Australian Politics

The Archaic ‘unsound mind’ Law Still Valid – 2014

Advocates want law abolished after thousands taken off electoral roll for being of ‘unsound mind’By Nonee Walsh

Almost 5,500 Australians were removed from the electoral roll in 2011-12 because they were deemed to be incapable of understanding the nature and significance of enrolling and voting.

Human Rights Law Centre is backing the calls, saying the wording is vague and out of touch.

“It is archaic derogatory and stigmatising language, that does not reflect the true capacity of people with disabilities to make decisions about voting,” HRLC advocacy and research director Emily Howie said.

“Any elector can object to a person voting, if a doctor certifies that they are of ‘unsound mind’ and don’t understand the nature and consequences of voting – it can be a family member, the people in an aged care facility.”

Section 93(8) disqualifies a person to have their name placed or retained on the electoral roll, and, in association, from voting, if they are found to be incapable of understanding the nature and significance of enrolling and voting, due to being of ‘unsound mind’ Commonwealth Electoral Act, 1918

The Public Interest Advocacy centre has joined the chorus of objections, saying a lack of understanding of the electoral system may not be limited to people with disabilities.

“It could be argued that people of ‘sound mind’ do not understand the ‘nature and significance of enrolment and voting’, and take chances or make ‘bad’ decisions, regardless of whether their disability impacts on their decision-making capacity,” its submission says.

All three organisation have told the Law Reform Commission that an objector should be able to prove before an independent assessor that an elector lacks the capacity to make a choice.

They also argued that the provision is in conflict with Australia’s international obligations on the rights of the disabled.

Ms Bevan says all Australians have the right to vote.

“People with disability should be provided with whatever supports they may need to exercise this fundamental right and act of citizenship,” she said.

“This means a right to be on the electoral role, and the opportunity to cast a vote.”

Click to read moreBy Nonee Walsh

JMO

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