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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 2884

Mr BRIGGS (10:47 AM) —I rise to speak on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Bill 2011 and follow the member for Canberra in doing so. I hate to disappoint the member opposite, but we will not be supporting the bill. We think it is a bad bill. We have thought it is a bad bill the couple of times it has been presented to the parliament, and that is because in 2006 the Howard government did the right thing and brought in provisions ensuring the integrity of the electoral roll—and that is ultimately the question that we are debating here. On this side of the House, the understanding is that you need to have an electoral roll that has the utmost integrity and that enfranchises as many people as it can but ensures there is no fraud. That is important because we are very fortunate to have the wonderful democracy that we do in Australia. We have arguably the best democracy in the world. We have free and open elections that are free from questions about corruption and legitimacy and that allow governments even in questionable circumstances like last year’s, where we had the situation of this parliament—a hung parliament. There has been no question put in relation to the legitimacy of the government.

Even in the great democracy of the United States we have seen presidential elections which have dragged on for weeks and months because of questions about their electoral system and their electoral rolls. And it is not just the events surrounding George W. Bush’s election; well back even to the famous John F. Kennedy election in the early sixties there were questions about Lyndon Johnson’s accession to the Senate. We do not suffer from those same problems because we have an electoral roll which is protected from question. It is held above accusations that it has been rorted in some way. The problem with lessening the protections in it is that you raise questions about the validity or integrity of the roll. It is interesting that at the 2010 election, of the provisional voters who voted in that fashion, 80 per cent of them provided evidence of their identity at the polling place on the election day and a following 16 per cent provided evidence of their identification in the required time frame afterwards. So we are talking about a very small percentage who did not meet those requirements. And I do not think the requirements as put by the members opposite are as onerous as they would like us to believe.

We of course need identification for various things in our society: to access government payments, to drive a car or to travel, you need a form of identification—and rightly so. And rightly so we also should for our electoral roll. I think there is a reasonable discussion, which we have had in this place previously, about the requirements for voter identification when enrolling and voting on election day. I think we should do everything we can to ensure the roll is protected in that way. So the bill is based on a premise from the Labor Party that the voters they are supposedly trying to enfranchise are more likely to vote for the Labor Party than they are for the Liberal Party, and that is what this is about. This is not about improving our election system or improving our electoral roll. This is some sort of political view that by opening this up and making it easier you have more opportunity for the Labor Party to get more votes than this side of the House.

This Saturday we have another election in Australia and I do not think there will be too many questions about the integrity of the result. I think it will be pretty clear—in fact, I think some betting agencies have already decided what the result will be, which does seem to be a little early. Again, it goes to the confidence that people have in our electoral system. At a time when we are talking about using the internet more often, the AEC is walking down the path—I think rightly—of looking at the way that people can enrol and keep their details updated. I am sure all members in this place would appreciate that the quicker we get updates the better it is for members of parliament, the better it is for people to have the most recent updates, particularly for young people who move around a bit. The easier we make it for people to keep the AEC updated with their movements the better.

Again, it has to be done in a fashion that does not question the integrity of the roll and does not raise the risk of an election being brought into question at some time. We have very good processes for dealing with questionable elections, but we do not face them very often. We do not face them to the point where a government’s or parliament’s legitimacy is questioned, because of the strength of our electoral system. This is something that we on this side of the House have had a commitment to for a very long time. As I said earlier, in 2006 we decided this was important because it added to the strength of commitment to ensuring the integrity of the roll.

I think members on the other side are ill advised to move down this path. This is a bad decision. It is a bad bill because it undoes good changes to a system which is working very well. We have seen that it is working very well from the field evidence. If we look at the results from provisional voting at the last election we can see it did not cause some great dislocation in people’s ability to cast a provisional vote, as the previous member said. There are circumstances where provisional votes are required, and that should continue. But it should continue with the added protection that is in the system today. Overturning this protection, based on what I think are very questionable motives, is something that we should not support.

On the side of the House, we do not support it. We have had a commitment to this issue and we continue to maintain that commitment. Personally I continue to maintain that commitment because there is no more important thing in our electoral system than the roll and making sure it is protected from questionable voting and questionable tactics. It must be above repudiation in all those ways, ensuring legitimacy for governments and for all of us who are elected to this place. That is why we stand for these protections. We stand for the protections that were put into this system in 2006. There is no great need for change. The Labor Party is taking an ideological position. This is an unfortunate bill and it should be opposed.