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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3721

Mr BRIGGS (Mayo) (11:32): It is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the member for Longman and his outstanding contribution to this debate on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the Electoral and Refendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012. I congratulate him on it. As a young person in this parliament—the youngest ever elected to federal parliament—he knows that the Labor Party's false and misleading campaign that these bills are about ensuring more young people are enrolled to vote is more about the Labor Party seeking electoral benefit rather than any detailed evidence to the contrary. It really sums up why these bills are so hideous and should be opposed by this House and by the Senate. These are bad bills and they should be opposed absolutely.

We have said this time and time again, and I note the work of the member for Mackellar, the shadow spokesperson for this, and in particular Senator Scott Ryan, who has done outstanding work exposing the flaws in this legislation brought again before this parliament. The Labor Party, and their coalition partner the Greens, see this legislation as a way to obtain some sort of electoral benefit by reducing the integrity of the electoral roll, which is one of the most important and fundamental elements of our democracy.

We have seen this with state Labor governments in New South Wales and Victoria. The member for Casey, a Victorian, knows about this and saw it in operation. It should be noted that no matter how much they fiddle with the electoral laws, nothing will save a bad Labor government from facing the appropriate treatment by the electors. Might I add, that nothing will save Anna Bligh's government this weekend, and nor should it, when the electorate gets to speak about its performance.

This is purely and simply about weakening the integrity of the roll, significantly decreasing privacy for individual electors and removing virtually all individual responsibility for electors to take care of their own enrolment. I am enjoying very much Karl Rove's book, and I enjoyed particularly the section where he recounted details of the 2000 US election, which is a very famous election where the result in Florida became absolutely vital to the result of that election. The Democrats in the United States took significant and sustained legal action questioning the integrity of the voting system. They did that because—and much as I admire the United States for their democratic principles and their commitment to freedom and their world leadership in that matter—the integrity of their electoral roll is not one of their high points. What that led to was—in this election for the presidency, the greatest prize in US politics, the leader of the free world—a month of uncertainty as the Democratic party and its candidate, Al Gore, questioned the result in Florida, which was extremely close. They took it through all the court systems that they possibly could, and the matter was not resolved until late December 2000, a month or so after the initial election had actually taken place.

Of course, there was nothing wrong with the Democrats doing that; it was completely within the US law and their system. However, it showed that when you reduce the integrity of your roll, you open it up to genuine question. This bill does that. This bill hands unelected bureaucrats the power to remove electors or change the enrolment of electors on a whim, using data sources which they describe as reliable. This is this parliament handing over to a bunch of bureaucrats the opportunity for them to change an individual's electoral information. We should be very careful if we take this step because this goes very much to the integrity of our roll. Each of us in this place relies very much on knowing that when we go into an election campaign that, in large part, the electoral roll reflects our communities, reflects who lives there and so forth. Sadly, there are always people who do not take responsibility for themselves and do not inform the Electoral Commission of their movements. There are people who forget and there can be other circumstances where people do not immediately inform the Electoral Commission, but they get time. It is not as if people are unaware of their obligations—they get told. If people are not aware of their obligations, we should certainly be educating them better.

But what we should not be doing is taking out of their hands the responsibility to ensure their personal information on the electoral roll is up to date. It is their responsibility to do that so they can participate in deciding who will govern their country, who will govern their state and who will sit on their council. This bill will reduce the ability of people to look after that responsibility themselves. It hands to unelected bureaucrats—people who are not responsible to this parliament and not responsible to the electorate—the ability to play around, within their own guidelines, with people's electoral information.

As the member for Longman pointed out, this legislation raises all sorts of questions about people with temporary addresses or residences. As we know, there are increasing numbers of people working in fly-in fly-out industries—in the mining industry, in particular—in places like Queensland. Even in my home state, with the developments at Olympic Dam, we are seeing increasing numbers of fly-in fly-out workers. Some of these workers take the opportunity to spend their weekends back at home in Adelaide and its surrounds, flying to mine sites across the state—even across the country—to earn their money during the week. In fact, the husband of one of my staff is an engineer at a goldmine. He flies in and flies out each week. The question arises: if the Electoral Commission decides, for whatever reason, that he is no longer a permanent resident at his home address—that he is now a permanent resident at the mine site—should it change his electorate?

Mr Crean: He would not be able to vote you out.

Mr BRIGGS: The minister is right—he would not be able to. And Mayo, as you know, is a tight marginal seat.

Mr Crean interjecting

Mr Perrett interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: What he does with his vote is his decision. We are not like the Labor Party—we do not force people to follow the ticket. We do not ask for ballots to be shown. We just let people get on and make their own decisions based on the policies put before the electorate. I am very happy for the people of Mayo to make their judgments based on what I do and put to them before the next election. I think the minister at the table knows that. I think he is just being a little frivolous, which is disappointing because he is not a minister I ever thought would be frivolous in this place.

But this legislation is not frivolous. These bills are very serious. They are a very serious attack on the fundamentals of our democracy and on the integrity of the electoral roll and they are designed purely for the political benefit of the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens, their coalition partner. They see the opportunity to drag in votes which they think are rightfully theirs. They base their judgment on data which suggests that people who are not enrolled would be more likely to vote for the Labor Party or, at worst, the Australian Greens, from whom the Labor Party know they will get the preferences in the end.

So they are creating law to make it easier for bureaucrats to make decisions about electoral enrolment rather than ensuring that electors make those decisions. We should oppose this. These are bad bills and this is a bad direction for our country to go in. We have a tremendously successful electoral system. We are very lucky that our elections are largely free of corruption. There have been very few examples of serious matters being taken to the Court of Disputed Returns. That is something we should be very proud of. Generally we know that the winner announced on election night—there are exceptions of course and the last federal election was one of those—will indeed turn out to be the winner. In fact, following the 2007 election, I remember an American friend commenting to me that he was always taken aback at how simply a change of government occurs in Australia—how people accept the result, the verdict of the electorate, and move on. The new government come in and make their decisions—sadly, this one has made some very bad decisions and we are suffering from that now—and we accept the fact of democracy and that we put our fate in the hands of the voters. But we do so on the basis that we completely trust the integrity of the electoral roll.

Mr Perrett interjecting

Mr BRIGGS: Let me tell you, Member for Moreton, that I will trust the voters of Queensland this Saturday. I reckon they will get it right, as Bob Hawke once said.

We need to guard against moves which will weaken the integrity of the electoral roll, especially moves based on spurious reasons which, at their heart, are more about political benefit for one side or another. That is why these bills should be opposed. They should be opposed by this House and, if they get to the next house, they should be opposed there as well.