The Week Ahead 3 – Electoral Law changes

There hasn’t been a lot of notice paid to the government’s planned changes to the Australian electoral laws, even though there are significant measures contained in the legislation. In another example of legislation titles as Orwellian propaganda, this change is called Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Bill.

I’m not sure how it helps “electoral integrity” to knock a whole lot of people off the roll for election day – although I guess George W Bush and the electoral authorities in Florida would agree with such a definition.

The legislation has a range of changes, not all of which are bad. A major one is closing the voter rolls on the day the election is announced, thus making it much more difficult for people to get on the roll or change their details in the lead up to the election. If we had fixed terms this would be less draconian, as at least people would all know when the election day will be, but when the Prime Minister can basically announce an election at the drop of a hat, this is much more problematic, especially for people in more remote areas.

The Bill also increases the size of a donation that can be given without having to be publicly declared from $1500 to $10000. As most of the political parties are registered as separate state and territory based entities, this means 8 separate donations of $9999 could be made to one of the major parties without the donor’s identity having to be disclosed.

The Bills also takes the vote away from all prisoners – a definite move down the Florida track of trying to disenfranchise specific groups of people.

The legislation has been examined by a Senate Committee which should report today. The submissions, transcripts and report (once it is tabled) is available by clicking on this link.

Politicians have an almost inherent conflict of interest when considering changes to the Electoral Act, but it is a law like any other, so it has to be up to parliamentarians to produce it. At least, unlike many other countries, the actual conduct of elections is run by a relatively independent body in the form of the Australian Electoral Commission – although given the immense politicisation of the public service these days, full independence is becoming a bit more difficult.

UPDATE: Debate on this legislation has been deferred until the next sitting week in May. The Senate Committee report has now been tabled. Government senators did not recommend any amendments, so the chances of any amendments being accepted during the Senate debate looks very slim.

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  1. Andrew.. what are your specific objections to the proposed changes?

    I don’t think there’s an issue with the closing of the rolls when the election is announced: this may help stem the false registrations and multiple voting scams that have been going on.

    As for prisoners’ right to vote, I know I’m undecided: being sent to prison is designed to strip you of some of your rights, specifically because you demonstrated that you are not a good citizen.

    I’m not sure if loosing the right to vote is such a bad thing here, and would be interested in others’ opinions on the matter.


  2. Rolls closing date – I agree that seeing the pros and cons would be good. Is the lag time in finalising the rolls an issue in determining the length of the campaign for instance? Perhaps the change may allow for shorter campaigns.

    Donations – $1500 seems very low these days; but $10,000 may be too high though. I would like to see a reduction in the time before disclosure is required. The information now only appears to come in a long time after the fact. For example, what if all donations up to the date of the calling of the election had to be disclosed before the vote?

    Right to vote while incarcerated – I’m fairly neutral on this one, leaving me inclined to say ‘don’t fix it’.

    One last point (which doesn’t seem to be an issue this time) is on fixed terms. I’m happy with the government having the right to select when the election is to be called – it’s a little bit of ‘sport’ in the political process and I’m OK with the government being able to use its prerogative to its advantage.

  3. Well personally I don’t see any real worries in what’s been mentioned.
    But real reform would be the change from preferential voting to optional preferential voting which would ensure you the right to see your vote doesn’t go where you don’t want it to and non-compulsory voting. I know we don’t really have compulsory voting now, so let’s make it official.

  4. The Bill deliberately disenfranchises minor political parties and their minority consituents.

    – Closing rolls earlier will minimise the number of young voters and new citizens, who will disproportionately vote against the government.
    Requiring ID to update roll details makes it harder for disadvantaged people (eg those without a drivers license) to maintain their eligibility to vote. The alternatives, a birth certificate or proof of age card, aren’t free. You have to pay to prove your identity.

    – Taking the vote away from prisoners ignores the reason they are in prison, so hypothetically, if you are sent for prison for breaking the new ‘anti-terror’ laws, which are so broad they could apply to just about anyone, you don’t get a chance to vote for a party that will rescind those laws.
    Hypothetically speaking, since anyone can be sent to prison just about arbitrarily, without representation or trial, this allows governments to stop certain people from voting.
    cf. David Hicks.

    – Increasing non-disclosure amounts means that corporations can donate just about as much as they want to any political party and not have to tell anyone. This clearly undermines democratic representation, since we don’t know in whose corporate interests a party is working for.

