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Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Page: 4042

Senator CAROL BROWN (4:51 PM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, I present the Advisory report on the Commonwealth Electoral (Above-the-Line Voting) Amendment Bill 2008 and the Report into the conduct of the 2007 federal election and matters related thereto. I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the reports.

Leave granted.

Senator CAROL BROWN —I move:

That the Senate take note of the reports.

The Commonwealth Electoral (Above-the-Line Voting) Amendment Bill 2008 was referred to the committee by the Senate on 14 May 2008 as a particular part of the committee’s inquiry into the 2007 election. The separate advisory report specifically addresses the proposals outlined in the bill. The committee has not made any recommendations in relation to the bill or in relation to several options to make below-the-line voting more accessible, believing that there should be further and continuing discussion of the various approaches.

The report on the conduct of the 2007 election and related matters includes 53 recommendations, many of which are designed to restore and protect the franchise for those entitled to exercise it and to modernise electoral processes. Key recommendations include restoring a range of longstanding provisions that provided electors with greater opportunities to maintain their eligibility, such as reinstating the previous seven-day close of rolls period to update enrolment, removing barriers preventing reinstatement to the electoral roll for declaration voters and removing the requirement for provisional voters to provide proof of identity at the time of voting.

In his dissenting report, Senator Bob Brown has noted the committee thoroughly investigated the conduct of the election and has developed sound recommendations on many issues. His proposal to include truth in advertising arrangements is one that could be examined further as part of the government’s broader electoral reform green paper process. Of the 53 recommendations, the four coalition members of the committee have disagreed with eight recommendations, most of which relate to reinstating longstanding arrangements that protect the franchise. The majority of the committee reject the view put forward by the coalition members that reinstating these provisions weakens integrity and somehow rewards complacency on the part of eligible electors.

The years leading up to the 2007 election saw the creation and perpetuation of the myth that electoral fraud in Australia is commonplace. Detailed examination by the AEC reveals that relatively few cases are found to be deliberate attempts to vote on multiple occasions and are referred to the AFP. Only 64 cases of apparent multiple voting were referred to the AFP arising from the 2004 election and only 10 cases were referred following the 2007 election. These figures do not warrant disenfranchising potentially hundreds of thousands of otherwise eligible voters. The integrity of the electoral roll is not watered down by these proposals. Existing checks and balances will continue to apply to those who seek to change their enrolment details or to enrol for the first time.

Further recommendations are made with a view to addressing falling electoral participation rates, made worse by overly prescriptive and burdensome provisions in the Commonwealth Electoral Act. These include recommendations to simplify the proof of identity requirements for enrolment and reinstate provisions allowing electors to notify changes to enrolment details in writing to the AEC; new provisions aimed at facilitating electronic submission of updates to enrolment information and postal vote applications; and moves to allow for information collected by trusted agencies to be used to update the electoral roll, where electors indicate their consent for this to occur. These changes will go some way to removing unnecessary and outdated bureaucratic practices that require electors to satisfy sometimes onerous and time-consuming processes to maintain their enrolment. Existing integrity measures to verify enrolment details would remain unchanged.

Changes to the formality rules made following the 1996 election to address Langer-style voting caused a significant rise in the number of ballot papers ruled informal. This report recommends returning to the previous safety net. This would also guard against the potential for ballot flooding. Too many genuine electors are being disenfranchised in order to address Langer-style voting, with the AEC estimating that up to 90,149 ballot papers would have been admitted at the 2007 election had the previous provisions applied.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank those who participated by making submissions or appearing at the public hearings. I would also like to thank the committee secretariat for their assistance. I commend the report to the Senate.