House of Representatives Speech- Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill 2010

In this debate we have had a great deal of discussion from speakers opposite about electoral fraud. This is a debate about the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill 2010. The only fraud that is really relevant to the debate on this bill is not the imagined fraud—the myth of electoral fraud—that the opposition continue to speak about, not the fig leaf of electoral fraud that the opposition relied on to introduce the measures that we are now removing as we are in office—the measures that they introduced when they amended the electoral act to reduce the right to vote, to reduce the enfranchisement of Australians, in particular to reduce the ability of young people to get on the roll and to stay on the roll—it is the fraud that is being perpetrated on the Australian people by those opposite. It was perpetrated by them while they were in government and it is the fraud of telling the Australian people that there is a massive amount of multiple voting, trickery or false enrolment going on with the Australian electoral roll.

In this debate we have had a great deal of discussion from speakers opposite about electoral fraud. This is a debate about the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Close of Rolls and Other Measures) Bill 2010. The only fraud that is really relevant to the debate on this bill is not the imagined fraud—the myth of electoral fraud—that the opposition continue to speak about, not the fig leaf of electoral fraud that the opposition relied on to introduce the measures that we are now removing as we are in office—the measures that they introduced when they amended the electoral act to reduce the right to vote, to reduce the enfranchisement of Australians, in particular to reduce the ability of young people to get on the roll and to stay on the roll—it is the fraud that is being perpetrated on the Australian people by those opposite. It was perpetrated by them while they were in government and it is the fraud of telling the Australian people that there is a massive amount of multiple voting, trickery or false enrolment going on with the Australian electoral roll.

There is a very good report by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters on the conduct of the 2007 federal election and it pricks the balloon of this allegation of fraud. It absolutely dispels the myth of multiple voting. In fact, there is a section in the report entitled ‘The myth of multiple voting’. It is a report from which the opposition members of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters dissented, but the committee report picks up and examines in excellent detail the various allegations of multiple voting that arose in the last election, in particular in the seat of McEwen because its election result went to the Court of Disputed Returns. There was a minute examination of the voting and any possible irregularities that might have occurred in that election. What the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters was able to show was that the allegations of multiple voting in that election were entirely without substance.

To return to this theme of fraud, the fraud which is relevant to this legislation is the fraud perpetrated by the Liberal Party in defrauding about 100,000 Australians by closing the roll early, which is what occurred at the 2007 election as a result of the amendments to the Electoral Act which were imposed on the Australian people by the former government. The fraud which is relevant is the defrauding of thousands more provisional voters whose votes were taken away as a result of the provisions of the Electoral Act inserted by the former government, which required people who voted provisionally to produce identification within five days. Because of an inability to do that, thousands and thousands of people who had validly cast provisional votes had their votes taken away.

As other speakers, notably the member for Melbourne Ports, have explained to the House, there is ample evidence to suggest that the disenfranchisement which occurred as a result of the former government’s changes to the Electoral Act is entirely likely to have been responsible for the result in some four federal seats. It is possible, in other words, that in four federal seats the result would have been different if there had not been the extent of disenfranchisement that occurred at the last election. So the real fraud—the fraud relevant to this legislation—is the perpetuation of the straw man of electoral fraud, the myth of multiple voting. Speaker after speaker on the other side of the House has attempted to perpetuate that myth and that fraud.

We see it in the dissenting report that accompanies the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. In the dissenting report, the opposition members of the committee—and they need to be named, because they really should hang their heads in shame for the propositions that they have put forward here: the member for Cook, the member for Goldstein as deputy chair, Senator Ronaldson, Senator Birmingham and the member for Maranoa—have put forward specious arguments as to the recommendation of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters that the early roll-closing provision should be repealed and replaced with a new section that provides that the date fixed for the close of rolls shall be seven days after the date of the writ. What the opposition members dissenting from this report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters assert is that this proposes ‘a significant threat to the integrity of the electoral roll’.

We then have in the opposition’s dissenting report a page of nonsensical propositions to the effect that, if the roll is allowed to remain open for seven days after the election is called—enabling all those people, who are validly entitled to vote and who for one reason or another have had their names removed from the electoral roll and might not have got around to putting their name back on, to rush to the electoral office and make sure that they will be able to cast the vote which is their right as Australians—in some mysterious way it is a threat to the integrity of the electoral system. We on this side of the House, the government, know that that is a false proposition and that the intent of the Electoral Act should be, as it has been since Federation, to make sure that the right to vote, which is a valuable right, can be exercised by all Australians who are eligible to vote. Any suggestion that a perfectly practical provision such as this—that is, allowing a period of seven days for people to get on the roll after the election is called—is a threat to the integrity of the electoral system is a nonsense.

So it is with the other provision which this legislation introduces, which is a repeal of the requirement for provisional voters to provide evidence of identity. Again, what occurred as a result of the provision introduced by the former government was that thousands of voters who had cast provisional votes had their votes taken away because of this unnecessary requirement that they produce proof of identity. We need to make it clear that the number of instances in the whole of Australian political history of what could be called electoral fraud—namely, someone enrolling using a false identity or the other possible example of electoral fraud, a deliberate case of voting more than once—which have actually been identified following investigation and have resulted in a matter being sent to the Australian Federal Police or even have resulted in a letter of warning being sent to a voter is a mere handful. It is a minuscule number of cases that have been discovered, and I am talking across the entire stretch of Australian political history. When this is set in the context of the millions upon millions of votes that are cast at every Australian national election and the millions of votes that are cast in most state elections, one can see in its true context the supposed problem that these harsh and disenfranchising measures introduced by the former government were said to be introduced to meet. The true fraud—that is, the fraud of the Liberal Party, those opposite—can indeed be seen.