    – Increasing the dollar amount required to nominate a candidate does nothing but make it harder for minor parties and even tougher for independents to make themselves heard.

    – And finally, automatic degistration for unsuccessful political parties. Watch out Democrats!

    My list of things to like about the Bill is much shorter:

    – requiring divisional offices to be located within divisional boundaries. This keeps it local, and is welcome for electorates such as Sturt, which has no divisional office. I would hope that extra funding is made available for the AEC to implement this rule.
    However this is made meaningless by the ‘unless otherwise authorised by the minister’ clause.

    – authorisation of internet advertising. Impossible to police this, but a welcome initiative.

    In short, this Bill makes it even easier for the government to be re-elected, and even harder for minor parties and independents to be heard.

    Fixed terms would at least take away some of the power of the incumbent Prime Minister. The way elections are called in Australia is simply unfair, and it’s no wonder incumbent governments are re-elected so often.

  5. As far as donations go, transparency here is of obvious importance.

    re: voting, prisoners are often the most disadvantaged and marginalised in the community. Further marginalising this group is not going to help anyone. Prison is also supposed to be an environment for rehabilitation so as to prevent future criminal behaviour. I see engaging people in core democratic activities as integral to their transition back into community life.

  6. I agree Adam.

    There is no justification that I can see, for removing the rights of prisoners to vote.

  7. is anybody else concerned that the government is taking it upon themselves to decide which citizens are allowed to vote?

    Why stop at prisoners?

  8. I do not think rolls should be closed immediately on the announcement of an election. People should be alerted and have the chance to enrol.
    I do not believe in compulsory voting. What is democratic about that?
    I think all donations to political parties should be open to public scrutiny on an on-going basis, anytime, and day.
    I totally disapprove of ‘how to vote’ cards!
    Voting is private, personal and should not be open to persuasion from any quarter. If you are old enough to vote, surely you are intelligent enough to make your own choices without coercion?

  9. William (#8) raises an interesting question. There is no protection in the Constitution regarding the right to vote. One could assume it is an implied right, but obviously it is not a universal guarantee, otherwise they could not deny it for prisoners.

    The question then becomes how far can the right to vote be restricted before the fundamentals of the democracy becomes affected (which would then presumably breach the Constitution)? In some ways it’s just a hypothetical question for lawyers, but the principle behind it is one we should keep in mind.

    What if the ban on the right to vote was extended to all who had ever been convicted of murder, even after their sentence had been served? What about all ex-prisoners (as is done in some parts of the USA)?

    some of these are explored further in the reports by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. Their reports can be accessed by clicking here.

  10. What’s wrong with 4 year fixed terms, I think it is a great idea but I don’t think the mendacious manipulator will “see the need for it”

  11. Paul… 4 year fixed terms is a good idea, yet I haven’t noticed Kim suggesting it nor any other ALP leader. Try to restrain your enthusiastic yet ill-aimed bias.

  12. From the ALP members additional comments to the latest Electoral Matters Committee report:

    “While we continue to support the policy in Labor’s platform for fixed four-year terms for both houses, we are willing to work with all other parties to develop a proposal for four-year terms for the House of Representatives which can be put to a referendum. ”


    Also, from Chapter 16 of the ALP platform:
    “16. Labor supports simultaneous, fixed four year terms for the House of Representatives and the Senate.”

  13. LOL
    Rapidly to the defence of the Labor party Bartlett jumps the fence in a single bound. :-)

    Good lap dog, sit boy… sit….

    So Andrew I must have missed Kim mentioning it can you refer me to where he did? Or any other Labor leader.

    Let’s see the Dems have advocated this since when? Before the bill in 2000 right. What happened to it Andrew?

    Damn I must apologise to Labor… I remember now Mark Latham actually mentioned it when he was opposition leader. Still actions speak louder than words.

  14. Actually Geoff, I’m not “defending the Labor Party”. I don’t support the ALP policy of fixed 4 year terms in both houses.

    I just thought people might be interested in accuracy. You’ve already demonstrated long ago that it would be silly to expect you to be, but I imagine most other people reading this would be interested in simple facts.

    Although the ALP policy is fairly widely known for people that follow this area, I thought it best for those who didn’t know to ensure the correct information was provided.

