ELECTORAL AND REFERENDUM AMENDMENT (ACCESS TO ELECTORAL ROLL AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2004Cognate bill:ELECTORAL AND REFERENDUM AMENDMENT (ENROLMENT INTEGRITY AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2004: Second Reading
Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (1.31 p.m.) —For a member of the Australian parliament to come in here and say that nobody should think about registering to vote until an election is called is irresponsible.
That is what the member for Lingiari was promoting. He was saying, `There are people who need not register. I do not mind if they do not register. As a member of the Australian parliament I will encourage them not to register until an election is called, then we must give them weeks in which they can register.' I find that repugnant. It is our responsibility, at all times, in every place possible, to encourage Australians to register to poll. It is our responsibility, and the Australian Electoral Commission is out there in schools, in shopping centres, at naturalisation ceremonies, encouraging people to register to vote. The AEC is a very responsible group of people which runs an education program to inform the community of its responsibilities and privileges in being able to cast votes, and yet we have a member of the Australian parliament saying that we do not have to do that. He is saying that for three years they can go to sleep—18-year-olds do not have to be registered; people do not have to notify changes of addresses; and, in fact, the electoral roll can go to pot and only when an election is called should people be given an opportunity to register to vote. I think that is irresponsible. To advocate that people adopt an irresponsible, do not care, do not want to be registered, attitude to voting sets a bad example for the people the member claims to represent.
It is very well for the member for Lingiari to this attitude does not really affect things but what about the territory elections? What about with the common roll local government elections? What about ATSIC elections? What about all of those elections for unions and for every other form of life that depends on the Australian electoral roll? The Australian electoral roll is a very precious and important commodity and its being accurate and up to date is a critical factor in the democratic operation of many organisations. The member for Lingiari seems to indicate that you do not worry about the accuracy of the roll except when a federal election is called. I would like to put to the House that there is a bit of self-interest there and it is only his election that really matters. What he is putting to the House is that it is only the way in which those communities can vote for him that really matters. That is irresponsible. That is not a law-abiding process with regard to the electoral roll and the need to encourage people to take part in our democracy at every opportunity that arises—whether it is at a state, territory, ATSIC, union election or anything else. Anything that is dependent upon the electoral roll should be used to encourage people to register to vote at the earliest opportunity—the moment they move addresses, the moment they become eligible through naturalisation, by coming out of prison or by turning 18. If any of those factors for eligibility occur, we should endorse, encourage and promote to register to vote. I would like to see every member of parliament adopt a different attitude from that which has just been expressed by the representative of the Australian Labor Party.
With regard to the programs that are conducted by the AEC, I know that in my area the Australian Electoral Commission is in the high schools talking to 17-year-olds, encouraging them to register in time. I know that the AEC is at every naturalisation ceremony with cards waiting to sign people up. They are promoting a thing that is very precious to Australians and, yet, according to the member for Lingiari, we want to adopt a laissez faire attitude to the privilege of voting. I do not endorse that. People have got three years between federal elections to vote. They have many other opportunities to exercise their right to vote and they should adopt a responsible attitude and be encouraged by their members, by their representatives, to register to vote as soon as they can. It seems to be that there is a dilemma in the Australian Labor Party between the old adage of `Vote early and vote often,' or `Not vote at all' or `Vote when I tell you you can.' It seems to me that there is a conflict of issues there in the Australian Labor Party and we want to see a greater responsibility expressed by the members opposite, because they seem to run away from what is an accurate roll.
