Thursday, 11 May 2006
Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill 2005
Consideration in Detail
I want to pick up on a couple of points the Special Minister of State just made. He quoted a range of figures and details with respect to actions of the AEC. I suggest he goes back to the AEC web site and has a look at the Youth electoral study, an AEC publication, and at what that says about the involvement of young people in the electoral process and how they feel about the nature of their place in the political system in this country. I will give him a couple of quotes from that report just in case he does not have time to read it—I know he is a busy man. A key point is:
Young people don’t understand the voting system.
In addition, the report asserts:
Young people do not perceive themselves generally as well prepared to participate in voting.
If he goes to that report, he will find a range of other points. One of the reasons the AEC is involved in education of the voting system, which I support wholeheartedly, is that there is a problem. That is why they are doing it—because it needs to be done—and the response of this government is to set up a situation where it becomes harder for those people to be part of the process.
The minister makes the point that a lot of people change their enrolment details late. Yes, that is true, because it is one of those things which people do when they feel they have to do it. The nature of having to do something like enrol, or ensure your enrolment is up to date, relates to the question of when you have to vote and when the roll closes. If you take time off that, people will miss out. The minister uses terms like ‘the bulk’. He is right about that—the bulk of people will be okay—but there will be a sizeable component who will not be. The further you close down those time lines the greater that number will be.
He makes the point that it does not even matter whether you have a fixed-term government there is still a late rush. There is, but with fixed terms there is a long period of time beforehand when you know when the election is going to be and you know when the roll will cut out, and your electoral system can adjust accordingly. You can through your electoral bodies advertise to ensure people are aware. You can ensure through newspapers, television and radio that people know the date and know they have to do it. But in these situations we are relying on the fact that the AEC is going to come up with a whiz-bang campaign. I would like the minister to point out to me where in the budget papers it shows this massive increase in funding for the AEC to provide for advertising campaigns to ensure that the electorate is aware, once the election is called, that the roll will close within a matter of days. I would like him to show me where that massive increase is in the AEC’s budget, because I could not find it. I challenge the minister to show us where that massive increase is in the AEC budget that will provide the information to ensure that people are aware that the roll is closing.
There is another point with respect to that. You can have a campaign ready to go, but you cannot go with that campaign until you are fairly confident that the election will be called. If the term is a three-year term, as we have, in normal circumstances once you get up to about two years and nine months you would say, ‘It’s not far off, you better start advertising.’ Of course, you still would not have the date. Let us have a look at the nature of election timing in this country. In recent times we have had a couple of governments that have run three years, but history indicates that not to be the case and that many elections are called early. This Prime Minister called the 1998, the 2001 and the 2004 elections. They are the three elections that he as Prime Minister has had responsibility for setting the dates. One of those was massively early; two were on time. So his record so far is one in three. That record would not have allowed—there is no way known—the AEC setting up an enrolment campaign 12 months out from an election due to be called. So it would not have worked in those circumstances.
Is the minister right that people overwhelmingly do these things late? Yes. It is like everything else. When do you tend to pay your bankcard bill? You tend to pay it close to the date when it is due. When do you pay other bills? You tend to pay them—or I do—close to when they are due because essentially that is when you have to do it. But, under this system, people will have less time to be sure about what is going on. Again, it is not just my opinion on this. (Time expired)