STATEMENTS ON REPORTS – Electoral Matters Committee: voter participation and informal voting – Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Posted on 13. May, 2010 in Speeches

Mr LIM (Clayton) — I would like to make some comments on the inquiry into voter participation and informal voting, reported on by the Electoral Matters Committee in July 2009.

There are aspects in the chairman’s foreword that I think are very interesting and that I need to bring to the attention of the house. It is the fact that for the first time participation by the non‑English‑speaking‑background community is very significant to the electoral process, and that a whole range of recommendations befitting their needs and aspirations have been ignored in the past. I can go through the examples. It is important, particularly speaking from the point of view of a representative of the most diverse, most multicultural electorate in the whole state, according to ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) figures in 2006.

My electorate of Clayton has a 56 per cent non‑Anglo community background. Of that 56 per cent, 25 per cent are of Asian background, with a whole range of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Sri Lankan, people from the subcontinent, East Timorese and now Korean — and the list goes on and on. You can imagine that many of these people come from a background where political participation — unlike here, where it is taken for granted — is a life or death struggle or matter. To accommodate them, to attract them, to engage them and to make them participate is very important, and that is what democracy is all about. We tend to take it for granted. Therefore those recommendations to facilitate their participation and make sure that they engage fully are very important and very significant.

The other aspect which I mentioned earlier is that in the foreword by the Honourable Adem Somyurek, who at the time was the chairman of the committee, there are some very startling figures concerning the participation in voting in this state and also generally in Australia. I need to quote some figures because I believe we have to look into why it is the case, and for the very peculiar electorate of Clayton, I can probably give some insight into that. Here we have something like 250 000 eligible voters who are not on the electoral roll, and we have to ask the question why they are not participating in the electoral process.

At the 2006 Victorian state election as many as 66 000 eligible voters attempted to vote but could not. People turn up to vote — and I have seen this personally on election day — but their request for a ballot paper is rejected because they are not on the electoral roll. We have to ask why that is so as well. More interestingly, the people who did not vote were issued with fine notices from the Victorian Electoral Commission. The VEC issued 146 474 failure to vote notices, and of course those people were going to be fined.

I give an example of participation when people are overseas. I suspect that most of the people failed to vote because they were overseas. I do not think we have any idea of how difficult it is for people to vote when they are travelling overseas. I will give the house a small example from Cambodia, where I come from. If you try to approach the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh in Cambodia, it is like going into a civil war zone. The security there is humungous. It is impossible, so people just give up on voting day.

We really have to look into that and into how to facilitate voting by people travelling overseas — I know there are thousands of them — particularly now with the election coming in November, which is a popular time for overseas travel. We are going to miss out on a lot of voters. If we are going to allow overseas travellers to participate, we have to look at how we facilitate their access to an embassy to cast their vote. It is very important that this be put in place. I understand that time is running out. I will comment further at the next possible opportunity.

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