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Monday, 25 February 2013
Page: 658

Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (11:14): When the Senate last sat, I was making the point that the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Bill 2012 will lead to important machinery reforms to electoral law. The amendments in schedule 1 of the bill will simplify and improve the administration of postal voting. Of course the framework of our Australian electoral system is built around Australians voting in person at their local polling booth on election day, with any other form of voting being the exception. The simple fact is that this pattern is slowly but surely changing with every election.

For example, according to AEC data, in the 1993 federal election there were 308,412 postal votes cast. Two federal elections later, in 1998, there were 502,372 postal votes cast. In the 2004 federal election there were 613,277 postal votes cast, and in the last federal election there were 854,726 postal votes cast. So from 1993 to 2010 the number of postal votes cast has almost tripled.

The total number of provisional, absent and pre-poll votes has also risen significantly. According to AEC data provided to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, there were 377,831 pre-poll votes in the 1993 federal election. The number of voters pre-polling had almost doubled by 1998 when 727,071 pre-poll votes were cast. In 2007 it was well over a million—1,110,334 pre-poll votes—and the AEC's submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters inquiry into the 2010 election stated:

Just 1.5 million pre-poll votes were cast at the 2010 federal election, representing an increase of 37.9 per cent on pre-poll votes cast in 2007.

Increasingly busy family lives and broader economic and social change mean that Australians work and travel on weekends, including on election weekends. Also, with our ageing population, I expect many Australians are likely to take advantage of more convenient voting options in the future. There is a clear trend in how the community wishes to engage in the electoral process and it is important that Australia's electoral laws facilitate Australians exercising their democratic rights.

This bill will make practical changes to modernise the postal voting provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act. The bill will facilitate the use of technology and improve the ability of the AEC to efficiently and safely process postal vote applications. The AEC has assured the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters that these changes are needed and that they will not compromise key integrity provisions such as the matching of returned postal votes to an application, the initialling of ballot papers and the preliminary scrutiny provisions.

The amendments in schedule 2 of the bill will increase the nomination deposit paid by Senate candidates from $1,000 to $2,000 and increase the nomination deposit paid by House of Representatives candidates from $500 to $1,000. The last time deposits were increased was in 2006. These increases were recommended by Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and are supported by the government. The amendments in schedule 2 will also increase the number of electors required to nominate an unendorsed candidate for the Senate or for the House of Representatives from 50 to 100 electors. I think it is reasonable to expect that a fair dinkum candidate in a seat of 60,000 to 80,000 electors should be able to get 100 of those electors to nominate them. The amendments strike a balance between providing the opportunity for all eligible citizens to stand for parliament while at the same time putting in place some reasonable threshold of support for a candidate to meet for nomination.

The amendments will, hopefully, deter vexatious candidates and stop the size of the Senate ballot paper unnecessarily ballooning. At the 2010 election, in the state of New South Wales the Senate ballot paper contained the names of 84 candidates across 33 columns.

Senator Xenophon: A tablecloth!

Senator FAULKNER: The 'tablecloth' was the name given—as you would know, Senator Xenophon—to a ballot paper for the New South Wales Legislative Council.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Fawcett ): Order! Senator Faulkner, you will address your remarks through the chair.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you for drawing Senator Xenophon to order, Mr Acting Deputy President, for that very unruly interjection that he made! I was making the point that in the 2010 election the ballot paper for the Senate in New South Wales was 1,020 millimetres wide, so over a metre wide, and the print—and this is important—was down to 8.5 points in size. My understanding is that effectively a ballot paper of 1,020 millimetres is the widest that can be physically printed. I am concerned that if we have more groups on the New South Wales Senate ballot paper we are going to have to supply magnifying glasses to voters! But I do say that these amendments will impose a slightly higher but still modest requirement on candidates standing for parliament to demonstrate some threshold of community support.

This bill contains a number of practical measures to improve the electoral process in Australia. I am very pleased that there is broad support in the parliament for these changes. I commend the bill to the chamber.