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In June l a s t year, the Commonwealth P a r l i a m e n t passed an Electoral Integrity Act which would have required voters to produce a copy of t h e i r driver’s licence, or similar proof of identity, when enrolling to vote, or when reenrolling for a new address.
At present, all a voter has to do to get on the electoral roll is to fill in their own d e t a i l s, t h a t is, name and address, and have t h e i r enrolment f o r m countersigned by “an elector or a person entitled to enrolment”. T h a t h a s long been criticised as being less than that required for renting a video or opening a bank account.
P r o c l a m a t i o n of the new regulation was made contingent upon reaching agreement w i t h the S t a t e s. T h a t agreement h a s not been forthcoming, and, according to my inquiries, the Commonwealth has just given the States another 14 days to reconsider their position.
It so happens that all of the States currently have Labor Party governments a n d, a s a m a t t e r o f p u b l i c r e c o r d, f o r t w o decades following the enactment of user-friendly electoral laws by a federal Labor government in 1983, Labor steadfastly opposed any m o v e a t either S t a t e or federal levels to t i g h t e n up enrolment provisions.
T h a t w a s u n t i l 2 3 June, 2003, when, w i t h m i n i m a l acknowledgement, a n h i s t o r i c announcement was made in f e d e r a l P a r l i a m e n t of belated b i p a r t i s a n support for proof of identity for enrolment of electors for federal elections.
It was the tabling of a report of a Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee on Electoral Matters which recommended the regulation that voters be required to produce a copy of t h e i r driver’s licence, or s i m i l a r proof of identity, f o r enrolment.
The b i p a r t i s a n agreement came a f t e r the c o m m i t t e e discovered, among other things, that somebody h a d been able to enroll a c a t a s a voter – one of more t h a n 70 instances of questionable enrolment cited by the A u s t r a l i a n Electoral Commission for a ten year period.
The new-found unanimity was best explained by Labor’s m a s t e r electoral t a c t i c i a n, Senator Robert Ray, who h a d served on t h e j o i n t c o m m i t t e e f o r a n unprecedented 20 years.
Acknowledging that proof of identity had been “contentious” and “partisan”
in the past, he told Parliament:
“Most of us now have form... it is probably helpful to the Labor Party that the Liberal Party in Victoria and elsewhere has had a bit of form too, so we can have a more balanced look at these things”.
A previous attempt to impose proof of identity for enrolment, requiring the witnessing of enrolment a p p l i c a t i o n s by designated professional people, w a s abandoned on the eve of the November, 2001 federal election.
A p a r t from continuing opposition then by the Labor P a r t y nationally, a major factor was opposition at State levels, principally from Queensland, where t h e B e a t t i e Government t h r e a t e n e d t o w i t h d r a w f r o m j o i n t r o l l a r r a n g e m e n t s with the Commonwealth.
A key finding of the Shepherdson inquiry, held in Queensland into r o r t i n g involving ALP pre-selection scandals, was quoted by the committee in support of widening the new scheme to cover not just enrolment but re-enrolment.
The federal committee quoted the closing submission of Russell Hanson, QC, in which he made the point that, in the vast majority of detected cases of false enrolment looked at during the Shepherdson inquiry, it was found that they had originally enrolled lawfully for one address, then changed their enrolment to a false address to enable them to vote in particular ALP plebiscites.
Ironically, the new scheme is actually in line with a proposition first raised on behalf of the Labor Party by Mark Dreyfus, QC, in a report on registration for internal voting and, in i t s own submission to the j o i n t c o m m i t t e e, ALP h e a d q u a r t e r s in C a n b e r r a a t t r i b u t e s t h e d r i v e r ’ s licence idea to Steve Bracks’ Labor government in Victoria.
That now seems amazing, since the Bracks Government has gone back on its own proposal, to join t h e B e a t t i e Government and other S t a t e governments to oppose proclamation of the new federal regulation.
S i g n i f i c a n t l y, t h e f e d e r a l c o m m i t t e e h a d forewarned back in 2 0 0 3 t h a t i t was conscious of t h r e a t s to refuse to “progress legislation to introduce corresponding requirements into State and Territory enrolment processes, and of a consequent breakdown of joint roll arrangements”.
In saying so, the committee referred p a r t i c u l a r l y to a m a j o r i t y r e p o r t o f Queensland P a r l i a m e n t ’ s Legal, C o n s t i t u t i o n a l and A d m i n i s t r a t i v e Review C o m m i t t e e which, in rejecting previous proposals for voter i d e n t i f i c a t i o n, recommended in f a c t t h a t the Queensland P a r l i a m e n t consider the reestablishment of a separate Queensland State electoral roll.
Introduction of a j o i n t r o l l m o r e t h a n a d e c a d e a g o h a s been one of t h eabiding reforms flowing f r o m t h e h i s t o r i c commission of inquiry of the l a t e 1980s presided over by Tony Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald recommended establishment of an Electoral and A d m i n i s t r a t i v e Review Commission (EARC), largely to correct notorious gerrymandering of electoral boundaries under previous National-Liberal a s well a s Labor a d m i n i s t r a t i o n s. B u t F i t z g e r a l d also was concerned about electoral f r a u d generally.
