Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Electoral Legislation Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2018; Second Reading
The members for Scullin and Rankin have very ably explained why section 44(i) of the Constitution needed to be considered very carefully in this Electoral Legislation Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2018—so that it restores the trust of the Australian people in candidates for parliament. They've also explained, as I'm sure the shadow minister for electoral matters has very capably dealt with in the Senate, the areas of the bill that we are going to agree on with the government. They include applying six-metre exclusion zones, forwarding and processing of declaration votes, removal of the requirement to conduct divisional returning officer Senate counts, allowing earlier commencement of preliminary scrutiny of declaration votes, removing the requirement to produce postal vote applications for preliminary scrutiny, allowing the early recheck of declaration votes and streamlining the process for counting and packaging House of Representatives ballot papers.
These are all parts of the micromanagement of our electoral system that are very important. One of the reasons we do this is that constant revision of the electoral system for the maximum participation by Australian citizens in our compulsory attendance system is vital for ongoing democracy. We don't want to see in Australia, as we've seen in the United States, elections decided by hanging chads—that is, different electoral systems in different states. We don't want boundaries decided by state legislatures on the basis of political preferences or how it suits certain candidates from different political parties. We don't want to exclude people because of language or residential criteria, as happens in our great sister democracy, the United States. Our aim with all electoral legislation, including these micromanagement aims, is to include as many people as possible.
I think one of the things that the opposition is most pleased about is the fundamental change that has taken place over the last few years, which is the increasing numbers of Australians who participate in a great electoral and democratic event like we're going to have in May. And that is because our Electoral Commission has abandoned the use of just snail mail to revise people's addresses. That process, where only 20 per cent of people were responding to snail mail change of addresses, was leading to a great drop-off in the number of people, particularly young people and people at rental addresses. A million people dropped off the electoral roll in the period from 2007 to 2013, and that was not in our democratic interest. I think we got down to 90 per cent of people being enrolled in the electoral process. Now, thanks to these changes by the Electoral Commission, supported by the opposition and the government, particularly pushed by us in the last period of the Rudd-Gillard government, there are now two million more people on the electoral roll. I believe that's democracy.
If we have a compulsory attendance system, it's our responsibility to ensure that the rules are fair and, as the member for Scullin and the member for Rankin have pointed out, that candidates have a checklist that is acknowledged and fair so that the Australian people have confidence in who our candidates are. It's very, very important that we have the maximum number of people who are entitled to vote actually participating. Thanks to these fundamental changes that have taken place over the last few years in the way the Electoral Commission manages people's changes of addresses, I believe in the last few years two million more people are back on the electoral roll. That is a great democratic victory for the Australian people, and I think it will have some effect on the result that takes place in this forthcoming election. I commend the changes that the opposition have agree to with the government, and I look forward to the further changes that will be made in the Senate.