The Electoral and Referendum
Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Bill 2012 proposes: changing postal
voting arrangements; increasing nomination deposits for Senate and House of
Representatives candidates; increasing the nominators required for unendorsed
candidates and Senate groups; changing the ‘unsound mind’ exemption from
enrolment and voting; and other minor and technical amendments.
In referring the Bill, the Selection Committee noted that
the Bill was ambiguous in relation to the specific changes being made to
processing postal vote applications. During its inquiry, the Electoral Matters
Committee found that a number of the changes proposed in the Bill in relation
to postal voting largely reflect existing Australian Electoral Commission (AEC)
practices. These changes will simply ensure that the Commonwealth Electoral
Act correctly outlines the processes that have evolved to help ensure that efficient
procession of postal vote applications (PVAs) and distribution of postal vote
Most PVAs are already processed centrally and PVPs
distributed though the AEC’s central print system. The divisional returning
office is no longer the main conduit for postal voting activities as was the
case in previous decades. However, the Electoral Commissioner will continue to
delegate his powers in relation to postal votes to
Divisional Returning Officers (DROs) and other AEC officers. This change will
not affect the way in which individuals and political parties interact with
their DROs on postal voting matters. As is the current practice, political
parties will still be able to distribute PVAs with campaigning material,
receive completed PVAs and forward them to the relevant DRO.
In the case of issuing postal vote
packages to a ‘person’ rather than specifically to an ‘elector’, the AEC has
indicated that it already issues PVPs to (unmatched) applicants that are not
found on the electoral roll at the time of application. The returned unmatched
postal vote certificates will be subject to further scrutiny and admitted to
the count only if the person is verified to be an elector. This is in keeping with
the approach taken with declaration voters.
While having a variety of candidates is a feature of
Australia’s democracy, having a large number of candidates leads to an expanded
ballot paper and increases the complexity of the voting task for electors.
Setting appropriate nomination requirements is one way to help ensure that
prospective candidates appreciate the seriousness of their participation in the
electoral process, and that they can demonstrate some community support for
Increasing the nomination deposits from $1 000 to
$2 000 for Senate candidates, and from $500 to $1 000 for House of
Representatives candidates, is reasonable and appropriate. The increase from 50
to 100 nominators required for candidates not endorsed by a political party is
a reasonable increase. It is important that unendorsed candidates be able to
demonstrate community support for their candidacies.
Similarly, if unendorsed candidates wish to be grouped on
the Senate ballot paper, it is appropriate that each member of a Senate group
be able to demonstrate community support for the grouping. The Bill will
increase the nominators from 50 for the whole group to 100 per candidate. As
each unendorsed candidates will have to have 100 nominators, they should be
able to draw on this support base to secure their Senate Group box.
Other significant changes in this
Bill relate to the ‘unsound mind’ provision in subsection 93(8) of the
Electoral Act which exempts a person who is ‘incapable of understanding
the nature and significance of enrolment and voting’ from being added to, or
retained on, the Commonwealth electoral roll and voting at elections. Thousands of people are using the provision each
year. They may be facing temporary or ongoing mental challenges that compromise
their capacity to cast a vote. Given Australia’s system of compulsory enrolment
and voting, it is useful to have a mechanism to address this, to protect the
integrity of elections and assist those who might otherwise have to deal
repeatedly with the AEC as to why they are not complying with their enrolment
and voting obligations.
Based on the evidence received, the committee is not
satisfied that there is any pressing need to remove or substitute the phrase
‘unsound mind’, or that professionals other than medical practitioners should
be able to make determinations about a person’s capacity to understand the
nature and significance of enrolment and voting.
On behalf of the committee I
thank the organisations and individuals who assisted the committee during the
inquiry through submissions or participating in the roundtable discussion. I
also thank my colleagues on the committee for their work and contribution to
this report, and the secretariat for their work on this inquiry.
Daryl Melham MP