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Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill (No. 1) 1999

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1998

 

 

 

THE PARLIAMENT OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA

 

 

 

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

 

 

 

 

ELECTORAL AND REFERENDUM AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 2) 1998

 

 

 

 

EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM

 

 

 

 

(Circulated with the authority of the Special Minister of State,

Senator the Honourable Chris Ellison)

 



ELECTORAL AND REFERENDUM AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 2) 1998

 

OUTLINE

 

This Bill contains a number of reforms to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 .  They are necessary to increase the security of enrolment and voting processes, to improve the integrity of the electoral system, to resolve various practical problems which have arisen in electoral administration and to improve operational procedures in the conduct of elections and referendums.

 

The proposed amendments were recommended by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in its Report on the Conduct of the 1996 Federal Election tabled on 16 June 1997.

 

The major provisions of the Bill are designed to:

×           require that new electors are required to produce one original form of identification at the time of enrolment;

×           provide that a person witnessing an enrolment application must be an elector in a prescribed class of persons;

×           provide that all electors must notify the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) of a change of address within one month of moving;

×           reduce the time period between the issue of the writ and the close of the rolls.  The roll will close at 6pm on the day of the issue of the writ for new enrolments.  Existing electors will have three working days to update their enrolment details;

×           allow for the provision of date of birth and salutation details of electors to Members, Senators and registered political parties.  These details may be used for research into electoral matters;

×           provide that any person serving a sentence of imprisonment is not entitled to enrol or to vote;

×           provide that only the Presiding Officer at a polling place may assist electors in marking their ballot papers;

×           provide that the preliminary scrutiny of declaration votes may commence on the Monday prior to polling day;

×           in regard to donations to political parties, raise from $500 to $1 500 the threshold for counting individual amounts received;

×           provide that political parties are required to disclose a total amount of $5 000 or more, rather than the current $1 500, received from a person or organisation during a financial year; and

×           increase from $1 500 to $10 000 the amount above which a donor to a registered political party must furnish a return for a financial year.



 

FINANCIAL IMPACT STATEMENT

 

The AEC estimates that the implementation of Item 1, to enable the collection of salutation details, will give rise to a cost of $62 000 in the first year, if implemented before Items 13 to 17 and 19 to 27.  If implemented at the same time, there will be no additional cost for Item 1.

 

The AEC estimates that implementation of Items 13 to 17 and 19 to 27 (except insertion of new 98(2A)), will give rise to costs of approximately $4.862m in the first year and $3.94 m in each out year for developing and publicising a new enrolment form, training of AEC staff and agents, Australia Post charges and AEC processing expenses.  That part of Item 20 which inserts a new subsection 98(2A) is expected to add an additional $280 000 in the first year and $140 000 in each out year for verifying citizenship data with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, and for AEC processing expenses.

 

The remaining provisions will give rise to neither costs nor savings.



Clause 1 - Short title

 

1.         This clause provides for the Act to be cited as the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Act (No. 2) 1998 .

 

Clause 2 - Commencement

 

2.         This clause provides that the Act commences on the day on which it receives Royal Assent.

 

3.         Items 1 to 10, 18, 29, 36, 49, 59 and 69 commence on the 28th day after the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent.

 

4.         Items 13, 15 to 17 and 19 to 27 commence on a date to be fixed by Proclamation.

 

Clause 3 - Schedule(s)

 

5.         This clause provides for the Acts specified in the Schedule to be amended according to the applicable items set out in the Schedule.

 

Clause 4 - Application of amendments relating to donations

 

6.         This clause provides that the amendments made by Items 44 to 46 apply to the financial year in which this Act receives Royal Assent, and all subsequent financial years.

 

 

SCHEDULE 1 - AMENDMENTS

 

Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

 

Items 1 and 2 - Provision of Rolls and habitation indexes to political parties etc.

 

7.         These items insert a new subsection 91(9C) and amend subsection 91A(1) to provide that information containing electors’ dates of birth and salutations may be provided to Members, Senators and registered political parties.  Salutations will be collected only on future new enrolments and transfers of enrolment.

