House debates

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005

Second Reading

6:23 pm

Photo of Gary NairnGary Nairn (Eden-Monaro, Liberal Party, Special Minister of State) Share this | Hansard source

In summing up, I thank the honourable members who have contributed to the debate on this very important legislation. I would also like to thank the chair and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for the committee’s comprehensive report into the 2004 federal election, and the chair and members of the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee for their inquiry and report on the provisions of the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005. Having been chair of the joint standing committee from 1997 to 2001, when quite a number of recommendations along very similar lines as these were made, it is very pleasing to now be the minister taking through the parliament the legislation which will enact these changes.

The opposition have made a number of claims about the proof of identity and close of roll provisions in these reforms. Firstly, they claim that the proof of identity requirements will disenfranchise thousands of Australians; secondly, they claim that closing the roll early is aimed at disenfranchising the young; thirdly, they claim that closing the roll early will disenfranchise over 280,000 Australians; fourthly, they claim that the 1983 election is proof that closing the roll on the day the writ is issued will disenfranchise thousands of Australians; and, finally, they claim that these changes are not required because there is no substantial proof of fraud on the roll.

Let me start with the proof of identity provisions, which require proof of identity for people wanting to enrol, re-enrol or cast a provisional vote. The notion that asking people for proof of identity in the form of a drivers licence or in another form is asking too much and will disenfranchise thousands of Australians simply is not true. At the time of the 2003 census, it was found that more people in Australia held a drivers licence than there were people entitled to vote. For those Australians who do not have a drivers licence, a broad range of options will be available for them to provide proof of identity that will meet the identity requirements for electors. These provisions will substantially improve the integrity of the roll and will overcome the absurd situation where, under Labor’s electoral laws, it is easier to get on the roll than it is to hire a DVD. These are logical, practical measures, and I am perplexed by Labor’s opposition to them.

The second claim made by the opposition is that these changes are aimed specifically at disenfranchising young people. According to the latest Australian electoral study, 41 per cent of young people voted Liberal at the last election compared to just 32 per cent who voted Labor. We love young people, and they are voting our way, so I categorically reject claims by the ALP that we are seeking to deliberately disenfranchise young people.

The third claim made by the opposition is that over 280,000 people will be disenfranchised by the changes to the close of roll period. This is one of the most misleading claims by the opposition in this debate. The figure of 280,000 represents roll transactions made during the close of roll period before the 2004 election. The figure includes 126,799 divisional transfer transactions and 157,311 new enrolment and re-enrolment transactions. Under the bill, those who are enrolled but are changing address will have three days from the issue of the writ to update their details. Had these arrangements been in place for the last four elections, from the time the election was called people changing division would have had five business days to change their details in 2004, six business days in 2001, four business days in 1998 and six business days in 1996. That is an average of five business days from the time the election was called, which is more than enough time for people to change their details.

Clearly, the 126,799 electors who changed division in the close of roll period before the 2004 election would not have been impacted by these changes and it is misleading to suggest otherwise. That leaves the new enrolments and re-enrolments. Under the bill, new enrolments and re-enrolments will have to enrol by the day the writ is issued. Had these arrangements been in place for the last four elections, from the time the election was called people enrolling or re-enrolling would have had two business days to change their details in 2004, three business days in 2001, one business day in 1998—with one day’s notice—and three business days in 1996, which is an average of two business days from the day the election was called.

There were 157,311 new enrolment and re-enrolment transactions received in 2004. Of these, 110,231 were received either in the first two days or in the last two days of the close of roll period—that is, either electors enrolled early or they enrolled at the deadline. The case can be made that there will always be electors who either enrol early or enrol at the deadline. This will be the case regardless of the length of the close of roll period. These 110,231 electors would therefore not have been affected.

Figures from fixed-term jurisdictions show that even with four years notice there is still a rush of transactions the day the roll closes. Using the 2004 close of roll figures, the number of electors then that may have been affected under the proposed arrangements is close to 47,000, not the 280,000 that the Labor Party claims. But let me remind the House that using the 2004 enrolment figures is a complete hypothetical. While it has been shown that the impact would have been much less than the ALP claims, that does not take into consideration the significant and specifically targeted advertising campaigns the AEC is currently developing and will implement for the next election. These will be aimed specifically at informing the community of the changes.

The fourth claim the opposition has repeatedly made is that the 1983 election was proof that closing the roll the day the writ is issued will disenfranchise thousands of Australians. This is what the member for Bruce had to say on the matter in this place on 29 March this year:

In 1983 the electoral roll was closed on the day that the election writ was issued ... on polling day approximately 90,000 people found themselves unable to vote because they had not enrolled in time.

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in 1984 Labor sought to enfranchise the 90,000 voters who missed out on the opportunity to vote because of the early closure of the rolls in the 1983 federal election.

