BILLS: Electoral and Referendum Amendment

The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012 questions the integrity of the electoral roll. Surely this goes to the essence, the very core, of what we are about here in this parliament and who we represent. This bill could potentially result in electors being put on the electoral roll without their knowledge.

The number of irregularities this could lead to boggles the mind. This bill, as with the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011, gives the Australian Electoral Commission the discretion to decide what are 'reliable and current data sources' from which information about electoral addresses is able to be obtained. 

This is way beyond the capability of the Australian Electoral Commission, as sound an organisation as it is. The onus and responsibility ought to be on individual electors to supply accurate details about their enrolment and to update those details when they move or when their situation changes. The coalition is a big believer in personal responsibility. People need to take responsibility for their own actions. We should not be taking control out of the electors' hands. We should not be taking their responsibility to choose to enrol away. This bill will reduce the responsibility of people to ensure that they are looking after themselves. 
It raises questions about temporary residents and people in fly-in fly-out or drive-in drive-out situations. I am a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia, inquiring at present into fly-in fly-out and drive-in drive-out arrangements and the working practices of people in regional Australia. We have heard evidence from people in mining and other communities in regional Australia. It was very interesting to go to Moranbah in Queensland recently to hear about the difficulties that people in fly-in fly-out or drive-in drive-out work arrangements have with enrolling and with voting. Some of them think the onus is on the mining company to provide that sort of information; others think it is their own responsibility. There are all sorts of difficulties around what happens when voting is held—or when the government wishes to conduct its census, which occurs on a Tuesday night. If we cannot get it right for those people, how can we expect this bill to get it right if it is enacted? 

Labor and the Greens are hoping that with these bills they will gain more votes, and the member for Bennelong made that point in his speech just a few moments ago. That is the core of these bills: Labor and the Greens, who are running Labor, are hoping that they will get more votes. At present, we have a tremendously successful electoral system, but it still has its flaws. Prior to when I ran for parliament in the August 2010 election, we sent out direct mail to people who we thought were at their right addresses in the electorate of Riverina, and it cost quite a lot of money. But, prior to and after the election, boxes upon boxes of mail came back which had been incorrectly addressed, and I am still getting them. Now and again, I still get one or two of these letters back in the mail with 'incorrect address'. 

Where do you think we got the information on these supposed voters in the Riverina? It came from the Australian Electoral Commission, so their records are not always entirely accurate. Certainly they do a great job. We all in this House recognise the wonderful but difficult role they have, but with modern technology that role sometimes becomes even more onerous. Whilst they try to do the job as accurately as they can, the role does have its flaws and irregularities. If these bills become law, they will create even more hassles. I hate to think of the number of boxes of wrongly addressed mail I will receive when I next run for parliament if these bills are passed. Last time, I actually had an Australia Post truck roll up in my front driveway to hand them back to me. There were five or six boxes, which I took to the Australian Electoral Commission in Narrandera, which is in the heart of the Riverina. They were able to follow them up to see why they were incorrectly addressed, to cross-reference them with the records of addresses that those voters had given to the Australian Electoral Commission but which obviously had not been updated. 
These bills seek to damage the integrity of the electoral roll, as I said. It is the law that you should be on the roll if you are eligible and over the age of 18. The member for Mackellar pointed out that these bills will compromise the integrity of the Australian electoral roll. As with all matters procedural that the member for Mackellar raises in this House, she is correct once again. We hope they will not pass but we suspect that they will. Information will be updated from sources such as Centrelink and the maritime and roads authority. Coalition members and senators strongly disagree with Labor and Greens members on the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters that the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012—that is, automatic enrolment—be passed by this parliament. 

The coalition has for a long time opposed moves by the Labor Party and the Greens, to whom they are beholden, to introduce automatic enrolment and notes that these bills are being introduced solely to improve the electoral prospects of both Labor and the Greens—I hope from experience of this parliament that Labor actually puts the Greens last on their voting tickets at the next election, and I hope every member of parliament does the same; I know I did in the Riverina in the 2010 election--following similar moves by former Labor governments in New South Wales and Victoria prior to their last state elections. It is interesting to note that both of those New South Wales and Victorian governments were indeed Labor and that now both sit very much where they belong, on the opposition benches. 

The coalition also notes the extensive privacy implications that this legislation raises which, unfortunately, have been ignored by both the Labor Party and the Greens. The coalition has very real and genuine concerns about electors having their details published on the electoral roll without their knowledge and without the opportunity to apply for silent elector status. Can you just imagine the confusion that will surround the voting process when people who do not even know that they are on the roll all of a sudden start getting fines in the mail after an election or when voting material is sent to the wrong places if this bill goes through? That is exactly what will happen. 