As he put it:
“A f u n d a m e n t a l tenet of the established system of p a r l i a m e n t a r y democracy is t h a t public opinion is given effect by regular, free, f a i r elections following open debate”.
I n p a r t i c u l a r, F i t z g e r a l d r e c o m m e n d e d t h a t t h e S t a t e Electoral Act be reviewed:
“…..in an i m p a r t i a l manner to ensure t h a t more effective means a r e developed to guarantee the accuracy of electoral rolls, to prevent fraudulent voting practices...”.
O n e o f t h e f i r s t t a s k s of the newly established EARC was to e x a m i n e t h e s t a t e o f t h e S t a t e rolls. Unlike other States, Queensland had since Federation continued to maintain its own rolls, separate from those of the Commonwealth, whereas other States had opted early for joint State-federal rolls. Despite longstanding recommendations to do so, Queensland resisted.
The EARC surmised:
“The most plausible explanation is suspicion at the political level that use of the Commonwealth roll would be in some way d i s a d v a n t a g e o u s t o t h e governing party of the day, and t h i s view prevailed under Labor and nonLabor governments alike”.
On the recommendation of the EARC, Queensland opted to a d o p t a j o i n t federal-State roll, and that was achieved by January, 1992.
In i t s 1990 report, the EARC acknowledged public concern over electoral rolls, citing 57 i t e m s published in The Courier M a i l and other Brisbane metropolitan media between November, 1986 and M a r c h, 1 9 9 0, a l l b u t four of which related to the Queensland rolls.
Inquiries by the EARC disclosed e x t r a o r d i n a r y discrepancies between t h e numbers of electors on Queensland rolls when compared w i t h Commonwealth rolls.
I t was discovered t h a t, when the Queensland election was held on 1 November, 1986, there were 1,563,294 voters on the Queensland rolls – 55,064 fewer t h a n t h e 1, 6 1 8, 3 5 8 gazetted by the Commonwealth for Queensland three days earlier.
Yet, when the next Queensland election was held on 2 December, 1989, there were 1,780,785 electors on the Queensland rolls – 28,380 m o r e than the 1,752,405 gazetted by the Commonwealth for Queensland the day before.
If a f a i r proportion of those 28,380 e x t r a voters h a d been enrolled in marginal seats, it would have been enough to swing the election.
Queensland has long been the centre of allegations of enrolment fraud, much m o r e s o t h a n p e r e n n i a l c l a i m s t h a t h a v e a r i s e n in other S t a t e s. N o n e t h e l e s s, when the Shepherdson inquiry was held during 2000 and 2001, i t s t e r m s of reference were confined to enrolment for pre-selection ballots, excluding general elections.
There were findings a g a i n s t some 22 Labor P a r t y figures, leading to t h e resignations from Parliament of a Deputy Premier, Jim Elder, and a high profile backbencher, Mike Kaiser (who has re-emerged since as a key electoral strategist at ALP headquarters in Canberra).
In all, 20 of the alleged rorters walked free, unable to be prosecuted because of e x p i r a t i o n of the s t a t u t e of l i m i t a t i o n s under l a x S t a t e electoral l a w s enacted post-Fitzgerald by the Wayne Goss Government.
Of the remaining two, a Labor mayor in Townsville, Tony Mooney, w a s subsequently cleared by Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission, a n d the only person to be prosecuted, a former Goss adviser, David B a r b a g a l l o, emerged virtually unscathed, being fined $1,000 with no conviction recorded.
T o h i s c r e d i t, P e t e r B e a t t i e h a s brought in s t r i c t e r electoral laws to give Queensland authorities more power to combat fraud involving State elections, as well a s requiring all registered p o l i t i c a l p a r t i e s to s u b m i t to Queensland Electoral Commission supervision of pre-selections. In fact, in a letter published
in the Courier M a i l of 6 February, 2 0 0 2, I c o n g r a t u l a t e d the Premier, saying:
“Having been a c r i t i c of p a s t failures, I believe credit should be given where credit is due”.
Such laws might well be considered for Victoria, where the media has been having a field day in recent weeks over allegations of continuing branch-stacking and f a l s i f i e d membership records – w i t h former Labor Premier John C a i n proclaiming t h a t b r a n c h s t a c k i n g a n d c o r r u p t p r a c t i c e s h a d become endemic within the Labor Party in Victoria.
L i k e Q u e e n s l a n d, i f p o l i t i c a l a c t i v i s t s a r e p r e p a r e d s o openly to r o r t preselection processes at branch level, it raises s e r i o u s q u e s t i o n m a r k s a b o u t j u s t how active any of t h e m m i g h t be a t the g r a s s r o o t s level in organizing false enrolments for State or federal elections.
