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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 10297


Senator McGRATH (Queensland) (15:58): On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, I present the report of the committee on the conduct of the 2016 federal election and matters related thereto. I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

For candidates, political parties and the voting public, elections are a contest of ideas of values and of the future we want to see in Australia. The role of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in assessing elections is part of reassuring parliament and the public that they may have faith in the conduct of elections. Above all, fair and free democratic elections symbolise the liberties we enjoy as Australian citizens and the freedom of all of us in determining the government of Australia. These are liberties which generations of men and women have fought to protect, and they should not be taken for granted.

It is a regrettable omission that there is currently no requirement for voters to produce identification to vote in federal elections. Many democracies around the world, including India and Canada, require voters to show ID. Every surf or bowls club in Australia requires a person to show ID to enter. And yet in Australia we do not treat elections with the same gravitas as a visit to the surf club or entering a Brisbane pub after 10 pm on a Friday night.

Rectifying this considerable lapse in legislation is a key recommendation of the committee's government members and one that should be implemented properly. This is especially important in light of the current mistrust of politicians and the democratic process by the voting public, both domestically and abroad. As such, the recommendations of this committee have been made in a way that maintains and, where possible, enhances the integrity of the Commonwealth electoral system.

As trust in politicians and the democratic process starts to deteriorate and political views fragment, it is vital that the importance of political parties in halting this decline not be understated. There is no comparable avenue open to all Australian citizens which allows for direct participation in formulating policy than voting for or running as political candidates and thereby having a direct influence on Australia's political system.

Disappointingly, a narrative has evolved where political parties and Australians who are involved in political parties are 'bad', whereas other political participants are 'good', due to their antiparty virtue signalling. This is both wrong and dangerous. There is no higher cause within civil society than for citizens to be engaged in, to support and to join a party of the like-minded. Any party which contests elections in order to win and implement their beliefs in government should be commended and encouraged. It is sad that we have allowed such idealism to be tainted.

Over the course of this inquiry, the committee has enhanced its oversight role in relation to the AEC, not because of particular concerns about its performance—a number of this report's recommendations are about better resourcing the AEC—but because electoral management bodies are an essential part of our democracy. They ensure the system integrity that underpins our democracy.

The report concludes with an assessment of cyberinterference in elections. While there is no suggestion that this occurred significantly during the 2016 election, an election is the right prism through which to view the issues which have risen both in Britain and the United States in recent years. The excellent submissions and evidence given by the many hundreds of witnesses that appeared before the committee for this inquiry should be noted. However, the committee considers that GetUp! provided misleading information to the committee in the course of its inquiry, and that the provision of false and misleading information substantially obstructed the committee in the performance of its functions in relation to the inquiry. Government members of the committee believe that these are very serious matters, because the pattern of deliberate misleading and obstruction substantially interfered with the committee in undertaking and completing its work on the inquiry. I'd also like to note my personal frustration with this issue. No member of this or any committee should feel they are being misled by an organisation or an individual. However, I believe that applies doubly when referring to GetUp!, an organisation that continually advocates for transparency and honesty as part of its mission statement.

I would like to acknowledge the years of work that the previous committee chair, Senator the Hon. Linda Reynolds, put into making the report of the conduct of the 2016 federal election the substantive and authoritative document that it is today. I would also like to thank the deputy chair, Mr Andrew Giles MP, other committee members and participating members for their continued engagement and genuine commitment. On behalf of the committee, I give our most sincere thanks to the committee secretariat for their hard work, professionalism and engagement with both the committee and the subject matter. It is shown in the quality of this report.

Finally, thank you to all those who voted, stood for election, volunteered or worked on campaigns back in 2016. Elections matter because of you. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.