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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5480

Mr MELHAM (9:41 AM) —In the time remaining to me in this debate on these electoral and referendum bills I wish to concentrate on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010. This bill contains provisions that will restore the close of rolls period to seven days after the issue of the writ for an election and will repeal the requirement for provisional voters to provide evidence of identity before their votes are admitted for scrutiny. This bill arises out of recommendations from the inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into the conduct of the 2007 federal election.

When the coalition were in government we saw legislation that disenfranchised people and that basically presumed them to be guilty. There were allegations made of widespread fraud without any evidence being placed before the committee, or anywhere indeed, to sustain that, yet tens of thousands of voters were disqualified in terms of their right to vote. On page 47 of the report Dr Kathy Edwards is quoted as saying:

In Submission Number 205 to the Inquiry the AEC also assured of its ability to meet the high volume of enrolments made during the seven day close of rolls period in a fashion that protected against fraud and insured the integrity of the Electoral Roll. This Submission was not referred to or quoted in that part of the JSCEM Report that dealt with this particular issue.

It is important to emphasise that concerns regarding this matter do not come from the body charged with the responsibility of administering Australia’s electoral processes, i.e. the AEC, and, in fact this body is confident of its ability to meet its statutory requirements in this respect.

The abolition of the seven-day rule was not something that came from the AEC; it came from the political parties opposite—the Liberal and National parties—and it was done for pure political advantage. It was not done because there was any evidence of widespread electoral fraud. It is a disgrace that so many voters lost their right to have their vote counted in an election, particularly a close election, because of the base politics of the opposition. I think this bill goes a long way to remedying the problem.

Our recommendation on page 51 does stand up to scrutiny. We are in effect saying that we have faith in the Electoral Commission to update enrolments. We need to give people in a modern society, where there is a lot of changing of address, adequate time to change their enrolment details so that their vote can count. The opposition allows the rolls to close on the same day that the writ is issued. At the last election, because there were two public holidays in two different states, there were three days allowed for it.

Bring the evidence of electoral fraud to the committee, bring the evidence to the Electoral Commission, and then you will have some credibility in your arguments. The last time this system operated was in 1983, when Malcolm Fraser caused a snap election and disqualified hundreds of thousands of people because the rolls were closed on that day. It was as a result of that disenfranchisement in that election that the seven-day period was brought in.

The other matter is provisional enrolments. That is when people roll up on election day, their name is not on the roll, they fill out their ballot papers, they put them in an envelope and they sign it. We now require proof of identity from them by way of a drivers licence. If they do not produce that, their vote does not count and there is a table on page 60 of the report that shows the devastating effects of that particular provision. The table shows that, as a result of a number of changes to the provisional vote provisions, many tens of thousands of votes are not counted. Provisional votes from 1993 to 2007 are shown in figure 3.3. Back in 1993, there were 66,458 votes rejected and 44,886 admitted. In subsequent elections—in 1996, in 1998 and in 2001—the numbers roughly broke even. There was a change by a few thousand in how many were rejected and how many were admitted. In the 2004 election, 90,366 provisional votes were rejected and 90,512 were admitted. In 2007, what happened was that 143,470 votes were rejected and 24,212 were admitted—a massive turnaround.

The argument that these votes were fraudulent and were being admitted into the system can be dismissed very quickly, because the people who fronted up at the polling booth had to sign an envelope. The method of checking whether the person was a particular person, if there was doubt, was that the Electoral Commission would compare signatures with the original electoral enrolment form lodged or a variation of an enrolment form. Those votes were not just admitted willy-nilly. When scrutineers—and I have scrutineered in many an election—questioned a signature, the procedure within the Electoral Commission was to pull out the historic file and compare signatures. There was a check, and there has been not one piece of evidence placed before past committees that demonstrated that fraud was being perpetrated by provisional voters on any scale, if at all. The reason these votes were made harder to admit into the count was that, when you look at provisional votes, traditionally the itinerant vote favours Labor.

This was the hanging chad of Florida, where safety net provisions were removed from the Electoral Act to disqualify voters from having their vote counted. It was not about fraud but was because in relation to a lot of those votes Labor did better out of provisional votes than did the coalition. That is a disgrace, and that is why that provision as it once stood needs to be reinstated. We are not dealing with 10 votes or 100 votes here; we are dealing with 70,000 votes in this instance. That is the estimate of the difference, and the table shows it. (Time expired)