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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5485

Mr NEVILLE (10:09 AM) —This is a very interesting debate and one to which I attach a lot of importance. It deals with the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010, theElectoral and Referendum Amendment (Pre-poll Voting and Other Measures) Bill 2010, the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2010 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (How-to-Vote Cards and Other Measures) Bill 2010. In essence it gets down to a number of important adjustments or would-be adjustments in these four bills. As the member for Bradfield said, this has to be motivated not by what is of political advantage to one side or the other but by what upholds the integrity of the electoral process, the rolls that are used to define who is entitled to participate in that process and the various recording and counting mechanisms that are part of coming to a final figure on election day.

For some time now we have had various people saying that we can simplify this and we do not need to do that. All the measures being looked at in these bills are there for a reason. Let me take you back to another incident that the member for Bradfield spoke about, and that was how certain personnel associated with the Labor Party, particularly in Queensland, rorted the rolls. That saw a number of members of state parliament resign or be dropped from important positions within the ALP. Quite frankly, they were enrolling themselves or other people at addresses at which they were not resident. There is good cause to believe that went on quite extensively over the years. I can remember my former colleague the member for Petrie as she was at the time, Teresa Gambaro, telling me how she went out and checked some of the mail that had been returned to her office. She found that in a number of circumstances the mail came back from vacant blocks of land. In one instance 20 items had come back from a single address. Obviously in her electorate people had been busy putting in false claims for enrolment. We have elections in Australia—and I have been the victim of one of these—where seats are won or lost by margins of less than 100 votes. In my instance, it was 69 votes and on recount 64. So I have always taken a profound interest in these matters.

In these bills there are two particular issues that we should watch with a great deal of interest. The first one is that the government wishes to restore the closing date for enrolments to seven days after the issue of the writs. On the surface of things that sounds innocent enough; it used to be that in the past. But it did not allow the Electoral Commission sufficient time for scrutiny and effectively at the last election the then government, the Howard government, reduced that to three days.

The outcry from the ALP was that we were depriving people of being able to enrol to exercise their franchise, to which I would make the observation that for all federal elections in Australia we live on a three-year cycle. We all know when a federal election is coming up. The papers are alive with it for the six or seven months before the date of an election. We all know what is going on—we are all aware that an election is getting close and the polls are read and interpreted with frenzy—so it hard to believe that people do not know that it is time either to get themselves on the roll or, if they have shifted their place of residence in the intervening three years, to have that corrected.

But what is even more telling is that when we compare the number of people who missed out under the seven-day rule with the number of people who missed out under the three-day rule—I am quoting rounded figures for illustrative purposes—under the seven-day rule approximately 170,000 people missed out in the 2004 election but under the three-day rule only 100,000 people missed out. You would have to ask yourself whether the shortness of time was actually an advantage. Under the seven-day rule people can put it off for a few days and say, ‘I might do it then,’ or, ‘I might do it on Friday.’ But under the three-day rule they knew that, if they wanted to be on the roll and had been dilatory over the three years or they had not got around to changing their address or whatever it might be, they had three days to get themselves organised. My view is that the three-day rule focused the mind. People went in and enrolled and fewer people missed out than under the old rule. You can understand, then, why the opposition will oppose this measure and will seek to stay with the existing rule that was introduced in 2007. We oppose it not just for that reason but also because, as the member for Bradfield very elegantly proposed, it gives the Australian Electoral Commission time to scrutinise any fraudulent applications.

The second issue is the requirement of proof of identity when a person is seeking a provisional vote. The provisional vote is the most problematic of all our forms of voting. It is when a person comes into a polling station to vote and their name is not on the roll. In most instances, with fair-minded people who generally attend to their business, they should be on the roll. However, they may have been dropped off by some clerical error, they might not have been at home when the AEC was checking addresses or for some other reason they have been left off the roll. They fill out a form stating the reasons, it is witnessed and, if that is validated, the vote is counted.

At the 2007 election we brought in a rule that people had to identify themselves, and the ALP railed against this. Why would you rail against that? Ninety per cent of people who go to a polling booth to vote go in a car. Sure, a few people might live handily to a polling booth and walk there or go on a tram or bus, but about 90 per cent or so drive to a polling booth. It may not be a great distance, but they get in the car and drive there, which is evidenced by the number of cars you see around polling booths on election day. To do that, you are required by law to have your drivers licence on you. It is not a great deal of inconvenience to ask a person to produce some form of identity and for them to whip out their drivers licence and say, ‘I am Bill Smith; here is my drivers licence.’

