Senate debates

Thursday, 21 June 2012


Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011, Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012, Second Reading

1:09 pm

Photo of Lee RhiannonLee Rhiannon (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector Participation) Bill 2012.

As we know, these bills arise from considerable work by many members of parliament and senators in this parliament over many years and specifically from the work of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters to review how our electoral system is operating. I have great interest in these matters, as, I know, many of my colleagues do also, having a deep commitment to ensure that as many people as possible participate in our democratic processes.

The Greens have been in discussion with the government and with many other parties about this important work to ensure that the electoral rolls are well maintained and kept up to date. In New South Wales, we have already achieved a breakthrough, and much of what is set out in this legislation already applies in New South Wales and to some extent Victoria. I will come back to that in more detail because it is relevant to the current debate and shines a light on some of the attitudes and comments of coalition members.

The proportion of eligible people on the roll has fallen in recent years, which I think should trouble all of us. It has gone from 95 per cent a decade ago to around 90 per cent today. But when you look at some age categories their take-up rate for putting their names on rolls is quite worrying. The percentage of eligible voters who actually cast a vote is, as we know, much lower; it was 78 per cent in 2010.

The most recent estimates suggest that about 1.6 million eligible Australians are not enrolling to vote. I think that figure alone tells us that the current system is not working. Analysis by the Australian National Audit Office suggests that, for the younger age groups, the take-up rate is much lower. The ANAO suggests that among 18­year­olds the enrolment is only 52 per cent. While it is true that the enrolment rate swiftly improves, it is not until you get two people in their mid-30s that the enrolment rate passes 90 per cent, and then not until the late 40s does it reach the Australian Electoral Commission’s own target, which is effectively the target we are obviously aiming for, of around 95 per cent. So, again, it underlines the need for the legislation that we are considering here today.

As a nation with a long history of compulsory voting for its citizens, we must do better than having 1½ million people eligible who are actually missing from our rolls, who are not taking part in a critical aspect of our democracy: voting come election day. Compulsory voting can be seen as one of the most positive aspects of our democracy. It is certainly something that I am very proud of. Maintaining the electoral rolls is a big undertaking and clearly it is not without its problems, and we have explored many of those on the JSCEM hearings. The integrity of citizens' personal data and privacy concerns are least among these issues. But the principle of full participation in elections is fundamental to our democratic system of government in Australia. So the Greens see these reforms before us today as essential. The work of getting eligible voters onto the electoral rolls remains a large part of the work of the Australian Electoral Commission, or AEC. Clearly these bills will assist those all important endeavours.

The bills deal with two aspects: firstly, updating the information of people who are already enrolled to vote; and, secondly, adding eligible people to the electoral rolls. The maintaining address bill allows the AEC to update an elector's address using relevant and current information it receives from other reliable sources outside the Electoral Commission, such as state roads departments. The protecting elector participation bill will allow the AEC to add people it deems eligible to the electoral rolls. The AEC will contact them to let them know this has happened and give them the opportunity to change their enrolment.

There is criticism of this bill and, having sat on JSCEM, I have heard it time and time again from Senator Scott Ryan and one of the House of Representatives members, Ms Bronwyn Bishop. They have outlined extreme criticism, which just leaves one with the understanding that there is not a commitment to follow in the footsteps of their colleagues in Victoria and New South Wales to make every effort to get as many people onto the rolls as possible. The critics of these bills argue that compulsory voting is draconian. Another argument that comes up is that people choose not to enrol to vote as a snub to our system of party politics and they have every right to do so. This may be the case for some people, but there is a larger section of the community who simply have not enrolled to vote or who have fallen off the rolls for various reasons. Sometimes people are not enrolled because they are newly arrived in the country or they are not acquainted with our electoral system for reasons of education or where they live or pressures in their daily lives. I believe a key responsibility for us is to make the provisions to ensure that it is as easy as possible for the rolls to reflect voters in the wider society.

