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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5496

Mr SIMPKINS (11:09 AM) —I welcome this opportunity to speak today on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill (No. 2) 2010, the Electoral 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, regarding changes to the Electoral Act. I, like all members, enjoy the opportunity in my electorate of Cowan in Western Australia to speak to young people in the high schools and primary schools about the importance of our great democracy. I think we have a claim to say that this is the greatest country in the world. We definitely want to keep it that way. That is why the Electoral Act is such an important element of our great democracy. Among the young people in this country, particularly those in Cowan, I see many who are keen to be part of that process once they turn 18. I have been to many schools where young people have told me, ‘I’m still 17 but I have already done my provisional enrolment.’ I welcome that.

As I recall, the member for O’Connor said earlier, in referring to the Electoral Act, that it is the law for someone to enrol within 21 days of becoming eligible. They should enrol then and if they do not, that constitutes an offence. The obligation on citizens of this country to enrol from the age of 18 is important. I really do wonder what is the story behind this weakening of the laws. Basically the government wants to say to the Australian people: ‘You don’t have to enrol. You don’t have to comply with the law which says that you have to enrol within 21 days of becoming eligible. In fact, we will make it even easier to not comply with the law by saying that you have until seven days after the calling of the election to enrol.’ It is rather an odd situation that we have a law but we do not want to follow that law. I wonder whether the government should change that law as well so that it is no longer an offence to not enrol within 21 days of becoming eligible to enrol, but rather that it should be an offence if you have not enrolled within seven days after the calling of the election. There is an inconsistency there. Others have passed comment on exactly why it is the case that the government seems so keen to disregard one law and let this seven-day business come into being.

As others have said, there is a great history in this country of fraud and rorting of the electoral system. I would not suppose to say that it was hugely widespread, but there is a consistency about the side that is so often involved with these matters. A case in Queensland has been referred to previously where a 16-year-old member of Young Labor was very pleased that she had voted 14 times in an election.

Mr Ramsey interjecting

Mr SIMPKINS —There is no doubt at all, as the member for Grey says, that with voting 14 times how wrong can you be? What a classic disregard for the great democracy of this country that someone should find as a source of some pride defrauding the Australian system, taking advantage of our democracy. I really wonder what ethics are being taught in some places in this country. That one side could promote that as something of some value casts great aspersions upon those involved with that person and upon that person. Maybe it is more the case that someone of that age was badly misled by those she trusted so that she thought this reprehensible behaviour was appropriate. The reality is that that will never be the case. It is certainly never the way we on this side approach it.

Some may say that those behind that sort of fraud—former members Elder and Kaiser—are from the past and such events no longer occur. But I would contend that the reality is, when a government feels under pressure and a sense of desperation that they might be on the receiving end of the people’s will, they will go to any means to take advantage of and rort the system. We only need to look back to the South Australian election. I am sure the member for Gray will also speak on this matter as well—bogus how-to-vote cards and even T-shirts. I think ‘Put Your Family First’ was the slogan used to attempt to deceive the voters in South Australia. I guess it is another great tradition of democracy in this country that one side will use all means to try to deceive the people and create electoral success out of that.

It is certainly sad that we have such examples in this modern age in 2010. As has been said in the past, where there is such deceit, fraud and trickery, it is almost like risk management when it is only a fine of $1,100 to do that. No wonder the Labor Party in South Australia did it. They must have managed that risk and decided maybe $1,100 was worth it to try and win seats. I feel sorry for the people of South Australia to have, unfortunately, a government returned which thinks it an appropriate use of the system to deceive the people for electoral advantage. It is a sad state of affairs and, in that case, I do not think the South Australian people got the government they deserved.

I would also like to speak about provisional voting. This is a cause for concern, given the track record in some parts of this country by one side of politics. We should be particularly concerned about those that turn up on election day and claim a vote. I am particularly fond, however, of the change made before the last election where someone who comes to a polling booth to seek a provisional vote is required to identify themselves. I think that is an appropriate thing. I have spoken to some people who have recently received citizenship and enrolled to vote. They put their drivers licence number on the form. In a very clear way they are required to prove their identity. Why shouldn’t that be the case when someone turns up to ask for a provisional vote? Why shouldn’t that be the case when they are not on the electoral roll but they seek a vote? They should be required to do the same as everyone else who is actually enrolled as a voter has done. The fact that someone should have to prove their identity at the time of casting their vote or of applying for their provisional vote or by the Friday following the election seems like an appropriate thing to do.

Sadly there has been a history of people who are not who they claim to be defrauding the system and claiming votes. One of the senators has put forward an amendment that there could even be a comparison of signatures to prove the identity of the person claiming the vote. What worries me is that, within courts of law, experts are required to identify handwriting to prove that a particular person wrote a particular document. Handwriting experts have to see pages and pages of writing to try to identify whether the person who is meant to have done the handwriting was actually the one who did it. Yet we are asking the Australian Electoral Commission officials to look at some signatures and decide whether it is exactly the same person. It seems a little bizarre. You could not call that a particularly reliable process if they do not have the skills, the background or the examples necessary to be able to say with absolute certainty that those signatures were from the same person. That is a point of concern. With regard to provisional voting on election day, I have said that I have some concerns. In the last election within the electorate of Cowan there were only some 300 provisional votes, but I think it is necessary for someone who claims a vote to meet the same identity requirements as someone who has appropriately enrolled on the electoral roll.

At the 2004 election, some of the people who worked on my polling booth in the suburb of Girraween within Cowan told me that they could have sworn that the same person had shown up about four times at the Blackmore Primary School in different shirts and seemed to go in and vote. Maybe it was because they had family members who chose not to vote on the day or they knew that other people were not going to vote on the day. But it is a cause for concern when you have these sorts of stories floating around. Couple that with the provisional voting issues, and I personally become in favour of everyone who turns up to a polling booth identifying themselves. I know that administratively that would be difficult and would slow the process down, but there have been cases where there would have been useful.

I will move on. I do not wish to take up too much more time of the House today on this matter. I have looked through the provisions within these bills. From the perspective of the coalition, we are pleased with certain aspects of the bills. But there are other aspects, some of which I have covered in general, that we have some concerns about. There will be amendments moved and other action taken regarding some of those matters.

I will conclude where I began by saying that Australia is a great democracy. The overwhelming majority of people respect that democracy. They enrol to vote and they give some careful consideration to how they are going to vote. They are part of the process. There have sadly been some occasions in this country’s history when certain elements—and I have described some today—have seen rorting the system as something to be proud of or a duty to their party. As I said, in Queensland and South Australia that has happened very recently. That is a sad state of affairs. I look upon the weakening of the Electoral Act that is provided for in some elements of these bills as a cause for great concern. We should be suspicious—and we on this side have the right to be suspicious—about the motives of those who seek to weaken the laws, given that they have been behind so many of these problems in the past. I thank the House.