The coalition has great concerns that individuals not entitled to vote may be added to the roll because of this bill. None of us in this place should want that. Coalition members and senators are extremely disappointed with the Australian Electoral Commission's attitude to fraudulent voting and have consistently noted the AEC's failure to prosecute any cases of fraudulent voting, despite there having been more than 20,633 multiple votes at the 2007 election. 

Mr Lyons interjecting— 

Mr McCORMACK: I can hear the member for Bass interjecting there. I am not quite sure what he said but I am sure that he, like all of us in this place, would be concerned about fraudulent voting. I did say that the AEC do a marvellous job, and they do. It is a very difficult and onerous job, particularly in these days of technology, to make sure that the electoral roll is as good as it can be, but these bills are not providing that. I am sure that the member for Bass would not want people fraudulently voting. I am sure that people in Bass would not be fraudulently voting but, unfortunately, they are in other areas of Australia because there were 20,633 multiple votes at the 2007 election. Goodness knows how many there were at the 2010 election. 
At present, an elector must fill out an enrolment form to be added to the electoral roll, and that is the way it should be. However, if they are automatically enrolled, there will be no specific record that refers to how they were enrolled, why they were enrolled or, indeed, who was enrolled in the first place. On 29 February 2012, Senator Scott Ryan raised a valid point about how this legislation will make it more difficult for the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute cases of fraudulent voting. When electors are put on the roll automatically, potentially without their knowledge or consent, there will no longer be a signature available for the returning officer to compare when an elector is making a declaration vote. That is just a disgrace. If you go into a shop and you use your credit card for a purchase of $10 or more, a trifling amount, you have to have your signature on the back of your credit card verified to make sure that you can take that purchase, but, if these bills come into place, people whose signature will not be able to be verified will be on the electoral roll and they will not even know they are on the electoral roll. How will they know next time that they ought to be voting for the National Party or indeed—as the member for Dawson joins me—the Liberal National Party in Queensland? It just beggars belief. 

Senator Ryan noted that this will be one less piece of evidence that the Director of Public Prosecutions will have available if they are attempting to prosecute a case of fraudulent voting. It is interesting to note Senator Ryan's comments there: 

We currently have a signature on a form with an enrolment. We have had a number of discussions in this committee and the Senate committee the AEC comes before in estimates about the difficulty proving certain electoral offences and the burden of evidence required for the DPP to take action. I am concerned that, if we move to what I am going to continue to call automatic enrolment—simply because I think it is automatic in the sense that it does not require action from an elector—we are going to lack that signature from a voter. That worried me. If there are cases of potential electoral fraud, that is one less piece of evidence the commission will have in its armoury. 

You currently have a form that you can compare signatures to if, for example, people are using declaration votes and have to sign the envelope. That will not be available under these provisions. 
That is a damning indictment of these bills, and truer words could not be said. 

The previous New South Wales Labor government, under Premier Kristina Keneally, introduced automatic enrolment prior to the March 2011 state election, and the result was that a large number of electors automatically added to that state's electoral roll failed to turn up—that is right; they failed to turn up—to vote at the 2011 election. I wonder why that is? I wonder why those people failed to turn up? I will tell you why they failed to turn up: because they did not know they had to. They did not know that they were on the electoral roll. They could have turned up and they could have even given the coalition more votes than we received, and we could have had more members in parliament, and we could have jettisoned Labor further to where they belonged in that particular election, because we had had 16 years of the worst state Labor government that New South Wales had ever had to endure. You could say it was 16 years of hard Labor! 
Back to the bills in question: coalition members and senators realise that these bills are being introduced by Labor and the Greens solely to increase their electoral advantage—shame on them—despite the severe risk they pose to the integrity of the electoral roll and the significant concerns about individual privacy. We hear so often from those opposite about privacy issues and how it is important to have privacy absolutely paramount in today's society. Indeed, we do need to have some of those privacy issues at the forefront of any legislation that we bring before this House. 

As such, coalition members and senators believe that this legislation should be rejected by the lower house, and hopefully it will not even make it to the Senate, in order for the responsibility of enrolling to remain with individual Australian citizens and not be given to the bureaucracy. We have enough bureaucracy. We have enough red tape being foisted on us by this Labor government. We do not need any more. When the coalition were in office, we had to remove prisoners from eligibility to vote, but the Labor Party changed that too. As I say, we should reject these bills out of hand, and I commend to the House that we do that.

Cristy Houghton