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Wednesday, 11 May 2011
Page: 2219


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (09:49): I indicate my support for the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Bill 2011. I want to discuss and foreshadow the amendments that I will move in the committee stage. I believe there is nothing more important in a democracy than ensuring that everyone who votes in an election has their vote counted. I state at the outset that I have had lengthy discussions with both sides of the chamber on this bill and, when the bills were introduced in a previous form to today, I spoke to the Australian Electoral Com­mission on this issue.

The current requirement regarding provisional voting was introduced in 2006 and at the 2007 federal election 167,682 Australians cast a provisional vote. However, of the 32,000 or so voters who were required to provide evidence of identity within five days to make their provisional vote count, only 5,000 turned up at an AEC divisional office to do so. The remaining 27,000 or thereabouts votes were subsequently dest­royed, not read, not counted. Why those voters did not visit their divisional office is anyone's guess. They could have been busy, perhaps they forgot, they may have thought their electorate had already been decided so there was no point, they considered it too hard or, sadly, perhaps they just did not care enough. Who knows?

While the argument can be made that if these voters truly wanted to make their votes count they would follow the procedures set in place as advised to them by the AEC divisional officer on polling day, I am inclined to try to remove the onus on the individual so as to allow for as many votes as possible to be counted. It is a democratic right of every individual not only to be able to cast their vote but also to have their vote count. In some ways the contents of the envelope are irrelevant. Even if hypo­thetically all of those 27,000 provisional votes contained donkey votes, the point is that every vote that is cast should be counted.

The government's bill goes some way in addressing that, allowing that the divisional returning officer must check the signature on the envelope against the most recent record available to them to verify the vote. But under this model there may still be some whose votes cannot be verified. For example, a woman who has recently married and accidentally signed her married name signature instead of her maiden name or someone whose handwriting on the envelope is illegible—and I can relate to that. As such, I will be moving an amendment that requires, further to the government's measure, for any provisional votes which are not able to be verified against the electoral database that the divisional returning officer must make all reasonable attempts to contact the voter within three days of the election and give them until the Friday following polling day to provide proof of identity at a divisional office. I believe that this is a good and sensible middle ground that addresses the concerns of both sides while, most importantly, maintaining the integrity of our electoral roll. he right to vote is crucial and I think that everyone in the chamber would agree with us. And the right to have that vote counted is just as crucial. It is up to us as legislators to make it as easy as possible while maintaining the integrity of the electoral roll for Australians to vote. I believe that this amendment I will introduce in the committee stage provides that.

I also foreshadow that I will be moving an amendment to this bill with regard to misleading and deceptive conduct following some of the behaviour in recent elections particularly the South Australian state election just last year. This was quite a disgraceful episode where misrepresentation was made as to the how-to-vote cards that were being circulated, and I think that Senator Fielding has a particular interest in this. I look forward to debating this amend­ment during the second reading stage and I look forward to the passage of this bill.