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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5501

Mr HAWKER (11:37 AM) —In speaking to these bills, 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, I would like to join with colleagues from the coalition in pointing out what seems to be some remarkable anomalies in the proposals. I think we should be very strongly opposing some of the measures proposed by the government.

I looked with amusement at some of the speeches made by members of the ALP on this matter. Their sanctimonious claims about not disenfranchising people sound so hollow when one knows the reality of it all. If you listen to the claims you would have to question why they even want to propose these changes. Nonetheless, we know from bitter experience that the simple fact is that when it comes to trying to practise fraud there are some—and I do not say all, but some—members of the ALP who are very accomplished at doing this. They worked out long ago how to ‘rig the ballot’, as it is put, whether it be at the local union elections or more recently when we saw what they did in the general election. Colleagues have given examples of individuals who have confessed that they have voted not more than once but in many cases many times more than once. They almost wear it as a badge of pride that as an ALP stalwart part of the job is to go out and ‘vote early and vote often’—the old saying that has been around for a long time, attributed to a former ALP member.

We can look at some of the evidence about what has happened that has caused major disruptions. I think of the Nunawading election for the upper house in Victoria some years ago. The then state secretary of the ALP was caught out rigging how-to-vote cards. As a consequence, there was a re-election. The whole ballot had to be re-held.

Mr Tanner —That was not the reason; it was a tie.

Mr HAWKER —There was a tied vote but there was also the fact that there had been some funny business going on.

Mr Tanner —It was the tied vote that caused the re-election.

Mr HAWKER —Funny business went on as well. There is no doubt that there are many other examples where this has occurred. It is little wonder that we see the ALP again trying to weaken the integrity of our electoral rolls knowing full well that they can get some political advantage out of it. There is no doubt that at all times most Australians would believe very strongly that we have to try to maintain a high degree of accuracy and integrity on our electoral rolls.

Looking closely at the close of roll changes proposed by the government, there is no doubt that this is a significant threat to the integrity of the roll. The previous arrangements that we had from the coalition government were designed specifically to protect the integrity of the roll. We had the close of the roll at 8 pm on the day that the writs for the election were issued. That was usually three or four days after the election was called. There was still an opportunity for those who had not enrolled to make sure they were enrolled in time to vote at the upcoming election. If we move to these extra seven days, there is no doubt that there will be a lot of extra enrolments. Equally, the Australian Electoral Commission officers are already frantically getting ready for the election and there is no way they can verify the enrolments by going through them all to check the addresses and that they are valid enrolments. In my view this is quite deliberately being proposed to allow this additional fraud to occur. As everyone would know, if people are aware that they do not have to enrol until after the election is called then of course it will discourage some from bothering to do it when they should have done it probably months beforehand. When people are aware that unless they get enrolled before the election the chances are they may not have that opportunity afterwards, then they will not only take that opportunity but more importantly the Electoral Commission can validate that enrolment so that we know that the integrity of the roll has been protected.

Under the old scheme, which Labor wants us to return to, more than half a million changes to enrolments or new enrolments were submitted to the Australian Electoral Commission in the seven-day period before the close of the rolls in the 2004 federal election. Furthermore, official AEC figures show that under the coalition’s rules, that is, when people had to enrol by 8 pm on the day of the writs, the number of people missing at the close of the rolls at that deadline in 2007 was just over 100,000 compared with 168,000 in 2004. In other words, because people knew they had to get enrolled beforehand we saw 40 per cent more effectiveness in getting people to enrol in time to be able to vote. It is also very important that we encourage people to enrol earlier so that they can be validated.

The second point I would like to come to is the production of identity for provisional voters. This is quite extraordinary. The previous government had a longstanding policy to try to prevent fraudulent voting by people impersonating other voters by requiring people to produce evidence of their true identity and their enrolled address either on polling day or in the week after polling day. That discouraged fraudulent voting by making sure that people were in fact who they claimed to be. Clearly, any weakening of the proof of identity measure is going to open up the opportunities for not only fraud but also multiple voting. As I mentioned earlier, we have people who have confessed that not only have they cast more than one vote but in fact they have cast many more than one vote.

Interestingly, with having to show proof of identity, the Australian Electoral Commission estimated that 75 per cent of provisional voters showed evidence of identity when they were actually voting. Of the nearly 34,000 provisional voters who failed to provide this identification on polling day, only one in five subsequently provided their proof of identity by the cut-off date—that is, the close of business on the Friday following the election. So it would seem open to reasonable assumption that quite a few of those 34,000 voters were not in fact the people they claimed they were. As has been pointed out by others, there are many opportunities for impersonating a voter. One of the most obvious ways is to look through the death notices in the lead-up to the election. The Australian Electoral Commission is far too busy in the pre-election period to check all those death notices and to cleanse the roll accordingly. So there is great scope for fraud.

This move by Labor to take away the proof of identity requirement opens up serious opportunities for fraud. One can assume that the government would only consider this worthwhile if it saw an electoral advantage in it. For that reason, it ought to be exposed that the government is trying to take an opportunity through fraudulent voting to gain an electoral advantage. That reflects very badly on the Australian Labor Party. Clearly, the coalition will be opposing this as, indeed, we will be opposing the other provision to extend the time for people to enrol.