  15. Hey Andrew I’d be willing to put up my accuracy against yours any day of the week.

    Being a smart-A, as you are most of the time by saying things about others that are untruths.. only shows people the type of person you are. It doesn’t have a bearing on reality.

    BOTH major parties have had the life of Parliament to change things Andrew they never have… that was the point I was trying to make to Paul. Who seems to think blaming one person incorrectly is the way forward.

    I note you didn’t bother to pick him up on that.


  16. With regard to the proposal to deny prisoners the right to vote: What I am about to say has been argued before, both here in Australia and overseas. Bearing in mind that most prisoners will one day be returning to the community, it makes sense to include their vote (voice) in elections. After all, the government will be making decisions that affect them upon release. Not to mention that governments make legislation that affect prisoners while they are in custody. The notion of stripping prisoners of their rights (ie: the old notion of “civil death”) is at odds with the idea of rehabilitation (or “correction” as it is called these days). It’s my understanding that punishment does not act as an effective deterrent for crime – ie:in most cases it is not uppermost in people’s minds at the time they commit crimes. Deterrence is one of the main reasons which has been given for withholding the right to vote.
    Considering that Indigenous and poor people are vastly overrepresented in prisons, denying the right to vote will disproportionately affect those groups (is this deliberate?) Another thing is that the majority of people in Brisbane prisons (I’m not sure about other s tates) are serving sentences of under 12 months – there crimes are not acts of treason or anti-government plotting – so removing the right to vote is arbitrary.
    Overseas it has been clearly stated in the courts that the right to vote is inalienable. We should do the same.
    How can you expect people to respect and participate in a society where one of their supposedly most effective rights is denied. It doesn’t make sense (and doesn’t fit with best practice models either)

  17. Denying prisoners the right to vote is an exclusionary step, designed to deny basic rights to the marginalised in our society. The step is yet another example of the dogmatic detemination of the current government to adopt policies already in place in the United States. Adopting policies of inclusion from countries, for example Sweden and Norway, would be a “another brick in the wall” to builing a society that fosters inclusion as opposed to exclusion, and tolerance as opposed to intolerance.

  18. I don’t think prisoners should be denied the vote. One question: Which electorate is their vote counted in? The location of the prison, last known address? (for some that would be NFA). How do they get on the rolls?

    Rather than all those seeing fire breathing dogs emerging from the darkness as the ratioanle – it may be more the difficulty of adminsitering it that is the issue for the Electroal people pushing the issue as opposed to the dark sinister desires of the govt.

  19. I prefer a fixed term in Government. With an escape clause though in which a ruling party can be forced to the polls. The current Government wants to sell Telstra, MediBank Private and the ‘Snowy’. How do we force them to the polls with those items as the main issues.

    Prisoners should vote. I have to.

    Information about donations to parties should be available on-line and should include the name of the ‘donor’ and status in life. Are they a manager or consultant or director of any companies or businesses.

    How to vote cards should be banned. Plus I disagree with preferences. That is just a front.

  20. I stongly disagree with taking away the rights of prisoners to vote. If the objective of imprisonment is rehabilitation (and there is ample evidence that we still hold the punishment factor higher than the goal of rehabilitating prisoners), then removing their right to vote is a signal to prisoners that society is not interested in their rehabilitation. This will surely only encourage criminals to remain criminals, and will eventually create an alternative society whose objective would be to destroy or harm the society that has expelled them. Furthermore, an increasing number of Australians are being jailed (incarcerated) for making mistakes or for stealing when desperately in need of food (there are many examples in WA of aboriginal teenagers jailed for stealing offences when they come from deprived backgrounds). I have seious reservations with incarceration as a form of “justice”, and this latest move to further disenfranchise people who have broken the law will create a dangerous counter-culture. We would do well to remember that Bastille Day, celebrated in France as the day the poor rose up against the aristocracy, was a revolution driven by prisoners. Surely in 2006 we can find a more enlightened way of helping fellow citizens who fall outside the law.

  21. Just to repeat what I’ve added to the bottom of the original post, this legislation is now not being debated until the Senate sits again in May.

    In brief response to some of the questions asked in comments:

    Duncan (#1). Having been part of some Electoral Matters Committee inquiries over the years, I don’t believe that “false registrations and multiple voting scams have been going on” – at least not at any level that actually threatens the integrity of elections. There is evidence of low level dodgy stuff now and then, but no allegation has ever been substantiated that such activites have ever affected the outcome in an individual seat, let alone a whole election. While in theory such fraud could be perpetrated in a way which would not be detected on polling day, it would be extremely difficult to do it in a way which would not be subsequently detected.

