House debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021


Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021; Second Reading

7:33 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Environment) Share this | Hansard source

Mr Speaker, congratulations on your elevation to that office. I am very pleased to speak to this bill, the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021, and particularly in support of the second amendment moved by the member for Scullin. Everyone in the Australian community should understand that this bill will make voting harder for all Australians. The bill will have the effect of ensuring some Australians don't vote at all, and that is exactly what the government is hoping for; that is exactly what this measure is intended to deliver. Why? Because the government has calculated that the people who will be most affected by these pointless, unnecessary, heavy-handed new voting requirements will be people who are less likely to vote for them. It is called voter suppression. It's been practised by right-wingers in the United States for a long time. So here we are, at the very end of a difficult year, in the time of a pandemic, after eight years of the government doing nothing about climate change and energy, eight years doing nothing about wage stagnation and insecure work, and eight years rolling out a broadband network based on 19th century copper, which is obsolete on delivery.

With so many areas needing the attention of good, hardworking, problem-solving government, they come along with this rubbish. Why? Because this government, the Morrison-Joyce government, having abandoned all pretence of doing anything substantial and constructive in the national interest, is desperate to protect its own interests by almost any means. It is desperate to find a way by hook or by crook, by rorts and dishonesty, by scare campaigns and by fomenting confusion and division in the Australian community, through any and all of the dark arts and by every low road, just to give itself the chance of sneaking back into office—sneaking back into a second decade on that side of the House. By introducing this bill, burdening Australian democracy with this cunningly designed and heavy-handed regulation, which was obtained by express mail from the hard-Right manipulators who practise this kind of game in American politics, they are hoping to squeak back into office.

Again, everyone in the community should understand that this bill, if passed, will make it harder, slower, and more frustrating for every Australian who goes to do their democratic duty and vote next year. But the particular evil in the design of this measure is that it seeks to ensure that some Australians don't vote at all. The Australians who likely won't vote because of this bill are people who need to be heard. They will most likely be First Nations Australians, young Australians, Australians from culturally diverse backgrounds and Australians facing severe disadvantage—in other words, Australians who can be marginalised from the political process and who tend to experience disadvantage and social exclusion. These are precisely the people who need to participate in the political process and be heard by all of us in this place so their circumstances can be understood and so we can do our job, which is to deliver fairness, justice and social inclusion. This bill seeks to blank out as many of those people as possible from our democracy.

Let's be clear: the government doesn't need to suppress the vote to any great degree. It doesn't need to knock out, silence and disenfranchise that many people in order to sneak across the line in a close election. Elections in this country are generally determined by a percentage point here or there. This measure is precisely the thing that those opposite hope will make that marginal difference and allow them to sneak back into office. That's why the member for Kennedy, no particular friend of this side of the House, has described the measure as blatantly racist. That's the view of the Northern Land Council. That's the view of the Central Land Council. That's the view of stakeholders in the social justice and social inclusion world.

What are the circumstances of the forthcoming election likely to be? It will be a pandemic election. We know it's going to be difficult. We know we're going to have additional challenges, because we will be opening up next year, and as a result of opening up we expect to see infections rise, particularly in states like Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia, which have been virtually COVID infection free. So we will likely see measures that are needed to help control the spread of infection. That's going to put burdens on the process already. That's going to mean that having people in close proximity to one another in queues needs to be avoided. That's the sort of thing we should be thinking about: making sure that at the federal election next year, which will be a vital turning point in the history of this country, as many as possible of the millions of Australians who want to participate, quite rightly, in that election can do so as easily as possible, considering the challenges of the pandemic.

These measures will make that harder. These measures will require people to be in queues for longer. They will require people to be at polling booths for longer. They will actually work precisely in the opposite direction from the kinds of things we would otherwise like to see happen at polling booths in 2022, where people are allowed to come, move quickly through a polling booth and cast their vote. These bills are going to cause long queues. They are going to cause crowds. They are going to cause people to have to come together and stand in proximity to one another for longer, because the government wants to impose this new, pointless, useless form of regulation in their own self-interest.

We know that there's no benefit to be gained by those bills, because we know there's no problem. The AEC has described the fact that a tiny, tiny number of people are thought to have voted twice, but that problem is, in their own words, vanishingly small. At the last election, the suggestion was 2,000 votes may have been cast twice—2,000 out of 15 million votes. That's not one in a thousand; that's a fraction of one in a thousand.