I remind the House that the legislation we are discussing today refers to changes to the electoral and referendum bills and the laws that govern elections and referendums. The proposals that we have before us are within the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Enrolment Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2004 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Access to Electoral Roll and Other Measures) Bill 2004. I will deal first of all with enrolment integrity. By going through the bill in detail, those interested in elections will gather that there are significant and important integrity measures that the government is seeking to put in place. Measures that people without any political bias would think are reasonable and without prejudice, yet they are being opposed by the Australian Labor Party. [start page 28480]
There is a provision in the bill for voting information. This would allow senators or members of the House of Representatives who are not members of a registered political party to obtain information, on request and without charge, about where electors voted at an election. That is a commonplace thing. Another provision of the bill is an amendment so that information—including the names and addresses of electors who voted at an election, whether each elector voted at a polling place or by other means, whether the elector voted at a polling place in the division for which they were enrolled and the location of the polling place—can be provided to registered political parties and independent members of parliament. That is a reasonable process to let us know where a person has voted and if they voted. Prior to this, the electoral roll and where people voted was a matter only for the AEC and nobody could access it. This brings into the open and allows public scrutiny of whether a person has voted many times and whether they are who the say they are. It also allows for the objection process to be followed carefully. This lets people know who voted and where they voted, which is a reasonable proposition.
Another proposal in this legislation is proof of identity for people registering to vote. It is easier to register to vote than it is to get a card for the local video store. You have to have three forms of identity to entitle you to take out a $5 video overnight. Yet for the electoral roll, all we require is somebody to sign a piece of paper to say that the elector is known to them and that they live at that address. They do not have to have any particular status. There is no identity process except to sign a paper to say that a person lives at the address. This opens the electoral roll to the possibility of fraud. We are saying that if a person is going to apply for registration on the electoral roll, they ought to produce their drivers licence as there is a photograph on it and the Australian Electoral Commission will know that the person seeking registration is who they say they are. It is a simple identity test.
The most precious thing an Australian has is their citizenship and the right to vote, and yet we make it so easy for people to go on the electoral roll without proof of identity. I think that is appalling. We ought to value that right more. It is an easy way of identifying people for them to front up and say, `Here is my photograph and drivers licence.' Of course, the response will be that not everybody drives. The Commonwealth government is going to work with state and territory governments on other forms of identification for people who do not have drivers licences. I would hope that proof of identity is something that the states and territories, because they share the roll, would make sure they endorse so that they can say, `We have a roll that we think is worth supporting, and it is well kept by Commonwealth officials.'
Proof of identity is something that has worried me greatly ever since the loss of the electorate of Macquarie an election I participated in, and the way that that was manipulated by Graham Richardson, the head of the Labor Party in New South Wales at that time. The way in which that was manipulated was shocking. The former member Mr Alasdair Webster took the matter to the court of review on his own account and was sure of an outcome in his favour, but when his legal bill hit $300,000 he decided that he would withdraw. It is very expensive for a normal person to appeal a situation of rorting and fraud. One of the areas of great concern during that election was the way in which people were able to go on the electoral roll, in the last couple of hours before the polls started, without any proof of identity. Nobody knew who they were or where they lived. Some of the claimed addresses when checked were found to be vacant blocks of land and streets with no houses. I checked those addresses myself and know that they were fraudulent, yet that election went through. It was contested in the court of disputed returns but was not able to be finalised because of a lack of funds of the former member. This is one way of rectifying that. It is a way that I agree with, and it is a sensible way—pull out your wallet and show your drivers licence to prove that you are who you say you are. I know that there are many people in this House, and Mr Deputy Speaker Causley I suspect that you are one, who would agree that proof of identity when registering to go on electoral roll is a sensible thing. We want people to vote, but we want people who have an entitlement and are properly identified to vote.
There is a proposal that prisoners should not vote—that is, anybody that has been imprisoned for indicted for an offence that is five years or the more, not for a casual overnight stay—and that it is reasonable. If you are going to show such a neglect to society that you commit crimes that put you in prison for more than five years, you deserve not to vote. If any person ignores the laws of our nation to the extent that they commit an act that causes imprisonment for five years or more, they should have their voting rights taken away.
