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Thursday, 21 June 2001
Page: 28413

Mr MELHAM (1:05 PM) —Australians pride themselves on their democratic rights and traditions. In a democratic society, the fundamental responsibility and privilege of its citizens is the right to exercise their vote. Australians watched the American civil rights movement of the 1960s in which young men and women were killed for trying to encourage the disenfranchised to register to vote. Despite the 15th Amendment and the 19th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, which had enfranchised black men and women, southern voter registration boards used poll taxes, literacy tests and other bureaucratic impediments to deny African-Americans their legal rights. The US Voting Rights Act of 1965 stopped the practice in various counties of impeding the registration to vote. It expanded voting rights for non-English-speaking Americans. Lyndon Johnson was right when, on 6 August 1965, in Washington DC, he stated:

The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.

Yet this country could be doomed to repeat the travesty of the sixties if recommendation No. 4 of the Pyne report is implemented. We have local examples of this sort of thing, but this committee report is trying, in effect, not to learn from but to repeat the mistakes of history.

Let there be no mistake, that recommendation is aimed deliberately at disenfranchising specific groups in our community. It is using a sledgehammer approach to crack a walnut. The sixth recommendation in the Pyne report is also a shocker. What does it do? It tries to repeat the mistakes of Australian history. In 1983, the Fraser government, of which the current Prime Minister was a cabinet member, used the dirty, sleazy trick of closing the electoral roll on the day the election was called and the writs were issued. What did that do? It disenfranchised people. At that time, on 9 November 1983, Mr Griffiths said in the House:

In the leadup to the last election we had the spectacle of Mr Fraser closing the rolls within 24 hours of issuing the election writs, thus disfranchising in the vicinity of 300,000 people. They all may not have wished to exercise their right to vote. But it is indisputable that the closing the rolls within 24 hours effectively precluded those people who were eligible to vote but who were not enrolled from exercising their democratic right to vote. We have brought in what I call the Fraser amendment, to that part of the Act where provision is made for the electoral rolls to be closed seven days after the issue of election writs. Never again will we have that shameful, disgraceful situation in which, by the use of a cynical power that Mr Fraser had, those people were precluded from exercising their right to vote. If one looks at the pattern of voting within the younger age groups one can see quite easily why Mr Fraser would not have wanted them to vote.

The Klugman report was an excellent report. It was about facilitating people's rights to vote. It was about recognising that illiterate people in the community and indigenous people had trouble voting.

In the six years I was on the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, from 1990 to1996, we brought in special provisions for the farming community so that they could be on the list of permanent postal voters, in terms of distance. It was all about facilitating the vote. What we have here is the government so paranoid that they do not have these groups trying to knock people off. The arguments they use over time were never sustainable. The recommendations do not come from recommendations of the independent Electoral Commission; they come from politicians. I do not want us to be viewed with the same ridicule and cynicism as the most recent federal election for the President of the United States was viewed. That is what the Pyne report does. It is a cynical, sleazy, grubby report. (Time expired)