May 24, 2018  |  Second reading

Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2018

Mr Howard (Buninyong) (15:35:35) — I am pleased to also add my comments in regard to the Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 before the house, which, as we have heard, has followed a fairly healthy bipartisan approach through its conception, coming through the Electoral Matters Committee. It is certainly appropriate that we have heard from both the chair and the deputy chair of the current Electoral Matters Committee, which made a number of recommendations that have been supported in this bill. Of course there are a broad range of changes in the bill that go beyond the issues that the Electoral Matters Committee raised. They are in relation to political donations and reforms to ensure that there is greater transparency and that there are clearer restrictions in regard to donations — the banning of foreign donations, for example.

I will not really be focusing on that aspect of the bill, however. I have been in involved in campaigning for many years now. The 1980s or some time would have been the first election campaign that I was involved in. I remember that my first work experience was as a teacher at Kaniva. As a Labor supporter back then, I think there were three of us who would hand out how-to-vote cards in Kaniva for the Labor Party, so it was a fairly lonely experience back then, as I remember. Coming to Ballarat was clearly a more warming experience for all Labor supporters and Labor Party members.

What the bill aims to do is make some sensible changes, as we have heard, recommended by the Electoral Matters Committee in regard to the extension of early voting procedures. We have certainly seen in recent elections that early voting has extended in terms of the number of people who wish to take advantage of early voting, and it seems to have been a very sensible process to provide that opportunity for people who cannot be present on election days. What we have done on this occasion is recognise that a lot of people have been coming to pre-polling to vote ahead of the election day. They have sometimes been required to explain why they could not be there on election day, but we know sometimes people have not answered those questions honestly.

I found myself in the last election thinking, ‘Well, it would be very convenient for me as the candidate to vote ahead of election day so I could focus all of my attention on the actual campaigning issues on election day and just speaking to voters’. Of course as a candidate entering a polling booth on election day, election officials become a little bit concerned because they think that maybe you are entering the polling booth to campaign, which of course is entirely inappropriate when you are in fact just coming to vote on election day. So for candidates it has been an awkward issue too. When I did attempt to pre-poll in the last election I was advised that I could not because the electoral commissioner present knew that I would be present on election day — or it was certainly expected that I would be — and when he asked the question I said, ‘I would be around on election day’, so I could not vote. This simply changes the issue so that people can vote freely ahead of election day at the pre-polling booths without having to make an explanation. That seems to make some sense.

The legislation before us also does some sensible things in allowing for the counting of the pre-polling votes and allowing for the counting of the postal votes so that they will not actually be counted ahead of election day but can be compiled on election day itself so the envelopes can be checked and then the counting of the votes can take place on election day and be processed in a much quicker and more appropriate manner so that we are more likely to get the announcement of the results of an election on election night rather than having to wait until those pre-poll votes or postal votes are counted. So that is a very sensible change.

We also know in regard to the whole processing of election results that it is appropriate to take into account people’s desire to have that count of the election on election night and to get a response. Also, we recognise that people use the internet these days, so being able to apply for postal voting online is another appropriate change we have made in this legislation to speed up the process, so you will not have to send away for your postal vote, get it back through the post and then send off your vote. We know the postal system has been getting slower and slower in recent times, so allowing people to apply for their postal vote online will see them receive their vote more quickly.

When they are filling in the postal vote, as we have heard, we do not need the person who has to witness their signature to note their title, which again becomes confusing. The witness simply has to be a person who is 18 years or over and not the election candidate, and they have to sign the form. That makes the process, again, more convenient, more appropriate. Recognising those issues of the postal system, we have clarified the time when it might be deemed that postal votes have been posted appropriately. So voters will get the full time — until 6.00 p.m. on the Friday following the election. If those postal votes have been received by the Electoral Commissioner effectively within a week of the election, they will be considered as appropriately received. There is also a category whereby if we can see that the envelope has in fact been posted before election day, the voter will still be permitted to be acknowledged and added to the count. These are sensible changes to the legislation.

We are simplifying postal voting cards to have the authorisations shown clearly once on each side of the postal voting card. We have heard also how we are changing the issues of signage on election day. Those of us who have been closely involved in elections for a number of years know that our younger members have perhaps enjoyed the opportunity of being out early, at 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock in the morning, trying to get around the polling booths to see if they can, in our case, outdo the Liberals to get their bunting in a better position than the Liberals. The Liberals likewise have a lot of young bucks — mostly young bucks, some young women too, I guess — who get out and try and outdo our side on that. Sometimes, because they are young individuals, they can get a bit stroppy if somebody else is trying to replace their bunting or get in their way. It just makes a lot of sense to reduce that issue, to reduce that signage — that clutter around elections on election day. We have in fact extended the distance, so signage has to be at least 6 metres from the entrance to a polling place now; there will be just one sign from each political party or candidate at each entrance; and the signs have to be 600 millimetres by 900 millimetres — standard corflute size. That will be the limit of the signage. That is a sensible thing too.

I note that the member for Essendon spoke about the ability to hand out how-to-vote postal cards, and clearly that is an issue that is considered from time to time. Is it still appropriate? Sometimes those who come to vote feel a bit affronted by the number of people who are putting how-to-vote cards in front of them, but I think on balance it is still a healthy sign that we have not gone completely to postal elections, as they do for local government nowadays. The experience of an election is of a very human day, when party supporters from whichever party are out there supporting their party enthusiastically. There are those sausage sizzles, and of course they should be continued to be allowed. It is a good day of human interaction, when people actually are physically involved in the voting process.

I think these are great changes being made. I am pleased that there seems to be bipartisan support, or tripartisan support, for this legislation. I certainly commend all of those issues in the bill to the house. They are commonsense approaches. They do tidy up some of the issues that have been of concern for some time.