Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2021

House of Representatives
Wednesday 25 August 2021

I rise to speak on these amendments to the electoral legislation, which basically deal with three items: party registration integrity; electoral offences and preventing multiple voting; and counting, scrutiny and operational efficiencies. They all sound fairly innocuous but they are important in terms of how our elections are conducted.

I have been a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for the last five years. I like to say that it's the committee for political junkies. The member for Franklin, who is at the table, is a former party secretary and campaign director in Tasmania—alongside myself in Queensland. The member for Franklin and I are not only defenders of democracy but also people who see the value and role of every single voter in this country as important. I know from working on the electoral matters committee just how important the work of that committee is, and I want to pay tribute to the members of that committee—the chair, Senator James McGrath; the deputy chair, Senator Carol Brown; and all the members who have worked so hard to make sure the integrity of our electoral system is maintained and, hopefully, as a result of the passage of the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Counting, Scrutiny and Operational Efficiencies) Bill 2021 and related bills today, is enhanced.

Firstly, I want to touch on the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Party Registration Integrity) Bill 2021. Labor believes that a number of changes proposed in this piece of legislation and the related pieces of legislation will support and enhance our electoral system, and we are supporting it. In the dissenting report for the inquiry into the 2019 election, which I was a part of, Labor members of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters recommended that the minimum number of members required for party membership be increased to 1,000. This is consistent with what the committee recommended in 2013 and in 2016. In this bill the government is proposing that the minimum number of members for a non-parliamentary party be increased to 1,500. Currently, it sits at 500—which I believe was introduced around 1984. When you consider our nation's population and the different requirements at a state level, this is an incredibly sensible change and one I wholeheartedly support.

Currently, the membership requirement is lower than in the state of New South Wales and is the same as in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia. Parties will have three months from the date specified for them to become compliant, if they're not already at that threshold. There has been some debate and media commentary on the threshold for minor parties. But parties such as Animal Justice, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, Senator Hanson's One Nation, Sustainable Australia and the Liberal Democrat Party—which I'll come back to in a moment—already meet these thresholds. This change reflects the expectation that political parties have a base amount of political support in order to attain the advantages that come with being a registered party and the responsibilities that come with a modern democratic system.

I do note that there are some people whingeing and whining about this change—so-called believers in freedom and democracy—and that includes the failed former Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman. He's ratted on the Queensland LNP, and now, in his latest political incarnation, he has joined the Liberal Democrats to be their Senate lead candidate for Queensland. As I like to say, in Queensland that right-wing extreme marketplace is quite crowded—whether it be Senator Hanson's party; or Bob Katter's party; or now, of course, Clive Palmer's party, led by the member for Hughes, who is in the chamber today; and now Campbell Newman. So it's a crowded marketplace and that's even before you get inside the LNP in Queensland, which has elements of the ultra Right inside as well.

Campbell Newman, who was thrown out of office back in 2015, said that this is a shabby tactic and a bid by the major parties to 'rig the electoral laws to their own benefit'. This is the guy who, when he was Premier of Queensland, rigged the electoral laws and demanded that voters right across Queensland—he brought in ID requirements and tried to shut down and disenfranchise voters and to change the electoral laws to suit his purpose. I served with Campbell Newman on the Brisbane City Council, when I was a councillor and he was the Lord Mayor. Let me tell you about Campbell Newman: he is only interested in his own political career. He has never been interested in anything else. He comes from political royalty and he has always expected and had a privilege about him. Now he's expecting, after he ratted on the LNP, to criticise these laws that we're debating in the chamber today. The guy stands for nothing and represents nothing except his own political advancement, and now he has the hide to turn around and say that we're rigging the electoral laws to help the parties' own benefits.

That is just absolute nonsense! It's little wonder he was a failed experiment in Queensland and thrown out of office. Now he has the hide to criticise these laws, but I'm not surprised. Australia has always had a long line of splinter parties—those on the fringes and on the edges. He's just going to be another one of those people sniping from the sidelines because he didn't get his own way inside the LNP. He spat the dummy and now he has moved out.

I support these reforms today, and we're doing this in a bipartisan way to ensure that our electoral processes are of the highest integrity. These advantages are significant if you want to register as a political party. A registered party can run candidates in all 151 House of Representatives seats. As we know, the member for Hughes, the Leader of the United Australia Party, has indicated they will do that. Its name can appear under of all their candidates on the ballot paper, allowing them to build name recognition and profile—another privilege of party registration—and they will also appear above the line on the Senate ballot paper, increasing the chances of having a candidate elected. Parties are also able to nominate candidates without the need for 100 nominations per candidate. These advantages can make a huge and significant difference come election time and I believe that it's reasonable that parties should be required to show they have the support of a significant number of Australians. Requiring a party to have only a small number of members opened the door for wealthy stakeholders to run political parties and campaigns based entirely on their own interests. That is not how our democracy should run, and I support these changes to prevent this from occurring.

