Electoral Amendment(Covid-19)Bill 2021

I add to the contribution of my colleague the member for Summer Hill in stating that the Opposition does not oppose the Electoral Amendment (COVID‑19) Bill 2021. However, I express the concerns the Labor Opposition has had so far with the local government elections in New South Wales. Through goodwill, the Labor Opposition does not oppose this bill, and supported the subsequent amendments moved in the other House because we believe they are sensible. As stated in the member for Summer Hill's contribution, we support public safety and those provisions put in place, through this House and the other House, to ensure the safety of voters, candidates, staff and volunteers for the local government elections.

However, as noted in the Minister's own contribution in the other place, we know that these provisions were meant to be used in the case of a pandemic outbreak in a particular suburb, ward or local government area. Since the time those provisions were made we have seen vaccination rates increase and restrictions reduced in other facilities and organisations for other reasons. A person can go to a nightclub and dance until midnight, but they cannot hand out a how-to-vote card. Members on this side of the House consider that to be a serious problem when it comes to voters having access to information about who they are voting for and why they are voting for them. It is the foundation of democracy. This is not a party political matter; this is a matter of democracy and free access to information to ensure that voters are well informed.

Members on this side of the House feel that this has been nothing short of a mess. All members will know that the local government elections were scheduled for September 2020, but of course we had the COVID‑19 outbreak and they were suspended until September this year. Of course, then we had Delta come through and they were further postponed to 4 December, which is only a couple of weeks away now. The Government has had plenty of time to have adequate provisions in place. Why, then, are we seeing such provisions create obstacles for voters, candidates, staff and volunteers? I have spoken to candidates, voters and other people working on these local government elections following the commencement of pre-poll voting. To say it has been a disaster would be an understatement. That is the reality of it.

Again, members on this side of the House support any provisions for the means of public safety. But as Government members have made very clear, the provisions in the former bill were a one‑off to ensure that measures were in place for safe elections to go ahead on 4 December in the case of further outbreaks in specific areas. We have not seen those outbreaks. In fact, in certain ways restrictions have reduced around the State. Restrictions have eased so that people can rightfully go to dinner and enjoy time with family and friends, yet they cannot hand out a how‑to‑vote card. And there is confusion on the 100‑metre rule: Is it 100 metres from the entrance on either side of the gate, is the entrance gate in the middle of that 100-metre zone or is it 100 metres from the polling both? The feedback that I am getting is that it is unclear even for the people who work in the pre‑polling booths.

The communication has been a disaster, but the biggest problem is information access for voters, who need information so they can vote for the person they want, whether they support Labor, Liberal, The Greens, The Nationals or Independents—who cares? People must have free access to voting information. Members on this side of the House believe the bill causes unnecessary overreach. I spoke with the member for Wollongong, Paul Scully, about the effects of the changes on his electorate, and he was right when he said that it is arguably unconstitutional. We hope that everyone can have a well-informed vote with the right mindset, but I fear that that will not be the case due to the regulations and provisions that the Government has put in place through the commissioner—not that this is a reflection on the commissioner because it was the will of the Government and the Government put those provisions in place through the bill.

Again, Labor does not oppose the bill—the elections must go ahead—but ultimately the horse has bolted. There is still time to make changes before election day. The Minister has time to intervene, clean up the mess and put provisions in place so that people can vote for whom they want and so that people know why they are voting. A couple of weeks is plenty of time, but members on this side of the House know that Government members notoriously sit on their hands and do nothing. That is why we are in this mess. But members on the Opposition side of the House have always said that we will work with the Government because we want to see safe elections and democratic elections where people can vote for whom they want.

I am open to conversation with the Minister. I will work with the Government where appropriate to ensure that those changes occur because they can be done. I call on the Minister and the Government to urgently review and assess the situation before Saturday 4 December. It must ensure that the mess is cleaned up so that candidates can safely engage with voters and so that voters can engage with and understand whoever they are voting for, and why, before they vote for them. The Government can do that; that is what governments are for. The Government must be proactive. Members on this side of the House are open to conversation with the Government in order to work together for the safety of communities and for free access to a democratic vote on 4 December.

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