I want to return to the figures because they are worth dwelling on. According to the Australian Electoral Commission, as at 30 June 2011 only 90.9 per cent of eligible people were on the electoral roll. That means that over a million people are missing out. There is a growing perception that younger people are disengaged from politics and have no interest in voting. I acknowledge that this is a problem—and it is one we could give in on, as the coalition seems to have done in its response to these bills—but it is essential for our democracy that we do engage young people with the political process, address their means of communication and how they take things up. We need to be widening consultation with their generation, specifically how young people get on the rolls, and forward thinking in our own policies and our own vision. We cannot accept that disillusionment is as widespread or as inevitable as some make out, but rather we need to be working with all generations to ensure that we do better. Doing better here ensures that we have a roll that reflects the voters who can participate in our democratic processes.

A report by the Australian Human Rights Commission showed that, whilst all Australians aged 18 or over are required to vote, certain groups are disproportionately more likely to miss out. Those who are more likely to be excluded from voting for legal or practical reasons are young people, people with a disability, those in rural areas, Indigenous Australians, the homeless, and prisoners serving longer sentences. AHRC's report is extremely useful and informative for what we are considering here. Participation in the political process clearly is the basis of our democracy, and that is what needs to be enhanced. The right to vote in elections without discrimination is a fundamental human right, set out in international human rights treaties that bind the Australian government and also in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That is why I was quite concerned with a number of the comments made by Senator Ryan in his contribution to this debate yesterday, because, essentially, the result of what he wants—that is, not following through with these important bills—denies so many people their fundamental human right to participate fully in our democratic processes. All we are doing here is providing one means to help achieve that. Updating elector addresses on the rolls is one of the ways that the government can deliver on the all-important aim set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other treaties.

I noticed some interesting comments from Bernard Keane in Crikey earlier this year. He noted that the government wanted to introduce these bills so that it could increase its share of public funding by getting more people on the rolls. I acknowledge this would be a consequence of the bills, but it is hardly the primary motivation. Cynicism abounds within certain areas of our community, but I did think that was a step too far. It is important to consider that if we did not have a compulsory voting system, much of that public funding would be greatly reduced. Having talked to so many people on this critical issue, I do believe that the motivation is about ensuring as many people as possible can participate in our democratic process.

When it comes to electoral reforms that will benefit parties, what the Greens want most is to move to a system of proportional representation. I want to take the opportunity in this debate to emphasise that key policy point, because it is something that is overlooked time and time again. We are a party that at the 2010 election received around 1½ million votes, and in the House of Representatives we gained one seat. Depending on the form of proportional representation introduced, and we know that there are many systems, we could have anything between 13 and 17 members of the House of Representatives and a number of other smaller parties would probably also pick up some representation. That is something that really does need to be addressed. It is another aspect to enhancing our democracy. I realise it is not part of these bills, but I do like to bring it in whenever we get down to talking about how we improve the workings of our democracy.

I want to return to some of the issues of privacy. There are genuine privacy related concerns with this legislation, which is moving from an opt-in to an opt-out system. People's personal information is stored by a range of government agencies—we know that; it happens already—and we know that it can subject to inaccuracies. The electoral roll can potentially be updated with inaccurate information, which could then in turn be passed on to other agencies that use the electoral roll as a reliable source of record. An increased power to change electoral details without consent warrants an increased onus on the AEC to ensure the reliability of the data. In many ways this comes down to that. The AEC is clearly working to ensure the integrity of its data that is becoming more complex in our digital age and resources are obviously critical to them being to achieve that.

I signal that this issue of privacy and the responsibility that rests with the AEC need be priorities for the government to address in its privacy review of these new laws. Another priority will be to assess how the AEC is meeting its responsibility to avoid compounding and passing on any errors in the source data that it relies on to update the rolls. The AEC, I know, is well aware of these problems and has plans to review how these privacy considerations are affected by these new laws. But technology can offer solutions, as well as create problems. The answer lies in getting the system right from the beginning—that is, how the data is updated and how it is checked. I am pleased the government has increased the operating budget of the AEC, but we are still arguing that it needs close attention, because it would appear that resources will be critical to this work.