All of the analysis by the AEC shows a number of things. First of all, it shows that the majority of those people are older Australians, people who are 80-plus and who possibly vote once by postal vote and then have a child come on the day who doesn't know about the postal vote and say, 'Come on, Mum,' or 'Come on, Dad, let's go down to the polling booth.' The AEC believes that in some cases the thought that people have voted twice is really just because an official marking the roll at the polling booth has made a mark in the wrong place, which the Leader of the Opposition described to us earlier. In any case, after the last election there was an investigation by the AEC into only 19 cases where somebody may have voted more than once, and none of those led to a prosecution.

The AEC has been crystal clear that, in any circumstances in which there's evidence that there may have been double voting that goes to the question of whether or not an election in an individual seat can be in question, there are provisions that would allow for that election to be re-held. So, if that had ever been the case, if there'd ever been any evidence that there was a problem, that could have been dealt with. But it's never happened. It's never, ever happened in 121 years. There's no risk of it. There's no evidence of it. It has never ever occurred. Talk about a solution in search of a problem. The AEC, all of the evidence and all of our history show that we have a robust and high-integrity electoral system, but the government is coming along, with no basis at all, seeking to impose additional burdens on Australians who want to exercise their democratic right.

If there was any problem at the moment in terms of a concern about integrity and politics, if people on that side of the House could without massive hypocrisy, which we have heard in this debate so far and we'll continue to hear in this debate, or with any semblance of personal responsibility or anything other than shamelessness on the issue of integrity, there are only about 500 or 600 different things they could do. I mean, we talk about donation reform. When we were in government, we reduced the threshold down so that donations of $1,000 or more had to be properly disclosed. They came in and they straightway put it back to $14,500. They've got no interest in real-time disclosure of donations. For a government that comes along with this voter suppression rubbish at the last moment of a parliamentary year, when there are 6,000 things that need doing in this country, is it any surprise? From a government that is known widely, not just in Australia but unfortunately internationally, to be dishonest, to be characterised by rorts and scandals and waste, is it any surprise that this is what they come up with? This is what they hang their integrity hat on. They can't be bothered. They promised an integrity commission. We don't get an integrity commission; we get voter suppression. They talk about integrity! They've got no problem with ministers that come up with false documents and try to bully lord mayors, they've got no problem with pieces of land that are sold to Liberal mates for 10 times the price, they've got no problem with inflicting robodebt on the Australian people or being on the receiving end of a class action and then today coming in and making class actions harder for all Australians in future! They've no problem with any of that. They've got no problem with any of that. They've never shown the faintest interest in any real issue of integrity and now they're trying to pretend that this voter suppression, this attempt to make voter participation in Australian democracy significantly harder, is anything other than the dirtiest, grubbiest, low-road manoeuvre to give themselves a chance in 2022. So what? So they can continue on with what we've seen so far: rorts and waste and scandal. Is that what this bill is aiming to achieve? Anyone who stands up on that side and uses the word 'integrity' in their speech should hang their head in shame. This bill is what happens when a government gets so hollowed out, so valueless and so purposeless that all it can bring to mind is its own survival. It will crash and burn almost anything to cling onto power even though it has nothing in mind like a positive agenda and has a record of doing three-fifths of nothing.

The minister responsible, the member for Tangney, has made it clear that his defining purpose in public life is to reduce unnecessary regulation. Last year the member for Tangney announced a deregulation task force whose purpose was to eliminate unnecessarily burdensome and costly regulation. In his first speech, the member for Tangney said:

… I hate needless complexity and regulation because the more complex something is the more expensive it is to administer.

That's exactly what this bill achieves; it makes Australian elections more expensive and more complex. It imposes requirements that serve no purpose. It makes voting more difficult and more unpleasant for every single Australian. And, worst of all, it will do harm to the fundamental democratic principle that participation in elections should be enabled to the greatest degree possible. Not only does this bill seek to achieve voter suppression; it seeks to disenfranchise some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised Australians, so these changes are utterly inconsistent with what the member for Tangney has claimed to be the central principle of his political life.

This proposed regulation responds to no problem whatsoever and solves nothing. It is imported Republican voter suppression bastardry. That's what it is. It's the very definition of red tape that makes a perfectly functional and effective process more complicated, more unpleasant and more expensive. Make no mistake: this bill is a cheap and nasty piece of self-interested antidemocratic bastardry whose only purpose is to give this awful, hopeless, shameless, desperate, do-nothing, stand-for-nothing government a chance of squeaking back into office while Australians have their democratic rights trampled over by the rorters and the wasters and the scandalmongers of those opposite. It is disgusting.


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