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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 2650

Mr MELHAM (Banks) (16:30): 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 (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011, 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—On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, I present the committee's advisory report on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011. There are 1.5 million eligible Australians missing from the Commonwealth electoral roll. The Australian Electoral Commission estimates that 600,000 of those 1.5 million eligible electors had previously been on the roll. Many of the 600,000 were removed from the roll when they moved house and failed to update their details with the AEC. This bill will help reduce the number of people removed from the roll. The AEC will have the power to directly update the address details of people who are already on the roll.

In Australia, enrolment and voting is both a right and an obligation. All Australians should take responsibility to meet their enrolment obligations in order to ensure they can participate in selecting their representatives. The methods to enrol and update enrolment details are not onerous. However, some electors neglect to update their details unless they are motivated by an impending electoral event, while others believe that the Commonwealth roll will reflect state enrolment or change of address details that have been supplied to another government agency.

Currently a change to address details must be elector initiated. When the AEC receives information about a change of residential address, it writes to the person instructing them to update their details, but it cannot take the next logical step and update the details. Worse still, if the person fails to respond, the AEC is obliged to remove them from the roll on the basis that they are no longer entitled to be enrolled at the previous address.

The AEC's Continuous Roll Update process is limited because it can only use the third-party data received to encourage the elector to update their details; it cannot do it for them. However, if the person does not respond, the same data can be used to remove them from the roll. It is a fundamental inconsistency that this data can be used to remove eligible electors from the roll but not keep them on the roll.

The state of the roll necessitates the introduction of direct address updates as a matter of urgency. It will provide the AEC with greater flexibility to help counter the trend in declining enrolment over the last decade. It is appropriate for the AEC to have this power and to determine the agencies from which it will receive data. The AEC will continue to use data from Centrelink, roads and traffic authorities and Australia Post, which has been tried and tested in the CRU and objection processes.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow committee members for their contribution to the inquiry. I also thank the groups and individuals who participated by making submissions or appearing at the public hearings. I also thank the committee secretariat for their assistance. I commend the report to the House.