Page 1682 - Week 05 - Thursday, 8 May 2008

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It is, of course, interesting to note that these provisions actually make it harder for political parties such as the Australian Labor Party, which does have a clearly affiliated organisation in the Canberra Labor Club, and it imposes significant additional reporting requirements on those associated entities that previously did not exist—hardly the hallmark of a government trying to make life easier for itself.

I also intend to move several other government amendments. The first amendment is intended to extend enrolment and voting rights to all ACT prisoners in response to the High Court’s 2000 decision in Vicki Lee Roach v Electoral Commissioner and Commonwealth of Australia, which upheld a challenge to the 2006 amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 that extended the right to enrol to all prisoners for commonwealth and ACT purposes, but removed the right to vote for federal elections from all prisoners while extending the right to vote to all prisoners for ACT Legislative Assembly elections.

The High Court ruled that the removal of the right to vote from all prisoners was unconstitutional. The effect of the court’s decision was to revert to the commonwealth provision that applied before the 2006 change. This means that prisoners serving sentences of three years or longer are not entitled to enrol for federal or ACT elections under the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

The proposed government amendment will provide an entitlement for prisoners to enrol to vote in ACT elections if they are not entitled to be enrolled on the commonwealth roll only because they are serving a sentence of imprisonment. This amendment will create for the first time a special ACT-only category of enrolment. Prisoners in this category will be enrolled under the ACT’s Electoral Act but not the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

A further government amendment will retain the offence of defamation of a candidate in the Electoral Act. The bill proposed to remove this offence, relying instead on civil law defamation procedures. Following criticism of this proposed change from a range of members in this place the government amendment will now retain this offence so that it will remain another avenue for candidates to pursue in addition to the civil law alternative, although I think there remain some inconsistencies in members of parliament and political candidates having greater access to defamation law than ordinary citizens.

Another government amendment will remove bumper stickers and items of 10 words or less from the exemptions to the authorisation requirements to be introduced by the bill. Following criticism of this proposed change the government amendment will retain the existing requirement for these items to carry an authorisation statement. A technical amendment will also be proposed to clarify the intent of the bill to ensure that an MLA is not to be required to disclose expenditure made using funds provided by the Legislative Assembly to assist the MLA in exercising his or her functions as an MLA, for example, funds provided in an MLA’s discretionary office allocation. The clause in the bill is unintentionally too broad and could be interpreted as applying to expenditure made using an MLA’s salary—thus the technical amendment to be introduced to clarify that point.

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