26 June 2004

Parliament passes changes to voting laws

Australians enrolling to vote will need to produce identification under changes to electoral laws which passed Parliament today.

Members of the House of Representatives today took part in a rare Saturday morning sitting. The Senate sat until 2am.

The Parliament dealt with a backlog of business ahead of its winter recess and a possible early election.

The changes to electoral laws passed today will require people enrolling to vote to produce a driver's licence or two witnesses to serve as enrolment identification.

The Senate knocked back a Government proposal which would have given Australians who were not enrolled to vote only until 6pm on the day writs were issued for an election to get their name on the electoral roll.

Currently, Australians have seven days in which to enrol from the time writs are issued.

The Senate also rejected a proposal to reduce to three working days after election writs were issued the time allowed to change address details with the electoral commission.

The Senate knocked back a Government amendment to ban all full-time prisoners from voting.

I am very glad the prisoner disfranchisement and the close of enrolment were rejected.

Internationally, the trend is to recognise that voting is a human right and that prisoners are human beings. The Prisoner vote is also some slight guarantee against the kind of incarceration society the US has grown where they have 6.19 per 1000 people. Australia has 1.1 prisoners per 1000. Disfranchising all prisoners would also fall heaviest on indigenous Australians, a group that does not have a strong record of electoral support for the present government.

Equally there is nothing sacred about the day the writs are issued. In fact it would be better to allow people to enrol at any time, including election day itself. With new technology and the new checks on identity that should not be a problem.

The joint committee on electoral matters had unanimously rejected both ideas. The electoral act should not be about keeping the government of the day in power.

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