On balance, the Greens believe that the undertaking before us is important and must be allowed to proceed. We have signalled our privacy concerns here and on a number of occasions with the government. We will engage fully with the privacy review of these new laws, which I understand will be undertaken in the near future.

I also want to take up some of the issues relating to homeless people being able to vote. This is something that, as I mentioned, was touched on by the Human Rights Commission report. The rights of homeless people are often overlooked in our society. I draw senators' attention to some very useful submissions from Homelessness Australia to some of the reviews of past federal elections and other issues we have addressed on JSCEM. They raise the very important concern of how we ensure that people experiencing homelessness have every opportunity to vote at elections and they take up the issue of the change in the law.

I think it is worth putting on the record what happened under the former, Howard government and how it really brought a great disadvantage to homeless people and people who may not be able to quickly change their details, for a whole range of reasons. The situation previously had been that voters were given a seven-day grace period from the date the election writ was issued. But, as we know, under the Howard government this changed, with people having to enrol by 8 pm on the same day that the writs were issued, bringing about difficulties for many homeless people. Often they may not have even been aware that they had to respond so quickly. It is important and good that those issues are being addressed.

I want to put on record some other suggestions that Homelessness Australia have made because they are relevant to the overall thrust of an issue that we deal with regularly as a Senate, which is how to ensure our democratic process involves as many people as possible. They have suggested that there should be more extensive education and training for electoral site managers and volunteers on how they can assist homeless people in exercising their right to vote. They have taken up the issue of polling places, stating that they should also be set up in places that are accessible and highly visible to people who are homeless. There is the very good idea that has been trialled in some areas of having mobile polling booths regularly visit areas where homeless people often gather. I am not just talking about where they may sleep but places like Centrelink, emergency accommodation and other places. I find the next recommendation interesting, and I know some people have challenged it. It is about being registered. Homelessness Australia state that homelessness should be seen as being sufficient reason to register an individual with no fixed address. I think it is time that we started looking at those provisions.

I also want to touch on developments in New South Wales. As I mentioned earlier, both New South Wales and Victoria have changed the way in which rolls are managed. We have seen worrying developments recently where there is an inconsistency between the state rolls in those two states and the federal roll, which has meant that some people have missed out on a vote come federal election time because they thought they were on the federal roll. One of the very important aspects of these two bills before us is that consistency will be brought back between the two rolls.

The current enrolment system in New South Wales and Victoria is similar to what is in these bills, with voters having to independently enrol for federal elections. That is where there is confusion. It is quite clear that many people would not understand that that is what they had to do. It is not how you would logically think an electoral system in Australia, which is seen as being fairly up-to-date and modern in how it manages these things, would expect people to respond.

Another issue relates to high school students. The systems in New South Wales and Victoria have focused specifically on high school students' eligibility and responsibility to enrol. That is a really important development but again it underlines why we need these two bills passed, because clearly many young people would have no understanding that they had to get themselves on the federal electoral roll.

There are so many good reasons why we need these two bills passed and implemented as quickly as possible. The integrity of our electoral rolls is really a foundation of our democratic process. The efforts that the coalition have gone to to discredit the two bills that are before us now I think is enormously revealing. It highlights that their arguments are essentially those of self-interest. They are not interested in getting these new voters, many of whom are young people or disadvantaged people, on the rolls. When we approach these questions we should be looking at how we put our democratic process first, not the self-interest of our own party. I am very pleased that the Greens have been part of and have worked on these bills. (Time expired)

