House debates

Thursday, 29 October 2020


Electoral Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2020; Second Reading

10:23 am

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment) Share this | Hansard source

I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill and move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to introduce the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2020. This bill makes technical amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and is mirrored by amendments to the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 to ensure consistency across all electoral events.

These amendments remedy anomalies in legislation and improve clarity, to enhance electoral processes and allow greater workforce flexibility for the Australian Electoral Commission, so they can use more modern workplace practices.

This bill progresses technical amendments that were previously supported by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and carried over from the last parliament. These amendments were deferred to facilitate passage of only the most urgent amendments ahead of the 2019 federal election. This bill also includes further technical amendments proposed by the AEC following the 2019 federal election.

The bill contains a number of measures variously designed to modernise electoral processes, build greater workforce flexibility to allow the AEC to streamline election delivery, and strengthen electoral integrity.

The bill includes necessary amendments in response to the High Court decision in Spence vs State of Queensland to better clarify the interaction between federal and state electoral laws. These amendments narrow the operation of provisions that were passed in the last parliament, to reflect the High Court's findings about the exact limits of the Commonwealth's legislative power.

The revised provisions ensure that federal law only applies exclusively to donations that are expressly for federal purposes, while fully respecting the application of state laws to amounts used for state purposes. The new rules do not purport to apply federal law exclusively to amounts that are 'untied', namely donations that are not specifically pledged to either a federal or state purpose.

To ensure integrity, the revised rules provide that if a donation is initially made for federal purposes but is subsequently used for a non-federal purpose, then the recipient will lose any immunity from state or territory law for receiving or keeping the gift. For example a political party may need to disclose the amount under state law and may be liable for penalties if the donation was not permitted under state law.

The bill also clarifies changes made through the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Act 2018. These changes simplify and clarify funding and entitlement rules including the rounding and indexation of public funding entitlements for eligible candidates, parties and groups.

It makes clear for avoidance of doubt that public funding for joint Senate tickets is split in proportions decided by the relevant parties and the bill allows amendments of public funding applications, including permitting applicants to clarify or add information to justify their claim;

It also fixes an unintended contradiction between rules related to the de-registration and registration of political campaigners and associated entities.

The bill allows greater workforce flexibility for the AEC and more nationally consistent processes. For instance, it allows the Electoral Commissioner to devolve functions of a divisional returning officer to other AEC officials. This enables the AEC to more effectively utilise its resources to ensure greater service delivery to its stakeholders, while maintaining public confidence.

The bill reduces unnecessarily prescriptive practices, including by allowing the AEC to use the most effective postal services; permitting them to supply pens as well as pencils in polling places; and allowing variation in the order of the three questions that must be asked of voters to ascertain their entitlement to vote.

The bill removes the obligation for divisional offices to be pre-poll voting centres, as many are not suitable due to poor access for people with mobility issues.

A particularly welcome reform is to permit party and candidate names to be printed under a preference box on a Senate ballot instead of alongside it, to reduce the possibility of one-metre-wide Senate ballot papers.

Removing stringent rules where they do not always work, will reduce public confusion, without diminishing the integrity of the electoral process.

The bill extends telephone voting to eligible Australian voters living in Antarctica, to improve the secrecy of votes for Antarctica voters and streamline operational process.

This bill will help modernise many aspects of our electoral process. Although the individual technical changes are modest, together they will help the AEC run a more efficient and responsive service for the public.

In conclusion, it is important that we remain committed to improving electoral legislation in a non-partisan manner which promotes public confidence, enables our electoral system to evolve in a modernising environment, and strengthens democracy.

I commend the bill to the House.

Leave granted for second reading debate to continue immediately.


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