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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5489

Mr TUCKEY (10:30 AM) —It is interesting to contemplate that, on advice I received from a senator the other day, there are something like 70 bills, some I would imagine of considerable importance, yet to be debated in the Senate over the remaining seven days, counting yesterday, of these sittings. Suddenly the government brings to us, in a process of political convenience, something that interests only members of parliament, depending on their special interest at this late hour, and no doubt they will try to promote this to a point of priority in the Senate in these remaining days when there are serious issues to be considered concerning the government of the country. I could give a significant number of examples.

The first question to be asked in this place is what is this electoral legislation all about? Why, when an election is imminent, would the government be proposing to change the rules by which people vote when there have been no significant complaints registered by the Australian people about those rules? Significant changes were made by the previous government in the interest of gaining more security and propriety in our voting processes. The public are now well aware of them. They know that it is wise to take with them some form of identification. In modern society people would generally never leave home without it so why, now that they know those things, do we want to change the rules again? We can only ask who believes there is an advantage for themselves or who wants to open the door for corrupt practices? I want to deal, as I have in past debates on these matters, with some of the examples that are commonly available.

Above all else we are again hearing the argument, in this case from government members, previously as opposition members, that measures be included in the act which contradict the fundamental principles of the act. Part VIII of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, section 101(6), says:

A person who fails to comply with subsection (1), (4) or (5) is guilty of an offence punishable on conviction by a fine not exceeding 1 penalty unit.

What does section 101(5A) tell us? It states:

… every person who is entitled to have his or her name placed on the Roll for any Subdivision whether by way of enrolment or transfer of enrolment, and whose name is not on the Roll upon the expiration of 21 days from the date upon which the person became so entitled, or at any subsequent date while the person continues to be so entitled, shall be guilty of an offence …

The law which we are proposing to amend today makes it an offence to fail to register to vote once you have turned 18—and of course there is legislation here which takes the matter to high farce, suggesting that it is necessary for young people to commence registering at age 16. Why not make it 10? Why not make it at birth? The reality is that the law, as it prevails, gives those young people the opportunity during their 17th year to comply with the law, yet arguments are promoted here each day that we should be sympathetic to people who break the law in this instance by giving them a special opportunity to correct matters to which they are legally obliged to attend when those circumstances arise—first, when you turn 18 or, second, in the year before you are 18. The House is wasting its time saying it can be during the ages of 16 or 17. As I have said, why not include it in a kid’s first writing lesson? That seems to be how ridiculous the proposal is. I cannot understand why the parliament is wasting its time on this issue.

The fundamental issue is that if you are legally obliged to register, if you are legally obliged to advise the Electoral Commission when you change your address, and that occurs frequently, why then is there any need to give people a catch-up opportunity? Arguably, all of those people who turn up in the proposed seven days after the calling of an election should be charged and convicted because it is not a mistake, it is not a delinquency; it is a breach of the law. So why would this parliament be legislating for that purpose? There is no reason other than to so overcrowd the Electoral Commission in the lead-up to an election, when it has enough work to do, that it cannot properly assess whether they are bogus applications or are for real.

Under the existing legislation, that occurs progressively over the electoral cycle. That is what the law decided, probably when the act was first proclaimed in 1918. There has never been a reason to change it and there will be no reason to change it, unless this country moves to voluntary voting, and I do not hear much about that. So we have working legislation that clearly addresses opportunities for corruption—and the government want to go back to the future. There can only be one reason, and that is that they perceive some political advantage, because within their ranks are people, whom I will quote, who are prepared to break the law.

Within a legitimate electoral roll there are people who for various reasons, often religious, do not vote. Also, we have yet to discover how, with printed rolls, without computerisation, we can prevent persons voting at different venues in the same name. That opportunity still exists. In the Labor mantra, it is referred to as ‘Vote early and vote often.’

So what was recorded on 6 November 2000 in the Courier-Mail in Brisbane? It concerned a major scandal in the state government which resulted in the resignation of the then Deputy Premier, Mr Elder, who resigned after being caught out placing other people and himself on a variety of electoral rolls where they were not eligible. This was done to improve their chances of preselection to parliament. A fellow called Kaiser—who has just got a $400,000-a-year job working on the government’s National Broadband Network—had to resign from office because of his involvement in that scam. On 6 November the Courier-Mail reported how a Labor official, a member of the 1987 federal election campaign team, revealed that he and other ALP supporters had cast numerous votes for a particular candidate of the Labor Party. This was quoted in the paper and never challenged; there was no defamation application or anything of that nature. This Labor member recalled:

On polling day in Fisher there were many female names on the rort list, but a lack of women in on the scam. “But we got a young girl of 16 from Young Labor who thought it was quite exciting. She voted 14 times.”

