SPEECH: Enrollment rates on the rise ahead of referendum

07 August 2023



Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle—Deputy Speaker) (12:37): I am delighted to rise and speak on this private member's motion put by my friend and colleague the member for Lingiari. We are lucky to live in a democracy where the right to vote is fundamental to our identity. But it's not just that Australia has compulsory voting; a strong democracy depends on all citizens being able to participate equally, no matter who you are or where you live. But we know that there are barriers to voting in this country that affect some Australians more than others. Historically, there are two particular cohorts who have been underrepresented on the electoral roll, and they are First Nations Australians and young people aged between 18 and 24 years.

We are a government that is determined to ensure we have a healthy democracy. A healthy democracy makes sure that all members of its community have equal access to the political process. I am pleased to stand here to acknowledge the dedicated work of the Australian Electoral Commission and some 80 community partners who are working with great success to help enrol and engage these underrepresented groups of voters. It is amazing just what can be achieved with some proper resourcing of the Australian Electoral Commission and some political goodwill.

Among people aged between 18 and 24 years, for the first time since records have existed, enrolment is now over 90 per cent. The AEC set out with a target of achieving an enrolment rate of 87 per cent among this cohort by June, and it has easily surpassed this goal. First Nations enrolment is now at the highest level that it has ever been. What an amazing thing to celebrate! This is in every state and territory. Over the last six months the rate has risen from 84.45 per cent to a record high of 94.1 per cent. That means 60,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have enrolled to vote since last year. Now there is just a difference of 3.4 per cent between the estimated Indigenous enrolment rate and the national enrolment rate—what an amazing achievement! In New South Wales, Indigenous enrolment has increased over the last six months from 91.3 per cent to 97.5 per cent, the second highest enrolment rate in the country. In the Northern Territory, which has historically held the lowest First Nations enrolment rates, there has been a monumental jump from 76.7 per cent in December to 87 per cent today.

These are successes that should be celebrated, but they have not just happened by chance. In the 2023-24 budget, the Albanese Labor government provided $16.1 million over two years to the AEC to increase First Nations enrolment and participation in future electoral events. The AEC has adopted new solutions and targeted approaches to achieve this goal. For example, direct enrolment is now easier for people who do not have a mail delivery service to their residence. It's a common issue in remote communities, where mail is delivered to a central point. Earlier this year, the Special Minister of State endorsed a regulatory change to introduce Medicare cards as an additional form of identity for enrolling, making it easier for people who don't have an Australian drivers licence or passport to prove who they are when they're enrolling. I am proud to be part of a government that prioritises the enfranchisement of its people.

Contrast that with the last 10 years, where we had a Liberal government that ripped resources out of the Electoral Commission and tried to introduce policies that would negatively affect turnout and Indigenous participation. This included trying, and thankfully failing, to introduce a bill that would require photo ID on election day. This was a policy that would have disproportionately affected Indigenous Australians living in remote communities. As we head towards a referendum on the Voice to Parliament later this year, ensuring that First Nations Australians have input into Australia's democracy and a say in matters that impact their lives and community is especially important.

According to the AEC commissioner, Tom Rogers:

The referendum will have the best base for democratic participation of any federal electoral event in Australia's history.

That is something that every Australian should feel proud of. That is something that this government is especially proud of. I hope to see those voter numbers forever increase.