Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 05 Hansard (Thursday, 8 May 2008) . . Page.. 1680 ..
Monday night, after weeks of having our amendments, that the opposition divulged that they are moving many of the same amendments on non-party groupings. As members know, the government’s amendments were tabled late on Tuesday. We have had this bill on the table for a long time and I think it is quite unfortunate that there was this last-minute rush.
I hope that government members in this place care enough about our democratic processes to give consideration to all the amendments that I will make in the detail stage and not just those that they see as being of political advantage to them. The Electoral Act is a vital democratic instrument and when it is changed it should be in such a way that it benefits voters. Too many of the government’s amendments have the appearance of being drafted to suit the interests of the major parties, particularly itself, and perhaps the convenience of the Electoral Commission.
MR CORBELL (Molonglo—Attorney-General, Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (8.43), in reply: Our electoral system is one of the foundation stones of our democratic society. The ACT’s electoral system is one of the best in the world. It incorporates many elements that are designed to produce fair, transparent and accessible elections. Our system will once again be put to the test at the ACT Legislative Assembly election in October this year. With any system there is always opportunity to refine and improve. After every ACT election the ACT Electoral Commission routinely reviews the operation of the legislation and makes a range of recommendations for improvements.
The bill before the Assembly today addresses issues raised by the commission after the 2004 ACT Legislative Assembly election and subsequent issues that have arisen since that time. The bill will bring about changes to postal voting intended to simplify the process and allow voters to apply for postal votes in ways that reflect the technological age in which we live. In addition to the traditional written application voters will now be able to apply for postal votes by telephone, email or the internet. I am sure members would agree that this is a particular issue for many electors who find the traditional method of being required to put their request in writing cumbersome and slow.
While ensuring that it is straightforward to apply for a postal vote, the bill also aims to encourage as many people as possible who are unable to vote on election day to use the pre-poll voting facilities in preference to postal voting, if possible. This is intended to maximise the number of valid votes—an important consideration. Electors voting by post are more likely to have their votes rejected on a technicality compared with electors voting in a polling place or pre-poll centre. These changes will not affect the entitlement to a postal vote of registered postal voters such as those who are seriously ill or infirm and those who are registered as silent voters. These people will still automatically receive postal ballot papers at the start of the voting period.
The bill also proposes a number of other refinements to the Electoral Act, including simplifying the requirements for authorisation of published electoral material, removing the outdated provision for non-party groups to be listed on ballot papers and providing that it is an offence to take a photo of a person’s marked ballot paper so as to violate the secrecy of the ballot. I will be speaking further in particular on the issue