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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3280

Mr MELHAM (Banks) (16:21): On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, I present the committee's report entitled Advisory report on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012, incorporating a dissenting report, together with the minutes of proceedings.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.

Mr MELHAM: by leave—Australian Electoral Commission figures indicate that there are 1.5 million eligible Australians not on the Commonwealth electoral roll. These are people who have failed to enrol or did not update their address details and have consequently been removed from the roll. Under the current arrangements, if they do not submit a form to the AEC, they will not be able to vote at the next federal election.

The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012 will provide the AEC with additional tools to improve roll completeness. The AEC will be able to directly enrol eligible people who are not currently enrolled based on data received from trusted third party sources.

Direct enrolment will provide a service to eligible electors and allow the AEC greater flexibility in its administration of the roll. Direct enrolment is not a panacea to declining enrolment rates, but together with other AEC activities for roll stimulation—such as targeted mail-outs, fieldwork and education programs—it will help enhance roll completeness and accuracy.

Increasing the number of eligible Australians on the roll will not compromise roll integrity.

The AEC recognises that not all data sources are suitable for direct enrolment. The third party sources that the AEC will use have been tried and tested in the existing CRU and objection processes. If we trust this data to disenfranchise Australians by removing them from the roll, then surely the AEC should also have the flexibility to use this data to enfranchise eligible electors.

The AEC will also perform further checks on the data to verify the identity, eligibility and address details before any action is taken to directly enrol someone.

In 2009-10, nearly 350,000 eligible electors were objected from the roll. Many thousands of people attended polling places at the last two federal elections and had to cast provisional rather than ordinary votes when their names could not be found on the roll. Prior to the 2007 federal election, the AEC had the discretion to reinstate around 50 per cent of these people to the roll and admit their votes to further scrutiny. However, the removal of this discretion combined with the evidence of identity requirements, also in effect at these elections, meant that fewer than 20 per cent of those provisional votes could be saved.

At the 2010 federal election, around 280,000 votes were rejected because these electors were incorrectly enrolled or not enrolled. Allowing the AEC the flexibility to reinstate these electors and to admit their provisional votes to scrutiny could have saved many of these wasted votes.

The proof of identity requirements were removed by the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Act 2011. Now, this bill seeks to remove the other unnecessary restriction that has led to the significant increase in rejected votes.

Schedule 2 of the bill provides for the reinstatement of some electors who were objected off the roll and for their provisional votes to be fully or partially admitted to the count. The bill seeks to reinstate the safety net, which was in place prior to the 2007 federal election, for those electors who have clearly demonstrated their intention to vote by attending a polling place and casting a provisional vote.

The bill, in combination with the maintaining address bill, aims to balance the effects of the objection process on the roll and enable the data collection systems, which are deemed strong enough to object an elector to be used to assist eligible electors to meet their electoral obligations.

On behalf of the committee, I thank the organisations and individuals who assisted the committee during the inquiry through submissions or participating at the roundtable discussion in Canberra. I also thank my colleagues on the committee for their work and contribution to this report, and the secretariat for their work on this inquiry.

I commend the report to the House.