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Tuesday, 19 June 2001
Page: 27885

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (4:26 PM) —In this House when the opposition raises the issues of unemployment and consumer and foreign debt in this country, the government constantly comes back with the refrain that we are talking this country down. I ask: why should we change major institutions and processes in this country on the basis of this Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters report? I want to start with the comments on the public record by the chairman of that committee and the degree of evidence that he is adducing to try to change a system which pioneered the secret ballot in this country, which is one of the first countries in the world to give women the vote and which by 1922 had introduced compulsory voting and compulsory registration. I ask: why should these major processes be altered? What is the evidence for this? In the Adelaide Advertiser last Saturday, the chairman said:

One of the things that we discovered in evidence is the impression is being given that there are a few isolated incidents of electoral offences and it's not a very serious problem.

This chairman made a further comment on the Sunday program when interviewer Ross Coulthart put to him:

... After months of hearings, its chairman Chris Pyne admits the inquiry's uncovered no hard evidence that elections have been swung with fraudulent votes ...

He did not deny it. He did not argue with it. He did not badger the reporter. He replied:

But quite frankly, it's a very short hop skip and a jump ...

from a lack of evidence. What is the record that his inquiry were able to produce? They were able to produce AEC statistics that said that over a decade there had been 71 serious cases of electoral fraud in this country. There had been 71 cases in a period when 72 million votes were cast in five electoral processes. There was one case of serious electoral fraud for every 750,000 enrollees. This committee also had another very interesting statistic. It is slightly at variance with the AEC statistics. This figure is from the AFP. The AFP said that, from 1995 to 2001, 145 serious or complex cases were referred. Of those, 69 were judged worth while for investigation by the AFP.

So we start off with a figure of 445 that were raised. We are down to a mere 69 that the AFP even thought should get investigated, let alone were proven. Another figure produced by those opposite—and for the sake of argument we will believe they are telling the truth—is that, when they do a post-out, five to seven per cent of the letters come back. Five to seven per cent is the Liberal Party's figure of returned mail. Most people who have been in politics for a while understand that a significant part of the electorate is not interested in getting mail from MPs, regardless of their political situation. People who have been around a long time in this country understand that people actually move house. As early as five years ago, the average Australian moved 14 times in their life. The situation is that we have a larger and larger movement in this country for employment and other purposes; and we had the member for Parramatta telling everyone in Australia to move 100 kilometres if they could not get work in the town where they lived. That is typical of what is going on. The other reason why this figure of five to seven per cent is totally unreliable is the reality, which the AEC put forward, that many members are operating with very old rolls in their offices. So we have 69 cases over a very long period of time, in a country where last year there were 2.46 million electoral enrolments. In that context, this chairman is complaining that 69 people had cases referred to the AFP.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—The member for Sturt!

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON —What is this all about? This is not some miraculous thought that has come into their heads; this is a long process to basically reduce people's enrolment rights in this country, to discourage people, to make it difficult, to make sure that people do not cast votes. We recall that in the last parliament they had another angle: they essentially wanted to abolish compulsory voting. They thought that might reduce people's participation in society. By the time this particular inquiry started, we had a very proud announcement from the Liberal Party. The same Liberal Party which had fought in the last parliament to get rid of compulsory voting came forward in their submission and said, `We now support compulsory voting.' That was the situation they tried to engineer last time, and this is just simply a continuation of it. It is about one thing alone. We know the figures. We know the chairman's comments that there has been very little evidence produced by the committee. Despite that, they are pushing ahead with this process because they essentially want to make sure that people are inconvenienced, that they are chopped off the rolls when these Liberal Party letters go out to their houses and there is returned mail. They want the AEC to chop them off the roll, to make it difficult for them to come back on and to make sure that people are pushed out of the system.

I was interested yesterday when the chairman had the audacity, the temerity, to start talking about the situation in Florida. I will quote a source far more reputable than the chairman of this committee: I will quote the Washington Post about the reality of what happened in Florida. You all know that there has been a lot of debate about the electoral machines there, about the way people crossed ballot papers and whether pieces of paper were valid ballot papers. But the real story of Florida is the vision of this chairman; it is what he is about. In December last year, in commenting about Florida, the Washington Post said this:

... as scrutiny of Florida's deeply flawed electoral process intensifies, the focus is broadening, moving beyond the fate of votes counted (or miscounted or mislaid) to the fate of votes that were never cast. Black and other minority citizens on whom the Democrats were counting faced unusual obstacles in exercising their democratic rights.

Florida's Republican secretary of state, Katherine Harris, backed by Mr Bush's brother, Florida's governor, Jeb Bush, launched a systematic purge of the electoral rolls earlier this year. The result was the exclusion of unknown thousands of voters on the erroneous grounds that they were convicted felons; because they had allegedly not voted in previous elections; because they had moved home; or because officials were told to impose stringent polling-day identity checks, while lacking the time to conduct them properly.

This is what this process is about: it is about going down the American road of disenfranchising large parts of the electorate—those people that they think are less likely to vote for them. We all know that surveys in every Western democratic country have shown an inclination of people on higher incomes, people with tertiary education, people who own their houses, to vote for conservative politics. This is about making sure that people in minority groups, people who rent properties, people with lower educational accomplishments, are pushed out of the system.

Finally I turn to the self-righteous, sanctimonious performance of the chairman today when he started adducing all guilt, all blame, about electoral mispractice in this country to the Labor Party. In today's Courier-Mail what is the headline? `Liberals ban voting by overseas ring-ins'. What a concession the Queensland Liberal Party is making: they are not going to let people overseas vote in their electorates any longer! I quote further:

The Queensland Liberal Party has banned foreigners voting in preselections. But new State President John Herron—

he is the new broom, the new look, the younger look—

could not rule out further branch-stacking under the party's revamped constitution.

If the chairman over there wants to start talking about malpractice in this country, we find that half of Echuca in Victoria has moved to Unley in a faction fight with him. We all know that Eoin Cameron constantly told this House about the manipulations of Crichton-Browne. We all know of the efforts at the University of Tasmania to get rid of Senator Watson. We all know that, at the University of New South Wales, people, for a few free beers, were asked to join and vote against Andrew Thomson. That is the reality around this country of malpractice. And today, the very day that they say that they will not let people in Taiwan and Hong Kong vote in their preselection ballots, he has got the audacity to come here and accuse the Labor Party of electoral malpractice.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The discussion has concluded.