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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6779

Mr MELHAM (8:50 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, I present the following reports, incorporating dissenting reports, of the committee, together with the minutes of the proceedings: Conduct of the 2007 federal election and matters related thereto and Advisory report on the Commonwealth Electoral (Above-the-Line Voting) Amendment Bill 2008.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Mr MELHAM —The Commonwealth Electoral (Above-the-Line Voting) Amendment Bill 2008 was referred to the committee by the Senate on 14 May 2008 as a particular part of the committee’s inquiry into the 2007 election. The separate advisory report specifically addresses the proposals outlined in the bill. The committee has not made any recommendations in relation to the bill or options to make below-the-line voting more accessible, believing that there should be further and continuing discussion of the various approaches.

The report on the Conduct of the 2007 federal election and matters related thereto includes 53 recommendations, many of which are designed to restore and protect the franchise to those entitled to exercise it and to modernise electoral processes. Key recommendations include restoring a range of longstanding provisions that provided electors with greater opportunities to maintain their eligibility, such as reinstating the previous seven days close of rolls period to update enrolment, removing barriers preventing reinstatement to the electoral roll for declaration voters and removing the requirement for provisional voters to provide proof of identity at the time of voting.

In his dissenting report, Senator Bob Brown noted that the committee thoroughly investigated the conduct of the election and developed sound recommendations on many issues. His proposal to include ‘truth in advertising’ arrangements is one that could be examined further as part of the government’s broader electoral reform green paper process. Of the 53 recommendations, four coalition members of the committee have disagreed with eight recommendations, most of which relate to reinstating longstanding arrangements that protected the franchise. The majority of the committee reject the view put forward by the coalition members that reinstating these provisions weakens integrity and somehow rewards complacency on the part of eligible electors.

The years leading up to the 2007 election saw the creation and perpetuation of the myth that electoral fraud in Australia is commonplace. A detailed examination by the Australian Electoral Commission revealed that relatively few cases are found to be deliberate attempts to vote on multiple occasions and are referred to the Australian Federal Police. Only 64 cases of apparent multiple voting were referred to the Australian Federal Police arising from the 2004 election, and only 10 cases were referred following the 2007 election. These figures do not warrant disenfranchising potentially hundreds of thousands of otherwise eligible electors. The integrity of the electoral roll is not watered down by these proposals. Existing checks and balances will continue to apply to those who seek to change their enrolment or who are enrolling for the first time.

Further recommendations are made with a view to addressing falling electoral participation rates, made worse by overly prescriptive and burdensome provisions in the Electoral Act. These include: recommendation to simplify the proof of identity requirements for enrolment; reinstate provisions allowing electors to notify changes to enrolment details in writing to the AEC; new provisions aimed at facilitating electronic submission of updates to enrolment information and postal vote applications; and moves to allow for information collected by trusted agencies to be used to update the electoral roll where electors indicate their consent for this to occur. These changes will go some way in removing unnecessary and outdated bureaucratic practices that require electors to satisfy sometimes onerous and time-consuming processes to maintain their enrolment. Existing integrity measures to verify enrolment details would remain unchanged.

Changes to formality rules made following the 1996 election to address ‘Langer style’ voting caused a significant rise in the number of ballot papers ruled informal. This report recommends returning to the previous safety net. This would also guard against the potential for ‘ballot flooding’. Too many genuine electors are being disenfranchised in order to address Langer style voting, with the AEC estimating that up to 90,149 ballot papers would have been admitted at the 2007 election had the previous provisions applied. In 1984 Australian citizenship became the qualification for enrolment and voting.

In separate supplementary remarks from me, as an individual member of the committee, I question whether the special grandfathering arrangements which continue to enfranchise some 163,000 British subjects on the electoral roll, who may not be Australian citizens, remain appropriate. I consider three significant events—the passage of the Australian acts in 1986, the High Court judgement in the Heather Hill case in 1999, and the removal of dual citizenship restrictions on Australians in 2002—provide sufficient reason to reconsider these arrangements. I propose that the grandfathering arrangements be removed to take effect by 26 January 2014, 30 years since citizenship became the necessary qualification, but that it be preceded by an education campaign designed to encourage enrolled British subjects to become Australian citizens. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow committee members for their contributions to the inquiry and those who participated by making submissions or appearing at the public hearings I would also like to thank the committee secretariat for their assistance. (Time expired)