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Democracy on trial
Editor: Thank you to GetUp for permission to republish the following.
Democracy on Trial
GetUp has today [Friday 23 July] launched both a High Court challenge and Federal Court challenge to protect the right to vote in Australia. We'll keep you up to date on both cases on this page. Thanks for your support!
If you'd like to support this campaign, please use this link.
In some way, these court cases are a new direction for GetUp - but they're also a powerful continuation of campaign that began in 2006, when the former Howard Government introduced laws that made it harder for Australians to enrol to vote by closing the electoral rolls at 8pm the same day an election is officially called.
The amendments were shamelessly entitled the 'Electoral Integrity Act', even though they led to a huge increase in the number of Australians missing from the electoral roll - particularly young and Indigenous Australians, recent migrants and poorer Australians. Thanks for being part of the campaign to stand up for the right to vote!
The Federal Court case
GetUp filed a case just moments ago [23 July 2010] together with Oliver, Sophie and Steve: three young Australians who have signed up as plaintiffs because they want to test their right to enrol to vote online. Oliver, Sophie and Steve all used GetUp's online enrolment site, OzEnrol to enrol, and like us, they believe that online enrolment is a valid way to enrol to vote.
This year, it's more important than ever that we make enrolment as quick and easy as possible. The election was called on Saturday, and the rolls closed to new voters at 8pm on Monday evening - not even enough time to send an enrolment form by mail! Win or lose (and we think we can win), this case will prove that our enrolment system is failing young Australians who want to take part in our democracy, and that the Government should make online enrolment available to all Australians.
The High Court case
This landmark case is about standing up for 1.4 million Australians who are missing from the electoral rolls -- including people who struggle to meet the arbitrary enrolment deadline established by the Howard Government: the young and the elderly, those with disabilities, in hospitals or in aged care, the homeless, military people serving overseas, and Indigenous people living in remote communities.
Our barristers will argue that the 2006 Howard Government amendments to the Electoral Act are an unconstitutional limitation on the right to vote. They will argue that anybody who enrols this week should be able to vote - and based on the AECs data from the last election that could total over one hundred thousand voters!
In 2007, the landmark High Court case of Roach v. Electoral Commissioner established the right to vote in Australia based on sections 7 and 24 of the Constitution, requiring that the Houses of Parliament be 'directly chosen by the people'. The High Court added that any limitations on the right to vote must be for a 'substantial reason' that is 'proportionate' to the maintenance of representative government', while any disproportionate or arbitrary limitations on this right are unconstitutional.
Here's what the AEC themselves had to say about the early closure of the rolls in a Parliamentary Inquiry into the Integrity of the Electoral Roll (2000). We'll be confronting them with their own words in the High Court case:
We're very lucky to have expert legal counsel representing us in this case.
We strongly believe, and will argue before the High Court, that closing the electoral role on 8pm the day that writs are issued is both an arbitrary and disproportionate limitation on the right of all Australians to vote.