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Improving voter turnout key priority before referendum

It is critical all Australians have their say as part of the referendum, says Labor's Kate Thwaites.

It is critical all Australians have their say as part of the referendum, says Labor's Kate Thwaites. Photo: AAP

Modernising Australia’s referendum processes must include measures to improve voter enrolment and access to factual and impartial information, according to a parliamentary committee report.

After hearing from constitutional law experts, the finance department and the election watchdog over the course of its inquiry, the electoral matters committee presented its final report to parliament on Monday.

Existing referendum law was last used in 1999 and the parliament is reviewing it, given the updates to electoral processes, communication methods and technology since then.

Among the report’s recommendations are measures to strengthen voter enfranchisement, particularly in Indigenous communities, and ensure clear, factual and impartial information is accessible to all voters.

Labor MP Kate Thwaites, who chaired the committee, confirmed the government would support a pamphlet outlining the “yes” and “no” cases but would also consider other measures to ensure people were informed.

“While views on the pamphlet varied, there was widespread agreement about the need for information to educate and inform voters about the referendum and help them make up their minds,” she said.

But the coalition provided a dissenting report, pushing the government to also finance both a “yes” and “no” campaign.

Liberal MP James Stevens said parliament must not make changes to laws that could undermine voters’ faith in the referendum process in the future.

“Any kind of trickery or rigging the system – and effectively trying to advantage one side of a debate over the other – will only increase scepticism … and will only contribute to the defeat of whatever proposition is put to them,” he said.

The government and opposition supported measures to improve voter enrolment and participation, recommended by the Australian Electoral Commission.

The current enrolment rate among Indigenous Australians is around 82 per cent nationally.

The electoral commission suggested options to conduct remote area polling for up to 19 days before the referendum and trialling secure telephone voting.

It also proposed establishing on-the-day enrolment which would allow a new vote to cast a declaration vote that would be counted once their formal enrolment was approved and processed.

“It is critically important that we allow all Australians to have their say as part of this referendum,” Ms Thwaites said.

– AAP

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