Wednesday, 10 May 2006
Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005
As I was saying before question time, the measures in the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005 will disenfranchise many people, particularly young people such as those up in the gallery today. The reason young people will be disenfranchised is that, as I said before question time, if their names are not on the roll when the election is called their names will not be on the roll for that election. They will not have the period of grace they have now.
The government has claimed it is doing this because it wants to strengthen the integrity of the roll and the electoral system. This bill does not do that; it merely disenfranchises people. As it is, the Australian Electoral Commission has very strong protocols to ensure the integrity of the roll. Through doorknocking and through direct mail they are able to ascertain whether people continue to live at the address where they are enrolled, and if the people they are surveying do not respond they are removed from the electoral roll after all efforts have been made to ensure that they are no longer at their enrolled address.
It is curious that the requirement to come up with a photo ID will also be very troublesome for a number of people. Obviously people who do not drive do not have a drivers licence to rely on. People who are from non-English-speaking backgrounds will find the increased complexity of the system difficult to comprehend. People in rural and regional Australia, and in remote Aboriginal communities in particular, will face a higher risk of exclusion from our political processes. But, as I said earlier, it is young people whom I particularly want to focus on today. Antony Green, who is a noted expert in this area, said in his submission to the Joint Standing Committee into Electoral Matters inquiry in 2004:
If suddenly the election is called two or three months early, people will not have regularised their enrolment. You will cut young people off, as the numbers show ...
Professor Costar, whom I spoke of earlier, told the same committee inquiry:
Good reasons would need to be adduced to justify the denial of the vote to such a large cohort of citizens; especially the new enrolees, most of whom would be young people ...
You will recall, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I mentioned earlier that 75,000 new enrollees were enrolled in the period of grace at the time of the last election. Those 75,000 new enrollees would miss out entirely under the system that the government is proposing. If the government were serious about strengthening democracy and improving the integrity of the electoral system there are many things it could do. For a start it could address the very high rate of informal votes. We know that in the last election 639,851 people voted informally. Surely with better voter education we could bring that figure down. It seems shocking that over 600,000 people wasted their votes in the last federal election.
The other thing the government could do if it were serious about strengthening democracy and improving the integrity of the electoral system would be to improve voter turnout. Almost three-quarters of a million people who were enrolled to vote did not turn out to vote in 2004. The exact figure was 743,478—that is, almost three-quarters of a million people did not turn out to vote in the last election.
The government also has the opportunity to pre-enrol more 17-year-olds. At the moment, as you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker, a 17-year-old can fill out the paperwork with the Australian Electoral Commission and lodge that paperwork before they turn 18, and their enrolment becomes effective on their 18th birthday. The day these young people turn 18 they go onto the electoral roll. This is a provision that the Australian Electoral Commission offers, but it is certainly not something that this government has promoted. If we are serious about the integrity of the electoral roll—getting people registered and getting them registered in their right names and at their right addresses—surely provisional enrolment of 17-year-olds is something the government should be supporting and throwing some resources into. Instead, we have a piece of legislation that will disenfranchise, on the count of the last election, probably over 75,000 young people enrolling to vote for the first time and over 300,000 people who have changed their address since the previous election. You are looking at hundreds of thousands of people who want to vote, who are desperate to vote, who are desperate to send the Howard government a message, missing out on their chance to vote.
It is extraordinary that people speak of young people as somehow not being interested in politics. That is not my experience of young people at all. I am lucky enough to engage with young people in my own electorate and in the schools that I visit, and through Labor’s youth consultations I have been able to meet young people around Australia. They are passionate about this country. They are passionate about international politics—issues of poverty, the Iraq war, refugees, global warming and the rights of workers in developing countries. All sorts of issues are raised with me as I travel around during my youth consultations. I tell you: it is not that young people are not interested in politics and not interested in how the world is run; it is that they have received a consistent message from this government that their voice does not matter. They are being told now that it does not matter whether they get a vote, even if they are entitled to one. In fact this legislation will make it harder for them to vote.
This legislation comes on top of 10 years of discouraging young people from speaking out. It comes on top of junking the Australian Youth Policy and Action Coalition after decades of bipartisan support for this peak body. It comes after reducing young people’s entitlement to youth allowance and other income support. It comes after ignoring the plight of thousands of young students who are homeless every night in Australia. We believe that up to 26,000 young people under the age of 24 are homeless on any given night in Australia. These are the issues that young people care about, and to rob them of their vote and their ability to vote by introducing this regressive legislation is a disgrace.