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PM promises review of low NT voter turnout

Anthony Albanese has promised to review the Northern Territory’s low voter turnout at the last election.

The prime minister blamed the former government, saying it had restricted the electoral commission from enrolling voters in the territory’s two seats.

“There was a deliberate policy of the former government to restrict people voting in the territory,” he told reporters in Darwin on Wednesday.

“They ripped resources out of the electoral commission.”

Just 66.79 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the seat of Lingiari, which covers most of the territory, at the May 21 federal election.

The voter turnout was higher in Darwin, with the urban seat of Solomon recording a 79.48 per cent turnout of eligible voters.

However, it was still well below the national average of 89.20 per cent, according to data from the Australian Electoral Commission.

Mr Albanese said the former coalition government “restricted” the number of AEC workers enrolling voters.

“It was an outrage what occurred and then there was a lack of resources to enable people to vote. That was a part of the former government’s design,” he said.

“This was straight out of the right-wing Republican playbook.

“My government will look at what we can do to make sure that every Australian … no matter where they live, no matter who they are, have equal right to be on the role and equal right to vote.”

The commission declined to answer questions about Mr Albanese’s allegations.

It confirmed that voter turnout in Lingiari was likely to be lower than the 2019 federal election and said it was disappointed with the result.

“We will be reviewing NT and Indigenous participation very closely, and applying additional efforts to encourage democratic engagement,” a spokesman said.

“We very much look forward to helping to drive participation rates up higher moving towards future election events”.

The AEC also said there had been year-on-year growth in the estimated Indigenous electoral roll nationally and for the NT.

“But, of course, like everyone else, (we) are not satisfied and will be working hard to continue to close the gap to the broader roll,” the spokesman said.

The commission has previously been accused of excluding some Indigenous Territorians from the electoral process because it won’t automatically enrol people without a postal address, saying it can’t send a written notice to them.

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

The Northern Land Council backed Mr Albanese’s review, saying it had “deep concern” about voter suppression in remote Aboriginal communities.

“This can never be allowed to happen again – not at the NT election in August 2024 or the next federal election due in 2025,” chair Samuel Bush-Blanasi said.

“We look forward to working with all parties, particularly the AEC and the NT Electoral Commission, to end voter suppression in the NT.”

The AEC estimates 85.8 per cent of the NT’s eligible population are enrolled to vote.

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