Electoral (Prisoner Voting) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Premier, Attorney-General) (15:40): I am pleased to introduce the Electoral (Prisoner Voting) Amendment Bill. As members know, the Marshall government has committed to introducing legislation to disqualify people who have committed serious offences from voting at South Australian state elections. This is a commitment that was taken to the 2018 election and affirms the position that people who commit a serious criminal offence should forfeit their democratic right to participate in state elections.

The Marshall Liberal government does not back away from the promise it had made prior to the election. Simply put, our view is that which is shared by most South Australians, namely, that it is an affront that people who commit serious criminal offences are entitled to elect the parliament that makes the law they have broken. Passing this bill will mean that a person who is in custody at the close of rolls and serving a sentence of imprisonment of three years or more will be ineligible to vote at a South Australian state election. This is an overdue change and one that will be broadly welcomed.

Currently, all prisoners in South Australia can vote in South Australian state elections; however, the position is not the same in other jurisdictions. The bill will bring South Australia broadly into line with the commonwealth position. It will mean that prisoners who are ineligible to vote in a commonwealth election will also be ineligible to vote in a South Australian election. Practically, the bill will apply to prisoners within the meaning of the Correctional Services Act 1982who are serving a sentence of three years or more.

A difference between this bill and the commonwealth laws is in relation to prisoners serving a sentence of imprisonment of three years or more on home detention, who will be ineligible to vote at a state election. People sentenced to home detention must realise this is a serious sentence from the court and will impact on their right to vote just as any other type of custodial sentence would. The bill will also apply to a person who is serving their sentence of imprisonment on home detention. The rationale for this is that home detention is, for the purposes of the Sentencing Act, treated as a form of custody.

The bill will also apply to a young person who is serving a sentence of three years or more in a training centre. The circumstances where this could occur are where a young person is sentenced as an adult, having regard to the serious nature of their offending, and serves that sentence (or part of it) in a training centre. Importantly, the bill will not apply to people who are detained under the mental impairment provisions of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935.

Regardless of whether a person has committed multiple offences, the disqualification will apply to them if the total period of time for which they have been sentenced to imprisonment exceeds three years and they are in custody at the close of rolls. It does not matter whether they are serving sentences cumulatively or concurrently.

This bill does not affect a person's enrolment status or their ability to enrol. Enrolment is provided for in part 5 of the Electoral Act 1985(Electoral Act). It is unaffected by these amendments, which relate specifically to the entitlement to vote that is provided in part 9, division 1, of the Electoral Act. A prisoner who is enrolled but ineligible to vote will remain on the roll and will be able to vote again once they are released. I want that to be absolutely clear.

I was asked about this recently on radio, and I think the assumption of the interviewer was that this proposed law would have effect for life for anyone who had committed an offence and received a sentence of more than three years. That is not the case. Upon release, they will resume their freedoms and entitlements of other citizens. In other words, once a person has finished a custodial sentence their rights are restored, including their right to vote. That is how it should be.

The bill makes a number of technical amendments to the Electoral Act to support the new position on prisoner voting. It makes amendments to section 68 of the Electoral Act, which provides for the preparation of the certified list of electors for an election. While the name of a prisoner who is ineligible to vote will remain on the electoral roll, the amendments provide that the name of a prisoner who is ineligible to vote at an election will not appear on the certified list of electors that is prepared for that election.

The bill also inserts new section 27B into the Electoral Act, which is entitled Provision of information to Commonwealth Electoral Commissioner. New section 27B enables the Electoral Commissioner to provide information about prisoners serving a sentence of three years or more to the Australian Electoral Commissioner, who is responsible for updating the electoral rolls and roll extracts that are used in state elections. In terms of implementing the bill, the Electoral Commissioner will work with the Department for Correctional Services and the Australian Electoral Commissioner to ensure that the bill is able to be implemented at the next election.

Finally, the Marshall government approach to this and all justice issues is a principled one. It is the right thing to do and should have been done years ago. South Australia is currently the only state that has not imposed restrictions upon prisoners voting, and it is appropriate that we fall into line with the other jurisdictions—indeed, catch up. I commend the bill to the members and table an explanation of clauses.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mr Mullighan.