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Health and human rights groups call for the Australian Electoral Commission to reinstate mobile voting in hospitals

Introduction by Croakey: The National Mental Health Consumer Alliance has called for the Australian Electoral Commission to urgently reinstate mobile voting in hospitals, a move which was suspended in the 2022 Federal election due to the risk of COVID infection.

In an open letter to the AEC, the Alliance also asked for a public response from the AEC to address immediate concerns about the exclusion of many mental health workers and consumers from voting this weekend. A response has since been issued.

Senior engagement officer with the Uluru Dialogue Eddie Synot told The Guardian this week: “It’s a democratic right of every Australian citizen to vote and participate in election and it’s just extremely disappointing, especially considering the over-representation of Indigenous people in many of these areas.”

An AEC spokesperson told The Guardian that the mobile voting teams would not visit hospitals because “this has been predominantly servicing hospital staff who can access other voting services when not on shift”.

“Hospital patients who are long term can apply for a postal vote and people who are in hospital for a short stay close to referendum day will have either already voted or are in a serious situation where voting isn’t their priority,” the spokesperson said.

The letter from the National Mental Health Consumer Alliance has been published in full below, with permission from VMIAC, as well as a statement by the Human Rights Law Centre, and separate responses from the AEC to Croakey and the Alliance.


National Mental Health Consumer Alliance letter

The National Mental Health Consumer Alliance (“the Alliance”) is disappointed at the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) decision that would exclude thousands of mental health consumers and mental health workers from voting in the Voice referendum.

People who find themselves in a hospital ward this Saturday, as well as many staff on a Saturday shift, will be unable to vote according to a Guardian article released on Sunday 8 October. We understand that the decision to suspend mobile voting was made during the COVID pandemic.

Without providing mobile voting teams, or alternatively initiating a proactive in-reach program to facilitate postal voting, the AEC is depriving many people of a fundamental democratic right of Australian citizens to vote in elections and referendums.

It is disturbing for us to discover that the AEC is not committed to ensuring every Australian who has the right to vote is able to do so in this referendum.

Together, the Alliance represents over 7,000 mental health consumers across the country. Our members are deeply concerned at this decision and would like to see it reversed before the next election, whether that be a council, state or federal election in any jurisdiction.

Given that the worst of the COVID pandemic appears to be over, we demand that the AEC reverses its decision and reinstates temporary voting facilities at all public and private hospitals.

Over 135 years’ experience of leadership, representation and advocacy by, for and with consumers who have a lived experience of mental health issues.

Due to the time critical nature of this Saturday’s referendum we call for a public response from the AEC addressing the immediate concern on this important issue.

Yours faithfully,
Priscilla Brice
On behalf of the National Mental Health Consumer Alliance – VMIAC, Being – Mental Health Consumers, MHLEPQ, CoMHWA, MHLET, LELAN, ACT Mental Health Consumer Network


Voting rights must be upheld this referendum

Statement by the Human Rights Law Centre

The Human Rights Law Centre have questioned the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) over its decision not to deploy mobile polling booths in hospitals and for insufficient allocation of resources to mobile polling teams on Aboriginal homelands.

During the 2022 federal election, the AEC did not send polling officials to hospitals due to the risk of COVID-19. The AEC has confirmed that this policy remains in place for the referendum.1 The Australian Medical Association has also criticised the continuation of this policy as it could affect the right to vote for both patients and healthcare staff working on referendum day.

Additionally, there have been reports that remote polling teams in the Tanami region of the Northern Territory did not notify residents that polling was open early. Reporting also indicated that the polling booths were not open for long enough for many eligible people to vote and that insufficient numbers of Aboriginal interpreters were provided.

The AEC should return to these communities, and properly advertise that polling is open, the Human Rights Law Centre said.

The Human Rights Law Centre said the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, it is enshrined in Australian law and guaranteed under international human rights law. Decisions like these, to not resource or facilitate voting by people already facing many barriers, is a matter of great concern and could be incompatible with our obligations under human rights law.

Alice Drury, Acting Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre said:

“It is not even referendum day and already we have seen significant barriers stand in the way of people exercising their democratic right to vote. Access to voting for all eligible people, regardless of their location or circumstances, is a fundamental principle that we must uphold.

“We are calling upon the Australian Electoral Commission to take immediate steps to rectify these issues and allocate the necessary resources to ensure that mobile polling booths are made available in hospitals and that mobile polling teams are adequately and properly resourced for deployment to Aboriginal communities on homelands.

“Every eligible person should have the opportunity to have their say in this referendum, regardless of whether they live far from a city, or happen to be in hospital.”


Response from Australian Electoral Commission

Questions from Croakey:

  • Can you please advise the reason for not reinstating mobile voting for this referendum?
  • Will you be providing a public response on the decision, as per the request from the Alliance?

A spokesperson from AEC told Croakey via email:

“We’re always listening to feedback about our services and endeavouring to get better.

Australia’s elections and referendums are manual and provide access to voting far beyond just about anywhere in the world. This includes mobile voting services where we go to residential aged care facilities, mental health facilities, homeless shelters, prisons and remote areas of Australia.

We can’t be everywhere of course – getting the 105,000+ temporary staff to deliver the event is highly complex. However, we have increased our offering this referendum when it comes to mobile polling in mental health facilities.

We offer voting services that are not always accepted and this has been the case for some residential facilities for the referendum – when this occurs we’ve then looked to work with facility staff around postal voting. Further information is available in the reply to the letter.

We appreciate the complex nature of the client care environment and the hard work of the staff in facilities. We’ll listen and continue to plan services that provide the best possible access to voting.”

VMIAC CEO Craig Wallace told Croakey the AEC’s separate response to the Alliance “indicates that they do understand the issues”. You can read that response here.

From X/Twitter


See Croakey’s archive of articles on the Voice to Parliament

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