Voters in remote Indigenous communities lodge discrimination complaint against AEC

By Melissa Coade

Monday June 21, 2021

The NT’s Indigenous electoral enrolment rate is the lowest in Australia.
The NT’s Indigenous electoral enrolment rate is the lowest in Australia. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

A complaint has been made against the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) that it discriminates against people living in remote Indigenous communities, amounting to voter suppression.

The NT’s Indigenous electoral enrolment rate (68.7%) is the lowest in Australia and about 10 percentage points behind the national average. 

According to The Guardian, two men — West Arnhem Regional Council mayor Matthew Ryan and Yalu Aboriginal Corporation chair Ross Mandi — have lodged a formal complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) over a voter discrimination claim.

The men say that the AEC requirement for voters to provide a street number and postal address in the electoral roll is discriminatory.

“I’ve worked on elections for years,” Mandi told The Guardian. 

“There’s always people turning up who are not able to vote. If the AEC did its job properly, this could stop right now.”

The complaint alleges that because the electoral commissioner has powers under the Electoral Act to directly enrol people who do not receive mail to a residential address, the Arnhem Land residents are not being supported to enrol. Failing to choose to mark a remote voter’s address care of a community post office or mail bag amounts to discrimination, the claim says. 

The men further allege that the AEC’s provision of a polling booth to for a short number of days to large Aboriginal communities (including Maningrida, Wadeye and Galiwinku) is not fair compared with the greater number of days a polling booth is available to communities in Nhulunbuy, Tennant Creek and Jabiru.

While the AEC said that it would be inappropriate to comment on the AHRC complaint that is afoot, it did acknowledge that enrolment and engagement of Indigenous voters was a “key focus area” for the AEC.

The Maritime Union of Australia and the United Workers Union support the Arnhem Land men in lodging their complaint.

“It is alarming that the AEC has adopted a policy that systematically reduces the voting power of Indigenous people at federal elections – the people who have the direst need to be heard in this country,” MUA national Indigenous officer Thomas Mayor said.


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