Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 10 Hansard (17 October) . . Page.. 3086..
MR GENTLEMAN (continuing):
I have not heard a concrete argument from those opposite that says that it will do anything at all concretely to undermine democracy ...
But 143,000 eligible Australians have been denied their democratic right to vote. If that is not concrete evidence enough for Mr Smyth and the opposition, I think they are deluded.
MS MacDONALD (Brindabella) (5.50), in reply: Mr Speaker, in closing the debate, I would like to begin by thanking members for their contributions to this debate, which has gone over several months. I first brought this on in May, and a lot of things have happened since then. I acknowledge that there have been some things which have changed.
Mr Speaker, as we know, those eligible to vote only have until 8 o'clock this evening. In just over two hours the rolls will close. Despite a number of awareness campaigns and educational programs, thousands are expected to miss tonight's deadline and therefore lose their right to vote. As Mr Gentleman mentioned, on today's cover of the Canberra Times it is estimated that nationally 143,000 voters have been removed from the electoral roll, including more than 3,000 from the ACT. These residents were removed from the roll because they have moved address and have not alerted the Australian Electoral Commission. However, as Andrew Fraser reported, it is understood that up to 1,000 of those removed in the ACT will turn up to the booths on election day only to discover that they incorrectly used an old enrolment form to enrol or update their details.
While it is still too early to know how many people will miss tonight's deadline, the number of people removed from the roll may have a decisive effect on a marginal seat such as the seat just across the border in which Special Minister of State Gary Nairn currently is the member. Mr Nairn claimed that the enrolment law changes were necessary to prevent electoral fraud, but, as I said in my original speech, Australia has a level of electoral integrity which few other countries in the world can match.
When we look at exactly what changes these new laws have made, the Howard government's motivation becomes clearer. It simply wanted to disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters for its own partisan self-interest. However, I am pleased to say that since the motion was first debated on 30 May the High Court of Australia has ruled against the federal government's amendment to strip all prisoners of the right to vote. The court ruled that the amendment was unconstitutional and that the pre-2006 laws barring anyone serving a jail sentence of three years or longer from voting should remain. This ruling has opened the way for some inmates to vote at this year's election, which is a just result.
It is right that people who commit crimes who have gone through a trial process and been convicted should go to jail. But it is my understanding that we are trying also to reform people who go to prison. How do we expect to do this if we disenfranchise them from society altogether? I am extremely pleased that the court ruled in this way.
I would also like to clarify some points which were made during the debate, particularly those raised by Mr Smyth on 30 May. Despite Mr Smyth's claims to the