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Wednesday, 11 May 2011
Page: 2220


Senator FIELDING (VictoriaLeader and Whip of the Family First Party) (09:52): There is nothing more important in our democracy than ensuring that we have a fair electoral system with a high level of integrity. Electoral reform is always a delicate issue because even the slightest change can have a tremendous effect on the outcome of an election. For this reason, I think that parliament should always approach this issue with great caution.

This bill deals with the identification that is required for provisional voters. It seeks to reverse the changes that were made under the Howard government when the coalition held a majority in the Senate. As a result, the Senate at the time was treated more like a rubber stamp than a house of review. It is important that when changes are made to the electoral system we should keep our eyes on ensuring that the integrity of our political system is not driven by partisan politics. Ensuring a strong democracy goes above and beyond that. However, it would appear to some as if both sides over a period of time have approached this issue and formed their positions on the basis of how many votes they stand to gain or lose on any change. This is not the way we should be deciding changes to the electoral system. Family First's role is to scrutinise the merits of this bill and ensure our electoral system is fair and maintains a high level of integrity.

In this case, in looking closely at the bill I can see that there are certainly two legitimate sides to the debate. The coalition argues that by upholding a high standard of proof for provisional voters to prove their identity, it makes the opportunity for fraudulent behaviour less prevalent. The higher the onus of proof you place on a voter to prove their identity, the harder it will be for rorts to occur, and certainly insisting upon photo ID instead of simply comparing the two sets of signatures is a higher onus of proof.

But that is not the only factor that needs to be considered when looking at this bill, otherwise we would not just require provisional voters to produce photo identiĀ­fication, we would go even further and ask them to produce a number of sources of identification, perhaps, for example, a passport or a driver's licence, just to be sure. Obviously there needs to be a balance between what is necessary and what is reasonable. Just as it is important to ensure that every vote is legitimate, it is also important to ensure that every legitimate vote is counted. Under the current system there are indeed thousands of voters who take the time to go to the polling booths but who do not end up having their votes counted because they do not satisfy the amended identification requirements under the current legislation. These are people who want their voices heard and deserve to have their voices heard, but they do not happen to take their wallets with them to the polling booth and they now miss out on participating in the democratic process. The question is: is this reasonable or not?

It is true that provisional voters can go to an Australian Electoral Commission office within five days of an election and produce photo ID. But let's face it, how realistic is this option really for many, many Australians? Voting takes time and effort, and plenty of people who turn up to their polling booth and get told that they will have to make another visit in a few days time to show their photo ID simply do not get around to coming back a second time. That ultimately means that their votes get thrown in the bin and do not get counted like everybody else's. I think we would all agree that this is hardly a good result.

What this bill seeks to do is restore the system that was in place prior to the 2007 election and require provisional voters to have their signatures confirmed against their signatures on the AEC's records. Family First believes that this will still ensure a high level of integrity of the electoral system whilst at the same time not excluding thousands of legitimate votes. Family First did vote against the Howard government's 2006 bill and we do not support the retention of the existing measures.