Electoral (Prisoner Voting) Amendment Bill | SPEECH


Second Reading

The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (17:05): I rise to speak on the Electoral (Prisoner Voting) Amendment Bill. I will not take too long. I appreciate the opportunity to make a few remarks on behalf of the people of Stuart. I refer the house back to 19 May 2016 and to the Electoral (Prisoner Voting) Amendment Bill that I brought to this place as a private member. I was grateful to be supported by my Liberal colleagues in that. Unfortunately, that bill did not pass this place. The then Labor government did not support it, and I was very disappointed in that, but that is how things work.

I hope that they will support this bill. It is the delivery of an election commitment that we took to the last election in March, and we believe that we have a right to pass this through. We accept that the parliament has a right to examine it, to go into it in depth and to think about it, but I earnestly ask the opposition to support us in this, as it was one of our election commitments.

When I brought the private member’s bill to parliament at the time, I was the shadow minister for corrections, an outstanding area of work, I have to say; I am talking about corrections rather than being a shadow minister. I know that there are three members on the opposite side of the chamber who have been ministers for corrections. I am sure that they share my view that that is a very challenging, often perhaps even slightly heartbreaking but very important area of work.

We do not bring this bill to this place because we have it in for prisoners. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is not like that at all. But we do believe that people who commit serious crimes lose some rights, and we believe that that is appropriate. In the extreme, one of the most serious rights they lose is the right to liberty and, in the extreme, they are sentenced to a term in prison, and that is appropriate; that is as it should be.

We also believe that if a person commits a crime so serious that that crimes results in a conviction and a prison sentence of three years or more, then that person also deserves to lose their right to vote in state elections. We are not alone in this view, either. Other states have this view broadly, and the commonwealth has this view broadly. The commonwealth has had it for a long time.

Other states that have this view and have this legislated have a range of different lengths of prison sentence to which it applies, some more than three years and some less than three years. The commonwealth is three years, so we in opposition took, and now in government have taken, the view that three years was the right place to land. It is actually in the middle of where the other states have set their legislation, and it is the same as the commonwealth’s.

That way, in South Australia, if a someone is imprisoned for three years or more, then that person not only loses their right to vote in a state election, as we are trying to implement at the moment, but has already lost their right to vote in a federal election as well, so there is consistency here in South Australia on that.

Again, it is not about trying to punish prisoners; it is just saying that if a person is a criminal of that calibre, such that he or she has brought upon themselves a sentence of three or more years as result of committing so serious a crime, then for the time they serve that sentence they do not deserve the right to vote and contribute to who is or is not in government. Very importantly, when that sentence is finished that person gets those rights back.

I do believe that if you do the crime you do the time, but when you have repaid your debt, when you have done all the things our courts and our society expect of people who commit crimes, let those people do the very best they can to put that behind them. That is one of the most important foundations of our corrections system, to try to help people do that, so of course once they have done that they get back the right to vote. That is very important.

In recent years, the way in which people can serve their sentence has changed. It is now the case that somebody could have a three-year prison sentence but may not serve all of it in prison; they might serve the tail end of it in home detention, for example. They are still serving a three-year sentence which, at the time the court imposed it, was expected to all be served in prison, whether over time or for one reason or another they may have been allowed to serve it in home detention or another way. Effectively, even though they are not in prison they are still serving a sentence, and under our proposal it is not until they have completed serving that sentence they get back the right to vote.

Of course, if a person does have their sentence reduced, that does not take away the requirements of this legislation. If the sentence is reduced, that does not necessarily mean they immediately get back their right to vote. However, if their sentence is reduced and they have then worked their way through completing that reduced sentence, upon completion of the reduced sentence— whether that is because they were allowed out of prison back into mainstream life early or they are out of prison into home detention and then out of home detention earlier than originally sentenced by the judge—when they have completed their sentence they get back the right to vote.

It is a very straightforward, very simple principle that the overwhelming majority of South Australians agree with. If you have committed a crime that is so serious that you get a sentence of three or more years as a result of that crime, while you serve the sentence you cannot play a part in who is or is not in South Australian government or who is or is not your local member of parliament, depending upon what your address might be. Some prisoners keep their pre-sentence address and electoral enrolment and some prisoners end up enrolled in the electorate where the prison is located, but that is a separate issue that does not complicate or in any way diminish the principle behind this bill.

I thank my colleagues for supporting me in opposition previously in my right to put forward a private member’s bill on this topic, and I thank my colleagues for making this one of our election commitments. I thank my colleagues for bringing it to parliament, and I hope the opposition will support this. I think the overwhelming majority of South Australians want this, and I commend the bill to the house.