1:29 pm

Photo of Gary HumphriesGary Humphries (ACT, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Materiel) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister at the table earlier described the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill 2011 and the related bill that we are dealing with today as being all good, but I rise to beg to differ with him. I think there are serious concerns about the two bills that the Senate is currently debating. Notwithstanding the effusive support given by Senator Rhiannon for these bills, I think we ought to look long and hard at what we are doing by passing these bills. The intention of this legislation is that a net be thrown out to the broader population of people who are apparently not enrolled on the present Commonwealth electoral roll. Using certain assumptions, a proportion of these people would be enrolled automatically—without their consent and presumably often without their knowledge—on the Commonwealth electoral roll. It is thought that this will increase the number of people who are enrolled and who are eligible to cast their vote at federal elections. It is a method of improving participation in Commonwealth electoral processes, which the Greens and the Labor Party obviously think is important, but which I think represents a large amount of self-interest. Senator Rhiannon suggested that it is only the coalition that has self-interest in this legislation; I think the support of the two governing parties for this legislation reflects a large measure of their own self-interest.

An important point about this legislation is that it goes to the operation of our electoral system and to the operation of a body like the Senate. To pass the laws of the country with authority and with a sense of reflection of the wishes of the Australian people, we need to have underpinning the work of the parliament the strong foundation of an electoral system that is accurate and fair and that produces results that reliably reflects the views of the Australian people. Underpinning that is the integrity of the Australian Electoral Commission, which, in turn, relies on the integrity of the electoral rolls. If you do not have reliable rolls you have an immediate and fundamental problem with the effectiveness of the entire democratic structure upon which this country depends for good government.

Without any doubt at all, this legislation degrades the quality of the Australian electoral roll. Throwing out this net and enrolling people who have not offered to be enrolled or who may not be eligible to be enrolled because they are already enrolled in a different location or under a different name must necessarily increase the unreliability of the electoral roll. For Senator Rhiannon to rise in this place and say that this is about ensuring the integrity of the electoral roll is farcical; it demonstrably decreases the reliability of the electoral roll. The proponents of this legislation might argue that that is a fair enough trade-off. They might argue that, by getting onto the roll more people who might, through ignorance or perhaps reluctance to be on the roll, not be enrolled already, it is all right to degrade the quality of the roll overall. I beg to differ. I think that maintaining a roll that reflects the wish of Australian citizens to be on the roll—to want to vote and be part of the electoral system of this country—is very important. When we move to a system that does not have that foundation we are inherently working on weaker foundations. That is a great concern.

This bill relies on the Australian Electoral Commission's being able to use other sources of data—what is referred to in the bill as a 'reliable and current data source'—to add names to the electoral roll. The legislation does not tell us what these reliable and current data sources might be; it just says that the information should be garnered from such, unnamed sources. That in itself creates some concern, because essentially it is up to officers of the Electoral Commission to determine what information it is that they might rely upon. It is a phrase that is supremely open to interpretation. Why does the legislation not name the sources that the roll ought to rest upon? Why does it not say that we can rely on Medicare enrolments, Australian Taxation Office records, state electoral rolls or something else? It does not do that; it creates a wide discretion. That in itself is a concern, not because members of the Electoral Commission might deliberately misuse it but because the principles are open to variable application and because it may result in some officers using information which simply is not reliable, in the objective sense of that word.

It is important to make sure that we know why people are enrolled, if they have not made an express decision to enrol themselves on the Australian electoral roll. There are many reasons why a roll constructed in this form might not be an accurate reflection of what people intend doing or what their eligibility for enrolment is. In a 1999 inquiry by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, Finance and Public Administration, which was a review of an earlier Australian National Audit Office report on the management of the tax file number system, it was found that there were 3.2 million more tax file numbers than there were people in Australia at the preceding census—the last census before 1999. But we are saying that names can be added to the Australian electoral roll, presumably, on the strength of a tax file number being attached to a name and address in the ATO's database—that is, 3.2 million presumably inaccurate or partially inaccurate tax file numbers potentially being the basis for enrolment on the electoral roll. The audit found that there were 185,000 potential duplicate tax records for individuals. An audit of deceased clients of the Australian Taxation Office found that 62 per cent of those deceased clients were in fact not recorded as deceased in a sample batch. So potentially very significant numbers of dead people would under this system be eligible for some kind of enrolment. Maybe there are measures that the government has planned to prevent that from occurring.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I think I know how they might vote.

