Page 1487 - Week 06 - Thursday, 2 July 2020

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COVID-19 Emergency Response Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 (No 2)

Debate resumed from 18 June 2020, on motion by Mr Ramsay:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR COE (Yerrabi—Leader of the Opposition) (11.48): The Canberra Liberals will be supporting this bill. The bill makes several necessary changes to accommodate the current COVID-19 health crisis and associated restrictions. The opposition is committed to working collaboratively with the government to respond to the pandemic and associated policies.

Elections under these conditions are a new frontier for governments around the world. The bill makes significant changes to voter eligibility and how votes can be cast at the 2020 election. We understand that this bill has been prepared in consultation with the commissioner and legislates many of the commissioner’s own recommendations. The opposition is happy to revisit the legislation, should further technical or practical amendments be required before the upcoming election. The opposition is also very glad to see that the right to trial by jury is being restored. This should never have been taken away, and my colleague Mr Hanson will be addressing this issue. Again, the opposition will be supporting this bill.

MR RATTENBURY (Kurrajong) (11.49): This bill makes amendments to two key areas in our ACT COVID-related legislation in response to COVID-19. Just under three months ago we passed legislation in this place to help the ACT government adapt to many of its operations in relation to COVID, to keep systems and processes going, while we all shifted to working more safely during the global pandemic.

Let me speak firstly about the Electoral Act changes. We have all seen changes in so many of the normal operations of our society, and the election this year is no exception to this. There have been quite a few discussions over the past few months about how the ACT can hold its election in October this year, but safely. To ensure, as best as possible, that we can hold a safe election this year, there will be quite a few differences, including pre-polling at 15 locations across the city for the full three-week pre-polling period, instead of at just a few locations for the first week and then at four or five sites for the other two weeks, as we have been used to at previous elections. This will enable more people to pre-poll and, hopefully, it will considerably reduce the number of people who vote on election day itself, thus supporting distancing requirements and reducing the risk of COVID transmission. The general spreading out of people can only benefit that process. I know that the Electoral Commissioner has indicated his intention to run quite a strong educational campaign to encourage people to come and vote in a spread-out way.

The bill before us today enables a range of things to happen which support a safer election. Firstly, it enables each eligible voter to pre-poll at any time during the pre-polling period and the bill removes the previous requirement that people needed to have a clear reason for needing to vote early, such as needing to work on polling

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