 

Items 3 and 4 - Use of information from Roll and habitation index

 

8.         These items amend subsections 91A(1) and (1AA) to increase the penalty for misuse of electoral roll information provided, on tape or disk, for a permitted purpose, from $1 000 and 10 penalty units respectively to 100 penalty units.

 



Items 5 to 7 - Use of information from Roll and habitation index

 

9.         These items add new paragraphs 91A(1A)(aa) and 91A(2)(aa) and amend paragraph 91A(2)(a) to provide that research regarding electoral matters is a permitted purpose for use of electoral roll information provided on tape or disk to Members, Senators and registered political parties.

 

Items 8 and 9 - Prohibition of disclosure or commercial use of Roll or habitation index

 

10.       These items amend subsections 91B(2) and (3) to increase the penalty for disclosing, or using for a commercial purpose, electoral roll information provided, on tape or disk, for a permitted purpose, from $1 000 to 100 penalty units.

 

Items 10, 18, 36 and 49 - Persons entitled to enrolment and to vote, Mobile booths - prisons, Grounds of application for a postal or pre-poll vote.

 

11.       Item 10 amends paragraph 93(8)(b) to provide that a person who is serving a sentence of imprisonment is not entitled to enrol or to vote.  Consequential amendments are required to repeal the provisions relating to enrolment of prisoners (section 96A), mobile polling in prisons (section 226A), and to amend paragraph 9 of Schedule 2 to provide that a person serving a sentence of imprisonment is no longer entitled to apply for a postal or a pre-poll vote.

 

Items 11, 12, 14 and 28 - Close of rolls

 

12.       These items amend subsections 94A(4), 95(4), 96(4) and 102(4) and are consequential to the amendments at Items 30 and 31.  The amendments provide a postponement period for the purposes of enrolment.  The postponement period is the period during which names cannot be added to, or deleted from, the roll as a result of enrolment applications.  For electors who have previously been enrolled, the postponement period commences at 8pm on the day of the close of rolls and ends at the close of polling.  For all other electors (ie. new electors), it is the period commencing at 6pm on the day of the issue of the writ and ending at the close of polling.

 

Items 13, 15 to 17 and 21 to 23 - Period for enrolment

 

13.       These items amend section 95AA, paragraph 96(7)(a), and subsections 96(7), 96(8), 99(1), 99(2) and 99(5) to provide that an elector must re-enrol within one month of moving to a new address.  Currently, electors must re-enrol within 21 days of living at an address in a different Subdivision for one month, or within 21 days of living at a different address within the same Subdivision.  A number of these are consequential amendments.

 



Item 19 - Addition of names to Rolls

 

14.       This item amends paragraph 98(2)(c) to provide that a person witnessing an enrolment application must be an elector and be in a class of electors prescribed by the regulations.  The regulations will specify a range of categories of electors who may witness an enrolment application, and will provide for those electors who are unable to find a witness in the prescribed list.

 

Item 20 - Addition of names to Rolls - Verification of identity and citizenship on enrolment

 

15.       This item inserts new subsections 98(2A), (2B), (2C) and (2D) to provide that a person must have their identity verified before they are enrolled, unless the Australian Electoral Officer (AEO) or Divisional Returning Officer (DRO), as the case may be, is satisfied that they have previously been an elector, and that a person who claims in their enrolment application to be an Australian citizen because of a grant of Australian citizenship under the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 , must have their citizenship verified before they can be enrolled.  The methods of verification are to be prescribed by regulation.

 

16.       The regulations specifying the method of verification of identity where required (ie. for first time electors) will require the production of, at the time of application, at least one original form of proof of identity documentation.  The form of documentation will depend on the circumstances of the applicant, but may include an Australian birth certificate, passport or photographic driver’s licence.  It is possible that some applicants will not be in a position to produce an original form of proof of identity documentation, and in such cases the regulations will provide for, say, a written reference to be produced.

 

17.       Original documentation may be posted to a DRO or to an AEO with the enrolment application.  The documentation will be checked and then returned by mail to the applicant.  Alternatively, the applicant may present the original documentation at an office of a DRO or AEO with the enrolment application.  The documentation will be checked at that time and handed back to the applicant.  To provide a wider facility for lodgement of original documentation and enrolment applications by hand (so that many applicants need not part with original proof of identity documentation, especially those presenting a driver’s licence), the new section 99AA (Item 24) will provide for prescribed persons to receive enrolment applications, and where necessary, sight and verify the lodgement of original proof of identity documentation, enabling the documentation to be handed back to the applicant.