Photo of Gary HumphriesGary Humphries (ACT, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Materiel) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, I think I know how they might vote as well. Hence my comment before, Senator Fifield, about the self-interest of the Labor Party and the Greens alliance government. We know that a system that provides for such things to occur is inherently dangerous. Will there be checks undertaken to make sure that a person who is deceased but who still has a tax file number attached to a name and an address does not get onto the electoral roll? We don't know, because it is not spelt out in the legislation. It is not described anywhere. I would invite the minister in closing this debate to tell us how we make sure that those sorts of things do not happen. I suspect that she will not be able to.

The same audit report from 1998-99 by the Australian National Audit Office found that up to half a million active Medicare enrolment records were probably for people who were deceased. So the problem of out-of-date records in the tax office is replicated with out-of-date records in the Medicare office. Presumably, if a name is identified on the tax office database as belonging to a certain person and they say, 'We'd better check this. We'll look at the Medicare records and see if that name is confirmed there. Yes, it is, at the same address. That must be a real person,' then suddenly we have a confirmed enrolment. It has been checked and confirmed but in fact it is not an enrolment of a living person at all. That is the foundation on which this government wants to build this brave new world. I have to say I think that is extremely concerning.

There is really only one reliable way of ensuring that eligible people appear on the Australian electoral roll, and that is for them to exercise the initiative of saying, 'I choose to exercise my democratic right to be enrolled—indeed my democratic obligation to be enrolled—and I come forward to put that information into the public arena for the purposes of enrolment.' That is a reasonable system. That is a fair system, but that is not the system to which the government is presently proceeding.

There are a number of aspects of this which I think generate real concern. One is that it actually removes the sense of individual responsibility as the basis on which people engage with the electoral system. At the moment I am sure all of us in this place with children tell them, when they reach the age of 18, 'Make sure you're enrolled on the electoral roll.' You pursue that as a matter of responsibility, and it is good for your children to take that active step, maybe pushed a little by their parents, to go and put their name on the electoral roll. It reminds them of their responsibility as citizens in a democratic nation—one of the world's oldest democratic nations, indeed—to take part in the electoral system.

But what this government's legislation is moving towards is a system where that responsibility is removed or at least downplayed. What is to stop people from making an assumption, based on legislation like this, that enrolment is taken care of for you by the government? 'Don't worry about it—a computer somewhere will enrol you. You don't have to worry about that.' It may have the perverse effect of making some people think they do not need to take the step of enrolling, and that would be most unfortunate.

This is obviously an invitation to fraud. We will have an electoral roll which will be clearly less accurate than has been the case in the past, but of course it will remain a public document. Say we have a tight federal election in the offing one day. I don't particularly think the next one is going to be very tight, but let's assume there is a tight federal election coming up and there are a few key marginal seats that are likely to decide the outcome. Some people decide that it is very important that their party win those tight seats to make sure that they win the election. They go to the electoral roll and they discover with a bit of research that there are a number of names on that roll of people who are deceased. The temptation is there to cast votes in the names of those deceased people.

This is not a scare tactic; it is true. We know from audits of the electoral roll in the past that it is true there is some measure of deliberate fraudulent voting and some measure of fraudulent enrolment. When we have very tight election outcomes, the thought that results might be corrupted because of such behaviour is anathema to the effectiveness and reliability of our system. To think that we are passing legislation today to make that more likely is a matter of real concern.

Senator Rhiannon in her remarks raised concerns about privacy. Indeed, where people's names are being plucked from other data sources and placed on the electoral roll, there are real concerns about privacy. She addressed those by saying that records can be corrected. Perhaps they can, but that does not alter the fact that the problem with privacy is there at the beginning. Unless a person happens to know that some details are being used in an inappropriate way—and of course people are not asked to enrol under this new system; they are simply enrolled—the likelihood of that kind of abuse of privacy increases. It goes without saying that many people who are eligible for enrolment have reasons not to be on a publicly available, published version of the electoral roll—and I imagine there are a few such people in this very chamber, for example. They may lose that control because their names might be added to the electoral roll without them being aware of it.