Secondly, the bill addresses the use of similar names and logos by political parties. This has been a growing trend on the fringes of the political classes in Australia. This will prevent the registration of a party that has used the name or an abbreviation of the name of a previously registered political party. These are sensible reforms and they will apply both to registration of parties after the commencement of the amendments and to currently registered parties with similar names. We know that some parties deliberately use words from the names of recognised parties for their own purposes. This should not be permitted and, under these reforms, it won't be. These reforms will clearly strengthen our democracy and should be supported by all members of the House.

I'm a strong believer in an open and a democratic process in this country. I'm a strong believer in every vote being counted and that's exactly what these reforms will do. I know that Senator Don Farrell, Labor's shadow minister, and the Assistant Minister for Electoral Matters, the Hon. Ben Morton, have been working incredibly hard to ensure that we do work in a bipartisan way so that we do ensure that a level of integrity is respected and supported.

I want to move on to the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Offences and Preventing Multiple Voting) Bill 2021. This bill attempts to address multiple voting, expanding the existing offence and creating a new category of designated elector. We all know that multiple voting is extremely rare. Labor will be supporting this bill. I do want to put on record that the evidence regarding multiple voting, as the Electoral Commissioner has said, is vanishingly small and is something like 0.001 per cent. This is always a bit of bogeyman that comes out. Over the years I've sat on the electoral committee we've had these vast conspiracy theories of multiple-voting allegations come forward. There are all these headlines and there's all this evidence that comes forward but, of course, there's never any evidence when you actually ask the question: 'Do you have examples? Where is it? Who did it?' Former senator Ian Macdonald was famous at coming before the committee, and Senator Abetz and all the others lining up from the other place, saying, 'There is this terrible fraud happening over all this multiple voting.' So we'd say: 'Where are the examples? What is happening? Where is the evidence? Let's get the police on to this. Let's call the investigators.' 'Oh, we'll get back to you. We just know it's happening.' It's the old bogeyman that we've heard a million times before.

These reforms today are the middle road and the sensible way of doing the reforms. Designated electors will only be able to vote by declaration vote. This will be in accordance with the rules relating to postal voting, pre-poll declaration, absent voting and provisional voting. The bill does not require voter ID. Individual status, as designated, will not be disclosed to anyone. They will not be asking an individual for ID in order to vote. I'm a strong believer in making sure that we suppress and make sure that we don't have voter identification laws which make it harder for people from non-English speaking backgrounds and people without relevant ID to be able to vote. That has been tried before and has been shown to disenfranchise voters. Just as the member for Lingiari has been talking about, it's about getting more people on the roll and getting more support for the Electoral Commission so that every Australian has their vote counted and everyone has the right to participate in our democratic processes, free from fear of vilification, discrimination and harassment. That's why Labor will be supporting this bill.

Finally, I want to talk about the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Counting, Scrutiny and Operational Efficiencies) Bill 2021. This bill increases the AEC's ability to run effective and efficient elections. One of the major changes this bill introduces is limiting the pre-poll period to 12 days. I don't think there will be too many members of this place who would be demanding that we keep the same level or increase it, so I'm delighted that I fought hard for this reform. Given we are now moving towards a voting period rather than a voting election day, I think this is another commonsense approach. It's a huge effort for the AEC to conduct three weeks of pre-polling. I think that having a 12-day period makes a lot more sense, particularly if you look at the statistics—which I have done—where the last five days is predominantly where the vote is. It makes sense; it makes sense from a practical side for the allocation of resources.

I want the AEC to have the full opportunity during the pandemic to have every available mechanism at their disposal to ensure that every Australian has their vote. I know, speaking to my colleagues, that there is strong support for this. I think the public are getting used to early voting. They understand the convenience, particularly during the pandemic, where we've had local government elections in Queensland, the Queensland state election, the Tasmanian election, the West Australian election and, I think, the Northern Territory election all conducted safely and efficiently. We have seen the rise of early voting in pre-poll in particular.

There is another important measure here, just a minor measure, whereby the requirement for an authoriser of an electoral matter to include the name and address of the printer has been removed, to reduce the number of frivolous complaints made to the AEC. Also, people overseas—the member for Macquarie might be interested in this provision—will be able to self-authorise, rather than getting another Australian citizen to do it. Particularly at the moment, with people trapped overseas, this will mean getting as many votes from overseas counted as possible. It will make sure that we have every Australian counted, whether they are present here and able to turn up to a polling booth, whether they are doing an early vote—a prepoll, a declaration or a postal vote—or whether they are sitting in London or in other centres across the world where they're perhaps not able to go and visit an embassy. I'm really pleased that that mechanism has been delivered.

So we will be supporting this package today. Labor support these bills because we support effective, efficient and fair elections, and this legislation will help the AEC deliver for our community so that every Australian has their say.