House debates

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Bills

Electoral Legislation Amendment (Modernisation and Other Measures) Bill 2018; Second Reading

1:21 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | Hansard source

Well done! I wish I could orchestrate things more often! I thank the member for Melbourne Ports. I will make some comments about his contribution in a moment. The member for Rankin and the member for Scullin, this is very important legislation, and I want to pick up on some elements of it, but, most particularly, on the comments made by the member for Melbourne Ports when he referred to the changes that have been made to ensure people don't drop off enrolments and their enrolments are kept up.

I have a particular concern about enrolment. Whilst this part of the bill doesn't directly address what I'm on about, it needs to be understood that, if we accept the propositions that, as a result of our Constitution and the acts that have been passed by this parliament, we have a participatory democracy and that we have compulsory voting, and therefore every Australian who is eligible to be on the roll should be on the roll and every Australian who is eligible to be on the roll and is on the roll should be entitled to have a vote and cast that vote without interference, then it makes it very difficult if you're not on the roll. Whilst voting is compulsory, if you're not on the roll, through no fault of your own, then you could hardly be seen as a participator participating in the democracy which was founded within the text of our Constitution or as a result of the parliament passing legislation since Federation. Yet we live in a set of circumstances where, as a direct result of funding cuts by this government and management decisions taken by the Australian Electoral Commission, there are literally tens of thousands of Australians in remote and regional Australia who are not on the roll. I've complained about this before. It's a fundamental abrogation of the responsibilities of government not to ensure that every Australian has the opportunity to be on the electoral roll and the opportunity to vote without interference.

Sadly, this isn't the case for many in my own electorate of Lingiari, and I'll give you some of the details. I've previously expressed, in this place and elsewhere, concern that the Australian Electoral Commission's staffing of its Darwin office to administer the Northern Territory dropped from 16 to three under a restructure in 2017. That effectively means there are no teams going around the bush, visiting Aboriginal communities in my electorate, educating them about the enrolment and voting process and their obligations as citizens, and enrolling them to vote. It's as if by some magic osmosis from somewhere—I don't know what—young Aboriginal people in particular are expected to know how to be enrolled. They don't have access to a post office, even if there were one. They may or may not have access to the internet—on the proviso, of course, that they are literate. So there are many thousands who are simply not on the electoral roll. The federal government cuts to the AEC included $1.5 million in 2017-18 and $8.4 million over the forward estimates. The staff that were cut included five in the enrolment branch of the AEC in the Northern Territory and four in the Indigenous participation and voter education branch. They no longer exist. The Northern Territory Electoral Commission, because we have a dual role, effectively rents the use of the AEC voter list from the AEC, as required by the law on Northern Territory self-government. The Northern Territory doesn't have, as states do, an option of compiling its own list. So it too is victimised by the failure of the government to ensure that every person who should be on the roll and has the capacity to be on the roll is on the roll.

It's clear that, by cutting and underfunding the AEC, the government is depriving large numbers of people of the vote. As of 30 September 2018, there were 69,825 persons enrolled to vote in Lingiari and 139,000 persons in both electorates in the Northern Territory. This means that last year, as the AEC pointed out, there were over 26,377 who were not on the roll. Eighty-four per cent of Territorians are enrolled to vote and 16 per cent are not. In other parts of Australia, the average is over 96 per cent. So, because they live where they do, because of the failure of this government to ensure that the Australian Electoral Commission has had sufficient funding and because of the Australian Electoral Commission's own stupid management decisions, these people are not on the roll. I'm entitled to get pretty bloody cranky about that, and I am. Yet there is not a whimper from the CLP in the Northern Territory or Senator Scullion in the other place, a cabinet member, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. You'd think he'd be an advocate and that this matter would have been rectified, yet it has not been. We've got an election coming within months—within weeks. It should be called today, but in any event it will be within weeks.

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