Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) figures indicate that
there are 1.5 million eligible Australians not on the Commonwealth electoral
roll. These are people who have failed to enrol, or did not update their
address details and have consequently been removed from the roll. Under the
current arrangements if they do not complete and submit a form to the AEC, they
will not be able to vote at the next federal election or referendum.
The Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Protecting Elector
Participation) Bill 2012 (the Bill) will provide the AEC with greater
flexibility to improve roll completeness. Schedule 1 of the Bill will enable the
AEC to directly enrol eligible people who are not currently enrolled, based on
data received from trusted third party sources.
The Bill also makes provision for people who are unaware
they have been removed from the roll by objection action and subsequently
attend a polling place to vote. Schedule 2 of the Bill provides for the reinstatement
of some electors and for their provisional votes to be fully, or partially, admitted
to the count if requirements are met.
The direct enrolment and reinstatement measures complement
those in the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Maintaining Address) Bill
2011. That Bill provided for direct update of address details of already
enrolled electors and changes to the objection process to reduce the number of
eligible electors removed from the roll.
Direct enrolment is an administrate tool to enhance the
completeness, accuracy and currency of the roll. It will augment other
mechanisms for roll stimulation, such as targeted mail-outs, fieldwork and
education programs. Direct enrolment is a logical extension of the existing Continuous
Roll Update (CRU) process. The Bill also makes provision for the AEC to
communicate with affected individuals about their direct enrolment.
The AEC is the appropriate body to determine which agencies
will provide reliable data best-suited for roll administration. The AEC
recognises that not all data sources are suitable for direct enrolment. The
third party data sources that the AEC will rely on for directly enrolling an
eligible person have been tried and tested in the existing CRU and objection
processes. The data will also be subject to further checks to verify the
identity, eligibility and address details before any action is taken to
directly enrol someone.
Direct enrolment will provide a service to eligible electors
and allow the AEC greater flexibility in its administration of the roll. No
evidence was provided to the committee which demonstrated poor data management
or use by the AEC in the past. Furthermore, New South Wales and Victoria have
successfully implemented direct update and enrolment legislation for their
respective state electoral rolls.
In 2009-10, nearly 350 000 eligible electors were
objected from the roll. At the 2010 federal election, around 280 000 votes
were rejected because these electors were incorrectly enrolled or not enrolled.
Prior to the 2007 federal election the AEC had the discretion to admit the
votes of people found not to be on the roll and reinstate them to the roll if
they had been removed under the objection process. However, under the current
arrangements the AEC cannot do so. Allowing the AEC the flexibility to reinstate
these electors and to admit their provisional votes to scrutiny could have
saved many of these wasted votes. The Bill returns an appropriate safety net
for those electors who have clearly demonstrated their intention to vote by
attending a polling place and casting a provisional vote.
The Bill, in combination with the Maintaining Address Bill,
aims to balance the effects of the objection process on the roll and enable the
data collection systems, which are deemed strong enough to object an elector,
to be used to assist eligible electors to meet their electoral obligations.
On behalf of the committee I thank the organisations and
individuals who assisted the committee during the inquiry through submissions or
participating at the roundtable discussion in Canberra. 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