The Deputy Speaker, who is the member for Fisher, might be interested to know about that. She voted 14 times and she was two years too young to vote. What does that say about persons having to produce identification, if only to prove that they are entitled to a provisional vote, when they are not enrolled?

Young people cannot get into an entertainment venue these days without producing identification. I do not see them protesting on the footpath. Numerous airlines with whom I travel insist on me providing identification to justify my electronic booking. And of course we now all have photographic drivers licences. The previous speaker pointed out that you are virtually legally obliged to carry your drivers licence when you drive your motor car—and what percentage of the population walks to a polling booth?

This provision would re-establish the rorting of provisional votes by saying that a signature is good enough identification. Who, in the counting of millions of votes, or even thousands of provisional votes, is going to be the expert who approves the correctness of a signature? Why would you go to that particular process at the time of applying for a provisional vote, when it is simple to produce identification, typically in the form of a drivers licence? If you have just come up from the beach and you have not got it in your pocket, you have two options under the present law. One is to formally apply and return to the relevant authority within seven days to prove that you are the person you claim to be. But there is another option. Polling booths are never very far away from your home, and you typically choose the closest one to go to. So go home and get your drivers licence and come back. There is no law against that. You are not struck out on the grounds that you cannot identify yourself formally when you first walk into the polling booth, if you are a genuine person believing you are on the roll.

What is it all about? I can tell you what it is all about. It has been evidenced time and time again. The provision applied in the seat of McEwen at the last election, and that election was eventually decided in the High Court, so close was the outcome. The debate centred on, I think, 200 provisional votes for which people had applied but then not returned with the appropriate identification. Who were they? They were not lazy people; the votes were dodgy. Eventually they were struck down by the High Court. The High Court could work it out. They struck these applications down because of people’s failure to identify themselves as provided for by the law, and the seat was eventually won by fewer than 20 votes, I think.

It is important that we have integrity in the voting system. It is important that people comply with the law and register immediately they are eligible to vote or transfer their residence presumably to another electorate. It is just patently silly to bring to this House an argument that young people should have two years in which to register prior to them turning 18 when, unfortunately, most of them fail to do so while they are 17. It is not that they are not informed. Politics is now an issue that is taught in schools, and so it should be. Unfortunately, occasionally, I think kids are told how to vote and that, of course, is to be abhorred. That is not the role of teaching. There are many things that we should encourage young people to take an interest in, including their future. It might be that they need to know how much money is being wasted on school buildings that they occupy. That is information that might eventually decide their vote. The next thing we will be told is that they should vote at 16. I think there is still doubt as to whether it was wise to reduce the voting age to 18, but that has happened and it is also now part of the law and I do not contest it.

These are not good measures. Yes, the issue of how-to-vote cards is a scandal. Considering it was the Labor Party who practised it in South Australia, why should a Labor government be asking for further opportunities to run scams by way of provisional voting or by way of enrolment when, in fact, they have demonstrated now that they think it might be a good idea to fix up the how-to-vote cards. What is the fine? It is some thousands of dollars. What is government worth? If you want to buy a couple of seats by redirecting preferences on a how-to-vote card, contrary to the decision of the party who issues the formal card, I am yet to see just how an authorisation is necessarily going to assist. Quite clearly, if it is in large print and at the top of the card, there is some evidence with a ridgy-didge how-to-vote card that a Liberal, Labor or other voter can look at the card and say that it is legitimate. The dodgy one will not necessarily be authorised as it should have been in South Australia by the Labor Party. What if they get Bill Smith to do it? Who is Bill Smith? Can he go before the court and say: ‘I am a strong believer in Family First, but I had a belief that they should not have expressed their preference in the way they did’?

Let me just say something in closing about preferences. In a multiple vacancy there has never been a credible preferential system. How can preferences that go upwards in a single vacancy go downwards in a multiple vacancy? In Western Australia they have reverted in local government—from whence I came to this place after 16 years, and I saw about 10 different attempts to put a credible preferential system into multiple vacancies—to first past the post and if there are four vacancies the voter ticks four squares. Think of that happening in the Senate. Suddenly senators would be, as the Constitution provides, responsible for their states. The current above-the-line system has handed the entire processes of the Senate to political parties. I think that is to the detriment of the meaning of the Senate in the Constitution. The reason each and every state got the same number of senators was to give them some protection in that house. I have used up my time and, of course, I oppose these measures with the exception of a couple of minor adjustments. (Time expired)