Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 7 Hansard (17 October) . . Page.. 1696..
Debate resumed from 24 August 1995, on motion by Mr Humphries:
That this Bill be agreed to in principle.
MS FOLLETT (Leader of the Opposition) (11.20): Mr Speaker, the Australian Labor Party opposes this Bill. We oppose this Bill on the basis that it attacks a fundamental principle of democracy, that is, the right of freedom of speech. The right of freedom of speech is a fundamental human right which the High Court has ruled is implied in the Australian Constitution. Freedom cannot be restricted without being denied, so the restriction proposed in Mr Humphries's legislation is, in fact, a denial of freedom of speech.
The restriction proposed is to ban the distribution of how-to-vote cards, or any other form of canvassing for votes, within 100 metres of the entrance to a polling place on election day. This means that information pamphlets, posters or even discussions with other voters by party workers are banned from within that 100-metre area. Despite the longstanding tradition of access to such information in the ACT, this Government, which alleges that it supports a consultative, open and council style of government, proposes to ban this access. The fact of the matter is that how-to-vote cards are available during council elections throughout mainland Australia. How-to-vote cards have been a fundamental part of the electoral process in the ACT since the first elections were conducted here.
Mr Speaker, the right to participate in the electoral process is a freedom that should be enjoyed by all Canberra citizens. This attack on the freedom to participate in this particular way is clearly aimed at the Australian Labor Party in a politically partisan move. But the ban affects the rights of all Canberra citizens, whether they belong to the Australian Labor Party, to any other political party or to no party at all. Any Canberran now can assist a candidate, any candidate in fact, on election day in the ACT, just as people can everywhere else in Australia with the exception of Tasmania. Every Canberran can choose to contribute a few hours on election day to hand out how-to-vote cards for any candidate that they wish to support. This is a very cheap and easy way for people to actively participate in the electoral process, and many of them in fact choose to do so.
I think that we would all encourage more citizens to participate in the electoral process, but since the introduction of this Bill we must now have our doubts about the Liberal Party. Their objective here is to limit citizens' rights to participate, by banning what is a cheap and easy method of political activity. That ban, Mr Speaker, applies to all citizens, regardless of their political view. Indeed, on this issue, as we well know, the Liberal Party itself is not united. They are being dragged along by the zealousness of a few within the party, and indeed a few outside of it as well.
Mr Speaker, let us not forget about the supporters of the non-major parties. Many Canberrans, perhaps only a couple of times in their lives, decide that a particular candidate or party deserves their support. It might be on a particular policy - say, kerbside recycling or bicycle paths - or a wider issue. In fact, it might be on the basis of