It was known before the last election, very clearly, what the effect of these provisions was going to be. It was known before the last election, for example, that some 140,000 voters had had their names removed by the Australian Electoral Commission in the six months leading up to the November 2007 election because they had failed to notify the Australian Electoral Commission of a change of address or because they had used the wrong form when they notified a change of address. It was absolutely clear before the last election, which is why we went to the election with a commitment to restore integrity and improve the enfranchisement of voters. It was absolutely clear that the real reason was not some supposed attempt to eliminate this imaginary fraud or imaginary multiple voting but rather to erode the inclusiveness of the electoral roll.

The removal of the grace period, which is what it is correctly known as, and the introduction of tougher evidentiary requirements for enrolment are both directly designed to ensure that people who should be able to vote are not able to vote. We now find ourselves in the position that some 1.4 million eligible voters as at December 2009—this is an estimate that the Australian Electoral Commission provided in December last year—are not on the electoral roll. About one-third of those voters are aged 18 to 25. People aged 18 to 25 either have never got on the roll in the first place or, because they have moved address—as we know, young people tend to move more often than any other part of the community—they, having been on the roll, have slipped off the roll. Labor wants all eligible Australians to vote. Unlike those opposite, we treasure the right to vote, and we will ensure that provisions are introduced in the Electoral Act. It will be not just these provisions but also other measures which are yet to come which will ensure that there is true enfranchisement and an extension of the right to vote to all of those who are eligible.

I know that in my electorate there was great concern expressed to me by young people, particularly those who are coming up to their first election, about how they might have in some way missed out. It was possible to say, somewhat perversely, that the increased harshness that the former government introduced in relation to the keeping of the roll was an excellent incentive providing a spur for people to make absolutely sure they were on the roll, because the instant the election was called that was going to be the end of the matter. It was still the case that in my electorate very many young people, as well as others who were eligible but on election day found to their horror that they had slipped off the roll, were unable to cast the vote that they wished to cast. We are intent on ensuring that the kind of outcome where people who should be on the roll are unable to vote is avoided at all times in the future.

There are three useful administrative efficiency measures which are contained in this bill in addition to the primary changes of restoring the close of rolls period to seven days and repealing the requirement of provisional voters to provide evidence of identity. Those efficiency measures are all acting on other recommendations in the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into the conduct of the 2007 federal election. They include: modernising enrolment processes to enable electors to update their enrolment details electronically, which is from recommendation 9 of the committee’s report; allowing flexibility in how and where enrolment transactions are processed, which is recommendation 42 of the committee’s report; and, where possible, enabling the counting of prepoll votes cast in the elector’s home division as ordinary votes on election night, which is recommendations 22 to 24. It is very much to be hoped that those opposite will support these measures when this bill goes to the Senate, that those opposite will stop with their charade of bleating about supposed—and actually imaginary—electoral fraud and that those opposite will see that their duty as members of this parliament is to put in place measures which extend the right to vote, which show that they value the right to vote, which ensure that every single Australian who is eligible to vote is able to do so.

I see that the member for Indi is in the House and, no doubt, about to continue with the perpetuation of the various myths that the former Special Minister of State, Mr Nairn, propagated before the last election. I think the Special Minister of State before him, Senator Abetz, also propagated them before the last election. They were to pretend, while actually intending to remove people’s right to vote and restrict the number of people on the electoral roll, that these measures might be warranted by some imagined multiple voting. We have heard over and over again a repetition that suggests falsely and fraudulently that there is some real problem. We see it, indeed, when the dissenting report addresses recommendation 2 of the joint standing committee, which states that there should be a repeal of the requirement for provisional voters to provide proof of identity. There is the repetition of the myth is that it is a removal of an important deterrent that acts to prevent citizens from failing to maintain their enrolment and to deter those who may seek to engage in multiple voting.

I repeat—and I hope the member for Indi is listening and will not be repeating the nonsense that other speakers on the other side have attempted—that the committee explained in great detail under the heading ‘The multiple voting myth’ why it was that allegations such as, for example, that made by the member for McEwen, in which there were eight cases of apparent multiple voting, were false. The Australian Electoral Commission investigated the allegations of the eight cases of apparent multiple voting, and the end result was that, as the AEC had already said by October 2008, the eight cases of apparent multiple voting in the division of McEwen were almost all the result of confusion on the part of electors. The AEC told a Senate estimates committee this:

In relation to McEwen, in the court case eight dual voters were mentioned.

The court case they are referring to involved the Court of Disputed Returns. The AEC continued:

Those eight were referred to the Australian electoral officer. I have reviewed them, and we have one of those where there is some evidence to support a matter, but it is likely that it will not be sent to the AFP and the person will be issued with a warning letter. The other matters were either people who were confused or people who were aged and their families et cetera had assisted them in voting.

There was then a direct investigation by the AEC into the case of a particular constituent, the Reverend Ivor Jones, who had been part of the claims made by the member for McEwen, and the AEC said:

AEC records indicate that no electors in the division of McEwen voted more than twice. The AEC can confirm that a letter was sent to Reverend Jones indicating that according to AEC records, it appeared he may have voted twice, and seeking his clarification on the matter. Reverend Jones’ response made it clear that he had voted only once, through an early declaration vote.

They go on to explain that the apparent case of multiple voting concerning the Reverend Ivor Jones was in fact the result of an error by a polling official who had ruled out the wrong name when he was marking the roll to record a vote. I repeat that, as is demonstrated in ample and lengthy terms in the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters—and there are some excellent tables looking at the 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2007 elections—the cases of multiple voting in recent Australian political history show that the apparent multiple voting, admissions of multiple voting and referrals to the AFP are extremely small, and that there has been no clear trend in any way. The only thing that has occurred has been a continuing increase in problems due to confusion, poor comprehension and age. I commend this legislation to the House.