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Wednesday, 11 May 2011
Page: 2222

Senator FEENEY (VictoriaParliamentary Secretary for Defence) (09:57): In rising to wind up the debate on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Bill 2011, I thank all senators who have contributed to this debate. By repealing the requirement for provisional voters to provide evidence of identity as a requirement for these votes being included in the count for an election, this bill fulfils the commitment which Labor took to the last two federal elections to reverse the regressive changes made by the Howard government to the Electoral Act in 2006 and thereby to restore fairness to our electoral system.

As Minister Gray noted in his second reading speech, this amendment to the Electoral Act is supported by the independent Australian Electoral ComĀ­mission, the AEC. In its submission to the inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into the 2010 federal election, the AEC recommended that the requirement for the production of evidence of identity by provisional voters should be repealed. No-one had any doubt in 2006 about why the Howard government brought in the change that this bill seeks to reverse. The respected election commentator Malcolm Mackerras, a former member of the Liberal Party secretariat, said that they were motivated solely by a 'relentless pursuit of the electoral interests of the Liberal Party'.

The effect of those changes was to make it harder for Australians to enrol to vote and harder to cast their votes, and that was in fact the coalition's intent. The changes were based on the calculation that the majority of the people who would lose their vote would come from those social groups more likely to vote Labor: first-time voters, new citizens, Indigenous Australians, people with poor English or low literacy skills, itinerant workers and the homeless. Professor Brian Costar of Swinburne University in Melbourne, one of Australia's more respected political scientists, told the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters:

We know that provisional voters ... are not a mirror image of the electorate as a whole. They tend to be more Labor and Green than they are Liberal, National, or anything else.

At the 2010 general election, over 28,000 provisional votes were rejected because the voter did not provide evidence of identity by the deadline. The AEC found that most of these people were actually correctly enrolled. They lost their vote purely because they did not supply photo ID as required by that 2006 coalition amendment. The coalition claimed that these amendments were necessary to maintain the integrity of the electoral roll. They maintained this claim, and presumably they are still maintaining it today, despite the fact that there is no evidence to support the assertion that any such threat exists. The Senate does not have to take my word for it on this point. Let me quote what the AEC said in its submission to the inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into the 2007 federal election. It said:

… it can be clearly stated, in relation to false identities, that there has never been any evidence of widespread or organised enrolment fraud in Australia.

That is actually quite a conservative statement. In fact, there is no evidence of any organised enrolment fraud in federal elections in Australia at all. So we are moving to repeal the Howard government's 2006 amendments because they were partisan in their intent, because the justification for them was spurious and unsupported by any evidence and because they have been harmful in their effects.

This bill restores fairness and equality of treatment for all voters in our federal elections. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.