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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
15/04/2014
Conduct of the 2013 federal election and matters related thereto

THOMAS, Mr Ian Russell, Secretary, Council of State Retirees’ Associations Victoria

[10:15]

CHAIR: Welcome, Mr Thomas. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise that the hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as the proceedings in the respective houses. Could I ask you to make an opening statement. We have your submission before us.

Mr Thomas : I believe our democracy puts a responsibility on voters to make a careful consideration of candidates at elections on questions at referenda but also that the authorities have a responsibility to facilitate that process. Which brings us to this issue of postal voting. Our organisation has been trying since 2009 to have having attained 70 years of age as a criteria for being able to be registered as a general postal voter or to claim a postal vote at the specific election. We did make it to a green paper in 2010, but that was subsumed by an unexpected general election. We did not realise that it would be off the table and we did not make a submission to the next joint committee.

CHAIR: Because you thought it was still in the system?

Mr Thomas : Yes, we thought it would still be in the system and the wheel would not have to be reinvented but the new committee would have access to the old committee's submissions.

CHAIR: To be clear, you are suggesting that this be an option; you are not suggesting it be mandatory, of course—

Mr Thomas : No, no way.

CHAIR: So instead of having to apply for the postal vote with the application that comes out at the beginning of each election, once you turn to 70 you could nominate to be a permanent postal voter?

Mr Thomas : That is right, or any time after 70 when you felt that it was getting difficult to get to a polling booth—that it was just from physical infirmity to a degree without having to admit to being disabled.

Mr GRIFFIN: If I could just interrupt, it is not only the capacity to be able to register as a GPV on the basis of being over 70; it is also to be able to use the fact that you are over 70 as the basis for claiming a postal vote during a normal election process?

Mr Thomas : That is right.

Mr GRIFFIN: So it is both those things.

Mr Thomas : Yes. As I say, as you begin to feel a bit older or if your supporting family has moved away for work or other reasons and you have been left alone. I had a situation where we were looking after the affairs of my wife's aunt in Daylesford, which is 30 kilometres away from us. We just hoped that somebody else would have taken her to vote at the last election, but in the event I had to write a letter to the authorities to ask them not to fine this 94-year-old veterans' affairs widow.

Mr GRIFFIN: Mr Thomas, what you are saying I think is that your anecdotal evidence is that some people in that age group feel uncomfortable about putting down, according to the form currently, that they have a infirmity et cetera which makes it difficult for them to be able to exercise their vote, and in those circumstances it would be fairer just to recognise the age qualification and that that is the situation in Victoria and I think WA in terms of state elections.

Mr Thomas : That is right.

Mr GRIFFIN: And you believe that that has worked well to ensure that people actually exercise their democratic right without feeling that pressure?

Mr Thomas : That is absolutely correct.

CHAIR: Is there anything else you would like to add? It seems that your proposal is fairly straightforward.

Mr Thomas : I do not think there is, really. We are a bit surprised just in the sense that it has taken so long to get anywhere, particularly seeing that it has now been adopted by Western Australia as well as Victoria. This of course also leads to some confusion, which can only be alleviated by other states and territories adopting it. But, at the moment, the Victorian general postal voter, if there should be a federal election not very long after a state election, receives a ballot paper for one and expects to receive a ballot paper for the other; the election goes by and they still have not received it—

CHAIR: And also here you have the added situation—we are very familiar with this, wherever there are differing features. The New South Wales and Queensland electoral systems have optional preferential for the lower house—

Mr Thomas : Yes.

CHAIR: So you know there is just that difference, if there are state and federal elections close together. And here in Victoria, we were reminded earlier, most local councils now have a postal vote system.

Mr Thomas : I think there are only five councils left in Victoria that do not. The other point I would make is: there has been speculation on the introduction of remote electronic voting. Should that come in, the over-70 bracket is probably the group of voters least able to take advantage of that, whereas it would be very handy for those who are able to or are familiar with the internet and its various ramifications.

Senator KROGER: Perhaps the trigger for getting the postal vote is that if you are over 70 you get a letter advising you of a coming election. What is the situation at the moment in Victoria? Do you actually have to request it or do you get a letter saying, 'If you would like a postal vote please complete the enclosed application'?

Mr Thomas : As far as I know you have to apply for it.

Mr GRIFFIN: But the application, as I recall, has on it the reasons you can seek a postal vote for, and on a Victorian postal vote form it would therefore have that reference explicitly outlined as being somewhere you could tick—

CHAIR: It is a good question.

Mr GRIFFIN: rather than getting hold of the relevant form or the relevant regulations—

Senator KROGER: Just what is that trigger to actually get to that point?

Mr GRIFFIN: and it is worth seeking some further information from the AEC and possibly the VEC about the operation of the system.

Mr Thomas : Yes. We would like to emphasise: the mechanism is already there; it is just a case of adding this additional criterion to be able to claim a general postal vote.

Senator KROGER: It sounds like a very good idea to me.

CHAIR: Are there any further questions? There are not. Mr Thomas, where did you come from today?

Mr Thomas : I came from somewhere local. I live up near Kyneton, but I have been holidaying in Tasmania so I came home a day early and stayed overnight here.

CHAIR: As soon as you mentioned Daylesford I could tell that you had made a trip, so we do want to thank you for your submission and for taking the time to come here. We could have more extensive questioning, but you have got a fairly straightforward, simple idea—

Mr Thomas : I hope so.

CHAIR: so I think we have probably covered it. Can I thank you on behalf of the committee for your time. It is certainly something we will be looking at.

Mr Thomas : Thank you very much.