That they cannot produce identification is also interesting. I have made a study of this over the years and I always provide my scrutineers with a list of addresses from which mail has been regularly returned. Isn’t that an enlightening thing? If you are getting correspondence back from an address, one of the reasons it may have occurred is that someone fraudulently enrolled at that address. Isn’t it funny that, when things have been returned from that address many times, suddenly that address becomes activated in provisional voting? It makes you wonder if that has not been a sleeping—for want of a better expression—voter, a dual voter. I have noticed over the years how, despite the fact that, as electronic means of recording things has improved, as the electronic wizardry that is available has improved and as our electoral officers and the AEC have improved, provisional voting has increased rather than decreased. Why would that be? Nobody can give me an adequate explanation.

For example, when I first became the member for Hinkler back in 1993 there were 275 valid provisional votes admitted to the count. By 2004 that had gone up to 527—it had nearly doubled. The character of the Hinkler electorate had not changed that much between those dates because it was essentially the cities of Bundaberg, Gladstone, Childers, and some shires of Burnett which changed off and on over the years. Of more recent times it now includes Hervey Bay. But up to that point, the electorate was somewhat stable and there were no big variations in the character or demographic of the Hinkler electorate. Yet the number of provisional votes increased at a time when you would think the trend would be for a reduction in them.

But wait for this. As I told you, last time, in 2004, the numbers were 527 votes. Once these new measures had been placed on provisional votes in 2007, that figure dropped to 83. Isn’t it strange that it would drop to 83? One hundred and fifty-two people came to the booth and were asked to provide further proof of identity and, as you know, people who are rejected at the polling booth on that day for lack of evidence of identity are still allowed to vote providing they come to the AEC office some time in the following seven days and validate their identity. Of the 152 who were asked to return only 38 did. Isn’t that an interesting figure? Only one in four bothered to come back to validate their vote. For this great sacred vote that the member for Banks was thumping his chest about, only a quarter of the people came back to exercise it.

If you look across Australian at the 33,900 people so affected, only one in five people came back. So you really question how many of those were fraudulent votes. How many of those were people who could not identify themselves? Yes, I know some of them would have been lazy. I know that some, having seen the outcome of the election, probably said, ‘I cannot be bothered.’ But a high proportion, I submit to you, did not find the voting thing so sacred that they would go down to the electoral office and validate their identity. So I think the opposition’s position on this is quite defensible.

Another measure that I, as a country person, applaud—and it has support from both sides of the House—is the method of recording postal votes, essentially for country people but for all people. In the past, as you know, you had to have your postal vote date marked essentially by 5 pm or 6 pm on the day before polling, on the Friday, because most post offices do not work on the Saturday. What was happening—and I see the member for O’Connor here and he would be aware of this—was that you would have mail runs out in the middle or at the end of the week and quite often the mail contractor would take letters back for people on stations and outlying communities to the central post office for that area, and on the Monday morning after the weekend the letters would be stamped. If your letter was your ballot paper, your postal vote, and it was date stamped on Monday morning at 9 am or 9.15 am your vote was invalid.

Under this provision, although you will still have to have your postal vote envelope witnessed, the date that you put on that envelope containing that vote will be evidence that you recorded that vote prior to the close of the poll. The fact that someone then witnesses it is likely to make it fairly difficult to manipulate the date. For example, I know that when people come to me and ask me to witness something and then they want me to change the date, I seize up immediately. I hate pre-dating or post-dating anything I witness. In fact, I just do not do it. I think that most people who witness a postal vote would not be a party to any pre-dating stunts. So I think that is a pretty good measure too. It allows a lot of country people whose votes would have been ruled out to have their votes count—and I understand that in the seat of Deputy Speaker Scott, Maranoa, that occurred on quite a regular basis. So I think that is a good measure.

I also support, as does the opposition, a lot of other measures for getting uniform rules for mobile booths which go to nursing homes and the like, and I think that is very important. There used to be some great rorts that went on there. It was not so much in federal elections, I must say, because most poll clerks were quite strict in federal elections about keeping the scrutineers and the political parties back at the door of the room and, if the frail person in bed wanted assistance, then the poll clerk was asked to provide it. I think those are good, sensible measures that stop others saying, ‘Oh, yes, I was around the other day with the how-to-vote card—wouldn’t you like me to vote for you?’ Those sorts of stunts went on and I am pleased that this regulates how that will be conducted in the future. There is also the matter of allowing blind voters to be able to vote in a semiprivate way, and I think that is a good idea.

I will not go into it for the sake of time but I also commend any measure that removes dodgy how-to-vote cards. I think the case of the ALP in the South Australian state election is shameful and I hope that all parties would seek to remove that practice from future federal elections. The electronic management of rolls is, I think, a good move.

There is one other matter that I oppose, and that is that it be mandated that all postal vote applications go directly to the AEC. The previous method of allowing political parties to record those and take them to the AEC never caused any trouble from my office. Every day at 9.30 or 10 am those postal vote applications were taken to the AEC. We took great pride in the way we did it. We have always had a good relationship with the AEC. We have always sent lists of the dead letters to the AEC. (Time expired)