The ambit gambit by the Liberal Party’s
national right for voluntary voting has failed, but the issue won’t be going
away.

Nationals Senate Leader Ron Boswell said
yesterday that his party would stay on the farm for this one .
And as we predicted yesterday, the Prime Minister John Howard tipped a bucket on
the idea – but only a bucket of lukewarm water.

The PM told a presser in Canberra yesterday
that he has expressed support for voluntary voting in the past. “In 1964 when I
was a member of the New South
Wales delegation to the
Federal Council Meeting,” he said, “ I was the only Member of the Delegation to
vote in favour of it. I think there was a disapproving eyebrow at the time. But
can I say, it’s not on the Government’s agenda.”

Still, there was some hedging of bets;
“Well I can never say something will never be on the Government’s agenda…”
Michelle Grattan certainly thinks the issue will not go away.
“John Howard, who in the past has personally favoured it (in theory), said
yesterday that ‘we will not be proposing it for the next election’. Minchin is
not a man easily diverted, however; he sought clarification from Howard
immediately afterwards, and told The Age later the PM was not ruling it out
becoming policy at the next election. ‘I will continue to argue the case for
the Coalition to go to the next election with a policy for ending compulsory
voting,’ Minchin said.”

But we’re ignoring the man of the moment,
Special Minister of State Eric Abetz. He delivered his speech on electoral
reform to the Sydney Institute last night.

It wasn’t online when we dropped by
this morning, but its main points included tighter identification requirements for
enrolling to vote, earlier closing of the electoral roll, and increasing in the campaign
donation disclosure threshold to $10,000 and removing voting rights from
prisoners serving full-time custodial sentences.

Erica did his best, but some of the matters
were merely re-hash of previous bills, and the newer matters clearly needed
more thought.

Early on, Abetz made great play that Labor’s
Karen Ehrmann was the first person in Australia
to be jailed for electoral fraud, and the Shepardson Inquiry on electoral
malpractice in the Queensland Labor Party.

It was odd, then, that he didn’t make reference
to the second person sent to the big house – one Pauline Hanson. Perhaps he thought
she was just having a seven week holiday in Wacol Jail.

At its legal heart, Hanson did time because
the Queensland Electoral Act did not define political party membership, simply
stating that parties must have members. An upshot of the Shepardson Inquiry
was, to Peter Beattie’s credit, that the supervision of political parties under
the Queensland Electoral Act was substantially toughened.

The original Queensland
provisions were copied directly from the Commonwealth Electoral Act, and the party
constitution that got Hanson in such trouble was exactly the same as registered
federally. To date, the Commonwealth Act remains unchanged, with no definition
of party membership, and no requirement that party constitutions define
membership. In other words, the jailing of Hanson because of a manifestly
inadequate party registration process could still occur under the federal act.

Read more on the website.

Peter Fray

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