Just think of the consequences if that did not happen. If we follow it through and say that there were to be changes to certain laws which brought about my imprisonment. Who would I vote for? I would vote for the person who was going to change the law that put me in prison, no matter what the crime was that I committed. Therefore, mine would be a prejudiced vote. I would want a change to the law that would allow me to continue my illegal activity. Prisoners ought to have that right taken away from them after five years of imprisonment. I think is perfectly reasonable that the controller-general of prisons in each state will be required to forward to the Electoral Commission each year the names of those people who are in full-time detention. [start page 28481]
There are other changes to enrolment in respect of voters' addresses in this legislation. Too many people have been enrolling—and I think that every member of parliament is aware of this—giving a post-office box number. They could be living anywhere in Australia. They could be nowhere near the electorate they are seeking to vote in by giving a post-office box. We are requiring with these changes that a person actually lives at the address where they say that they are going to vote. That is a reasonable proposition. It is no good saying that people living in a marginal seat can adopt a post-office box in one of the towns or suburbs in that electorate and say that they live in that electorate; there must be proof that they actually live within that subdivision where they are seeking to vote.
In doing so, they must demonstrate that they have lived there for one month. If they change their address within that subdivision, they are required to give notification of that change within 21 days after the expiry of one month of living at that address. That is a reasonable proposition. `I am now no longer living at a certain street address; I have changed my address,' must be the proposition that they put to the Australian Electoral Commission so that the rolls are kept accurate and up to date.
I hope that I will see the day when there is an absolute acceptance of the processes of the Commonwealth act across the board. The confusion at the recent local government elections in New South Wales was created by subdivisional voting. It caused chaos and anger as people went to vote at a polling place that they were unfamiliar with, were told that they were at the wrong polling place and had to drive some distance to another polling place in order to have their name marked off as having voted in the local government elections. That is crazy. We ought to have a consistent law so that people become accustomed to voting at a certain place and go there to vote whether it is a state, local or federal government election and so that the roll they vote on is consistent. I see no problem with doing that. I wish that the government of New South Wales would see sense and change their own laws and those applying to local government so that there is absolute consistency between where people vote—that is, the voting places—and the subdivisional arrangements.
The transfer of enrolment is compulsory in this bill. A previous member was arguing that people should only be forced to notify the authorities of their change of address when an election is called. I think that is rubbish. There is a compulsory transfer requirement in these changes that a person must, within 21 days after the expiry of one month of living at a new address, notify that change. There is also a provision for silent voters. These are the voters that, due to their occupation or profession, should not have their address notified publicly. They may be judges of the Family Court or police officers. There is a range of people who should not have their private addresses notified. There is a silent address provision in the bill, but there is also an objection process so that if anybody is using this for shonky purposes and they are claiming to live at a silent address but have changed their address and are no longer there—and the only people who would know that would be the Australian Electoral Commission—they can be removed from that roll.
The main objections to enrolment that a person or an official can lodge under these changes that we are making is on the grounds that the elector no longer lives at their enrolled address and has not lived at their enrolled address for a period of at least one month. That is perfectly reasonable. What does that mean in a political sense? It will often mean that political parties will do street canvasses and check out whether people are living at the addresses they say they are. That roll cleansing process is just a checking up process to make sure people have not moved and failed inadvertently to notify of their address or, worse, maintained an address for a political advantage in a certain street or a certain suburb so that they can boost their party's election chances. That roll cleansing process will assist in making sure that people who are not living at their enrolled address can under notification and proof be removed from the electoral roll.
Another factor that comes into play here is the provisional vote. When you or I, Mr Deputy Speaker, go along to the polling booth and find we are no longer on the roll, we can claim, `There has been a mistake here. I insist that I vote.' There are certain conditions within this legislation that we are debating that restrict our right to say that. If somebody is living in another state and they are not on the roll when they go to vote, their right of objection is removed because they should have notified the authorities of their change of address prior to that. There is a provision here that, if you have moved a few streets away within the same electorate, the provisional vote can be taken. I think these amendments are sensible—they clean up the roll and they stop some of the possibilities of rorts. The Australian Labor Party should be supporting every measure. These measures are sensible, they are well thought through and they are not politically motivated; they are just going to make a better roll.(Time expired) [start page 28482]
Author: Hon Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 13th May 2004
Release Date: 13 May 2004