For candidates, political parties and the voting public, elections are a contest of ideas, of values and of the future we want to see in Australia. The role of the Electoral Matters Committee in assessing elections is part of assuring Parliament, and the public, that they may have faith in their conduct.
Above all else, fair and free democratic elections symbolise the liberties we enjoy as Australian citizens, and the freedom of all in determining this nation’s Government.
Voter ID Matters
It is therefore a regrettable omission that there is currently no requirement for voters to produce identification to vote in federal elections. Many democracies around the world, including India and Canada, require voters to show ID. Every surf, bowls or Services club in Australia requires a person to show ID to enter.
Yet in Australia we do not treat elections with the same gravity as a visit to a surf club or entering a Brisbane CBD pub after 10pm on a Friday night. Rectifying this considerable lapse in legislation is a key recommendation of the Committee’s Government Members and one that should be implemented promptly.
This is especially important in light of the current mistrust of politicians and the democratic process by the voting public, both domestically and abroad. As such, the recommendations of this Committee have been made in a way that maintain, and where possible enhance, the integrity of the Commonwealth electoral system.
Political Parties Matter
As trust in politicians and the democratic process sadly deteriorates, and political views fragment, it is vital that the importance of political parties in halting this decline not be understated.
There is no comparable avenue, open to all Australian citizens, which allows for direct participation in formulating policy, voting for or running as political candidates, and thereby having a direct influence on Australia’s political system.
Disappointingly, a narrative has evolved where political parties and Australians who are involved in party politics are ‘bad’ whereas other political participants are ‘good’ due to their anti-party virtue signalling. That is both wrong and dangerous.
There is no higher cause within civil society than for citizens to be engaged in, to support and to join a party of the like-minded. Any party which contests elections in order to win and implement their beliefs in government should be commended and encouraged. It is sad that we have allowed such idealism to be tainted.
Over the course of this Inquiry the Committee has enhanced its oversight role in relation to the AEC not because of particular concerns about its performance–a number of this report’s recommendations are about better resourcing the AEC to enhance its work–but because electoral management bodies are an essential part of our democracy. They ensure the system integrity that underpins our democracy.
This report concludes with an assessment of cyber interference in elections. While there is no suggestion that this occurred significantly during the 2016 election, an election is the right prism through which to view the issues that have arisen in both Britain and the United States in recent years.
The excellent submissions and evidence given by the many hundreds of witnesses that appeared before the Committee for this inquiry should be noted.
However, the Committee considers that GetUp provided misleading information to the Committee in the course of its inquiry and that the provision of false and misleading information substantially obstructed the Committee in the performance of its functions in relation to the inquiry. These are very serious matters that, because of the pattern of deliberate misleading and obstruction, substantially interfered with the Committee in undertaking and completing its work on the inquiry. The Committee authorised this matter to be raised in the House of Representatives as a potential contempt of the Parliament and requested that the matter to be referred to the Committee on Privileges and Members Interests.
A matter for future consideration by this Committee is the issue of political advertising blackouts during election periods. The current rules lack consistency, and favour by default, rather than design, online media platforms over more traditional media formats.
Along a similar vein, the increasingly poor behaviour of certain non-party participants at some polling places may be an issue for a future Committee to consider.
I would like to acknowledge the years of work that the previous Committee Chair, Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC, put in to making the Report into the conduct of the 2016 federal election the substantiative and authoritative document that it is today. I also thank the Deputy Chair, Mr Andrew Giles MP, Committee Members and participating members for their continued engagement and genuine commitment.
On behalf of the Committee, my sincere thanks to the Committee Secretariat; Lynley Ducker, Siobhán Leyne, Emma Vines and Kelly Burt. Their hard work, professionalism and engagement with both the Committee and the subject matter are shown in the quality of this report.
Finally, thank you to all those who voted, stood for election, volunteered and worked on campaigns, or cooked democracy sausages. Elections matter because of you.
Senator the Hon James McGrath