Reference was made by Senator Rhiannon to the experience in New South Wales and Victoria, where once again Labor governments have introduced automatic enrolment provisions. Antony Green, the distinguished psephologist, noted in his blog on 16 July last year that of the 70,000 people automatically enrolled in New South Wales for its most recent election, two-thirds were so-called updated address details. That is the automatic system we are now looking at here. Only 12 per cent had filled out the AEC's form to enrol federally. Further, of the 20,000 people whose address details were changed automatically in New South Wales, only 87.5 per cent turned out to vote, below the overall attendance of 92.3 per cent. For those automatically enrolled for the first time, the turnout was only 64.3 per cent. So clearly the systems in New South Wales and Victoria are not completely effective at accurately reflecting what people want to do and what their intentions are. Taking from them the responsibility of making those decisions to enrol clearly presents a problem.

Acknowledging that there are, for example, problems with people enrolling to vote at the state level but not enrolling at the federal level, there are other ways of fixing those issues. If people demonstrate a desire to be enrolled and they put their name down on an electoral roll at the state level and think that they might therefore be enrolled at the federal level it is perfectly possible for the Australian Electoral Commission to write to these people and ask, 'Are you aware that you are enrolled on the state roll but not on the federal roll?' and deal with the issue in that way and leave the initiative to individual potential electors. But that is not the approach taken in this legislation, and that is very concerning.

I mentioned self-interest before. I cannot help but wonder whether a party or parties facing an adverse outcome at the next election might think it is a good idea to try to rake as many other people as they possibly can onto the roll so that it might perhaps tip the balance in their favour in some seats they are at risk of losing. It is very hard to know what their intentions are in that respect.

To sum up, these bills are a concern because they reduce the integrity of the Australian electoral roll, with electors having their details updated without their knowledge, leading to a higher number of potential irregularities. The bills give the Electoral Commission the discretion to determine what are reliable and current data sources without specifying to the rest of the community what those actually are. I think that places far too great an onus on individual officers within the Electoral Commission.

The coalition believes that the personal responsibility which is part of our electoral system, the initiative to be an active and informed participant in our electoral system, is eroded by a system which puts people on the electoral roll without them knowing or consenting to that happening. It is likely that this is a step towards across-the-board automatic enrolment with all the problems that obviously go with such a concept. I have already indicated to the Senate the various problems with other data sources. There is no highly accurate other data source from which such information can be derived to place a person's name on the electoral roll.

At a time when trust in the political process and in politicians is at a fairly low level relative to other points in our history, as demonstrated by some recent opinion polls, why would we in the Senate want to add to that problem by increasing the unreliability of electoral tools which attempt to reflect the wishes of the Australian people for the make-up of their government? Why would we want to degrade that most important tool—the Australian electoral roll—by degrading the quality of the information on it, as this legislation inevitably will do? That is the question the Senate faces this afternoon. Why we would want to make our system less reliable and to attack the reputation of our system as having fair and accurate outcomes in federal elections is a mystery to me. I think members of this place should reconsider their support for this flawed legislation.

1:49 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

At one level these bills are pretty straightforward. They have a pretty direct objective, and that is to seek to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act to allow the Australian Electoral Commission to automatically update the details of an elector when they change residential address based on information from other sources. At first blush, people might think: 'It sounds like a good idea. It sounds pretty reasonable. What is wrong with that?' According to the explanatory memorandum itself, the bills 'will allow the Electoral Commissioner to directly update an elector's enrolled address following the receipt and analysis of reliable and current data sources from outside the Electoral Commission' that indicate an elector has changed residential address. Again, that sounds pretty reasonable. The average person in the street would hear the words 'analysis of reliable and current data sources' and think: 'That sounds like a process of integrity. It does not sound like we have anything to worry about.' It would not immediately shriek out to someone listening to those words that there is the prospect of degrading the integrity of the electoral roll.

