Thursday, 16 August 2007
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Democratic Plebiscites) Bill 2007
That this bill be now read a second time.
The bill gives effect to the Prime Minister’s announcement on 7 August 2007 to allow the Australian Electoral Commission to undertake any plebiscite on the amalgamation of any local governing body in any part of Australia.
The bill does this by amending the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 to authorise the Australian Electoral Commission’s use and disclosure of any information held by it, including information contained in an electoral roll, for the purpose of conducting an activity, such as a plebiscite.
Section 7A of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 already allows the Australian Electoral Commission to enter into an arrangement for the provision of goods and services. Section 7B of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 also allows the Australian Electoral Commission to charge reasonable fees for the goods or services supplied under section 7A.
The Australian Electoral Commission has the necessary skills and expertise to undertake arrangements to conduct a plebiscite. It presently conducts these arrangements for trade unions and employer organisations under the Workplace Relations Act 1996 and for other organisations and some foreign countries.
The bill introduces new subsections 7A(1C) and (1D) to clarify that the use by the Australian Electoral Commission of any information held by it, including information contained in an electoral roll, is authorised for the purpose of conducting an activity, such as a plebiscite.
The bill also provides that a law of a state or territory has no effect if it prohibits anyone from, or penalises or discriminates against anyone for, entering or proposing to enter into an arrangement with the Australian Electoral Commission. This also applies where a person or body takes part in or assists with, or proposes to take part in or assist with, the conduct of an activity to which an arrangement relates.
The imperative for a provision such as this arises from a law passed by the Queensland parliament on 10 August 2007 that, unless overridden by this Commonwealth law, would prevent councillors in that state having any involvement with these plebiscites.
The bill also refers to article 19 and paragraph (a) of article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 19 provides that people should have the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to freedom of expression. Paragraph (a) of article 25 provides that every citizen shall have the right and opportunity, without unreasonable restrictions, to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
Finally, I note that the bill is not intended to be an avenue for citizen initiated referenda. The bill is intended to give effect to the policy announcement of the Prime Minister. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr Albanese) adjourned.