Electoral (Prisoner Voting) Amendment Bill | SPEECH


Second Reading

(Continued from 19 May 2016.)

Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 11:26 :19 ): It will not surprise anybody here that I am very disappointed to hear the government’s position. This bill seeks to help South Australia catch up with the rest of the nation. It brings South Australia in line with other states and territories and the commonwealth. We are lagging behind in this area, and it is a great shame that the government does not want to bring South Australia into the 21st century in this regard.

As members would know from my opening speech, when I brought this bill forward to the chamber, this is a principle that is accepted all across the nation. Different states and territories have chosen different lengths of time: some have chosen that a person sentenced to imprisonment for five years or more would be disqualified from voting, and in other places it is a one, two or three-year sentence whereby they would be disqualified from voting. The principle is held everywhere. It is three years in the commonwealth.

It seems very straightforward to me that if a person is convicted of a crime so serious that that person is sentenced by a court to three or more years in prison, then that person loses a wide range of rights and liberties, and one of those should be the right to vote in elections; one of those should be the right to vote in elections for members of parliament who will make laws. If a person breaks the law so seriously that they are sentenced to prison for three years or more, to me it is common sense that they should lose the right to vote for the people who will make those laws.

The member for Colton, on behalf of the government, said that this would affect only a very small proportion of the population, and in that respect he is correct. However, a principle is not about how many or how few people are affected by it: if it is right it is right and if it is wrong it is wrong. Very few people commit murder, yet we have some very clear laws and very clear sentences for murder. To me, while it would affect a very few people, that is completely irrelevant and that is not how we make laws in this state: we make laws based on a principle.

The member for Colton also said on behalf of the government that this would disproportionately affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. While he did not say it, I think the clear implication is that because, unfortunately, those people make up an unacceptably high percentage of the population of people who would be affected by this law, if that was the case. I understand what he is saying on behalf of the government, but again I reject that as a reason not to vote for this bill.

If a person is convicted of a crime so serious that he or she is convicted to a sentence of three or more years in prison, then regardless of whether that person is a man or a woman, Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, adheres to a religion or does not adhere to a religion, whether that person be rich or poor, barely 18 or at the end of their life, regardless of where that person falls in all the different demographics, if they have committed the crime this should apply to that person.

I understand the two reasons the government has given. I reject both of them. I am very disappointed that the government has decided not to support this bill, which I think is a very straightforward, common-sense approach. Nonetheless, I commend the bill to the house.