But I think the first indicator that this legislation might do just that is who is supporting this legislation. You have the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens supporting a change to the Electoral Act. Those of us on this side of the chamber note that when Labor and the Greens agree on a change to the Electoral Act there is more than what might appear at first blush. I know that will shock you, Mr Acting Deputy President Furner, but it is a rule of thumb that we go by on this side of the chamber. So this legislation does bear further and closer examination. However, as a little bit of background, the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which we in this place know as JSCEM, conducted an inquiry into the 2010 federal election and reported in July last year. One of the recommendations of that report by Labor and the Greens was to introduce automatic enrolment, whereby without ever having to fill out an enrolment form an individual elector is put on the electoral roll based on information from other government sources. In that report the coalition opposed that recommendation because we had genuine concerns that it would greatly reduce the integrity of the electoral roll and that it would put people on the electoral roll without their knowledge. A fundamental stumbling block for those of us on this side of the chamber is that electors would be put on the roll without their knowledge. They are entitled to know of, be aware of and be in control of their own enrolment. It is the hand of government reaching just a little bit too far into the personal business of individuals. What could be more personal than casting a ballot? What could be more personal than making sure you are indeed enrolled and eligible to vote?

The legislation before us does go a significant way towards that goal of Labor and the Greens of automatic enrolment. It seeks to allow the AEC to directly update electors' details when they change address. Not only are we concerned about the impact of this on the electoral roll; we also have a very strong belief in the responsibility of the individual to ensure that they are enrolled and to ensure that they change their details when those details alter subsequent to enrolment. In the coalition's dissenting report to the JSCEM report on the 2010 election, it was noted by coalition senators that it is the duty of each Australian citizen to enrol to vote; it is their duty to accurately maintain that enrolment at their permanent place of residence; it is their duty to cast a vote when an election is called; and it is their duty to fully extend preferences to all candidates contesting the election for the House of Representatives in their local electorate.

In her contribution, Senator Rhiannon noted that the ability to vote is a fundamental human right, and I would agree with her; I think that is a fundamental human right. But the human right there is to have the opportunity to cast a ballot. We should not ignore the other side of the equation, which is the duty to avail yourself of that opportunity. If you want to avail yourself of that opportunity there is an onus on you to ensure that you are enrolled and to ensure that your enrolment is accurate. It is not a fundamental human right to be enrolled. It is a fundamental human right to have the opportunity to vote and if you do not enrol and do not change your address you are excluding yourself from that opportunity. You are not being denied by government the right to vote; you are excluding yourself. It is important to observe that distinction. The failure of government to compulsorily change someone's enrolment address without their knowledge is not denying someone the right to vote. It is very important that we come back to the responsibility of an individual to take advantage of that opportunity, which is their right.

Senator Rhiannon also noted that since about 1990 the number of eligible enrollees has gone down from 95 per cent to 90 per cent. Yes, we would all like to see as many eligible people as possible enrolled, but I would rather have a slightly smaller electoral roll that was robust, that was accurate and that had integrity than have 100 per cent of Australians enrolled and for that roll not to be robust, not to be accurate and to lack integrity. There are two separate objectives: we want to maximise the number of people who are enrolled but we also want to make sure that the enrolments are accurate. If we have only 90 per cent of people availing themselves of the opportunity to enrol, we need to look at why that is the case. There may be an issue of fundamental electoral integrity at the heart of the falling rate of electoral enrolments. Let me pick one example: the Prime Minister's pledge that there would be no carbon tax under a government she leads. I can understand why the Australian people in significant numbers might be a little disillusioned about the political process, about parliamentary democracy and about the accountability of the government of the day. That is a pattern that we have seen time and again over the last five years from this government. There is something very practical that the Australian Labor Party and the current federal government can do today to lift the number of people who seek to take advantage of the opportunity and obligation to enrol to vote—that is, start living up to their word, start honouring their commitments and stop fibbing to the Australian people.

Mr President, time is almost up. I will continue these remarks later because there is much more to be said.

Debate interrupted.