Monday, 2 May 2016
Procedure Committee; Report
On behalf of the Standing Committee on Procedure, I present the committee's report entitled Division required? Electronic voting in the House of Representatives, together with the minutes of proceedings.
Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.
I am pleased to present the Procedure Committee's report into electronic voting in the House of Representatives. Electronic voting has been considered a real possibility for the House of Representatives for many years. In fact, provision was made for the future implementation of electronic voting when Parliament House was designed and built. Despite a number of inquiries, including by past Procedure Committees, the House has been unable to come to a final decision on the matter.
There has been reluctance in the past to introduce technology into the House of Representatives chamber. In recent years, however, there has been a cultural shift in this place which has seen members embrace the possibilities that technology provides us. Throughout this inquiry, the committee sought the views of all members on the question of electronic voting and it is clear that 'the ayes have it'. Members are ready to embrace the technology available to us to modernise voting procedures in the House of Representatives.
While members have offered their in-principle support for electronic voting, the committee does not wish to see voting procedures which are valued by members and observers of proceedings abandoned. There is no question, for example, that members must continue to attend the chamber to vote, with the exception of nursing mothers who may vote by proxy. The committee also feels strongly that members should continue to move to the right and the left of the chair to vote. This practice is a symbolic and meaningful act, particularly when a member 'crosses the floor' or when there is a conscience vote. Divisions also have the practical benefit of indicating to members which way their colleagues are voting and add interest for observers of proceedings.
This report considers a number of technology options for electronic voting in the House of Representatives chamber. The committee has determined that the most practical option, which warrants further investigation, is voting by touch or swipe cards or electronic tokens. The committee proposes that after the bells have stopped ringing and the doors locked, members would move to the right or left of the chair and register their vote by touching their individual voting card on readers at any seat. This method would maintain traditional voting procedures but would automate the count, saving time and allowing for the immediate distribution and publication of accurate results. The committee has also recommended that the results of divisions be displayed on screens within the chamber, for the benefit of members and observers of proceedings.
While further investigation into technology options, costs and heritage issues is needed, the committee proposes that the time for action on electronic voting has come. Introducing electronic voting into the House of Representatives chamber will save the time of the House, will allow for the immediate availability of accurate results and will demonstrate that the House is willing to embrace technological change to enhance its procedures while maintaining valued traditions and practices.
This has been an active committee, and I commend the chair on the points that he has made in tabling this report on electronic voting. There has not been much disagreement in this committee. There have mainly been refinements of each other's views. We know that electronic voting has been discussed in this House since 1970, when the planning for this building determined that provision should be made 'in the new Parliament House' for the necessary conduits to be installed. In 1970, they thought of the prospective internet, electronic voting and the world we live in now: the digital age.
Through the 1990s and 2000s, the Procedure Committee and others have endorsed the idea of electronic voting but failed to make any firm recommendations. I think this report is excellent. I commend the chair and secretariat for helping the committee refine its ideas. As the chair said, there is no suggestion that we would abandon the traditional divide to the left and right of the chair. Electronic voting should be implemented provided that the voting occurs in this chamber. There is no prospect of us doing what is done in other countries, where voting is conducted by noting one's vote on a computer but not necessarily attending the chamber. Tellers would continue to be appointed under our recommendations to ensure proxy votes for nursing mothers and as a backup in the event of a technology failure.
The issue of a swipe card has been investigated as the option for allowing members to vote from anywhere within the chamber. It is a good idea. Voting from anywhere within the chamber is an important suggestion, because we know what happens during divisions: it is a useful opportunity for backbench members to catch up with ministers or shadow ministers and, therefore, they do not want to sit in their seats. Having people have to swipe their cards in their actual seats would be something that might be difficult because people would prefer not to be in their seats, quite understandably. I think it is an important custom of the House that should not be interfered with by new procedures.
Just as the screens we have inside and outside the front door tell us what the actual vote and adjournment is, it is recommended that the results of divisions be displayed in the chamber. I think that would, again, make it more involving for the public, and even the press gallery, to actually be able to see what we know. It is all rumbling in the background when the Speaker announces—I am not criticising you, Mr Speaker, far from it—that the votes are such and such. Everything that makes this chamber more democratic and makes the decisions more clear and transparent is all a very good idea. I commend this report, the chair, the secretariat and these conclusions to the House.