So what has the Labor Party achieved in the last 22 years in this place? In 1983, 90,000 people who turned up on polling had their votes rejected because they were not on the roll. Let us fast forward to the 2004 election, 20 years after Labor implemented its policy of an extended close of roll period, presumably with the impact of reducing the number of provisional votes being rejected on polling day. At the 2004 election 180,865 people cast a provisional vote on polling day. Of these votes more than 67,000 were rejected because the applicants were not enrolled at all. A further 22,000 provisional votes were rejected for the House of Representatives because they were enrolled in the wrong division. So under pre-Labor policy in 1983, 90,000 provisional votes were rejected. Under Labor policy in 2004, 89,000 provisional votes were rejected because they were not on the roll or were enrolled in the wrong division.  Clearly, Labor’s policy has done absolutely nothing to extend the franchise. The same number of provisional votes were rejected in 1983 as were rejected under Labor’s policy. All Labor’s policy has done is unnecessarily expose our electoral system to vulnerability, a vulnerability that this government is committed to fixing.

Finally, and most concerning, is the claim by Labor that these changes are not required because there is no substantial proof of fraud on the roll. I cannot emphasise enough that the government remains firmly committed to ensuring the continuing integrity of the electoral system and reducing the potential for electoral fraud. The electoral process is at the core of our democracy and is the basis of the Australian people’s acceptance of the election outcomes. Voting is a fundamental right, an absolute right, and that is why we must protect its integrity. There is no point in providing the franchise if we cannot protect its integrity.

However, when it comes to fraud the ALP prefer to turn a blind eye, presumably because they are beneficiaries of such fraud. May I remind members opposite of rorts perpetrated by Mr Mike Kaiser, the disgraced Labor roll rorter, who was forced to resign from the Queensland parliament, now deputy federal director of the Labor Party; or Ms Karen Ehrman, a Queensland state ALP candidate who went to jail for electoral fraud. I remind members opposite of Mr Christian Zahra’s own false enrolment when he was not an Australian citizen and of the roll rorts committed by a former Labor staffer of Mr Colin Hollis. And I remind them of cases such as Curacao Fischer Catt, the pet that was enrolled in the New South Wales seat of Macquarie. I recall another one—Giddy Goanna. Giddy Goanna got enrolled in the electorate of Groom.

The guilty opposition takes a position of absolute complacency on this issue. The government will not be complacent. The government considers that measures in this legislation, particularly proof of identity for enrolment, re-enrolment and provisional voting, and the early close of the roll, will go a long way towards strengthening our electoral system and stopping fraud before it happens.

Can I add that no-one needs to be disenfranchised by these changes if they obey the law. The law is that you must be enrolled—unless the Labor Party is proposing that people should not follow the law. Is the Labor Party actually saying that the law should be broken? If you obey the law and enrol you are not disenfranchised.

Turning to the provisions in this bill to increase the disclosure threshold to amounts above $10,000: the government considers this to be an appropriate threshold on the two-fold basis that the current thresholds ranging from $200 to $1,500 were too low when originally set and have since been eroded by inflation. It has also been Liberal Party policy since 1984, and we do not back off from that. The opposition claims in relation to this matter have been alarmist and nonsensical. Figures provided by the Australian Electoral Commission show that, had these arrangements been in place for the 2004 financial year, the following would have been disclosed: the Australian Labor Party, 82 per cent of all private funding, amounting to $56 million; the National Party, 83 per cent of all private funding, amounting to $8 million; the Liberal Party of Australia, 80 per cent of all private funding, amounting to $52 million; and all other parties, 81 per cent of all private funding, amounting to $124 million. Clearly, transparency and accountability is not lost through the increase to the disclosure threshold. The increased threshold will ensure that these significant donations will continue to be disclosed and people will know who is making them.

Why then is the opposition so opposed to these changes? The answer is simple. The ALP know that under the new arrangements honest, hardworking Australians can support the party that supports small business and they can do this without the fear of retribution and intimidation from trade unions and their Labor puppets. The Labor Party opposes a more competitive democracy. Much has been said in this place about donations, corruption and the receipt of multiple donations. The member for Bruce spoke about political donations, once again on 29 March this year. He said that claims:

... that amounts of $10,000 and below were not enough to improperly influence political parties

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completely ignores the fact that, as explained, a party can receive multiple donations from the same donor. This fact clearly increases the chances of corrupt behaviour …

So multiple donations increase corrupt behaviour, according to the member for Bruce. He continued:

... you would not have to be Einstein to work out that as the amounts of money increase so do the chances of inappropriate, or even corrupt, behaviour.

This is where it gets interesting, because when it comes to multiple donations the Australian union movement wrote the book. In 2004-05 more than 260 separate donations from the unions flowed to the ALP. In 2004-05 the top multiple union donators to the ALP were: fifth-ranked, the AMWU with 27 donations; fourth, the CEPU with 31 donations; third, the TWU with 32 donations; second, the CFMEU with 46 donations; and top of the rank, the MUA with 47 donations. That is a total of 185—worth over $1.6 million—and that is just the top five.

By his own admission, the member for Bruce believes that the receipt of multiple donations clearly increases the chance of corruption. I wonder how much inappropriate and corrupt behaviour 260 individual donations from the union movement buys in the Australian Labor Party. I wonder which of the union donations actually bought the opposition leader’s endorsements for the bids to have the members for Bruce, Maribyrnong, Corio, Isaacs and Hotham thrown out of their seats.


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