At the current time, prepoll votes are treated as declaration votes and have to go through administrative checking. In the week following polling day there is obviously a lot of work and checking votes is a necessary administrative burden. The government seeks to treat these votes as ordinary votes. There will be a benefit in prepoll votes being counted on the night of the poll, which will give a more accurate result rather than having to wait.

The spreading of the processing of enrolments to other divisions is an administrative amendment which makes sense if there happens to be a very heavy AEC workload. One provision allows the AEC to spread the workload to neighbouring divisions. So, clearly, there is a good argument to say that should be supported. The coalition also supports the change of allowing individuals already on the roll to maintain their own records electronically as it can effectively cut out the double or triple handling of enrolment forms.

I have had examples in my electorate of blind or vision impaired people who claim they have been disenfranchised because of their vision impairment. Prior to the 2007 election, the coalition moved to give blind and vision impaired people the opportunity—for the first time in their lives for many of them—to cast a secret ballot. Labor discontinued this on the basis it was too expensive. This returned blind and vision impaired people back to the unhappy situation of having to cast a non-secret vote. The coalition supports this measure on the understanding it will be an interim arrangement ahead of further consultations which will be held with various community organisations.

Turning to the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (How-to-Vote Cards and Other Measures) Bill 2010, we have heard a problem arose in the 2010 South Australian election. Clearly, the South Australian Labor Party ran a scam. They had members handing out how-to-vote cards which appeared to be the official Family First how-to-vote cards. People were handing out the cards wearing a big T-shirt or jacket saying ‘Put your family first’. South Australians were quite rightly outraged when they discovered subsequently that this had been an ALP scam to try and force supporters of Family First to direct their preferences to the ALP second when Family First itself had directed them elsewhere. It shows again the tenor of what is behind some of the proposals in this bill that the Australian Labor Party sees this as an opportunity to gain an electoral advantage but not through what one might call legitimate means or honourable means. It is through totally dishonourable means of encouraging people to undertake fraudulent measures to get extra votes to advantage one side against the other.

This was not a one-off. It has been used in New South Wales and it has been used in Queensland. There were the infamous cases of Webster v Deahm in 1993 and Carroll v Electoral Commission of Queensland in 1998 which exposed this. In one way it is encouraging to see that after 17 years Labor is now admitting that the decisions in those cases were morally wrong, but there is always a catch. The bill would require people to put on top of the card, in prominent size, the name of the party and authoriser of how-to-vote cards or face a fine of $1,100. As others have already remarked, $1,100 for some people would not seem too high a price to pay to try and gain an electoral advantage. When one looks at the amount of money that, say, the trade union movement put into the last election—we are not talking the odd thousand dollars but millions and millions of dollars—a few fines of $1,100 would not seem to add much to the cost of their support for the Australian Labor Party.

So, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, I have grave fears that rather than discouraging this type of activity this will only allow it to continue for the more unscrupulous who will do anything to try to gain an electoral advantage. Clearly, this is something that is going to have very limited effect in terms of bringing some sort of control over people who go around pushing false how-to-vote cards.

On the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2010, the move towards a digital system of records management is certainly a good one. The move to change the evidence of identity rules for enrolments, removing the mandatory need for a witness to attest to the identity of a person and reducing the acceptable identity documentation to a smaller field of items, makes sense. We support the third measure allowing provisional enrolment at the age of 16, as opposed to the current age of 17. I think that all members are keen to encourage young people to become aware of the importance of their responsibility to enrol and to vote and if it means that we will get them keen to start their provisional enrolment a bit earlier there is no problem in that. Given that we have a three-year electoral cycle, for some people enrolling at the age of 16 will mean of course that by the time the election is called they will be eligible to vote. So again, I think this will not only encourage people to get involved but it will also spread the workload for the Australian Electoral Commission in terms of enrolling people, and so it certainly has some benefits.

The next measure, moving towards a more digital system of electoral roll management, distribution and use on polling day, clearly allows for a more flexible production of ballot papers and, with appropriate security, we would support that measure too. The standardising of mobile polling booth practices is a sensible outcome and we certainly support it. The sixth measure has two parts to it, one controversial and the other noncontroversial. The noncontroversial aspect includes the need for a witness in a request for a postal vote and allowing the signature date, as opposed to the postmark date, on the postal vote to be accepted. This makes it easier for single people to request a postal vote. The second point goes a long way to addressing the legitimate concerns that postal voters in rural areas have had particularly in some places where there are not everyday postal services.

However, there are two additional controversial aspects to this postal vote application. One is that postal vote applications could only be returned directly to the Australian Electoral Commission, and the other would be a prohibition on the attachment of extra material on a postal vote application form. There is no valid reason for the introduction of these measures and it is pretty obvious that the government will try and gain an advantage by doing this.

The other point concerns the provision for homeless voters. Clearly, this does create a few problems in terms of how someone can be enrolled who has no permanent address. But if you wish to do a habitation review of course you still run into the same problem. But having said that, the proposed amendment is an open invitation to abuse the integrity of the electoral roll because, once a person gets on the roll as an itinerant in a particular division, they will never leave the roll for that particular division irrespective of their true place of residence.

There are a couple of other measures but I will conclude where I started. It is still blatantly obvious that the reasons the government are bringing in these measures are because they do see an opportunity to gain an advantage at the next election and, sadly, the way they see of getting that advantage is to reduce the integrity of the roll to encourage the opportunities for fraudulent voting. For that reason, those parts of the bill that will move that way will be strongly opposed by the coalition.