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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 2889

Mr NEVILLE (11:10 AM) —I am a great friend of the member for Banks, but that was a very florid presentation that was full of emotion and not much logic. He is trying to make us believe that somehow these poor migrant people who struggle with English have been deprived of their democratic rights. In asking for identification, the rules lay down that you bring in your drivers licence, a passport, a birth certificate, a citizenship certificate, a Medicare card for God’s sake and various bank credit cards. If you are fair dinkum, is that an onerous provision for any long-term Australian or migrant? It is not a greatly onerous provision. It is a sensible thing that happens everywhere.

If you want to open an account at the bank, you have to rack up 90 points, which is all tied up with your identification and your past business. If you want to travel by air, you have to be able to show one of those items to get on the plane. No longstanding Australian or migrant argues with that. If you want to undertake hire-purchase or credit arrangements, it is required. Young people wanting to go in a nightclub have to have some form of identification. Even video stores, the most fundamental of all things, require you to have some form of identification. But for the most important thing we probably do every three years—voting for the government of our country—we want to water it down a bit. I do not think that is good enough.

What is provisional voting when you boil it down to the essentials? If you have been left off the roll unfairly or unjustly or by some form of bureaucratic error, you can claim a vote. That is essentially what it is. When you rock up to the polling booth on election day and find your name is not on the roll and say, ‘There is no reason for me not being on the roll. I have been in my house for many years. I have been unwittingly removed from the roll,’ if you present some form of identification away you can go.

This Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Bill 2011 proposes to remove all of that identity stuff and replace it purely with a signature. I do not know about that. I am putting my hand up and declaring a degree of self-interest because for many years I had the toughest seat in Australia and I watched everything in the way of voting. The one thing that stood out to me as not being as well regulated as the rest of the electoral system was provisional voting. I will give you a few examples of that shortly.

The member for Banks made a big song and dance about how many people had been excluded from their democratic right. I question that. Let us look at the figures across Australia as provided by the AEC—and it is good that the minister is at the table; I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong. Eighty per cent of people did provide identification on election day at the polling booths, with another 16 per cent providing it by the following Friday. So 96 per cent of all people who applied for a provisional vote had no trouble in coming up with the goods. The four per cent that for whatever reason missed out—it might have been just bone laziness; it might have been that they were in bed with the flu; it might have been that they had gone off to a job somewhere, who knows what—in my electorate was less than the informal voting rate. So it is hardly a disenfranchisement of a large section of the Australian population.

Fiddling with the rolls and the processes around the rolls is really a direct attack on the fundamentals of democracy, though you can dress it up any way you like. I am not having a crack at my political opponents, the government, in this. I have a lot of respect for the members in the House at present including the Special Minister of State, who is at the table, and my good colleague from western Sydney. I have great respect for them. But, hey, listen fellas, in your party, even over recent years, there have been some wicked examples of fiddling with the rolls.

In the Queensland parliament, you have had to tip members out of the parliament. Not just members but senior cabinet ministers were tipped out of the parliament for prostituting the rolls in one form or another. In fact, one party official in Townsville went to jail over it. It is not a very savoury record. The new member for Brisbane, then member for Petrie, told me of the time where, after one of the elections, she went out and checked some of the addresses from which votes had been claimed in her electorate and found they were vacant blocks of land. So there are people out there who use the processes around the electoral rolls to rort the system. I think anything you put in place that makes it harder for that to happen is an enhancement of democracy. It is not a denial of basic democracy if 96 per cent of people did not have any trouble providing identification. More to the point, it was a deterrent to those who would sneak in, claim a vote, sneak out and say: ‘We’ve got a fifty-fifty chance of pulling this off. They’re not going to check them all that thoroughly.’

The Special Minister of State, in his second reading speech, said there was no reason that provisional votes should be treated any differently from other forms of postal and absentee voting. I query that on the ground that with the other ones, especially the pre-polls and the absentees, voters are marked against the roll whereas with provisional voting the poll officer has to accept the voter’s word that they have been left off the roll. There was a great case in Bundaberg where someone walked up to one of the polling booths and, let us say, used the name of ‘John Smith of Brown Street’. As luck would have it, the person standing behind him was the real John Smith of Brown Street, who said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, mate; that’s my name.’ That was a million to one chance but it actually happened that somebody using his name was the person in front of him in the polling booth. So it goes on; make no mistake about that. As I have said, 96 per cent did not seem to have any trouble with it.

I would like to take you to my electorate. Mine has been, as I said, a pretty tough electorate over the years. It is not so bad at present. In one election I was down to 69 votes, 64 on recount. I know what a close election is like, so I take a particular interest in postals, pre-polls, absentees, provisionals and the like. It used to amaze me that I would poll somewhere between 55 per cent and 60 per cent for pre-poll, absentees and so on but, when it came to the provisionals, suddenly the vote dropped down to about 33 to 37 per cent. Why would that be? If these people, as the minister at the table says, are of similar character, why is it that three of those subgroups voted decidedly one way and the fourth group, over which the scrutiny at that time was probably less rigorous, voted another way?

I have got some figures here. In 2004 the figures for absentee, postal and pre-poll votes were 55 per cent, 62 per cent and 56 per cent. When we go to 2001, the figures for absentee, postal and pre-poll votes were 51 per cent, 54 per cent and 54 per cent, but suddenly provisionals were 37 per cent. That was for two-party preferred; when you took them down to the raw votes it was ALP 46 per cent, coalition 26 per cent. It was totally out of character with the rest of the voting in the election and in the other sectional voting. In 1998 the figures for absentee, postal and pre-poll votes were 50.6 per cent, 53.5 per cent and 52.8 per cent but—oh surprise!—provisional votes were 38 per cent for two-party preferred. Take them down again to the raw voting and it was ALP 47 per cent, coalition 27 per cent. Why did the result of 60-40 all of a sudden go 66-33 the other way? You would just have to say that there was something rather suspicious about it.

I am sure people would proffer all sorts of different reasons for that, but this is the interesting thing: when the new rule was brought in in 2007—in other words, the rorters were put on notice that they were going to be asked to identify themselves at the polling booth—that made a profound difference. More so in 2010 than in 2007, because in 2007 the ones who had been doing this over the years were probably were not quite ready for it. Again, suddenly, where I would poll in that 55 to 60 per cent of most of the sectional votes my vote came up from the low 30s—two-party preferred—to 44. That is extraordinary. Why did that just suddenly happen in the 2007 election when it had not happened in the previous four or five elections?

When you come to 2010, where this new system was well entrenched, my vote went not just to 44 but up to 47. It was getting up towards where all the other sectional votes were. I will be very interested to see, if the House and the Senate approve this bill, whether that vote slips back again. If it does, I think that is a fair indication that there has been some rorting going on.

I repeat: it is not an onerous burden to identify yourself, and it takes place now—as I outlined before—in many walks of life. You would not put on a tantrum at an airport and say, ‘I don’t want to show you my drivers licence.’ You show them the drivers licence, you get your ticket and you get on board. But suddenly this most important thing—the thing that we all cherish on both sides of the House, the role of democracy—is watered down. ‘Yes,’ we say, ‘We will do it by way of signature.’ I suppose that will be better than having no provision at all, but when my scrutineers went in to scrutinise the prepolls I used to get them to take a list of returned mail addresses. The number of votes that were claimed—we do not know what their votes were—before the envelope was opened that were from addresses from which we had had mail returned regularly was interesting. There was a bit of a suspicion in my mind that there was some undercurrent of rorting in those provisional votes.

I would prefer to see the system that was brought in towards the end of the Howard government retained. The government’s plan may work, but not to the same extent. (Time expired)