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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31718

Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) (9:01 AM) —I move:

That the amendments be agreed to.

I suppose it is a dubious pleasure to be in the parliament on only the fourth time since Federation that the parliament has sat on a Saturday morning—in 1929, 1993, 1997 and now 2004. I have been present at three, not four, of those events.

The government are disappointed that the Australian Labor Party amendments to the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Enrolment Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2004 do not go as far as the government would like. We are all about an open and transparent electoral system with integrity, and it is a pity that the opposition does not share our aspiration to this very important goal. It is absolutely vital that, when an election is declared and the result is known, we as a nation can be confident that the government we get are in fact the government that the people voted for. That is why this government have been quite assiduous in making sure that our electoral system has improved integrity, because we believe that the improved integrity of the electoral system is right at the heart of the democratic process.

We are disappointed that the ALP amendments do not include the alternative document provisions as recommended by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. However, one has to be aware of the realities of numbers in the parliament, and we are of the view that the amendment is a significant improvement on the current system. Quite frankly, it is easier to get on the electoral roll than it is to go out there and hire a video, which is quite an amazing situation. As a result, the government are accepting these amendments. We notice that the new identification arrangements will be reviewed after two years. I am confident that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters will see the merit in these new arrangements.

Likewise, we are disappointed that the other place did not pass legislation that would have removed the right of all prisoners to vote. I think most Australians, including the government, are of the view that people who are incarcerated, people who have committed offences, people whom the court system has objectively put inside to serve a period of detention, ought not, while they are serving that prison term, be entitled to vote and elect the leaders of the society whose laws they have disregarded or so blatantly flouted. However, given the fact that the Australian Labor Party and the minor parties indicated that they would not be supporting this amendment, we do support the Australian Labor Party's compromise amendments on this issue, which will mean that any prisoners imprisoned for more than one electoral cycle will be denied the vote. This is a step in the right direction, but it does not go anywhere near as far as the government—and, I believe, the community as a whole—would like to see the law progressed. This is, in our view, an improvement on the current arrangement of five years.

The government is also disappointed that the Senate rejected the legislation which would have seen the rolls close the day the writs are issued for first-time voters and three days after the issue of writs for people updating their enrolment details. The Electoral Commission is flooded with enrolments and changes of enrolments whenever an election is called. It is very difficult for the Electoral Commission to exercise the same degree of scrutiny with respect to those changed or new enrolments as would be the case if the Electoral Commission were able to consider enrolments or changes of enrolments in the ordinary course of events without the extra time pressure placed on the Electoral Commission as the result of an impending election. The measure was intended to protect the integrity of the roll against the flood of over 300,000 enrolments received by the AEC in the week after an election is called. I note that the opposition was quick to label this as a cynical measure to disenfranchise voters. This was never the intention.

Regrettably, because of the opposition of the Australian Labor Party, while the electoral system for the next election will be better than what we now have, it will not be as good as the government and, I believe, the Australian people would have wished. I do commend the motion to the House.