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Friday, 29 April 1988
Page: 2137

Senator ROBERT RAY (Minister for Home Affairs)(9.10) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

Mr President, this Bill is designed to give legislative effect to the remaining acceptable recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform made in its first and second reports to the last Parliament. The first report made a number of recommendations concerning the representation of Territories and new States in the Federal Parliament and the second report made a series of recommendations designed to finetune the electoral and referendum Acts as a result of the Committee's review of the operation of the electoral legislation at the 1984 general election. Honourable senators will also recall that the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Act 1987 and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Amendment Bill 1988 were designed to give effect to some of the more important recommendations of the second report.

This Bill provides fixed formulae for the representation of Territories and new States in the Federal Parliament. The JSC examined this issue, following concern that it would be possible for a government, with a majority in both Houses, to increase the representation of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory out of proportion to their populations. The Government has accepted the Committee's conclusion that fixed formulae for the representation of Territories and new States should be prescribed.

Accordingly, this Bill provides for the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory to be entitled to be represented by at least one member of the House of Representatives, and that representation thereafter be in proportion to its population. Other Commonwealth Territories will be entitled to separate representation when their population exceeds more than one-half of a quota as determined by section 48 of the Electoral Act.

The Bill also provides that the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory will be entitled to representation in the Senate on the basis of one senator for every two members of the House of Representatives. However, each will be entitled to a minimum of two senators. Other Commonwealth Territories will be entitled to representation in the Senate on the basis of one senator for every two members of the House of Representatives.

I turn now to outline some of the major provisions of the Bill that result from the Committee's second report.

The Bill provides for the printing and distribution of the electoral roll to senators, members and political parties no later than the end of the second year of each parliament. Senators' present entitlement of one set of electoral rolls for their State will increase to five, thus making it easier for senators to carry out their electorate responsibilities. Provision is also made for the electoral roll to be available to senators, members and political parties in certain cases in the form of microfiche and magnetic tapes and disks.

The Bill establishes a more rational and consistent approach to the recognition of the voting rights and responsibilities of those in prison. It makes provision of prisoners, other than those convicted of treason, to enrol to vote or to retain their entitlement to enrolment. Honourable senators would be aware that the present provision only allows prisoners convicted of an offence which carries a maximum penalty of five years or less to retain their entitlement to vote. There have been some difficulties with this provision, particularly because of inconsistency in sentencing for various offences. As honourable senators would be aware, a principal aim of modern criminal law is to rehabilitate offenders and orient them positively towards the society they will re-enter on their release. This process is assisted by a policy of encouraging prisoners to observe their civil and political responsibilities. The Bill also provides for the Electoral Commission to enter into arrangements with the relevant State prison authorities for the provision of mobile polling facilities to prisons.

There has been some confusion about the term `Postal Vote' as electors are able to apply in person. This Bill repeals the present provisions in the electoral and referendum Acts relating to postal voting and substitutes new provisions relating to postal and pre-poll voting. The new provisions draw a clear distinction between postal and pre-poll votes, so that votes applied for in writing and sent through the post or otherwise delivered continue to be referred to as postal votes, while votes applied for in person and returned to a polling official will be referred to as pre-poll votes.

The Bill also enables the provision of mobile voting facilities in hospitals and special hospitals to be more comprehensive and confirms the right of patients to a postal vote. The electoral and referendum Acts presently give hospitals and nursing homes the right to veto mobile polling by not entering into arrangements for the taking of patients' votes. Provision is also made for mobile polling teams visiting hospitals to carry and distribute how to vote material in the same way that mobile teams in remote areas already do.

Presently, both Acts require polling officials to ask voters specific questions before issuing them with ballot papers. This provision is replaced with a requirement that the polling official ask such questions as he or she thinks necessary to establish the person's name and place of living.

The Bill makes a number of changes to party registration including insertion of a requirement that a party wishing to make application for registration have a written constitution, provides for public inspection of objections to applications to register political parties, requires the Electoral Commission to provide copies of objections to applications to registration to the prospective registered officer and clarifies the circumstances which may lead to deregistration of a registered political party.

The Bill also makes a number of amendments to the election funding and financial disclosure provisions, including:

Changing the definition of the disclosure period in relation to gifts received, to include the period of 30 days after polling day;

Requiring that campaign committees of candidates and/or Senate groups endorsed by registered political parties be treated as part of the party organisation;

A requirement that agents of candidates and Senate groups be appointed before close of nominations;

Requiring the Commission to keep a register of party agents; enabling the Commission to extend the period for submission of claims for public funding;

Enabling the Electoral Commission to redetermine claims for public funding;

Changing the disclosure requirement in relation to gifts from the number of gifts received to the number of donors;

Decreasing the period for receipt of returns of broadcasters and publishers from 15 weeks to 8 weeks after polling day and

Requiring the broadcasters and publishers to identify the person requesting an advertisement;

Requiring broadcasters to keep a copy of advertisements for one month after furnishing a return to the Commission; and

Enabling the Electoral Commissioner to bring court action to recover debts due to the Commonwealth.

The Bill re-introduces a fine for failure by an elector to advise of his or her change of address within a subdivision. Following acceptance of one of the recommendations of the first JSC, it was no longer an offence for an elector to fail to notify a change in his or her place of living, provided that the new address was within the same subdivision. However, with the decision to reduce the number of subdivisions, wherever practicable, such failure to notify changes of address can lead to the rolls becoming inaccurate.

The JSC concluded that the Electoral Act should be amended to dispense with the requirement for DROs to exercise casting votes to determine the result of a deadlocked election. The Committee considered that an immediate recount and a fresh preliminary scrutiny of rejected declaration votes should be a statutory requirement. The Committee also concluded that if at the end of the recount, the result is still deadlocked, then the DRO should advise the Electoral Commission, and the Electoral Commission should file a petition disputing the election. Accordingly, the Bill so provides.

Concern was also expressed about the possibility of petitions alleging a range of standard irregularities in general terms and relying on the court procedures to provide the evidence necessary to substantiate them. This Bill requires petitions to the Court of Disputed Returns to be more specific in their allegations disputing the result of an election or referendum.

One item of concern has not been incorporated in this proposed legislation because the Government is awaiting the outcome of a High Court case. The disputed status of Senator Robert Wood, currently before the High Court, brings into question the provisions relating to the nomination of, and acceptance of nomination by, prospective parliamentary candidates. Sections 170 and 172 of the Electoral Act make it clear that the obligation to ensure that he or she meets the requirements to be an eligible candidate for parliament lies entirely with the candidate. The so-called Wood case suggests that this obligation on candidates to make accurate and truthful declarations at the time of their nomination should be spelt out more clearly. Possibly, penalties for incorrect declarations by candidates should be instituted. The Government will consider the decision of the High Court before bringing forward amendments appropriate to solve this problem.

The provisions in the Bill relating to the fixed formulae for the representation of Territories and related redistribution provisions will come into effect on royal assent. The remaining provisions of the Bill, mainly relating to operational matters, will come into effect on a day or days to be proclaimed, thus the amendments in this Bill relating to the operation of the Referendum Act will not be proclaimed until after any possible referendum this year.

I commend the Bill to the Senate and present the explanatory memorandum to the Bill.

Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.