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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 3808

Mrs GASH (Gilmore) (17:46): The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2012 allows the Electoral Commissioner to update the address details of an elector on the electoral roll if the commissioner is satisfied that the elector lives at the address. The bill does not propose to provide the capacity for the Electoral Commissioner to directly enrol electors who are not on the electoral roll.

The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012 provides the Electoral Commissioner with the capacity to directly enrol an eligible person who is not on the electoral roll if the commissioner is satisfied that the person is entitled to enrolment, has lived at an address for at least one month and is not enrolled. It also allows the Electoral Commissioner to enrol certain persons who have been removed from the electoral roll and admit their declaration votes. This bill will corrupt the integrity of the electoral roll, with electors potentially being put on the electoral roll without their knowledge, leading to a high number of potential irregularities.

This bill package gives the AEC the discretion to determine what are 'reliable and current data sources' where information about elector addresses can be obtained. The coalition believes this is far beyond the purview of the AEC and that only individual electors should supply details about their enrolment. Voting in Australian local, state and federal elections is one of the most paramount rights possessed by all Australian citizens. Like the member for Forrest, who witnessed the Cambodian elections, I witnessed the first ever democratic election in Iraq. I saw the joy of its residents in being able to vote freely, like the member for Forrest saw, with them putting their finger in the ink well denoting they had voted. This reinforces how precious our right to vote is here in Australia.

These bills take the responsibility for enrolment from citizens and give it to just another government department. It is almost as if the government wants to run our total lives. I remind the government that not all Australians are puppets—we do know how to do things. We know it is the constitutional responsibility of every Australian citizen of age to be on the electoral roll. This bill passes this constitutional onus from citizens to the bureaucracy. Whatever happened to personal responsibility? Electors should be in charge of enrolling and maintaining their address details when they change addresses. Only a nanny state would give itself the responsibility of doing it for them. This government is taking over control of people's lives. Surely Australians are capable of deciding to put their name on the roll. I guess this obsession with the nanny state is not surprising from, to quote Labor's 46th National Conference platform document:

The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party …

I am also worried about how reliable the AEC's data sources might be. Coalition members on the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters noted in July 2011 in their dissenting report:

The reliance on external data sources that have been collated and that are utilised for other purposes does not make them fit for use in forming the electoral roll.

A 1999 report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, Finance and Public Administration entitled Numbers on the run—Review of ANAO Report No.37 1998-99 on the management of tax file numbers found that there were 3.2 million more tax file numbers than people in Australia at the last census; there were 185,000 potential duplicate tax records for individuals; and 62 per cent of deceased clients were not recorded as deceased in a sample match. Similarly, ANAO audit report No.24 of 2004-05 on the integrity of Medicare enrolment data stated :

ANAO found that up to half a million active Medicare enrolment records were probably for people who are deceased.

Under our constitution, the integrity of our electoral roll is paramount to accountable, stable and democratic government and society. It is our constitutional responsibility to be on the electoral roll, to update our enrolment details when we change our address and to vote in every local, state and federal election. One of the things that make Australia great is our constitutional commitment to democracy in every element of our lives. This legislation takes your democratic rights away and gives your constitutional responsibilities to a faceless bureaucrat deep in the bowels of Canberra. Those opposite should hang their heads in shame.

This is a democratic country and we are able to make our own decisions, but in some cases we need more education. We have a large turnover of residents in Gilmore, being a coastal area, and as a local member I always advise those arriving to change their address and if they are new voters to enrol. Instead of just forcing automatic enrolment and government datamatching of Australians, why do those opposite not try actual education initiatives to let Australians know that they need to both enrol and keep their details up to date? An idea I have advocated for quite a while is the introduction of electoral education classes in high schools, facilitated by the AEC. As outlined in the 2010-11 portfolio budget statements, the AEC is funded for one primary outcome, and that is to:

Maintain an impartial and independent electoral system for eligible voters through active electoral roll management, efficient delivery of polling services and targeted education and public awareness programs.

So, arguably, our most impartial government department would have to be the Australian Electoral Commission. This is why the AEC would be the perfect provider to come into schools and teach high school students about our electoral system, their rights and responsibilities as citizens, and how to enrol early once they turn 17. The process would be simple: allow experts from the AEC to visit the local high schools in their region just once or twice a year to talk to students in years 10 to 12. In most high schools, it would be practical to hold a meeting of roughly an hour with an entire year group, with two or three representatives from the AEC briefly explaining how voting works, what every citizen's obligations are when it comes to voting and then allowing those 17- and 18-year-olds in their audience to enrol there and then at their school. This would not be a costly program to implement, with the distribution of electoral enrolment forms already in place in most high schools. If those opposite view enrolment levels as an issue then they need to look at educational options. The problem is lack of electoral education, and therein lies the solution.

I now turn to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters dissenting report and remind the House where it was stated that the coalition strongly disagrees with this bill. It is our belief that this bill is being introduced solely to improve the electoral prospects of both Labor and the Greens. It follows similar moves by the former Labor governments in New South Wales and Victoria prior to their last state elections.

Finally, it is important that the integrity of the electoral roll remains. It is imperative that the roll which is used to elect our parliamentarians is accurate and reliable, particularly in the wake of the 2010 federal election where no political party won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives and results in a number of individual electorates came down to only a few hundred votes. Where the responsibility for enrolling and updating individual electoral details is taken from the individual and given to the AEC, as this bill will do, the potential for errors to occur is significant. It also opens up the roll to fraud.

Essentially, individuals are put on the roll if the AEC believes they are eligible after consulting various data sources. Neither this bill nor the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 specifies what data sources are required for the AEC to consider what constitutes 'reliable'. There are also no restrictions on which data sources the AEC can use to enrol an elector. There is no provision specifying the standard of proof that the AEC needs to be able to enrol an elector. This bill leaves all these decisions to the AEC, and coalition members and senators believe this is far beyond their jurisdiction. As I said earlier in my comments, there are 3.2 million more tax file numbers than people in Australia. How can this government introduce something so sloppy and so undemocratic to do something that we, the Australian people, are proud to do in our own name?