Senate debates

Wednesday, 22 March 2023


Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Amendment Bill 2022; In Committee

6:37 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move Australian Greens amendment (1) on sheet 1830:

(1) Page 63 (after line 2), at the end of the Bill, add:

Schedule 9 — Provisional voting

Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984

1 After subsection 4(1)


(1A) Despite subsection (1), a person is entitled to vote at a referendum if the person makes a claim for enrolment under paragraph 37(1)(f).

2 At the end of subsection 37(1)


; or (f) the person wishes to make a claim for enrolment and each of the following applies:

(i) the person's name cannot be found on the certified list of voters, or an approved list of voters, for the Division for which the person claims to vote;

(ii) the person is entitled to enrolment and to vote under section 93 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

3 After subsection 37(1)


(1AA) A person who wishes to make a claim for enrolment under paragraph (1)(f) may be asked to satisfy the identity requirements under subsection 98AA(2) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

(1AB) A person who wishes to make a claim for enrolment under paragraph (1)(f) and casts a provisional vote is deemed to have made a claim for enrolment for the purposes of section 98 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.

4 Subsection 37(2)

Omit "or claims to be", substitute "claims to be, or wishes to be".

This amendment pertains to on-the-day enrolment not just for First Nations people but for anyone who wishes to have their voice heard in this and any other referendum, who has not been able for a variety of legitimate reasons to be able to enrol themselves prior to election day. As I said in my second reading speech, this bill is an important and timely opportunity to improve enfranchisement, particularly for First Nations communities and particularly on this topic, and we must not waste the opportunity. The government have consistently said that they want the referendum to be as close as possible to a normal election, but in the last election many people missed out on voting. That's something that we need to fix rather than replicate.

We do support the government's commitment to increasing remote-area mobile polling, but that's not enough on its own. We support automatic enrolment and we support the recent changes to allow people to use their Medicare card or their citizenship certificate. They're all good amendments that will help boost enrolment, but they are not enough. I have talked to the government about this consistently and put the position, which we've heard over and over from stakeholders, that on-the-day enrolment and provisional voting will have a significant impact on the number of people able to cast a vote on referendum day. It is, if you like, an insurance policy in case those other provisions don't work. I hope they work, and you seem confident that they will, but if they don't, we need an insurance policy.

This is a foundational document. It is crucial that as many people as possible have their say. We don't require them to all think the same thing. We just want to know what it is that they think. Our amendment would allow voters, including, but not only, First Nation's voters, to attend the polling place, apply for immediate enrolment and cast their votes. That vote would be done by declaration to manage any risk of fraud. That means it would only be added to the formal count after the usual checks are made. The AEC would still need to verify that the enrolment is valid before the vote is counted.

There is no reason not to make this change; it would redress decades of disenfranchisement and make sure that everyone with a stake in the outcome of a referendum is able to exercise their right to vote—and it is a right, not a privilege. It is in fact a right. Moreover, this proposal has the support of the Electoral Commission. Not just that, it has been operating in other states and territories for years. There is no evidence of voter fraud or admin delays, and there is no undermining of election results. There is only evidence that more people get to vote.

I thought this was about increasing and improving democracy, and modernising the laws under which our referenda are conducted so that they might be closer to elections. I thought this was about maximising people's chance to have a say. Well, please pass this amendment! Allow people who wish to have their voice heard to enrol to vote on the day. I have just run you through the checks and balances which will exist, and there is no risk or downside to this! There is only an upside for democracy and for our nation to have its voice heard, ironically, on whether it should have a Voice to parliament. What dark irony it is that you wouldn't allow as many people as possible to have a voice on whether they would like to have a Voice!

Without this reform there's a real risk that many First Nations people may not get the chance to have a say on the Voice referendum. Frankly, it's unconscionable to refuse a change that would only increase the number of votes cast in a referendum. Again, we strongly urge the government and the opposition to support this amendment. This is an issue which, yes, we will agitate through the JSCEM reforms when considering reforms to our electoral laws. But I'm concerned that we won't be able to do that in time for the referendum, and I don't want people to miss out on voting on this important question. We have the chance to actually fix this now. We know it works in other jurisdictions and we know that the AEC is happy with it; I don't understand why you don't just support this! Let people vote! They want to have a say. Please support this amendment.


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