“Cheers, mate, cheers!” we said last week is the new nickname of
Queensland’s defanged corruption watchdog, the Crime & Misconduct
Commission. So much for the work of the Fitzgerald and Shepherdson
Inquiries. Queensland was the setting for a speech on Saturday by
veteran anti-corruption crusader Bob Bottom on Shepherdson’s subject,
electoral rorting:

“Behind the scenes, beyond the scrutiny of either parliament or press,
an unpublicised political stand-off between the States and the
Commonwealth is currently threatening to sink a rare bipartisan move at
a national level to introduce proof of identity for enrolment for
Australia’s 12 million-plus voters,” Bottom said.

New laws, passed last year in the Commonwealth Parliament, had been
expected to be operational Australia-wide in three months time, from 1
July, 2005, and thus bring to an end perennial scandals over
allegations of electoral fraud. After nine months, the new laws have
not even been proclaimed. In simple terms, they have been blocked by
the States – in particular, by Queensland.

In June last year, the Commonwealth Parliament passed an Electoral
Integrity Act which would have required voters to produce a copy of
their driver’s licence, or similar proof of identity, when enrolling to
vote, or when re-enrolling for a new address.

At present, all a voter has to do to get on the electoral roll is fill
in their own details, that is, name and address, and have it
countersigned by ‘an elector or a person entitled to enrolment’.

Which has long been criticised as being less than that required for renting a video or opening a bank account.

Proclamation of the new regulation was made contingent upon reaching agreement with the States.

That agreement has not been forthcoming, and, according to my
inquiries, the Commonwealth has just given the States another 14 days
to reconsider their position…

One state seems to be a particular problem:

A previous attempt to impose proof of identity for enrolment, requiring
the witnessing of enrolment applications by designated professional
people, was abandoned on the eve of the November 2001 federal election.

Apart from continuing opposition then by the Labor Party nationally, a
major factor was opposition at state levels, principally from
Queensland where the Beattie government threatened to withdraw from
joint roll arrangements with the Commonwealth.

A key finding of the Shepherdson inquiry held in Queensland into
rorting involving ALP pre-selection scandals was quoted by the
committee in support of widening the new scheme to cover not just
enrolment but re-enrolment.

The federal committee quoted the closing submission of Russell Hanson,
QC, in which he made the point that, in the vast majority of detected
cases of false enrolment looked at during the Shepherdson inquiry, it
was found that they had originally enrolled lawfully for one address,
then changed their enrolment to a false address to enable them to vote
in particular ALP plebiscites.

Ironically, the new scheme is actually in line with a proposition first
raised on behalf of the Labor Party by Mark Dreyfus, QC, in a report on
registration for internal voting…

Ah. Quaint Queensland customs. Keep an eye here for the full speech.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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