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Tuesday, 10 May 2011
Page: 2160


Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (18:17): I rise to make my contribution to the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Bill 2011. This bill amends the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984.

Essentially, the bill will repeal the requirement for provisional voters to provide evidence of their identity before the votes are admitted to preliminary scrutiny. As senators in this place would be aware, a provisional vote is a type of declaration vote cast by an elector at a polling place on polling day. Like all declaration votes, it is a vote that is sealed inside an envelope. After this, the elector's details, including name, address, date of birth and signature are written on the outside of the envelope.

There are four main reasons an elector may be required to cast a provisional vote: the elector's name cannot be found on the certified list, the elector's name is marked on the certified list indicating that the elector has already voted, the polling official has doubts regarding the elector's identity or the voter is a registered silent elector whose address does not appear on the certified list. Currently, the Electoral Act determines that an elector who casts a provisional vote must provide a polling official with proof of identity at the time of voting, or to the Australian Electoral Commission—the AEC office—by the first Friday following polling day. If the proof of identity is not provided by the deadline, the envelope containing the ballot paper is excluded from the preliminary scrutiny and is not counted.

As the Special Minister of State, the Hon. Gary Gray MP, rightly points out, this requirement was put in place by the previous government in 2006. It resulted in a situation where provisional votes were dealt with in a way that was inconsistent with the treatment of other kinds of declaration votes, namely, absent, postal and pre-poll votes. This legislation will repeal the proof of identity requirement and ensure that all declaration votes are treated equally.

This bill will replace the proof of identity provision with a test which has been used in previous elections. The test which has been previously used is conducted by the divisional returning officer—the DRO. The DRO compares the signature on the provisional vote with the signature of the elector on their previously lodged enrolment form if there are any queries about the identity of the elector. Currently, the requirement for only provisional voters, and not other categories of declaration votes such as absent, postal and pre-poll, to provide proof of identity leads to inconsistencies in the treatment of different types of declaration votes. Essentially, the current arrangement means that an elector who is eligible to vote, and who only has a provisional vote rejected at preliminary scrutiny because of failure to provide evidence of identity would have their vote counted if they had instead voted by absent vote, postal vote all pre-poll declaration. There is no reason why otherwise valid provisional votes should be treated differently to other forms of declaration voting.

As a provisional vote can be cast in a referendum, this bill also amends the referendum act to be consistent with amendments made to the Electoral Act. At the 2007 federal election over 27,000 provisional votes were rejected at preliminary scrutiny because the voter did not provide evidence of identity by the first Friday following polling day. At the 2010 federal election over 28,000 provisional votes were rejected for the same reason. There are a number of reasons why electors may not provide proof of identity by the first Friday after the election. One reason is that electors may not be motivated to provide evidence of identity because the result of the election is already known. It does not necessarily indicate an attempt by electors to fraudulently vote.

The AEC has undertaken further examination of the 28,000 provisional votes cast at the 2010 election and identified 12,000 instances where the name of the voter was subsequently found on the certified list. So these people were in fact eligible voters, highlighting that the 2006 amendments are simply unworkable. What we are doing in this bill is making an amendment to restore the custom and practice of dealing with provisional votes.

The Australian Electoral Commission has provided support for this amendment bill through their submission to the current inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into the 2010 federal election. The AEC has recommended that the requirement for production of evidence of identity by provisional voters should be repealed. The AEC believes that details provided by the elector on the outside of the envelope, such as the voter's name, address, date of birth and signature, allow the Electoral Commission to determine the voter's eligibility to have their vote included without the requirement for additional proof of identity.

It is important that we pass this measure to avoid inconsistencies with other forms of declaration voting. This is to ensure that our electoral system supports all eligible voters having their votes counted. This legislation clears up the unworkable 2006 amendments by repealing the proof of identity requirement for provisional votes and ensures that all declaration votes are treated equally. This is an amendment, as I have said, that is recommended by the AEC. I would urge all those opposite to support this legislation.

I want to recap exactly what this bill seeks to do because the opposition, as I understand it, will not be supporting this piece of legislation. I ask that they go back and have a look at exactly what the legislation seeks to do, and that is to increase the franchise. The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Bill 2011 will repeal the requirement for provisional voters to provide evidence of identity before their votes are admitted to preliminary scrutiny so that they are treated no differently to absentee votes and other declaration type votes. The bill also will implement recommendation 2 of the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters on the conduct of the 2007 federal election and matters related thereto, which has been tabled. This measure was also one of the federal Labor government's 2007 election commitments. This piece of legislation delivers on that commitment.

Basically, we have an election commitment that this bill seeks to deliver on, we have the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters recommending it in their 2007 report and we have the AEC suggesting that this provision needs to be repealed. As I said earlier, of the 28,000 votes that were set aside from the 2010 federal election, 12,000 were found, after a check on the certified roll, actually to be on the roll. That result is not particularly surprising, as a polling official will put the vote in an envelope if they have any doubts, as people in this chamber well know.

There is no real reason for us to treat this type of declaration vote any differently to other types of declaration votes. It is well known on this side of the chamber that these amendments were put in the act in 2006 for political reasons. It was a decision by the then Howard government to make it as hard as possible for people to cast a valid vote, for people to have their democratic say in an election. What this says to people is, 'If you are left off accidentally or the polling official just cannot find your name then we are going to place more onerous task on you than we would on any other elector.' We say to them: 'We will put your vote in an envelope. We will take your name, address, date of birth and then we are going to set that aside and you have until the Friday following the election to come down and show us proof of identity that you are indeed this person.' It is something we do not do for any other type of declaration vote.

Those changes were made by the then Howard government to make it harder for a certain group of electors, probably because they felt they were less likely to vote for them. (Time expired)

Sitting suspended from 18:30 to 20:00