Media Release: NSWCCL calls on the State Government to enable prisoner voting rights

Today, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties is appearing before the NSW Electoral Matters committee to call on the Committee to recommend that the current restrictions on prisoners right to vote in the NSW Electoral Act be removed.

The Council strongly believes that any exclusion of a person’s right to vote is a grave curtailing of the right to participate in a healthy democracy. This has a de-facto consequence of creating “tiers of citizenship” and does little to assist in the rehabilitation of incarcerated people when they have served their time.

The Council is also concerned about the disproportionate impact that the current restrictions on prisoners’ right to vote has on First Nations communities.

As at June 2022, First Nations people represent 3.2% of the Australian population, however First Nations people make up 30.4%  of the adult prison population in NSW. Meanwhile, the NSW Electoral Act 2017 does not allow a person who has been convicted of an offence and is serving a sentence of 12 months' imprisonment or more to vote. [1]

While the Council believes that no imprisoned person should be excluded from participating in our democracy, the NSW Electoral Act's restriction disproportionality affects First Nations people due to overrepresentation in prisons. Denying First Nations people the right to vote in any circumstances is egregious.

The right to vote without discrimination is provided for in human rights treaties that are binding on the Australian Government, namely: (a) article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and (b) article 5(c) of the International Covenant on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Comments from Lydia Shelly, President, NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL)

“We should be very cautious about laws that restrict people’s right to vote and meaningfully participate in our democracy. People sentenced to prison are deprived of their liberty, but they shouldn’t be deprived of their right to have a voice as part of a society that, in the vast majority of cases, they will re-join”.

“The right to vote is just one of a range of human rights such as freedom of speech and rights to associate, assemble and protest that are fundamental to democracy. We should not support laws that seek to exclude certain groups from being able to vote. We should not support governments that seek to exclude certain groups from voting and exercising their democratic rights”.

“The NSWCCL considers that as part of a healthy democracy, Australia should fiercely defend the principle of free and equal participation in the political process”.

“The Final Report of the 2021 NSW Select Committee on the High Level of First Nations People in Custody and Oversight and Review of Deaths in Custody was tabled in the New South Wales Parliament 30 years after the Royal Commission's Final Report was published, yet we are no closer to addressing the gross over-representation of First Nations people in the criminal justice system”.

“The NSWCCL is deeply concerned about the unacceptably high level of First Nations people in custody. Enabling people in prison to vote is a small step forwards in addressing the enormous disadvantage that First Nations people face”.

“We should be connecting prisoners to society, giving them a stake in their communities’ future. Allowing prisoners to vote is a form of rehabilitation in itself. Revoking their right to vote is an extra penalty that reinforces feelings of disempowerment, isolation, and stigma”.

“In the ACT and South Australia, all people in prison can vote in their elections. If there is one meaningful recommendation this committee can make – it is to rectify this deplorable situation and remove restrictions on prisoners’ voting rights in the Electoral Act”.


[1] Electoral Act 2017 (NSW) ss 30(4), 31(1).


Read our submission here.