Bernard Keane of Crikey says nein danke to automatic enrolment plot:
This is about finding new ways to enforce a law that can’t be enforced effectively at the moment. But if you listen to Rees, you’d think it was for The Kids. Rees pointedly referred to the Board of Studies as one of the agencies that would be compulsorily providing personal information to the Electoral Commission. It’s characteristic of this shabby government that it would use an educational body as a means of law enforcement.
It’s disappointing to see the allegedly progressive GetUp mob not merely endorsing this shameful encroachment on basic rights but calling for it to be universal. Director Simon Sheik wants it to be applied at the Commonwealth level. “Australia has a proud tradition of compulsory voting and citizens have a responsibility as well as a right to vote to make sure that our parliaments are truly representative.”
Rubbish. Compulsory voting is a blatant encroachment on basic rights and the Rees government is now using its citizens’ private information, never intended for the purpose, to enforce it.
Nicht so schnell, responds Peter Brent at Mumble:
At the last federal election, some 340,000 people unsuccessfully attempted a declaration vote for the House of Representatives. Most failed because their enrolment details were not up to date or they had dropped off the roll. An unknown number of others would have simply turned around and walked out upon discovering they were not on the roll for their electorate. Many people (particularly young ‘uns) believe “the government” already automatically updates their enrolment. Read for example this amusing letter an elector fired off to the Australian Electoral Commission after receiving an enrolment form. Keane writes, chillingly, that “Citizens wouldn’t be given any say in this use of their confidential data. There’ll be no opting out. You may think you’re just paying your car rego but in fact you’ll be handing information to the Electoral Commission. You will have no choice.” Stock up on the ammo and canned food!
But Big Brother is already here. The AEC (which currently maintains the electoral rolls for federal and state elections) has been getting this info from government agencies for almost a decade.
Indeed, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that the idea for automatic enrolment should be credited to the academic and blogger Peter Brent, who raised the reform last year in a discussion paper for the Democratic Audit of Australia. Here’s what I said about the matter a few days ago, which I buried in an already overlong post:
The New South Wales government has introduced an interesting piece of legislation into the upper house entitled the Parliamentary Electorates and Elections Amendment (Automatic Enrolment) Bill. Some highlights:
Information provided by government agencies will be used to automatically enrol voters and update enrolment details. The Electoral Commissioner will be empowered to demand information from public servants, universities, police officers, local councils and water and electricity providers. Drivers licence details are likely to provide rich pickings, while the Board of Studies will be able to ensure high school students are on the roll before they turn 18. Prospective enrollees will be contacted (perhaps only by email or SMS) and given seven days to provide a reason why they shouldn’t be enrolled. The government has good reason to believe reluctant voters lean to the left, but one wonders how popular the measure will make it among those who preferred to remain off the roll. Arguing that all participation is good participation, GetUp! wants the federal government to follow suit, while VexNews reckons it’s a trend likely to catch on with Labor governments in other states. Indeed, its operation exclusive to New South Wales would create difficulties: federal enrolment and roll-keeping would have to be decoupled, and voters would still have to enrol federally in the traditional fashion. Bernard Keane at Crikey calls the measure a shameful encroachment on basic rights, and it is indeed striking how often the bill thumbs its nose at the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act. David Walsh in comments correctly observes that automatic enrolment is a logical corollary to compulsory voting: personally, I’m in favour of neither.
It is proposed that registered parties and independent MPs be provided on request with the names and the addresses of electors who voted (other than silent electors and itinerant electors), whether they voted personally or by post and, if they voted at a polling place for the district for which the electors were enrolled, the location of that polling place. This puts into the shade the South Australian government’s recent effort to allow access to voters’ date-of-birth details, which they were unable to get through the upper house.
Besides that, the bill contains some commendable measures, in particular allowing voters to enrol and cast provisional votes on polling day.