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Wednesday, 8 August 2001
Page: 29521

Mr SLIPPER (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance and Administration) (11:08 AM) —in reply—I have been asked by the Parliamentary Liaison Officer to make a more substantial contribution than I had planned to on the Finance and Administration Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Bill (No. 1) 2001, owing to the business of the Main Committee. The speech which I had made was my usual brief contribution.

Mr Cadman —Talk about the rorts in Queensland.

Mr SLIPPER —There are plenty of rorts in Queensland, but I do want to stick broadly to the matters contained in the bill. The ALP ought to be ashamed of the rorts which we have seen in that state. It is regrettable, because it is important we have integrity in the electoral system and the federal—

Mr Sercombe —Do you want it to go back to the main House?

Mr SLIPPER —No. I am just saying that the federal government are very keen to make sure we have integrity. This bill, as the member for Maribyrnong would be well aware, relates to amendments to offence provisions in the various legislation under the Finance and Administration portfolio to ensure compliance and consistency with the Criminal Code.

This type of legislation is being enacted across a wide range of portfolios as the Criminal Code becomes part of the law of Australia. It is very important that portfolios comply with the Criminal Code, which evolved following a very long consultative process. The bill that is before the chamber amends the existing offence provisions under the various acts to ensure that they operate in the same manner when the Criminal Code applies from 15 December this year. This is particularly important in relation to offences that currently operate as offences of strict liability.

Honourable members would be well aware that the bill also amends Commonwealth superannuation acts to impose the lighter evidential burden of proof on a defendant in relation to a particular offence and expressly states time limits to satisfy requirements under offence provisions in the act. A lot of people say, `We've got this legislation going through the parliament across a range of portfolios.' Then they ask the question, `Do these amendments impose any new criminal offences under any of the clauses contained in the bills?' I want to assure the Australian community that the proposed amendments will not impose any new criminal offences under any of the clauses contained in the bill.

The bill will also update maximum penalties in the superannuation acts to be appropriate and consistent with the Crimes Act 1914. In relation to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984, the bill will repeal specific offences that are now covered by the general offence provisions of the Criminal Code, replace words and phrases in certain offences which are inconsistent with the language employed by the Criminal Code, and restructure certain offence provisions to ensure that their operation remains unchanged after the application of the Criminal Code on 15 December this year. The amendments will result in a consequential change to the penalty level of four offences currently contained in the referendum act. These changes are explained in the supplementary explanatory memorandum to the bill, which I intend to table.

The government is very keen that there ought to be integrity of the electoral system. Over the period that we have been in office we have made a very substantial number of changes towards achieving a position, as far as the federal electoral roll is concerned, so that, when the people of Australia cast their vote on polling day, the result, as declared, represents the collective will of the Australian people. There has been much discussion in the community about a sense of alienation from the political process—how some people feel disempowered. When we have a situation where electoral rorts in some parts of the country have been highlighted, that tends to magnify concerns in the community about integrity of the electoral system. We have on a number of occasions sought to bring about increased integrity measures, which have been opposed, regrettably, by members of the Australian Labor Party.

I find it difficult to understand why the Australian Labor Party does not always support the integrity measures because, in a liberal democracy—and we are very privileged to live in Australia, which is the sixth oldest democracy in the world, with freedom, stability and a way of life that are the envy of people throughout the globe—every player in the political system, every major political entity, indeed every independent, has a vested interest in ensuring that we preserve and enhance our democratic system. We, of course, are prepared to stand up and be counted. I would like to call on the Australian Labor Party to do likewise.

I believe very strongly that, before people are put on the electoral roll, they should prove that they exist. You need 100 credit points to open a Commonwealth Bank account. Surely being put on the Commonwealth electoral roll is at least as important as opening a bank account. Unfortunately, today people are able to fill in any number of enrolment cards, post them to the Australian Electoral Commission in the envelopes provided and, subject to a few checks and balances, usually those people—or nom de plumes in some cases—are automatically put on the electoral roll. Therefore, as far as our electoral roll is concerned, that means that we currently have an honour system. I urge the community, the parliament, the government and the opposition to move to a situation where people are required to prove that they exist, that they are real people, before they are put on the electoral roll. Once they have been put on the electoral roll, I would like to see people provide identification before they are given a ballot paper.

It all comes back to the key element in which all of us have a vested interest—that is, ensuring the integrity of the electoral system. We only have to turn on our television sets at night to appreciate that people in many other parts of the world do not have the democratic freedoms and traditions that we have in Australia. All of us have to be constantly alert to ensure that whenever we can improve the integrity of the electoral roll we move decisively in that direction.

With respect to the Criminal Code, there has been a debate as to whether we ought to have a model criminal code and why on earth do we not continue as we have in the 100 years of federation through to the year 2001, the centenary of Australia's Federation. Certainly, the criminal law has served the interests of the Commonwealth and the Australian people, but it is always important to look to see how, when and where we are able to make improvements. Even if a system of criminal law has worked relatively well for a period of 100 years, as members of parliament elected to represent the Australian people it is important for us to look forward to see whether we can improve on a system which has operated very successfully in Australia. That is one of the reasons why this government—I suspect it was a bipartisan move—has moved towards supporting the principle of this Criminal Code. Much of the legislation we have seen in recent times in the chamber has related to harmonising matters to ensure compliance and consistency with the Criminal Code.

As I said at the commencement of my contribution, the Finance and Administration Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Bill (No. 1) 2001 makes certain amendments to offence provisions in the various legislation under the Finance and Administration portfolio to ensure compliance and consistency with the Criminal Code. I am pleased that in this matter we have received the support of the honourable members opposite—and indeed that the opposition will be putting aside the negativity which we see so often with respect to so many bills—for this very important reform which is being proposed by the government.

The codification of criminal offences will represent a very significant improvement to the existing Commonwealth criminal law. It will provide greater consistency and clarity of legislative provisions relating to criminal offences in Australia. The parliamentary liaison officer has asked me to extend this debate for a period of 10 minutes. I have now done so. I thank those who have contributed to this debate. I urge the chamber to support the passage of this very important legislation.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.