 

18.       Verification of citizenship will require the applicant to provide either their citizenship number or date of conferral of citizenship on the application, and for the AEC to verify with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) that the applicant is in fact an Australian citizen.  It is possible that some applicants in this category will not be able to produce either a citizenship number or date of conferral of citizenship, in which case the AEC will be required to make whatever enquiries of the applicant and DIMA that are necessary to verify citizenship.

 



Item 24 - Additional method of lodging claims for enrolment

 

19.       This item inserts a new section 99AA which provides for the lodgement of enrolment applications with a prescribed person.  The lodgement of enrolment applications with a prescribed person will be by hand only; the applications cannot be posted to a prescribed person.  Prescribed persons will be selected on the basis of their accessibility to the public, and, subject to negotiation, may include government or semi-government organisations, such as post offices.  Although prescribed persons will not verify or determine entitlement to enrolment, they will be required to note on applications the time of their receipt and forward them to the AEC as directed.  In the case of first time enrolment applicants, the prescribed person will also be required to verify the lodgement of an original proof of identity document and note on the application that the document was lodged, and then hand the original proof of identity document back to the applicant (see Item 20).

 

20.       Subsections 99AA(2) and (3) provide that an enrolment application lodged with a prescribed person before the close of the rolls for an election, or before the issue of the writ for new enrolments, will satisfy the requirement for the receipt of the application by a DRO or AEO before the close of the rolls or issue of the writ, as the case may be.  That is, if the application is accepted, the applicant can be added to the roll for the election.

 

Item 25 - Claim for enrolment or transfer of enrolment

 

21.       This item repeals and inserts a new subsection 99A(2) to provide that a person who has previously lodged a provisional claim for enrolment, may, if they have moved to another Subdivision, apply to transfer their provisional enrolment to the new Subdivision.  Currently the person must wait until they have been living at the new address for one month.  This amendment is consequential to the amendment at Item 21.

 

Items 26 and 27 - Compulsory enrolment and transfer

 

22.       These items amend subsections 101(4) and (5), and complement the amendment at Item 21 to provide that an enrolment application must be made within one month of becoming entitled to enrol for a Subdivision, that is, one month from the time of changing address.

 

Item 29 - Lists of convictions to be forwarded

 

23.       This item amends section 109 to provide that the Controller-General of Prisons in each State and Territory is required to forward to the AEC lists of persons who have been convicted and are serving a sentence of imprisonment.  This amendment is consequential to the amendment at Item 10.

 



Items 30 and 31 - Date of close of rolls

 

24.       These items amend section 155 and insert a new subsection 155(2) to provide that the date fixed for the close of the rolls shall be three working days after the issue of the writ.  The three working days do not include Saturday or Sunday or a day on which a public holiday falls in any State or Territory.

 

Items 32 to 35 and 37 to 42 - Assisted voting

 

25.       These items amend paragraphs 226(4)(a), (b) and (c) and 258(a), subsections 234(1A), (2) and (4) and section 258, and repeal paragraph 226(4)(d) and subsection 234(1), to provide that the Presiding Officer at a polling place (including mobile polling), is the only person who can assist a voter to mark his or her ballot-paper.  Scrutineers, if present, must be permitted to observe the process, and the voter may nominate another person to observe.  If the voter does not nominate a person to observe, and there are no scrutineers present, a polling official must observe the process.  A number of these are consequential amendments.

 

Items 43, 51 and 52 - Preliminary scrutiny of declaration votes

 

26.       These items amend subsection 266(1) and paragraphs 17 and 23 of Schedule 3 to provide that the preliminary scrutiny of declaration votes may commence on the Monday before polling day, but that the declaration envelopes must not be opened until after the close of the poll.  Further, the second check of envelopes excluded from the preliminary scrutiny is to be undertaken after the close of the poll.