    In contrast, there is ample evidence that many thousands of people update and correct their enrolment after an election has been announced. There is a real risk that this much larger group of people could be disenfranchised.

    Ken (#21) – the rules governing the enrolment of prisoners are covered under Section 96A of the Electoral Act. There are some exceptions outlined in that section, but in essence most people serving a sentence of imprisonment are entitled to remain enrolled where they were enrolled when they began serving their sentence.

  22. As there is no constitutional protection for the right to vote for any of us, it is a fine line to allow politicians to determine who are worthy to vote and who are not.
    If the move to exclude prisoners from voting is meant to be a disincentive then how long is it going to be before they start justifying the implementation of other legislation to revoke people’s rights?
    Why not, revoke their citizenship as well and while Mr Howard is at it, he can create a camp like Gitmo and send them all there – heck with it, just send all criminals to Palm Island and while we’re at it a little hard labour doing constructive things like building roads isn’t going to hurt these non-entities, is it???
    Of course the government will need capital punishment to force them to do the work.
    And women – women are a nuisance, like that pesky backbencher Judy Moylen, and Gillard(has she ever heard of being seen and not heard!?) they shouldn’t have the right to vote – that women’s rights thing was all a very big mistake.

  23. Good idea ab

    I think it’s about time we extended Biblical principles to our laws, and the Electoral Act would be a good place to start.

    There is a strong case that can be made that giving the women the vote is against Christian principles:

    See for example the First book of Timothy, Chapter 2, verses 11-12:

    “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

    (this is from the New Testament, not the Old, so it’s modern Christian teaching).

  24. rofl, c’mon – steve fielding is not that bad. Tch – now u r just trying to rile me, but y’know I’m the wrong mother to mess with.

    The books of the bible would be so much more easily accessed if they were in organized into alphabetical order.

    btw tell that scripture to Deborah – who led an army of men, or Joan of Arc, who was favoured for God’s visions before men.

    lmao – u r such a stirrer.

  25. Mr Bartlett,
    I am curious about the lack of objection to the proposed amendments to the Legislation. Where do the Democrats stand on prisoner’s right to vote?

  26. Nicki

    The Democrats have consistently (and usually successfully) opposed attempts to further restrict prisoners’ right to vote. Of course, with government control of the Senate these days, there’s not much to prevent this change from going through this time.

    For more detail on the Democrats position on this and other aspects of the legislation, it is best to check out the minority report of Senator Andrew Murray on the Senate Committee inquiry into the Bill – available by clicking here (large pdf file warning) and reading from page 55 onwards. (Matters to do with prisoners voting entitlements start at page 68)

  27. how stupid can we get . a person is covicted of bashing to death an old lady for $50 to buy drugs .looses all there rite,s FULL STOP. why is this being debated at all. smoke screen comes to mind.

  28. Red Crab. I am with you on this one. This is as ridiculous as the thread about the Queen needing a Visa.

    When a criminal strips another human being of thier rights, they loose their rights. SIMPLE>

  29. Red Crab,
    Your example of the criminal convicted of killing for drug money is irrelevant to Andrew’s discussion of the amendments because your guy would already be disenfranchised due to the length of sentence that would be imposed for the crime.

    I’m not sure what you think is so ‘ridiculous’. Discussion of prisoners’ rights is integral to both the Constitution and criminal law and goes to the heart of why we put people in gaol anyway – rehabilitation, retribution or protection of society? It’s not simple at all.

  30. Jane. Yes it is simple. We should look after the rights of the victims first. Then we can work out the criminals.

    The way it is now the criminals have more rights and protection and that is why we are in the state that we are in today.

    People should go to jail as a punishment as that is what they deserve. Thats not to say that they shouldn’t be treated well whilst they are there and we shouldn’t try to help them rehabilitate. But if they commit a crime they should be punished. SIMPLE!

  31. I think you are wrong!

    Havent you heard, the simple things in life are often the best.

    When you try to complicate matters thats when problems start happening. Of course there are always cases where there are extenuating circumstaces that need to be taken into consideration but humans have to be held responsible and accountable for their choices and actions. If somebody violates another human beings rights, then they have to be made to answer and to be punished. Just because they can justify it doesn’t make it okay.


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