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NT concerns, Indigenous voter enrolment

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Emergency telephone voting options will be available for COVID-affected voters from Wednesday. Photo: AAP
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A powerful Northern Territory land council has raised concerns over low voter enrolment in many Indigenous communities.

The Northern Land Council says the Australian Electoral Commission has failed to implement the widely used automatic enrolment policy in remote communities.

It means about 30 per cent of eligible residents aren’t on the electoral roll just six weeks out from the federal poll scheduled for May 21.

“This whole business that has been going on for far too long,” Chair Samuel Bush-Blanasi says.

“We still see far too many of our mob being left off the roll.

“Any policy that diminishes the democratic rights of one group of citizens diminishes the rights of everyone.”

The NLC said direct or automatic enrolment using data from Centrelink, the Australian Tax Office and motor vehicle registries has been implemented across Australia to add voters to the electoral roll.

But as many as 40,000 people could’ve been left off the roll in the NT because the AEC hasn’t applied the policy in remote communities.

“This isn’t good enough,” Mr Bush-Blanasi said.

It comes as the Human Rights Commission continues to assess a complaint about the AEC’s alleged failure to provide proper enrolment services to Aboriginal Territorians.

Aboriginal Territorians Matthew Ryan and Ross Mandi lodged the complaint in 2021 alleging the AEC had excluded Indigenous people without a postal address from the electoral process.

The AEC won’t automatically enrol these people to vote because it can’t send a written notice to them.

The policy affects many residents in remote Indigenous communities where many homes don’t have mailboxes and most residents rely on a central postal address.

The NLC says the complaint, if upheld, could show the AEC has systematically discriminated against Aboriginal people on the basis of their race and their living circumstances.

About 30 per cent of the NT’s 251,396-strong population are Indigenous.

Across Australia, 17,690,746 people or 96.3 per cent of eligible people are estimated to be enrolled to vote and 657,839 are not enrolled.

The AEC estimates there are 52,755 Indigenous Territorians of voting age and 36,696 or 69.6 per cent were enrolled to vote.

The AEC has been contacted for comment.

– AAP