Thursday, 17 March 2016
Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016; In Committee
In an abundance of helpfulness I will address this issue again. But first let me just say—not that I would want to speak on behalf of Senator Rhiannon, who is obviously capable of speaking for herself—that I think you are verballing and misrepresenting her line of questioning at the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.
I watched the hearing very carefully from our office, because, as you know, it was broadcast on TV, and it was a fascinating hearing. Senator Rhiannon, referring to some incident in the past which led to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters recommending against certain penalties for these circumstances, asked the Electoral Commission to clarify whether they had a view in relation to these matters. From memory the Electoral Commission referred to what I also referred to in my answer—that is, the existing penalties that are already in the Electoral Act.
The Electoral Act already provides that political parties are not allowed to mislead or deceive voters into casting an informal vote. That prohibition will continue. The government is of the opinion that the penalties currently listed in section 329 of the Electoral Act relating to the distribution of misleading material are sufficient to act as a significant deterrent to any such behaviour. We do not believe that we need to go beyond that important safeguard in section 329, which protects voters from any advice which could mislead them into casting an informal vote. We do not propose to ask the Electoral Commission to become the regulator and enforcer of how how-to-vote cards issued by political parties at election time are put together.
In the lead up to the next election the AEC will conduct a comprehensive education campaign to clearly explain the options available to voters when voting for the Senate. Specifically the campaign will explain to voters that they will now be able to direct their preferences when voting either above the line or below the line. It will detail clearly, as a result of government amendments adopted by the Senate, that the way to vote above the line for the Senate is by numbering at least six boxes in order of the voter's choice, with the number 1 representing their highest choice, with similar instructions to number 1 to 12 below the line. It is also worth noting that the ballot paper will explicitly direct voters to number at least 1 to 6 above the line or 1 to 12 below the line.
I will just say that again: the ballot paper will explicitly direct voters to number at least 1 to 6 above the line or 1 to 12 below the line when voting for the Senate. Taken together with the existing penalties for the distribution of misleading and deceptive material and the education campaign that will be conducted by the AEC in the lead-up to the next election, we believe that there is no need to introduce further penalties in the context of what Senator Collins has raised.