Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (18:09):
I rise to speak on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Provisional Voting) Bill 2011. The coalition’s key concern when it comes to electoral legislation is that the integrity of the electoral roll is maintained and strengthened. This bill does neither of those things.
In 2006, the Howard government introduced legislation that required provisional voters to produce evidence of identity within seven days of a federal election or referendum. This legislation was introduced because the then government identified a loophole in the rules that surround provisional voting whereby the integrity of the electoral roll could be compromised by people enrolling in marginal electorates to influence the result in that seat, despite actually residing elsewhere.
Now, with this bill, the government seeks to repeal the evidence of identity requirements introduced by the coalition to ensure that the Australian electoral system is not rorted and to deter people from failing to comply with Electoral Act. This government wants to water down legislation that was introduced with the express purpose of strengthening the accuracy and integrity of the electoral roll, and the coalition will not support it in doing so.
The coalition is opposed to any measure that would weaken the proof of identity requirements relating to provisional voting because it would remove an important deterrent that is designed to prevent voters from failing to maintain an accurate enrolment. Weakening proof of identity requirements will also remove an important measure that acts to deter those who may seek to engage in electoral fraud through multiple voting.
The government’s stated reason for this bill is that getting rid of the proof of identity requirements will mean that provisional votes will be treated the same as other classes of votes such as postal votes, pre-poll votes and absent votes. This, in the eyes of the Labor Party, is a good thing. That attitude, we believe, is misguided.
Votes cast as provisional are provisional for a reason-often because the voter is not found to be on the roll or because two people present to vote under the same name. In both these scenarios it is entirely reasonable to expect the voter to provide evidence of their identity. Without such evidence, the accuracy of the electoral roll is fundamentally compromised and the accuracy of election results could become compromised as well.
If a voter is found not to be on the roll, it could be the result of their failure to maintain an accurate enrolment. If two people present to vote under the same name, it is clearly necessary and entirely appropriate for some proof of identity to be sought.
To quote my coalition colleagues’ dissenting report to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters 2007 report:
Given that failure to properly maintain one’s enrolment is a breach of the Act, it is not unreasonable for such persons to be subjected to a more stringent procedure to admit their vote, as a result of neglecting their responsibilities under the Act.
It is also not unreasonable for a more stringent procedure to apply before a vote is admitted for counting if two people are presenting to vote under the same name. The coalition believes that there must be consequences for people who fail to meet their obligations under the Electoral Act to maintain an accurate enrolment. If this bill passes through the parliament, there will be little incentive for people to uphold obligations surrounding their enrolment.
If people have no incentive to maintain an accurate enrolment, then the integrity of the electoral roll as a whole will be compromised. The number of people casting provisional votes has increased over the past recent years. Between 1994 and 2004 the number of provisional votes rose from 112,344 to 180,878. In 2007 nearly 80 per cent of voters who wanted to cast a provisional vote presented evidence of identity. In 2010, 96 per cent of people seeking to cast a provisional vote presented evidence of identity. The high rate of compliance with these regulations demonstrates the effectiveness of the coalition’s 2006 legislation.
It is interesting to note that although 81.65 per cent of provisional votes were rejected in 2010, only 28,000 out of a total of 203,488 provisional votes lodged were rejected as a result of a failure to produce evidence of identity. That is under 14 per cent of provisional votes. The rest of the votes were rejected due to other issues that did not relate in any way to evidence of identity. And less than half of those 14 per cent of voters were subsequently found on the certified list. So this bill can hardly be supported on the grounds that the 2006 legislation resulted in the exclusion of a huge proportion of eligible voters from participating in elections.
The coalition’s position on the issues surrounding the electoral role has been consistent and justified over many years. The Liberal and National parties are committed to ensuring that electoral fraud is minimised and that the integrity of the electoral roll and electoral system are maintained and strengthened. The 2006 legislation which this bill seeks to repeal was introduced not for partisan political reasons but with the very best of intentions. The coalition sought to strengthen the electoral system’s defences against reporting by those who may seek to multiple vote, and to reinforce the integrity of the electoral roll.
This bill, by repealing the proof of identity requirements currently in place for those who wish to place a provisional vote will leave the electoral system open to manipulation, and will compromise the integrity of the electoral roll.
It is entirely appropriate that a voter’s failure to maintain an accurate enrolment as per the obligations under the Electoral Act result in them being subject to a slightly more stringent process. And the experience of the last election has shown that 96 per cent of those who seek to place a provisional vote do not find it to onerous a task to have to produce identification when presenting at the voting booth.
The opposition will support measures that allow the electoral roll to be maintained as accurately and truthfully as possible. But the coalition will continue to oppose any measures that will weaken the deterrents to fail to comply with the Electoral Act. This bill does exactly that, and will likely damage the integrity of the electoral roll. As such, the coalition will be opposing this bill.