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Two Indigenous men from Arnhem Land have made an official complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission this week.

The complaint alleges voter suppression is taking place throughout remote regions of Australia through indirect discrimination by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).

This complaint comprises three discrete complaints about the Commissioner’s performance of functions and exercise of powers under the Act in relation to:

(i) The maintenance of the Commonwealth electoral roll, and by arrangement the NT electoral roll, in respect of residents of Aboriginal communities who do not receive mail delivery directly to their residence (and instead receive mail at or care of a community post office, by mail bag, or by post box) – particularly the Commissioner’s “policy” that he will not use the direct enrolment/update power in ss 103A and 103B of the Act for such residents.

(ii) The maintenance of the Commonwealth electoral roll, and by arrangement the NT electoral roll, in respect of residents of Aboriginal communities which do not have enumerated street addresses (with no mail directly to the residence) – particularly the Commissioner’s practice whereby the lot numbers (if extant and known) which identify the specific “place of living” for such residents are not recorded on the roll.

(iii) The Commissioner’s differential treatment whereby residents of sizeable Aboriginal communities (e.g. Maningrida, Wadeye and Galiwinku) in the electorate of Lingiari in the 2019 Federal election (and earlier elections) had a polling booth for voting on or prior to polling day for a substantially shorter time than was provided for other comparable towns in Lingiari (e.g. Nhulunbuy, Tennant Creek and Jabiru).

The complainants, backed by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the United Workers Union (UWU), are concerned that the AEC is substantially undermining the voting rights and power of Indigenous people.

The MUA and the UWU stand against discrimination and racism wherever it may occur, and these unions have a long history of supporting the struggle of Indigenous peoples for rights and equality.

MUA National Indigenous Officer, Thomas Mayor, said: “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. The AEC must urgently change this discriminatory policy so that Indigenous people are better able to reach a ballot box during elections, and so they are no longer turned away at the ballot box en masse.”

Complainant Matthew Ryan, Mayor of the West Arnhem Council, said: “All forms of discrimination must stop. The AEC needs to take rapid action to enrol the third of Indigenous people in the NT who are not able to vote.”

Complainant Ross Mandi, Chairman of Yalu in Galiwinku, said: “I’ve worked on elections for years. There’s always people turning up who are not able to vote. If the AEC did its job properly, this could stop right now.”

UWU Aboriginal and Torres Strait Organiser Wayne Kurnorth, said: “Our members in Aboriginal communities like Ross Mandi need every opportunity to be heard. These communities have been left behind because politicians just don’t care. It is the AEC’s role to make sure Aboriginal people have their say.”



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