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Wednesday, 9 February 2022
Page: 157


Senator DUNIAM (TasmaniaAssistant Minister for Forestry and Fisheries and Assistant Minister for Industry Development) (16:20): I table the explanatory memoranda relating to the bills and move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

ELECTORAL LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (FOREIGN INFLUENCES AND OFFENCES) BILL 2022

Today I introduce the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Foreign Influences and Offences) Bill 2022.

The Bill amends the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act) and the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 (Referendum Act) to strengthen the integrity of Australia's electoral communication framework and reduce the risk of foreign influence on Australian elections.

Foreign Electoral Communicat ion and Expenditure

This Bill amends the Electoral Act to prohibit foreign individuals and entities, known in the Bill as 'foreign campaigners', from authorising the communication of electoral matter. This amendment will support the integrity of Australian electoral processes by ensuring that only those with a legitimate connection to Australia are able to authorise electoral communications.

This builds on past reforms that established prohibitions on the receipt of foreign donations, including the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Act 2018, and the more recent Electoral Legislation Amendment (Annual Disclosure Equality) Act 2021.

The Bill will prohibit foreign campaigners from incurring electoral expenditure of $1,000 or more in a financial year, or fundraising for that purpose, to ensure that foreign actors cannot fund electoral campaigns using an Australian notifying entity.

The Bill also ensures existing bans on fundraising for the purpose of incurring electoral expenditure for unregistered entities that are required to register with the AEC are applied consistently.

These amendments effectively address a potential 'loophole' where foreign donors may be able to circumvent the existing restrictions within the Electoral Act by conducting and funding electoral campaigns directly.

The amendments prohibiting foreign campaigners utilise the existing definition of 'foreign donor', making these amendments simple to apply.

These amendments are necessary to support the integrity of Australia's electoral system by ensuring that foreign influence through electoral campaigns is kept out of Australian elections.

Increasing maximum penalty for misleading voters in relation to the casting of their vote

Currently, the penalty for contravening section 329 of the Electoral Act—misleading or deceiving an elector in relation to the casting of their vote—does not reflect the potential seriousness and scale of such an offence in contemporary digital and telecommunication environments.

This Bill will uplift the maximum sentence of imprisonment for contravening this provision to 3 years or 100 penalty units for a natural person and 500 penalty units for a body corporate.

This uplift will be a greater deterrent for persons seeking to mislead, deceive or otherwise interfere with an elector's free exercise of their vote.

The Bill also increases the penalty in the equivalent provision in the Referendum Act.

Conclusion

Threats of foreign influence in federal elections risk the erosion of public confidence in the electoral process.

The Bill's prohibition on foreign persons from authorising electoral matter, or fundraising or directly incurring electoral expenditure, will minimise the risk of foreign influence in Australian democracy, and demonstrates the Government's ongoing commitment to improving the robustness and integrity of Australia's electoral processes.

I commend this Bill.

ELECTORAL LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (AUTHORISATIONS) BILL 2022

Today I introduce the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Authorisations) Bill 2022.

This Bill makes minor and technical amendments to the notifying requirements in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act) for the authorisation of electoral communications.

These amendments will make the information provided in authorisations more useful to voters by requiring registered political parties and disclosure entities to use their current registered name in authorisations for electoral communications.

Currently, parties are required to use their name as included on their most recent return lodged with the Australian Electoral Commission under Part XX of the Electoral Act. This amendment will reduce the potential for voter confusion by ensuring that the name a registered political party is required to use in the notifying particulars for electoral communications is the same as the party's name as it appears on the ballot paper.

Similarly, the amendments will require disclosure entities that are not registered political parties to use their name as most recently entered on the Transparency Register, rather than their most recent return under Part XX of the Electoral Act.

The Bill also provides some limited flexibility for registered political parties in how they present their names in authorisations. This streamlines these requirements, and avoids unnecessary duplication, without detracting from clear communication with voters.

For example, political parties who have the word "incorporated" in their registered name would be able to omit this word.

Similarly, the Bill enables registered political parties which are a branch or division of a federal party to omit the words which specifically refer to the branch or division. This avoids unnecessary duplication, noting that authorisations already require entities to specify their location as part of their notifying particulars.

The Bill also amends the authorisation requirements for referendum communications and political communications in the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984, Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 , Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991 for consistency and alignment with the Electoral Act.

Conclusion

This Bill demonstrates the Government's commitment to reduce voter confusion and unnecessary red tape and regulation. These amendments aim to make authorisation requirements clearer and more consistent across the relevant acts.

I commend this Bill.

ELECTORAL LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (COVID ENFRANCHISEMENT) BILL 2022

Today I introduce the Electoral Legislation Amendment (COVID Enfranchisement) Bill 2022.

This measure builds upon the powers granted to the Australian Electoral Commissioner under the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Contingency Measures) Act 2021, and the measures the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is already taking to deliver a COVID-safe election.

The Bill amends the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act) to allow the option to provide a contingency arrangement for electors in mandatory isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19 during the final 72 hours before polling to participate in the upcoming federal election.

It can allow regulations to be made to expand the Australian Electoral Commission's existing secure telephone voting service to individuals in mandatory isolation due to COVID-19.

This accessibility of this service would be limited to some or all individuals in Australia subject to a public health order that prevents attendance at a polling place for the following reasons:

have tested positive for COVID-19 using a test approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) or are a close/household contact of such an individual; or

have been otherwise directed to self-isolate or quarantine under a public health order due to the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

Secure telephone voting is currently used for blind and low vision voters and voters in Antarctica. Current regulations implement this through a secure two-stage telephone voting system to preserve the secrecy of the ballot.

This Bill will allow the option for secure telephone voting for coronavirus affected individuals for a limited time window, after an individual is no longer eligible to apply for a postal vote, which is from 6.01pm on the Wednesday three days before polling day until the close of polls. This voting method does not allow voters to vote more than once.

Further, access to secure telephone voting for coronavirus affected individuals can only be enlivened where the Electoral Commissioner has issued an instrument advising that he is satisfied on reasonable grounds that the extension of this service it is necessary or conducive to ensure the due conduct of an election.

The Electoral Commissioner would be required to notify the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition before issuing a legislative instrument, which must also be published on the AEC website. The Electoral Commissioner must also inform them about any integrity measures that will apply to safeguard the conduct of the poll, using the telephone method of participation.

This instrument would enliven the process for secure telephone voting, in accordance with the rules set out in the regulations. The regulations will have the option to specify the circumstances and the order of admission for votes cast using this method.

These provisions will automatically repeal on 31 December 2022.

Conc lusion

This Bill demonstrates the Government's commitment to enhancing the franchise to ensure eligible voters have an opportunity to vote.

These amendments proactively respond to assist the AEC in conducting safe, efficient and timely elections in a COVID-19 environment.

I commend this Bill.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of these bills be adjourned to the first sitting day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.