Actions speak louder than words, results more than rhetoric. Peter Costello summarised it perfectly this morning. Wayne Swan really is out of his depth. Last year, Mr Swan promised no less than 500 times that he would deliver a budget surplus this year.
Senator Scott Ryan spoke in strong opposition against the Gillard Government’s attempt to regulate the media and stifle free speech in Australia.
Wednesday, 21 March 2012.
STEVE MARTIN: There are apparently in Australia quite a number of people who aren’t on electoral rolls, not several million, but at least a million people who aren’t on the electoral roll, either by accident or by design. There is a parliamentary committee, the electoral matters committee, which has released a report, which if adopted and if accepted, would allow the Australian Electoral Commission to enrol you automatically whether you want to be on the electoral roll or not. You’re supposed to be on, but the AEC isn’t able to enrol you without your permission, as I understand it. Senator Scott Ryan is a Liberal senator for Victoria. He is on the electoral matters committee and there is a dissenting report in relation to this as I understand it, and Scott Ryan is one of those dissenters. Senator good morning to you and welcome.
SCOTT RYAN: Good morning Steve, how are you?
MARTIN: Very well. Just explain what the official recommendation of the committee is for us, if you would.
RYAN: This is basically the third time we’ve seem a Bill like this from the Labor Government, which would see them empower the electoral commission, the people who run elections, to automatically enrol people based on other government databases without people filling out enrolment forms.
MARTIN: Be it VicRoads or rates notices or the like, that go through local councils, that sort of stuff?
RYAN: It gives discretion to the electoral commissioner, the person in charge of elections, to decide which databases, but they have said they are probably going to start with things like VCE and VicRoads.
MARTIN: Why is it a bad thing? You actually are supposed to be legally on the electoral roll are you not?
RYAN: You are obliged to be on the electoral roll, but I heard what you said at the start there Steve about people not wanting to be on the electoral roll and I don’t want to sound flippant, but I actually think if people aren’t on the electoral roll, it is more a reflection of politicians than the people.
MARTIN: Yeah ok.
RYAN: And so we believe as the Liberal Party and Coalition that it is not hard to enrol. This is probably the shortest government form anyone is ever going to fill out, it is not even a full A4 page. It is important to have people fill out the form and sign it, because occasionally when people sign a postal vote or sign some sort of declaration vote, as they are called, we have a signature to compare things to. That’s pretty important to maintain the integrity of the electoral system.
The second reason why it is a bit of a concern is at the moment, if, let’s say, you move house and you forget to change your electoral address, the electoral commission might send a letter to your old address. If you didn’t reply, you’d be removed from the electoral roll, and that’s exactly how it should be because you’re meant to be enrolled at your current address. Under this new system that we’re going to see, the electoral system can send you a letter. If you don’t reply, they’re going to say, ‘well that’s confirmation, we’re going to put you on the electoral roll because we think you live there anyway’. We don’t think that’s enough security for the electoral system.
MARTIN: Is this going to go through, given the current numbers in federal parliament, do you reckon?
RYAN: Well, there was a previous Bill that was very similar and Labor and the Greens seemed to be pretty committed to this, regardless of the concerns we’ve raised about it, particularly about the lack of a signature. People currently sign a form that can be checked on postal vote applications and that won’t be able to happen if this Bill goes through.
MARTIN: Senator there is an argument within this that if the Bill is to go through and people are automatically enrolled those that aren’t on it would perhaps be younger people, uni students, who tend to have a tendency to be more sympathetic towards left politics or Greens politics. This could hurt your party, that’s part of the objection, what’s your response?
RYAN: I don’t like to assign people’s voting behaviour based on their membership of an age group or anything like that, everyone makes their own mind up, but it appears to us that the Labor Party and the Greens have constantly refused to take into account the considerations we’ve raised. The idea that currently you get sent a letter and if you don’t respond, you get removed from the electoral roll, but then all of a sudden we’re going to change that, so that if you don’t respond to a letter, you’re going to be put onto an electoral roll, it strikes me as incredibly perverse.
We have a good election system in this country. We don’t have some of the problems we might have in America, it is perceived to be completely fair and transparent, as it should be. We don’t think we should be putting the integrity of the electoral system at risk simply because a couple of people aren’t filling out a form.
It is not that hard to fill out this form. It is not like some parts of the world where there is intimidation of the voters or anything, this is a really hard form to fill out.
MARTIN: Is it right there are about one and a half million Australians not on the roll?
RYAN: There are various estimates from half a million to just over a million.
MARTIN: So it could catch quite a number of people?
RYAN: Well it could catch them, but then the thing is they won’t know they’re on it. In NSW where this system was introduced – basically about 90 per cent of people turn up and vote – we got nothing like that 90 per cent turn-out rate of people who had been added this way. So, we’re not going to have a situation where all of a sudden, all these people turn up to vote on the day. They’re not going to even know they’re on the electoral roll.
MARTIN: They will then be subsequently issued a fine for not turning up to vote?
RYAN: They will subsequently be issued a fine. What really worries me though is that a couple of elections ago we had the seat of McEwen – outside northern and eastern Melbourne then, it has changed since – which was decided by a High Court case by a couple of dozen votes. I don’t think our electoral system is strengthened by having a system in place whereby a mistake might be made, and let’s say some people are put on the roll mistakenly, I don’t think any of us would think that was appropriate. Again, I go back to this point. The current electoral enrolment form is not that hard to fill out. They’re at every post office, you can do it online, you can send it in. It is the smallest government form anyone will ever fill out.
MARTIN: Senator, good for your time, thank you.
RYAN: Thanks Steve.