Electoral and Referendum Amendment

Like my colleagues, I do not support the amendments to both the bills before the House. In simple terms, the legislation will damage the integrity of the electoral roll by adding new electors, who may not be entitled to vote, without their knowledge and potentially without their consent-particularly if the elector does not receive the Australian Electoral Commission’s notice of enrolment. I live in a rural and regional electorate and this certainly happens. That is evidenced by the number of inquiries I get approaching an election.

We on this side believe in personal responsibility. We believe it is an individual’s responsibility to enrol to vote, to notify the AEC if they change their address and to vote at elections. The extensive privacy implications that this legislation raises have been virtually ignored by the Labor Party and the Greens. Previously today, in the debate on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill, we heard that Dr Roger Clarke of the Australian Privacy Foundation provided the committee looking into this with some valuable information about the individual privacy concerns that this bill raises. We share those concerns. We have very real concerns about electors having details published on the electoral roll without their knowledge or the opportunity to apply for silent elector status. Depending on where the AEC sources this information from, this is a very real issue.

The integrity of the electoral roll is, as has been articulated by my colleagues, at the very heart of our democratic process. It is imperative, as a result of that, that we maintain the integrity of that roll. I think it is paramount in any democracy but particularly in this one in Australia. The roll needs to be accurate, as we have heard. We know that seats can and will be decided by a small number of votes, so the integrity of the roll, and the will of the people expressed by that, is paramount. The responsibility for enrolling and for updating individual elector details is so important-and it is an issue when that right and responsibility is taken from the individual, as this bill will do, and given to the AEC. Not only is there the possibility for significant error; it also opens the roll to fraud, and I have no doubt that that is what we will see.

The bill, as I said, will corrupt the integrity of the electoral roll. The fact that people are going to be put on this roll without their knowledge could lead to quite a number of potential irregularities. The bill gives the AEC the discretion to determine what those sources of reliable and current data are and where those addresses can be obtained from. This is far beyond the purview of the AEC. It is really up to me as an individual to tell the AEC about my details and my environment. It really comes down to the individual to talk to the AEC about enrolling and maintaining the address they have or when they have to change the address.

The reliability of data sources has been mentioned repeatedly by my colleagues, and I do not think we should underestimate where the information comes from. We heard previously from the member for Aston, who touched on the reliability of the potential sources of information for the rolls. We have heard that there were 3.2 million more tax file numbers than people, if that was the source of information and data. An ANAO audit report of Medicare found that up to half a million-we are not talking about enough votes or enough integrity. We are talking about using potentially incorrect information and data from whatever source the AEC chooses to use and the fact that it could have a major impact on the outcome of an election.

The other thing that we as coalition members are majorly committed to and have great concerns about is that the right to vote is one of the highest held tenets of democracy. The right of the average citizen to play an individual part in deciding who will lead them into the future and who their government will be is basically essential to democracy and good governance in our world. It is a privilege. I do not think that any of us on this side of the House see the right to vote as anything other than a right and a privilege in this country. We do not take it for granted, and I am hoping that the majority of Australians do not take it for granted either. Just talk to the people in Syria, perhaps, or talk to the people in Egypt. People fight and die for the right to vote on a regular basis.

I was privileged to go to Cambodia as an Australian delegate to the United Nations to look at the election process there. One of the most profound experiences I had as part of that visit was the absolute excitement of the Cambodian people at having the right to vote. In that system, one of the ways they tested whether someone had voted only once was by the use of indelible ink. They would dip their finger into the ink as a sign that they had voted. They knew who I was; I had the vest on. They knew what I was there for and, when they came out of the polling booth, they would come up to me with great excitement, showing me their finger. They were absolutely elated at the right to vote.

It is something that we in Australia see-we can sometimes-because we have all grown up with it. It is what we expect, know and love, but we also need to protect it. That is what the integrity of the electoral roll does: it protects the right to vote, the eligibility of the individual elector, and that is critical to what we do as a nation. As I said, when I met those people in Cambodia, it made me look at the things I value about being fortunate enough to be raised in this fantastic country, where democracy and the democratic process is something that we expect. But with this bill I see that that expectation may be compromised, and I am not prepared to sit back and say, ‘That’s fine,’ because I do not believe that it is.

We have had constant battles for representation and referenda. What I am trying to get to is that in Australia we should not take this right, this privilege, for granted. It has been hard won. Over many years around the world countless lives have been lost in the pursuit of the right to have a say in who your elected representatives are and in the form of governance and government in your country. In the same way that it is a right it should, because of respect for that right, carry an inherent responsibility. It is the responsibility side that is often forgotten, especially in this country that is so blessed by a stable democracy, probably for longer than almost any in living memory.

What is it that we ask of our fellow Australians who want to inherit and should inherit their share of Australian democracy? What is it that we are asking them to do? We simply ask them to register to vote and to come along on election day, and let the AEC know if they change their address. I really do not think that is too much to ask. In fact I think it underpins how important our democracy is and underpins the need to fight for and protect that right. If we gave that opportunity to people who live in other countries who do not have the right to vote, I wonder if they would say, ‘You know, maintaining my address is just too hard.’ I think that, like those people in Cambodia, they would say, ‘I am absolutely beside myself with the right to vote. I’ve got the finger that I have dipped in the indelible ink to prove the fact that I had the right to vote and I am so excited about having the right to vote.’ In fact, some of those people have not been able to vote many times in their lives. That is why we need to protect the integrity of our electoral roll.

I am concerned that we are debating a bill that basically thumbs its nose at our proud history of democracy and our entitlement to vote and leaves it open to fraud and abuse. I am appalled that our electoral roll, as a result of this bill, could be subject to fraud and abuse. I think anybody who, like me, absolutely values the right to vote and our democracy and is prepared to stand up for that would feel the same and should feel the same. We do not take it for granted. The government is suggesting that the effort of maintaining their addresses and maintaining their registration to vote is too much for Australians and that the government has to do it for them. I think we need to take responsibility and we need to constantly reaffirm the fact that we value this democracy and we do not take our rights and our democracy for granted. I do not believe that it is too much to ask for us to maintain our addresses. I just do not think that we should be taking it that lightly.

It is our freedom and democracy here that are part of this legislation and part of what is potentially eroded by these bills before the House. We know that Australians before us have fought and died to build and protect the democracy that we now enjoy. I encourage all Australians never to take that for granted and never to take for granted the integrity of the electoral roll and how important it is to our democratic process.

But it appears that the government does not understand that sacrifice and thinks that perhaps getting to a post office to get an enrolment form or seeking it from an elected representative or from the AEC and putting it in a postage paid envelope is too hard for Australians. Strangely enough, millions of us have managed to do so. We have been able to quickly and simply have our democratic say.

I see the legislation before the House as an insult to those who have made the effort to enrol, to those who fought and died for the democracy we have built and to those over centuries who have fought for democracy. I urge all Australians to see this and to see the right to vote-your eligibility to vote-as a reinforcement of our democratic process. We all, as members, talk to young people in schools. We go along and present flags, and we talk about the rule of law. We talk about what our flag represents. I think our electoral roll and the integrity of it fit into the same category.