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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3807

Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth) (17:37): There is nothing more important than maintaining the integrity of the electoral roll. All of us in this House are very aware of its importance and very aware that far too often people are excluded from voting when they should be able to vote and, regrettably, people vote when they are not entitled to vote.

I want to share with the House an experience I had when I was running for parliament in the 2004 election. I was standing in the shopping mall at Bondi Junction—interfering with people's commercial activities as we all do when we are running for parliament—and I met a young woman and urged her to vote for me. She said, 'I will be away on polling day.' I said, 'Well, madam, you could get a postal vote or you could vote pre-poll.' She said, 'Don't worry about that; I will get my girlfriend to vote for me.' I nearly fainted—I was absolutely appalled. I impressed on her the seriousness of the offence she and her girlfriend were contemplating committing and I said, 'You can't do that.' She said, 'Everybody does that.' I hope I persuaded her that everybody should not do that. I had a similar experience on three or four occasions over the course of that election campaign and it impressed on me that not everybody takes the integrity of the electoral roll as seriously as they should.

When I came to this place after the 2004 elections, I regret to say that I was unable to persuade the distinguished Prime Minister of the day, the Hon. John Howard, that one of the reforms we should make to the Electoral Act was to require people to produce proof of identity when they go to vote. This was regarded by others much wiser and more experienced than me—not least of whom the Prime Minister—as being a bridge too far. But I still hold to that view. I am open to being persuaded that I am wrong of course—I am open-minded about this.

The more rigour and integrity we can put into the electoral roll the better. It is a remarkable thing that in this country you need 100 points of ID to open a bank account—you need to produce ID to do practically anything nowadays and almost everybody has multiple sources of identification, even multiple sources of photo identification—but you can go and vote and change the government of the nation, indeed the destiny of the nation, without ever having to identify yourself.

The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 does not deal with the question of producing identification at the polling booth, but what it does do is allow the Electoral Commissioner to directly update an elector's enrolled address following the receipt of information about the address that elector is at—without any discussion with, consent from or engagement with the elector in person. We all say that we have compulsory voting in Australia. In fact, we do not have compulsory voting—

Mr Melham: It is attendance.

Mr TURNBULL: As the honourable member for Melbourne Ports interjects, it is attendance which is compulsory. But the idea that somebody can be enrolled at a particular address simply because the Electoral Commissioner has found their name, with that address, on some other database or some other accounting system is profoundly wrong. Electors should be enrolled at the address they provide. If it turns out that they are no longer at that address, the Electoral Commissioner should do his or her duty and chase them up. Then it is up to the elector to put themselves back on the roll. But the idea of people being automatically enrolled is only calculated to make the electoral roll even less reliable than it is today.

I am not going to speak for very long on this because my colleagues have spoken so well and comprehensively on it. But I will just make this one point in closing, because it is a point I did not hear made by my colleagues earlier in this debate: the most insidious thing this amendment does is undermine the sense of personal responsibility. I gave the example of the woman I met who said she was going to get a girlfriend to vote for her. She had, in my view—and I hope I persuaded her that she was mistaken—a quite inadequate, improper and indeed unlawful view of her responsibility as an elector. She thought she could delegate that to somebody else who could walk in there and impersonate her. Since ID is not called for, in all probability that sort of impersonation would generally be successful.

There is nothing more important that we all do as citizens than vote. All of us have the very important civic obligation of attending a polling place and, if we choose to—and of course almost everyone does—voting. Our engagement with the electoral office is a personal obligation; our engagement with our democracy is a personal obligation. The idea that you can be put on the roll at an address without any action by yourself undermines that sense of personal responsibility. It debases the electoral roll and it will make the electoral roll, which is, as of today, insufficiently reliable, potentially much less reliable in the future. The member for Tangney and other speakers on our side, as well as my colleagues in the dissenting report of the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters, have described all the defects of the various databases that can be accessed. There is no substitute for an elector taking his or her own responsibility for saying, 'This is where I live, and I know that if I make an untrue statement I am committing an offence.' The responsibility should be on the electors, on citizens—after all, this parliament, this democracy, belongs to them. Their engagement with the electoral process should involve a decision by them to put themselves on the roll or to correct and change their address when they move house. It should not be imposed on them by some computerised exercise of pulling their name and address out of a third-party database. For that reason we are opposing this legislation.