House of Representatives Committees


| Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters

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Preliminary Pages

Chair’s foreword

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 packages (PVPs).

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 their candidacies.

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

Chair

 


Membership of the Committee

 

Chair

Mr Daryl Melham MP

 

Deputy Chair

The Hon Alexander Somlyay MP

 

Members

The Hon Bronwyn Bishop MP

Senator Simon Birmingham

 

The Hon Alan Griffin MP

Senator Carol Brown

 

Ms Amanda Rishworth MP

Senator Helen Polley

 

 

Senator Lee Rhiannon

 

 

Senator Scott Ryan

 

Committee Secretariat

 

Secretary

Mr Stephen Boyd

Inquiry Secretary

Ms Samantha Mannette

Senior Research Officer

Ms Zoë Smith

Research Officer

Ms Siobhan Coughlan

Administrative Officer

Ms Natasha Petrović

 

Terms of reference

 

On 28 June 2012 the Selection Committee requested the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters to inquire into and report on the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Bill 2012.

Under Standing Order 222(e), reports of the Selection Committee are treated as having been adopted by the House when they are presented.

 

List of abbreviations

 

AEC

Australian Electoral Commission

APVIS

Automated Postal Vote Issuing System

CRPD

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

DRO

Divisional Returning Officer

EMC

Electoral Matters Committee (Victoria)

GPV

General Postal Voter

PVA

postal vote application

PVC

postal vote certificate

PVP

postal vote package

PWD

People with Disability Australia

the Bill

Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Bill 2012


Recommendation

  

2       Issues in the Bill

Recommendation 1 (paragraph 2.94)

The House of Representatives and the Senate pass the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Improving Electoral Procedure) Bill 2012, after deleting the changes proposed in Schedule 3 in relation to the ‘unsound mind’ provision and consequential amendments. The term ‘unsound mind’ and the current requirement for a certificate from a medical practitioner should be retained.

 

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