One Third Of Lingiari To Be Denied Their Right To Vote
Due largely to cuts by the Federal Government, approximately one third of the potential voters in my electorate , are not on the list of people able to vote in Federal, Territory or local elections.
All citizens must get an equal and fair opportunity to exercise their democratic right to vote.
It’s critical that the federal government, through the funding of the Australian Electoral Commission (or AEC), enable the right to vote by compiling a complete and accurate voting roll.
The voting roll must be assembled for all areas of every electorate so Australians all get an equal right to participate in elections, no matter who they are, or where they live, or what their circumstances are.
It’s especially important that Australians who live with a greater-than-average tyranny of distance, or who live well below the poverty line, or for whom English is a second or third language, receive the resources to enable their equal and fair participation in the democratic processes.
In Parliament, I’ve expressed my concern at the effective closure of the AEC Darwin, when it was reduced from 16 staff to three staff, under a Federal Government restructure in 2017.
The Federal Government cuts to the AEC included $1.5 million in 2017-18, and $8.4 million over future years.
The staff that was cut from the AEC office in Darwin included five from the Enrolment Branch and four in the Indigenous Participation and Voter Education Branch.
It’s clear that, by cutting and underfunding the AEC, this government is depriving large numbers of Territorians of their right to vote.
The following data now shows the impact of the Federal Government’s neglect on the democratic rights of Territorians, especially Aboriginal people in remote communities.
As at 30 September 2018, there were 69,825 persons enrolled to vote in Lingiari and 139,000 in both electorates in the Northern Territory.
As at 30 October this year, the AEC pointed out on its own website that there were 26,377 people who were not on the roll in the Northern Territory at all.
This means that 84 per cent of Territorians are on the roll and 16 per cent are not. For the rest of Australia, 96 per cent of people are on the roll and four per cent are not. In other words, Territorians are under-enrolled. This is due to the cuts by the Federal Government to the AEC enrolment programs.
In Lingiari, where many areas are very remote, it is highly likely that the enrolment situation is even worse than for the NT as a whole. For a number of good reasons, it’s even more difficult to enrol to vote in remote communities.
As well, for around 50,000 people in Lingiari, there is no access to the AEC’s direct enrolment program. The direct enrolment program is where Centrelink, ATO and motor registry lists are used by the AEC to put people on the roll unless they advise otherwise.
Direct enrolment is the major reason why all urban areas in Australia, including urban areas in the Northern Territory, have over 96 per cent enrolment.
Direct enrolment is a very successful and efficient program introduced by Labor. Yet direct enrolment is not used by the AEC in most of Lingiari.
Of the 26,377 people not enrolled in the NT, I estimate around 23,000 are in Lingiari. That amounts to around one third of the 69,000 people currently on the roll to vote in Lingiari.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has cut and still continues to underfund the AEC.
Other data also supports the federal government’s neglect of democratic rights of Territorians, especially the rights of Aboriginal people in my electorate.
For example, in 2014 the AEC had already identified that 42 per cent of Indigenous people were not enrolled to vote.
What can we conclude then from these cuts to the budget of the AEC in 2017 and cuts to their staffing at the electoral office in the Northern Territory?
The only conclusion I can reach is that it is a deliberate attempt to keep people off the roll… rather than do the decent and fair thing and make sure that every Australian, regardless of where they live, has the opportunity to exercise their democratic right.
My point here is that even before the most recent cuts to the AEC, the Federal Government knew that remote enrolment was very low, and yet it continued with cutting funding to an even greater extent.
The existing level of enrolment funding was not doing the job, and the Federal Government then cut enrolment funding even more.
At the same time, it has done nothing to expand or improve the computer list matching process called direct enrolment.
In Lingiari, as I said, there are some 50,000 voters or potential voters where direct enrolment is not used—in Nhulunbuy, Jabiru, Tennant Creek — plus all communities that are more remote.
I ask that the Federal Government urgently review this arrangement to ensure that direct enrolment, and sufficient enrolment through person to person assistance, is immediately available to all Territorians.
The under-funding of the AEC, and the resulting denial of voting rights, is an absolute scandal.
This article was originally published in the Sunday Territorian on Sunday 9 December 2018.