 

Item 44 - Donations to political parties

 

27.       This item amends subsection 305B(1) to increase from $1 500 to $10 000 the amount above which a donor to a registered political party must furnish a return for a financial year.

 

Items 45 and 46 - Amounts received

 

28.       These items amend subsections 314AC(1) and (2) to provide that political parties are required to disclose a total amount of $5 000, or more, rather than the current $1 500, received from a person or organisation in a financial year.  In calculating this sum, amounts of less than $1 500, an increase from $500, need not be counted.

 

Item 47 - Authors of reports etc. to be identified.

 

29.       This item repeals section 332.  Section 332 is a little used provision and the offences it is meant to cater for are adequately covered by section 328, which operates at all times.  Section 332 only applies during the election period.

 



Item 48 - Election not affected by failure of delivery arrangement

 

30.       This item inserts a new section 365A to provide that in cases where postal ballot-papers were delivered by alternative mechanisms, rather than by post, the Court of Disputed Returns must not declare that a person returned as elected was not duly elected, or declare an election void.

 

Item 50 - Schedule 3 - Rules for the conduct of a preliminary scrutiny of declaration votes

 

31.       This item inserts a new paragraph 7A into Schedule 3 to provide that where a declaration envelope does not have a legible postmark and the signature of the witness bears a date after polling day, the vote is taken to have been marked after polling day, and is not to be included in the further scrutiny.

 

 

Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 (the R(MP) Act)

 

Items 53 and 54 - Electors entitled to vote at a Referendum

 

32.       These items repeal and substitute a new paragraph 4(2)(a) and add a new subsection 4(3) to provide a postponement period for the purposes of enrolment.  The postponement period is the period during which names cannot be added to, or deleted from, the roll as a result of claims for enrolment.  For electors who have previously been enrolled, the postponement period commences at 8pm on the day of the close of rolls until the close of polling.  For all other electors, it is the period commencing at 6pm on day of the issue of the writ until the close of polling.

 

Items 55 to 58, 60 to 65 - Assisted voting

 

33.       These items amend subsections 36(1A), (2), (4), paragraphs 50(3)(a), (b) and (c), section 83 and paragraph 83(a), and repeal paragraph 50(3)(d) and subsection 36(1), to provide that the Presiding Officer at a polling place (including mobile polling), is the only person who can assist a voter to mark his or her ballot-paper.  Scrutineers, if present, must be permitted to observe the process, and the voter may nominate another person to observe.  If the voter does not nominate a person to observe, and there are no scrutineers present, a polling official must observe the process.

 

Items 59 and 69 - Mobile booths - prisons, Grounds of application for a postal or pre-poll vote

 

34.       These items repeal the provisions relating to mobile polling in prisons (section 49A) and amend paragraph 9 of Schedule 3 to provide that a person serving a sentence of imprisonment is no longer entitled to apply for a postal or a pre-poll vote.  The amendments are consequential to the amendment at Item 10.

 



Items 66, 71 and 72 - Preliminary scrutiny of declaration votes

 

35.       These items amend subsection 89A(1) and paragraphs 16 and 19 of Schedule 4 to the R(MP) Act to provide that the preliminary scrutiny of declaration votes may commence on the Monday before the close of voting, but that the declaration envelopes must not be opened until after the close of voting.  Further, the second check of envelopes excluded from the preliminary scrutiny is to be undertaken after the close of voting.

 

Item 67 - Referendum not affected by failure of delivery arrangement

 

36.       This item inserts a new section 108AA to provide that in cases where postal ballot-papers were delivered by alternative mechanisms, rather than by post, the Court of Disputed Returns must not declare that a referendum void on account of the failure of the alternative delivery arrangements.

 

Item 68 - Authors of reports

 

37.       This item repeals section 125.  Section 125 is a little used provision and the offences it is meant to cater for are adequately covered by section 121, which operates at all times.  Section 125 only applies during the referendum period.

 

Item 70 - Schedule 4 - Rules for the conduct of a preliminary scrutiny of declaration votes

 

38.       This item inserts a new paragraph 7A into Schedule 4 to provide that where a declaration envelope does not have a legible postmark and the signature of the witness bears a date after polling day, the vote is taken to have been marked after polling day, and is not to be included in the further scrutiny.