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Federal Politics

08 May 2018

A personally fulfilling outcome

Melbourne Ports is an electorate that has a large number of residents who relocate between elections. With so many residents coming and going from the area it is essential that we have a system in place of keeping our electoral roll up to date.

I thought people may be interested to read about some of the successful reforms, in which I have been involved, of maintaining the electoral roll.

Bob Hawke’s Labor government was a high watermark for reintroducing fairness into the federal parliamentary electoral system when it legislated for a transparent process to address the gross inequities of size and population between many Australian electorates that existed at that time.

Prior to the early ’80s some federal seats in WA had half the population of seats in NSW. This was a gerrymander in favour of smaller population states. The then Labor government, mandated for a regular post-election update of electorate based movements of population. Any apportionment of new seats by the AEC (Australian Electoral Commission) was to be based on advice from the national census and the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics).

The ABS census would report on population movements to the AEC, which would then redistribute seats at an appropriate number of equal sized areas.

“10 per cent above or 10 per cent below” was the rule of electoral fairness governing the number of voters in each electorate.

We now have a process which, in 2018, and as a result of population growth in Melbourne has determined that extra seats be created in Victoria and ACT and that one be removed from SA.

Following the early ’80s Labor reforms, individual electoral enrolment now had to be confirmed in writing for an elector to change an address. This occurred after the voter had advised the AEC, or the AEC had received returned mail, however, during the ’90s the Liberals and Nationals discovered their own version of the US Republican scam of excluding voters from the electoral roll.

The Joint Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) noticed that at the 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2007 federal elections fewer voters were returning their electoral mail to the AEC. Returns sank to as low as 20 per cent of Australians returning the change of address declaration forms. This disenfranchisement was felt by younger and more transient voters but between 2006 and 2010 the Liberal and Nationals blocked most attempts to address this deficit.

By 2010 total enrolment fell to about 90 per cent of eligible Australians. More than a million Australians were excluded from several elections before 2010. Gradually the AEC established a new system verifying changes of address by a process known as “continuous roll update” where the AEC would verify addresses from electricity or gas utilities, or from state registration agencies that, a voter had indeed moved to a different address, often in a different electorate.

Based on Labor-initiated electoral reform, in 2018, two million additional Australians are enrolled to vote.

During Labor’s second term with Julia Gillard as PM, and thanks to our longstanding reforms, electors no longer had to confirm any change of address, by return mail and hand signed verification to the AEC.

Finally, after the law was passed one can clearly see the impact of the continual updating of the electoral roll, together with the ability to enrol online. Voters can advise the AEC online when they change address and the AEC will automatically update their addresses. In 2018, 96 per cent of eligible voters seem to be enrolled, up from 90 per cent at its low point.

In a compulsory voting system, this is an absolutely ethical position that as many legitimate voters can have their say, and the result of great work from past members of JSCEM.

This has been very personally fulfilling.

There will be as many as 16 million Australians voting at the next election, up from just 13.5 million a few years ago.

Michael Danby - Federal Member for Melbourne Ports

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