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Government, Opposition and Democrats disagree about voting rights for prisoners, and proposal to close electoral roll early.

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Monday 14 June 2004

Government, Opposition and Democrats disagree about voting rights for prisoners, and proposal to close electoral roll early


TONY EASTLEY: No election h as been called, but the way the parties are shaping up you could be excused for thinking otherwise. The Government in its bid to change the laws governing the electoral roll, is attempting to paint the Labor Party position on crime as "soft". The legislation will be debated in the Senate this week. 


Labor says supporting the legislation would leave Australia in breach of its international obligations. Labor and the Democrats will also vote against a proposal to close the electoral roll the day the writs are issued, claiming it would leave up to 300,000 people without a vote on polling day. 


From Canberra Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath reports. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: There are two controversial elements to this bill: one will close the electoral rolls the day the writs are issued and the other will ban all prisoners in Australian jails from voting. 


Special Minister of State Eric Abetz. 


ERIC ABETZ: If you're not fit to walk the streets as deemed by the judicial system in this country, then chances are you're not a fit and proper person to cast a vote in relation to the future of your country. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Labor and the Democrats will block that in the Senate. Under current rules people in prison for more than 5 years can't vote. Labor's prepared to reduce that to 3 years, or the life of the Parliament, but its opposed to a ban on all sentenced prisoners.  


And the Government is bringing out the wedge. 


Eric Abetz.  


ERIC ABETZ: Well, I think it'll send out a very strong message to the Australian people, especially as they are now concentrating on issues of law and order and I think they would interpret that very much as seeing Labor and the Democrats being soft on the issue of law and order. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, John Faulkner.  


JOHN FAULKNER: Eric Abetz would say that, wouldn't he? But the question you should put to Eric Abetz is what does he say about the international obligations that Australia has, under the United Nations international covenant on civil and political rights? What about our obligations to the United Nations universal declaration of human rights, re-signed by the Howard Government recently? 


I mean, this is the difficult balancing act that the Parliament has to try and achieve on this issue. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: Eric Abetz says he won't be swayed by United Nations declarations. 


ERIC ABETZ: Well, the reliance on international treaties is usually the last resort of those that can't argue their case domestically. Secondly, having read both those international treaties there is no way that the legislation would impede the international treaties that are referred to. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: The Australian Democrats don't believe that anyone in prison should be banned from voting, no matter how long they are in. 


Leader Andrew Bartlett. 


ANDREW BARTLETT: I don't think it's a good practice at all. People who go to prison, you want to encourage them to reconnect with community, not disconnect with it. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: And the move to close the rolls early goes against the recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters that was headed by Victorian Liberal Petro Georgiou.  


John Faulkner. 


JOHN FAULKNER: Look, if the rolls are closed early, like the Government and Senator Abetz want to do, effectively hundreds of thousands of people will be disenfranchised. 


CATHERINE MCGRATH: With Labor and the Democrats voting against both element, they won't get through. Eric Abetz says he'll consider his options once the Senate has voted. 


TONY EASTLEY: Catherine McGrath reporting.