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Proposed roll changes 'lock out' Indigenous voters

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 20 December 2004

A Northern Territory MP says the Howard Government will use its Senate majority next year to lock remote Indigenous people out of the electoral roll.

The Member for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon, says Labor and the minor parties have prevented changes to the Electoral Act that would close enrolments on the day an election is called.

Mr Snowdon says voter fraud is minimal, and the Government's only motive is to stop Indigenous people and first-time voters from voting for other parties.

"This Government talks about mutual obligation, it clearly sees that it has no obligation, no obligation at all, to ensure that every Australian who is eligible and over the age of 18 is enrolled to vote and has a vote," he said.

"Obligation for them is all one way."

Mr Snowdon says people in remote areas can take days to hear election news, and closing the electoral role earlier will further damage Indigenous voter turn-out.

"In the bush, the number of Indigenous enrolments for example, enrollees who voted at the last election is about 57 per cent, so it's a relatively low turn-out and this has historically been the case," he said.

"It's even lower for Northern Territory elections, and what they're doing here is ensuring that many of those who may drop off the roll won't be able to even attempt to vote."


But the Federal Government's Special Minister of State says the Coalition has a mandate to reform the electoral laws.

Eric Abetz says the Federal Government may have to advertise more to ensure people change their enrolment details well before an election is called.

"The mad scramble of over 600,000, which we are experiencing now is such that it has the capacity to bring the electoral roll into disrepute, and that's something that is not good for our democracy or our electoral system," he said.

Mr Abetz says Mr Snowdon should put specific concerns about low voter turn-out in Lingiari in writing.

He says there will be plenty of flexibility under the new legislation allowing new and remote voters to enrol, without the last-minute scramble in the week after the election is called.

"I'm sure if he's genuinely concerned he'll send me some correspondence dealing with these matters and I haven't received anything to date now, two months after the election," he said.

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