Like so many other Australians, for much of my life, my knowledge of voting fraud had been minimal, at best, notwithstanding the fact that I had long been involved in t h e p o l i t i c a l p r o c e s s. T h a t w a s until, in s e m i - r e t i r e m e n t, i n sunny Queensland, something occurred which h a s prompted me into looking a t electoral f r a u d in much the same sense t h a t long ago I was propelled i n t o investigating organised crime and corruption.
In a national sense, the two issues are equally serious. Each poses a threat to our d e m o c r a t i c way of life. The r e a l i t y o f organised crime and a s s o c i a t e d corruption h a s long been recognised, and creditable measures have been i n s t i t u t e d t o c o m b a t i t, a t both federal and S t a t e levels. T h a t i s not so w i t h still emerging revelations about electoral fraud; to the extent that, at a federal level, the A u s t r a l i a n Federal Police, by w h a t they t e r m self-determined p r i o r i t i e s, w i l l n o t i n v e s t i g a t e any instances of m u l t i p l e voting involving less than 12 votes.
How I became involved and concerned about electoral fraud is an intriguing story in itself.
In November, 2000, during proceedings of the Shepherdson inquiry, a reference was made to alleged false enrolments in t h e S t a t e electorate covering Bribie Island, about one hour’s drive north of Brisbane, where my wife, Judy, and I happen to own a weekly newspaper, Island & Mainland News.
Out of local interest, we published a s m a l l i t e m m e n t i o n i n g t h a t c o u n s e l a s s i s t i n g the inquiry, Russell Hanson, QC, h a d s a i d t h a t there was “ a ‘suggestion’ people were ‘moved in’ from Sydney and Melbourne and p u t i n t o caravan parks before the State election of 1989”.
That prompted two people to contact me to relate an extraordinary story.
T h e y r e c a l l e d t h a t, p r i o r t o the 1989 Queensland State election, they h a d been contracted to deliver letters addressed to electors throughout Bribie Island, then with a population of about 12,000. It involved delivery to about 4,600 homes and unit complexes. What they found was that many of the letters were addressed to people at addresses that simply did not exist.
Well, what’s new, you might say? Yes, members of Parliaments, federal and S t a t e, have long complained about m a i l i n g out letters to constituents a n d sometimes having large numbers returned by Australia Post. And, yes, from time to time subsequent inquiries have found t h a t some people have been wrongly enrolled, or dead people have been left on the rolls.
But the Bribie episode was unprecedented. That delivery was not by A u s t r a l i a P o s t, b u t by our deliverers – t h a t i s, t h e p e o p l e w h o always deliver our local newspaper, door-to-door, and who know every letterbox.
Names of supposed voters from the electoral roll were listed one a f t e r another, along kilometre a f t e r kilometre of public w a t e r f r o n t land along Pumicestone Passage, all with odd numbers (for non-existent homes) to m a t c h even numbers of existing homes opposite the water, as well a s a r o u n d a n a r e a perhaps appropriately named Clayton’s Park.
Significantly, allegations of massive false enrolments had been raised in the Queensland Parliament in October, 1989, about the very t i m e t h e m a i l - o u t w a s being carried out a t Bribie Island – two months before the 1989 Queensland election.
These allegations had included claims that 2,965 names on the roll for the S t a t e s e a t o f S t a f f o r d c o u l d n o t b e m a t c h e d, and t h a t 6 0 8 voters h a d left t h e addresses for which they had remained registered. In t h e s e a t of Salisbury, i t w a s c l a i m e d t h a t a n o t h e r 2, 8 0 1 v o t e r s c o u l d not be m a t c h e d, w i t h 1 7 a t fake addresses, including vacant lots, and 1,131 remained enrolled a l t h o u g h t h e i r final electricity bills had been paid.
Which brings us back to Queensland’s t h r e a t to re-establish i t s own separate roll should the Commonwealth p r e s s a h e a d w i t h p l a n s to t i g h t e n up enrolment regulations.
Again, in the case of Bribie I s l a n d, i f you c o m p a r e s t a t i s t i c s f r o m v o t i n g results for the 1987 federal election, when the Commonwealth roll was used, and the results of the 1989 S t a t e election, when Queensland l a s t used i t s own separate roll, it provides an interesting illustration.
To be specific, at the main polling booth at Bellara, along the Pumicestone Passage side of Bribie Island, 1,515 votes were recorded for the federal election, and subsequently 2,394 for the State election – a difference of an extra 879 votes or an astounding 58 percent!
Such an episode at out of the way Bribie, and, by implication, other areas of Queensland, and possibly other areas of Australia, before and since, underlines the vulnerability of the d e m o c r a t i c processes of not only Queensland but t h e whole of Australia.
Thus the current stand-off between the States and Commonwealth, over the simple introduction of proof of identity for electoral enrolment, is an issue that should concern all Australians.
“We have been t a u g h t b y long experience t h a t w e c a n n o t w i t h o u t danger suffer any breach of the constitution to pass unnoticed”. 1 “The Commonwealth Parliament has no general power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the people of Australia”. 2 “Finance is government and government is finance”. 3