Thursday, 11 May 2006
Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005
Consideration in Detail
Following on from some of the debate last night with respect to these particular amendments, which relate to the eligibility of prisoners to be able to cast a vote, and also the question of the closure of the electoral roll at the time of the issuing of the writs, I want to put on record our position on the issue of prisoner voting. Labor do not support the amendment proposed by the government, but we support the amendment proposed by the member for Calare. We believe the current arrangement, whereby prisoners serving a full-time sentence of three years or less retain the right to vote in federal elections, is adequate for the simple reason that, as these people may well re-enter society during a government’s term, they should have their democratic say in who will be in government at that time. We believe this is a logical approach and a far better one than the one proposed by the government. I note the Special Minister of State trotted out a number of examples which, allegedly, we are in line with by going down this particular track. There is also, as he knows, a range of other examples which are, in fact, contrary to that. It is a situation designed for a political outcome, just as this legislation’s entire basis has been from the very beginning. What we have seen with this legislation, as others have said, is an attempt to bring into place, because of the circumstances in the Senate, an agenda that this government has had for quite some time with regard to a range of issues.
I want to continue on from the question of the closure of the electoral roll and to pick up on a couple of points again that the Special Minister of State at the table made yesterday in response to the second reading debate. He gave a rather detailed, analytical series of figures—for a minute there I thought I was listening to Brendan Nelson—regarding the issue of enrolments and changes to enrolments et cetera. I do not accept all of his figures, as much as I have a good deal of respect for the minister, but the fact of the matter is that, even if we just go off his own figures, ‘the number of electors then that may have been affected under the proposed arrangements is close to 47,000’. That is 47,000 Australians, which is about half a federal electorate. That is the figure we are talking about here, if we accept the position of the minister and the government. They are happy to create a situation where the odds are that they will knock out half a federal electorate by these changes on the basis of concerns about what might happen but which the previous minister has said has not happened and that is any question of large-scale fraud.
My recollection is that only one group outside the government came forth to the Senate inquiry to defend the position of the government on some of these issues. That was that well-known expert on electoral matters, the Festival of Light. Let the light shine on them when it comes to their actually assisting a government to move down to a system which is less democratic. For that, they stand condemned.
A couple of other points I would like to make on the closure of the roll issue go beyond the question of some of the figures that the minister produced last night. I reiterate that numerous experts have made the point that young people will be seriously disadvantaged by these changes. The minister in his speech does not really refute that. He merely makes the point that it is not politically motivated because the electoral studies show that a significant percentage of young people—in fact, 41 per cent or so according to the study—actually voted for the conservatives. Again, this is legislation designed to ensure that when the coalition is not going so well it has that little bit of extra fuel in the tank to get over the line. Let us be really clear about that. In normal circumstances that same study shows that young people do not support the coalition, and have not supported the coalition historically, and that is why they have in this place.
Yesterday I quoted on a number of occasions Professor Brian Costar with regard to this issue. He makes a point on the need to involve young people. We have a problem, and it is not just an Australian problem but a problem internationally, of engagement in electoral systems—engagement in the politics of the day. That is particularly an issue for young people. If we move to a situation where we make it even more difficult for young people to be involved, it is going to create additional problems for the system. Professor Costar said:
Good reasons would need to be adduced to justify the denial of the vote to such a larger cohort of citizens; especially the new enrolees, most of whom would be young people, who need encouragement to become civically engaged.