Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (3.58 pm)- As the coalition’s disability spokesman, I want to offer some brief remarks in relation to the government’s response to the report of the Joint Standing Committee on electoral Matters into the last election, particularly the issue of electronically assisted voting for people who are blind or vision impaired.
I recall the comments of Mr Graeme Innes, the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, at the time of the last federal election. He said that he had tears in his eyes as he voted, as it was the first time that he had been able to
cast a genuinely secret ballot. That was the experience of many blind and visionimpaired Australians. The right to a secret ballot is something which most Australians take for granted, but for many Australians it was an experience they had not previously had.
I certainly appreciate the finding of the JSCEM report that by using the electronically assisted technology that was available the cost per vote was extremely high. It stands to reason that the cost per vote would be high under a trial, because that facility was available at a very small number of
places. Obviously, if that facility were available throughout Australia at every polling place the cost per vote would be much lower.
I must say that at the time the joint standing committee’s report came out I was disappointed because for members of the community who are blind or vision-impaired that report looked like a full stop. It looked like a dead end. It held out no hope for people who are vision-impaired to be able to cast a secret ballot in the future.
I think it is regrettable that at that time the government did not indicate an intention or even a disposition to work towards finding a way by which blind and vision-impaired Australians could cast a secret ballot in the future. That is something that the government should have done at the time.
I recall seeing a statement by Mr Melham, who was the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters at the time, in which he said he did not feel good about the recommendations of the committee. I can understand
why he did not feel good, because I am sure that he appreciated that it was a suboptimal outcome for blind and vision-impaired Australians simply to be told that the trial as not going to continue and not to be given any indication that there would be any work undertaken to try to ensure that that option or an alternative was available.
It is my hope that the government does work towards finding a solution. I think that the Australian Electoral Commission should work together with the Disability Discrimination Commissioner to see if there are indeed ways of providing the option of a genuinely secret ballot for blind and vision impaired Australians. Who knows: it might be by way of those individuals preregistering so that there can be that facility at the place at which they will choose to vote. That is an option.
It may well be that there are lower cost options to provide that facility for these Australians. I cannot help but put to myself that if we can put a man on the Moon surely we can find a way, in this day and age of using modern technology, to facilitate, in a cost-effective way, a secret ballot for blind
and vision-impaired Australians. I would certainly urge the government to take steps to ensure that happens so that the experience at the last election, which was so significant and so profound for those Australians, will prove not to be a one-off but something that can be repeated and in fact be seen as a right at future federal elections.