House debates

Wednesday, 5 December 2018


Electoral Matters Committee; Report

4:22 pm

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Schools) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, I present the committee's report, incorporating dissenting reports, on the inquiry into the 2016 federal election and matters related thereto.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

by leave—I'm very pleased to be able to make a few short remarks to advise the House of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters Report on the conduct of the 2016 federal election and matters related thereto. I think it is important that this report, which is a considerable document, is presented in good time before the next federal election so that the work of the committee can be incorporated into the preparation of the next electoral event in the new year.

I would like to start my remarks by thanking the secretariat for their extraordinary commitment in supporting the work of the committee—and it's very pleasing that two members of the committee are here—and also the liaison staff from the Australian Electoral Commission, who provided important technical assistance.

The report traverses a very wide range of matters, and I think I should also advise the House that, as well as the scope of the report in terms of the matters it touched upon, the committee was determined to engage with as many Australians as possible in considering the experience of the last federal election. So the committee conducted hearings not just in Canberra, not just in Sydney and not just in Melbourne but also in Hobart, in Perth, in Adelaide, in Brisbane and in Townsville to try and encompass as much of the experience of people connected to the election as possible.

The report covers many significant matters and there are just a few which I will touch upon by way of recommendations briefly. The report recommends some changes to party registration, which I think is an important recommendation in terms of dealing with issues about Senate voting and confidence in that aspect of our democracy. The report spends some time looking at improvements to the electoral roll. These are really critical recommendations and reflect the determination of committee members, in particular Labor members, to ensure that every Australian has every opportunity to participate in our federal elections and in making those critical decisions that determine how we are to live. There is a particular concern evidenced in the report to ensure that voters with disability, and I think particularly voters with vision impairment, have every opportunity to participate and participate effectively in federal elections.

The report makes significant recommendations going to civics and its promotion and encouragement. I would encourage members to have regard to those as we all strive to rebuild trust and confidence in the operation of our democracy.

The report also deals with some concerning aspects of recent elections, in terms of disinformation and in terms of cybermanipulation. These are increasing concerns for the health of our democracy and do require further investigation by this committee and indeed by other committees, including that responsible for matters of intelligence and security.

In terms of the rolls, I just want to make one particular point. It is the view of committee members that we're encouraging greater use of electronic certified lists, which would enhance efficiency and go quite some way to bridging the gap between formal voting in the House of Representatives and in the other place, which is of significant concern, as we are seeing many thousands of Australians cut out from having the opportunity to have their say on who speaks for them in this place. I think it is worth acknowledging the circumstances of the last election, which presented particular challenges with very recent and, some might say, rushed changes to voting systems for the other place, and concerns that were identified in the 2013 election, particularly going to the WA Senate result and to seeing how the recommendations of the Keelty review were put into practice. These are significant matters that require attention by all members. I'm hopeful that this report will be a useful guide to members and indeed to senators in those integrity and oversight aspects of our election.

I should note that the committee's findings in relation to its inquiry into the 2016-17 annual report are addressed in this report, and therefore the committee considers this statement to conclude that inquiry. The committee has adopted a new reference to the new annual report, which will continue its oversight of the AEC and relevant electoral matters.

In conclusion, I note the work of all committee members, particularly the former chair, Senator Reynolds, and former senator Lee Rhiannon. It has been a pleasure to work with them.

There is one discordant note I have to end on, unfortunately, and that is that Labor members have been forced into issuing a dissenting report. This dissenting report deals with recommendation 12, which would propose onerous obligations in respect of voters having to provide forms of identification at polling places. This is profoundly antidemocratic. It is a well-known trope of conservative politics in Australia. Indeed, it was proposed by the conservative majority in the last JSCEM report to this place. It is interesting and important to note that, while government members and others allege incidences of dual voting shaping election results, this report does not identify one single instance of multiple voting being alleged or one single instance of fraudulent voting.

Fundamentally, we should all be concerned with giving every Australian every chance to participate in our democracy through federal elections. The vast majority of this report is intended towards that purpose, and we recognise great work by the AEC in that regard. Recommendation 12, however, is a regressive step in the opposite direction and should be rejected by all members of this place. With that, I commend the report to the House, and I move:

That the House take note of the report.

Debate adjourned.