ELECTORAL (MISCELLANEOUS) AMENDMENT BILL

Wednesday 30 November, 2016

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (17:43): I rise to speak to the Electoral (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2016 and indicate that I will not be the lead speaker for the opposition. Whilst the bill is likely to pass this house, I wish to advise that we will be introducing amendments at some stage. We reserve our rights as to the timing of those amendments, but they may happen in this place, between the houses or in the other place.

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (17:43): I rise to speak to the Electoral (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2016 and indicate that I will not be the lead speaker for the opposition. Whilst the bill is likely to pass this house, I wish to advise that we will be introducing amendments at some stage. We reserve our rights as to the timing of those amendments, but they may happen in this place, between the houses or in the other place.

I note that the bill proposes a whole range of amendments to the Electoral Act 1985, to which I will refer. The bill actually responds to some recommendations made by the former electoral commissioner in her report on the 2014 state election, and it is important to note that the government has aimed to include and implement some of those recommendations. Other recommendations have been completely ignored and I know a number of my colleagues may also wish to speak on those.

The bill responds to a variety of recommendations made by the former electoral commissioner in her report on that election and seeks to, amongst other things, in some instances, curb the increase in pre-poll voting. It always worries me when the government puts forward a bill seeking to prevent pre-poll voting in any form. We must look at that in fine detail before even considering it. The Liberal Party remains opposed to restrictions on pre-poll and also postal vote application reform in the way the Attorney has proposed it—in particular, restrictions on pre-poll timing and exclusion zones.

The premise of pre-poll as a notion and postal vote application is that electors for whom it is compulsory to vote are able to cast their vote when situations arise that make it nearly impossible for them to vote on election day. Let us look at declaration votes. The Electoral Act makes provision for electors to make declaration votes for various reasons. They include electors:

who will not, throughout the hours of polling on polling day, be within eight kilometres by the nearest practical route of any booth;

who will be travelling under certain conditions that preclude voting at a polling booth;

who by reason of illness, infirmity or disability are precluded from voting at a polling booth;

who, by reason of caring for a person who is ill, infirm or disabled, are precluded from voting at a polling booth;

who by reason of advanced pregnancy are precluded from voting at a polling booth;

who, by reason of a membership in a religious order or by religious beliefs are precluded from attending at a polling booth or preclude them from voting throughout the hours on polling day or the greater part of those hours;

who, for a reason of a prescribed nature, are precluded from voting at a polling booth;

who will be working in their employment throughout the hours of polling. This is quite common because obviously the election is on a Saturday. It will continue to be on a Saturday in the near future and many people work on the actual day of the election;

who cannot be reasonably expected to be absent from work for the purpose of voting;

who are inmates of a declared institution;

whose name as a result of an official error does not appear on the certified list of electors for a district;

who appear from a record erroneously made under the act to have voted already in the election;

whose address has been suppressed from publication under part 4 division 2.

There are various reasons for making a declaration vote and it makes clear the benefits of having reasonable access to pre-poll voting for electors, which begs the serious question why the government would wish to curb an increase in pre-poll voting.

One thought is that perhaps the government believes that reducing the number of people able to vote prior to the days close to the election will favour them. I take you back to the last election campaign. Many know the common Labor election strategy which is known as dropping a grenade—figuratively speaking—in the final days before the election, as we saw targeted at the Liberal candidate for Elder, Carolyn Habib. We know that that was an atrocious, despicable act that is not acceptable in any way, shape or form.

We also saw federally the 'Mediscare' campaign where a grenade was thrown late in the piece to the benefit of the Labor Party. We know that these kinds of tactics are employed late. Often it is very difficult to respond to them, but they do have negative connotations. Unfortunately, they have been effective for all the wrong reasons. Changes to postal voting and changes to pre-poll voting the way the Attorney has worded the legislation would certainly be likely to favour the Labor Party. In my humble opinion, this may be a leading factor in why the Attorney has chosen to curb increases in pre-poll voting.

