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Greens Win Protection Of Voting Rights For Youth And Prisoners

This is the text of a press release by the Australian Greens.

Australian Greens press release.

A Greens campaign against Government attempts to disenfranchise young people and prisoners was successful when the ALP, the Democrats and Senator Harradine backed the Greens stand in the Senate.

“This is a victory for democracy, by stopping Government legislation that would close the electoral rolls early before an election, the Senate has protected the integrity of our electoral system,” said Senator

The Senate amended the Electoral and Referendum Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1998 by blocking Government moves to close the electoral rolls early and remove voting rights for all prisoners.

The Government had proposed that for all new electors the rolls would close at 6pm on the day of the issue of the writ for an election.

“It is estimated that some 80 000 new enrolments occur in the one week period (that could have been eliminated under this legislation) before the close of rolls in an election period.

“The legislation also proposed removing voting rights for all people in prison. These measures ran counter to our obligations under the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1991 Article 25(b) and the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights 1948 Article 21(1),” said Senator Brown.

“The legislation would have been racially discriminatory because Indigenous Australians are vastly over-represented in prisons.

However, Senator Brown condemned the Coalition-ALP majority which voted to give political parties access to the date-of-birth, gender and salutation details of all registered voters – a move not supported by the Privacy Commissioner who has said:

“Where personal information is collected compulsorily I consider that additional uses or disclosers should only be authorised if there is a significant and clearly demonstrated public interest in that happening.”

A Prisoner’s Right to Vote.

The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons – Dostoevsky.

The Federal Government has been attempting through legislation to remove voting rights for all prisoners. The assumption, which many of us have, that prisoners already have no such rights a telling one.

That fact – that we often imagine prisoners have no voting rights – is a measure of how society seeks to de-humanise those in our jails. In this case literally. By removing voting rights we take away a crucial ingredient of what it is to be a citizen and a human being. In a modern democracy many consider the right to have some say in how one is governed as the most fundamental of all human rights.

Once we remove the right to vote we take away the notion that someone is part of society. And of course it cuts both ways. Why should someone who is denied their most basic citizenship rights adhere to the laws that bind that society?

Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Norway, Poland and Zimbabwe, to name a few, all allow prisoners full voting rights. But Australia seems likely to follow the United States example where all but 5 states have disenfranchised prisoners.

Thirty years after Australians overwhelming voted to recognise indigenous Australians as citizens in the famous 1967 referendum, the Howard Government is set to strip thousands of Aborigines of that hard won right.

Aboriginal Australians are dramatically over-represented in prisons. With incarceration rates some 20 times that of the general population, it’s clear who will suffer most from this legislation.

In another twist of history this new legislation will override the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA) which was designed to prevent just this sought of indirect discrimination.

The legislation is also retrospective and arbitrary. Those already jailed and sentenced prior to this proposed law will still be subject to its provisions. It is in effect a fresh punishment imposed on top of the original sentence without reference to any judge or jury.

It’s also arbitrary because those serving a short sentence this month or last month will not miss out on casting their ballot in the looming federal election. But if you cop a sentence when Howard decides to send the country to the polls, you will not get a vote. It’s pure potluck.

Already prisoners who have sentences of 5 years or more are denied a right to vote. The Keating Government did
propose allowing all prisoners the right to vote but buckled when it came to introducing legislation in 1995.

In a pro-‘law and order’ climate with Hanson’s scapegoat politics still alive, those campaigning for prisoners’ rights have a big task at hand but that famous quote of Dostoevsky should be an alarm to us all: “The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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