Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2018

Second reading

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) (14:35:17) — I rise to make a contribution on the Electoral Legislation Amendment Bill 2018. I suppose I cannot help but respond to the member for Yuroke and her contribution near the end there when she was talking about the end of the bunting wars and signage at booths. My understanding is that the Labor Party put the white flag up the pole and that the reason that they have actually changed this is because they have lost the battle to the Greens in the inner city. The Greens actually outdo them with the bunting, outpoll them and outdo them at the booths.

Honourable members interjecting.

Mr WALSH — We put it all out at our booths, and we are not going to be allowed to now. You cannot even have a double‑sided A‑frame now; you can only have one sign. That is how ridiculous this has got. You cannot even have an A‑frame to have your sign up at a polling booth. I think that is crazy.

In this house we have seen over the last three years the whole debate around the red shirts campaign during 2014, when the Labor Party used electorate allowances to rort the system of nearly $400 000. We will never know how much it actually was because the division between the upper house and the lower house means we do not know all the facts from the lower house, and not everyone responded to the Ombudsman, so they covered it up.

We had the red shirts rorting debacle in 2014, a government that has spent probably in excess of $1 million fighting the Ombudsman about the investigation of that and the whole cover‑up around that particular program. In some ways the legislation we have got before the house is the response, where the government of the day is now going to legislate to use the public purse to effectively do what it did with the rorting red shirts program in the past, where the taxpayer of Victoria will pay for all these things in the future. It will be legitimised by this piece of legislation. I must admit I am fairly cynical about the whole process as to how the government has gone about this. I think they are structuring it in the best interests of the Labor Party, compared to the other political parties here in Victoria.

I will go into some of the details of the bill and some of the issues, but the way it has been structured, from my understanding of it, with related third parties and whether other bodies can put information out there to raise issues, is that so as long as they are not trying to deliberately change people’s vote, they can effectively campaign. Looking at the way this legislation is structured with those particular issues, this is how the Labor Party can have its cake and eat it too. They can actually have a process where the taxpayer is going to fund the political parties here in Victoria with the administrative payments that are going to come through. They can fund campaigns with the dollar per vote that is going to come through. The Labor Party can also have the unions there, who pay their affiliation fees, which can be used for the functioning of the party. It can have those union bodies involved if those bodies run information campaigns and are not seen by the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) to be deliberately trying to change someone’s vote. Effectively they would be campaigning for the Labor Party as well.

I think with this bill if you were the Labor Party, in some ways you would be patting yourself on the back for effectively getting the taxpayer to pay for things. They are going to have the best of both worlds by having the unions there to do the work as well and having affiliated bodies like GetUp! and those things. So this legislation is about having the best of both worlds in some ways from the Labor Party point of view. I think the people of Victoria will be very cynical about this legislation, and I actually do not blame them for being cynical about it.

On the detail of the bill, I think there are some good changes, but there are some changes that will disadvantage country Victorian voters particularly. With the change to the enrolment requirements, I think the change in relation to identification — that it be a drivers licence or a passport rather than having someone that knows you witness it — is a commonsense change. I think having early voting not starting until the Monday after nominations close on the Friday is another sensible change. It seemed to me to be illogical that nominations closed at lunchtime and people were voting at 4 o’clock that same day. I think those changes are very good.

The changes around the fact that you no longer have to lie at the early poll is a good thing. In the 2014 election I remember talking about this to the VEC person running the Echuca pre‑poll, and his comment was, ‘The town is going to be empty on election day, because everyone that comes in here to vote pre‑poll is saying they’re going to Fiji on holiday’. So it stops people telling lies. It just makes sense to have those particular changes. I think the changes to be able to start the count of votes and the sorting of votes are sensible changes.

I think the change to postal vote applications, where you can actually apply for a postal vote online, is a sensible change. I must admit I have grave concerns about the acceptance of postal votes by the close of business on the Friday after the election. If you look at the service guarantee that Australia Post gives now around postage, unless people vote almost a week before the election there is a real risk that some of those votes will not get counted. That is because it can take 7 to 9 days for mail to travel only 100 kilometres, because now it goes via Melbourne or via wherever to a central sorting point. I am concerned that if some people do not know to get it into the mail early, they may not have their vote counted over that particular time. The changes around the simplification of the how‑to‑vote cards are also good changes.

As I said in my introduction, there are changes to polling booths, where now you are only allowed to have one 600 millimetre by 900 millimetre sign, which is essentially the standard corflute that people use. I asked this question of the Special Minister of State when we had a briefing on this. That is one corflute. So most people have at least an A‑frame with a corflute on either side, but that will actually become illegal, and if you have an A‑frame with a corflute on both sides, it will be seized by the VEC. I think we have just gone too far. That is just nonsensical, but that is the rule on that particular issue. The change to the by‑election rules, where if a by‑election is needed after 30 June in an election year, the Speaker can use their discretion and not enforce a by‑election I think is a sensible change. There are some commonsense things in the bill.

When it comes to donations, I think everyone would be supportive of the ban on foreign donations. This is where we get into issues around the caps on donations and the structure of our parties and the structure of the registered entities of parties. As I said in my introduction, I think the Labor Party have set this up to suit themselves. They are the government of the day. It is their legislation. You would expect nothing different. But I believe we are going to find that unions will still be able to do what unions do. They will pay their affiliation fees and help run the party. They will be able to run major campaigns on behalf of the Labor Party provided they do not fall under that definition where they are deliberately asking someone to change their vote. I have some real concerns about democracy in Victoria in this case if they are the rules, where awareness campaigns can be run and can be seen as being legitimately within the rules. Those on this side of politics will not have those resources. The caps on donations will stop quite a few people who are time‑poor but who actually support the conservative side of politics.

A change that I think is good for both sides of politics concerns the resources of opposition. We both take turns in opposition. Having some prescribed legislation about the resources of opposition will take away a lot of the argy‑bargy when there is a change of government. I think that is a good thing. Both sides of politics have lived through times of transition from government to opposition. The government of the day is obviously on a high because they have been elected, and potentially they want to deny resources to the opposition. Democracy is best served in Victoria when there are sufficient resources for the opposition to do a good job. Whether this is the right number of resources is up for debate, but at least it is defined. When the Andrews government moves into opposition on 25 November this year, they will know the resources that they will have in opposition. That will be one less job that we will have to do on transition to government — sorting out what resources should be given to the opposition, because it will be prescribed in this legislation. I think that is a good thing. As the shadow minister for scrutiny of government said, there are changes that need to be happen between the houses, and we expect those to happen.


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