While the bill before us today takes on some of the recommendations made by the former electoral commissioner, it actually overlooks 14 recommendations. If the Attorney is serious about reform in this area, he should at least have the courtesy to look in greater detail at these various other recommendations instead of ignoring them. Let's have the full debate, let's talk about them, let's consult with the community and let's hear what people want to do as well. The government has provided the Liberal Party with reasons why the 14 other recommendations were overlooked. I note that, in a cover letter from the Attorney-General, it was his view, and I am quoting here:

…that the proposed changes were either unnecessary or not a priority at this time. In other cases I do not support the recommendation that has been made.

I would now like to draw the house's attention to recommendation 14 of the Electoral Commissioner's report regarding the right of an elector to receive a ballot paper:

s78

Consider strengthening the democratic process by requiring electors to provide proof of identity in support of their entitlement to vote prior to being issued their ballot paper where they attend a polling booth or apply in person to make a declaration vote.

The government does not support this recommendation on the ground that requiring the provision of proof of identity could disenfranchise voters. What a load of rubbish! The government is saying that requiring someone to provide proof of identity, to prove they are actually the person who is about to vote, could disenfranchise voters. Give me a break. That is an absolute joke.

It seems unlikely that it would disenfranchise voters. In fact, I know many voters who would prefer that it is known who is voting. I do not think it is an unreasonable request at all for someone to provide identification before voting, given that identity is required for any other government services—for example, obtaining a driver's licence.

I recommend that the government revisit this recommendation and consider the benefits of requiring proof of identity and ensuring that those entitled to vote are indeed those who are filling out the ballot papers, in an effort to strengthen our democratic process. I might add that I will be very concerned if this recommendation falls under those that the Attorney-General deems not a priority, especially when the Electoral Commissioner has called this a step towards strengthening democracy. I would also like to draw the house's attention to the Electoral Commissioner's 24th recommendation relating to misleading advertising, which is also overlooked in the bill before us today:

s113

Consider removing this provision as no other State in Australia has truth in political advertising. The Australian Parliament has determined that the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 should not regulate the content of political advertising.

There is an ethical question as to whether the Electoral Commissioner should be responsible for deciding whether political messages published or broadcast during an election are misleading to a material extent…

And it goes on. In response to this, the government has amended the penalty in the bill before us today, implementing a substantial increase in fines for misleading advertising. This seems to me to fly in the face of the recommendation of the commissioner, and I suggest that the government also look at this area.

I have another brief point to make before I adjourn. Another concern I would like to raise on this side of the chamber is the government's overlooking of recommendation 30. Recommendation 30 of the commissioner's report relates to injunctions, and it reads:

s132(2)

The provisions under this section preclude injunctive relief in relation to contravention of, or non-compliance with, all of Division 2 of Part 13 of the Act. The only injunctive relief available in that Division relates to electoral advertising under s113.

Amend so as not to prevent injunctive relief for those other sections within Division 2 of Part 13, including special provisions relating to how-to-vote cards under s112A, where a person may distribute a how-to-vote card in breach of the requirements.

The Liberal Party's position is that we should at least be looking at this recommendation in a potential reform of the bill, as an amendment I believe would seek to be meritorious in nature. Late in the piece, when these last-minute campaign tactics are employed, I can certainly see the benefit of having some kind of injunctive relief. I think the Attorney should at least be open to this form of injunctive relief to protect the integrity of the election process, especially late in the piece.

I also note that, while data is available on the overall pre-poll and postal votes cast at the state election, it is disappointing not to readily see a breakdown of these statistics in greater detail. I think that if we did have greater detail, we would certainly be able to identify more trends. I note that there has been quite a substantial increase in pre-poll votes and postal vote applications over time. This is something that is certainly not unique to South Australia.

To reiterate what I said about the bill, obviously it will likely be passed in this house. We will be introducing amendments. We will reserve our rights as to the timing of those amendments, but they will occur in this place, between the houses or in the other place. I conclude my remarks by suggesting that the government certainly consider amendments in the areas that we have raised to oppose the pre-poll restrictions and PVA restrictions and also the increase in fines. We do reserve our right to consider further amendments consistent with the recommendations of the Electoral Commissioner and as will be identified by some of my colleagues in this place. I commend the bill to the house.