3, 10 and 11 of the same report. Firstly, recommendation 3 proposes to remove the restriction on the ATO, allowing them to provide information to the AEC for the purpose of automatic enrolment. The coalition, on the other hand, believe that the current offence against the ATO disclosing protected information should remain. In the coalition's dissenting report, it was proposed:

That the AEC should concentrate on continuing to check the accuracy of the roll by canvassing and advertising to make people aware of their obligations to properly initially enrol and advise of change of address when it occurs.

I pay credit to the AEC for the moves they have made in that regard. Most certainly, the AEC have undertaken that part of their role with great diligence and I salute them for doing so.

Secondly, recommendation 10 proposes to repeal the requirement for an applicant for a prepoll ordinary vote to complete and sign a certificate. The coalition are of the opinion that electors continue to be required to sign a declaration when casting a prepoll on the basis that the repeal of this requirement:

… will increase the likelihood of voter fraud and threaten the integrity of the Electoral roll.

Thirdly, recommendation 11 proposes that the Commonwealth Electoral Act be amended such that an application for a prepoll vote cannot be made before the Monday 19 days before polling day. As the coalition's dissenting report said, we believe:

… that pre-poll voting should not open until the Monday 12 days before polling day, as opposed to the Monday 19 days before polling day … The Opposition members are concerned that allowing pre-poll voting for 19 days prior to Election Day takes the focus of polling day itself, which is where the overwhelming majority of votes should be cast.

The coalition opposed these recommendations in our dissenting report as we believe they will harm the integrity of the roll. Some changes have been made, but the fact remains that the Australian Labor Party, with the bill as it stands, have not fully considered the ramifications of all the recommendations put forward by JSCEM. Indeed, this is just a typical Australian Labor Party piecemeal approach to legislative reform.

As has been stated before—stated by Senator Ryan, stated by myself and stated by the member for Mackellar in the other place—we fundamentally believe that the electoral system must ensure a number of things. Firstly, that the maximum number of eligible enrolled voters are enrolled. I reflect back on the comments of Senator Polley. The implications of her comments were that we do not believe that it must be a pivotal part of the electoral act, and a pivotal part of the responsibilities of this parliament. We most certainly do, and our record shows that we indeed fully support that the maximum number of eligible voters are enrolled. Secondly, that the voting and vote-counting processes are straightforward and accurate. We fully support that, and allegations to the contrary are again untrue and unfounded. Thirdly, we believe that the electoral system must ensure that the roll is as accurate as possible, and that standards are in place to prevent fraud.

We acknowledge that the current situation needs improvement in terms of the inaccuracies on the electoral roll: the large number of voters not on the electoral roll and problems with fraudulent voting. The dissenting report, as I said earlier on, provided information showing that there were 20,633 cases of multiple voting in 2007, 14,402 cases in 2004 and 16,949 cases in 2001. Clearly, this demonstrates a substantial increase in cases of fraudulent voting. That is why in our dissenting report we made a number of recommendations, including establishing a dedicated fraud squad:

…within the AEC to investigate and prepare briefs for the DPP to prosecute cases of fraudulent voting'.

And I go on:

That the current system of cleansing the electoral roll is maintained to ensure that elections are decided by an accurate record of eligible voters.

   …   …   …

That current dates for the receipt of postal vote applications from overseas voters are maintained, that voters should not be disadvantaged by being given less time to receive ballot papers.

That electors wishing to cast a valid declaration vote must provide correct information about their address prior to the close of rolls, failure to do this will result in their vote not being included in the count.

… and calls on the Government to ensure that South Australian ticket voting or a similar system is not implemented at a federal level.

And finally:

That the AEC retains the need for Election Day officials to sign a written contract acknowledging their important role and responsibilities.

Surely, any system that in any way allows for the possible use of fraud to obtain a vote must be stamped out.

And I will finish on this note: if we believe in anything in this place, it must be that we simply will not countenance fraudulent voting. The person who goes into that booth and less who is entitled to vote is entitled to the protection of this parliament, and that protection is that the person beside them, similarly, is entitled to vote. Any fraudulent behaviour which diminishes the effective integrity of the vote of the person who is entitled to vote should quite clearly be stamped out by this parliament. For Senator Polley to take the so-called moral high ground in relation to this was remarkable. As one of my colleagues indicated, the halo above Senator Polley's head was quite remarkable, but it was entirely tarnished.

I very much support the comments made by Senator Ryan in his speech during the debate second reading—

Senator Sterle: Your learned colleague.

Senator RONALDSON: My learned colleague—you are right—as I said earlier, and I am happy to say it five times. I support fully the comments made by Senator Ryan and I thank the chamber for the opportunity to participate in this debate.