Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I rise to speak in support of the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill. The bill requires that an individual provide identification when voting in person at federal elections, and it is a bill that will help to improve public confidence in the integrity of Australian elections by reducing the risk of voter fraud. It responds to recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters from its reports on the 2013, 2016 and 2019 federal elections. The measures contained in this bill will bring Australia into line with voter identification practices of other advanced democracies, such as Canada, France, Sweden, Belgium and a number of states in the US. It recognises that Australians require proof of identification for a range of activities, things we accept ordinarily and every day, including driving, opening a bank account or collecting a parcel from the post office. Even, as I recently discovered, buying a new phone requires identification. But, currently, that same ID is not required when carrying out one of the most sacred duties of a citizen in this nation—selecting representatives in this parliament and the parliaments to come.
I was a member of the JSCEM that looked into the 2019 federal election, and I was really pleased to note, when I did read the report, again recently, that a number of the recommendations from that report have actually now been accepted and implemented by the government, which shows the strength of that report. Some of these recommendations include recommendation 6, which encourages the Electoral Commission to bring forward a costed proposal and timeline for the introduction of an electronic certified roll before the next federal election.
I note that, as part of the 2021 budget, the government provided the AEC with additional funding to increase the number of electronic certified lists, which enable communication between polling booths in real time, ensuring that voters marked off the roll in one area are prevented from voting again in another. The AEC used over 4,500 electronic devices to mark off voters at the last election, and they were available at all the prepoll voting centres. This is a common-sense measure, resulting from this recommendation, that will not only make elections more efficient for polling staff but, in conjunction with the measures contained in this bill, provide further safeguards against tampering and fraud or the potential of tampering and fraud, and help to bring the voting process into the 21st century.
Another recommendation, recommendation 15 of the 2019 report, recommends that the Electoral Integrity Assurance Taskforce be engaged permanently to prevent and combat cybermanipulation and foreign interference in our democratic process. In an ever-connected world, where information is shared almost instantaneously with others, the threat of misinformation and from both extremist organisations and foreign actors continues to grow. That's why this recommendation was important—to ensure that those with malicious intent are prevented from influencing public opinion for their own interests, protecting our democratic process and ensuring that elections genuinely reflect the interests of voters.
I understand that the AEC is engaging with government security partners, including the Australian cybersecurity Centre, to enhance our nation's cybersecurity posture prior to and during elections, and that the AEC has also implemented the ACSC's essential aid strategies to mitigate cybersecurity incidents and uses these strategies to help guide implementation of various measures. This is also important in light of other measures, such as those contained in this bill and of course the use of electronic certified lists.
Another recommendation, recommendation 16, states that a new offence of 'electoral violence' should established to address acts of violence, obscene or discriminatory abuse, property damage or stalking during an election. The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Offences and Preventing Multiple Voting) Act 2021 clarifies the existing offence of 'interference with political liberty' under the Electoral Act to include the above behaviour, and it increases the interference with political liberty from imprisonment for six months or 10 penalty units or both, to imprisonment for three years or 100 penalty units or both. I can think of numerous times when my team, myself and my volunteers have been subject to, frankly, pretty horrific treatment by representatives of groups purporting to be supporting democracy by standing up for views but in fact are behaving in a vile, offensive and unacceptable manner. I really hope that these changes will deter this behaviour.
Recommendations 21 and 22 also advocate further changes relating to the need for identification when voting and enrolling or changing enrolment details. These, also, are sensible measures, outlined in this report, that are being addressed through this bill which will help improve the integrity, transparency and robustness of our democratic system so that it can not only be beyond reproach but also can be seen to be. The need for voter identification is something that is raised regularly with me, especially during prepoll—in fact, at every prepoll—and in the many community forums that are held on a regular basis around my electorate, particularly pre-COVID, before we were not able to gather in the way that we have been accustomed to. It would surprise me if there were a community forum where that question was not raised by at least one person. It is an issue that is out there. It is an issue that is a concern to voters, and it's important that it is addressed through this legislation.
I disclose as a very proud longstanding member of the Liberal Party, I'm also a very proud longstanding member of the NSW Liberal Women's Council. This is an issue that has been dear to the heart of the NSW Liberal Women's Council, a wonderful organisation of the Liberal Party. I had the honour to serve as its president in 2011-12 prior to being selected as the Liberal candidate for Robertson. This is an important body in the Liberal Party. It has been a very important voice for women and for progressive policy reforms in the Liberal Party since the inception of the party. I must recognise the influence that the Liberal Women's Council has had in my own life in encouraging me to run for parliament and supporting me in this endeavour. That's certainly an honour that I appreciate and that I've always sought to pay forward to other women who are seeking to represent their community. In thanking the Liberal Women's Council for their support, for their mentoring and for the honour of enabling me to serve as their president, I also acknowledge that this has been one of the longstanding reforms that the New South Wales Liberal Women's Council have long advocated for: voter identification in elections. As the current president of the Liberal Women's Council, Mary-Lou Jarvis, said to me today, the council has been advocating for voter ID for more than a decade and believes it will be an important step to ensure fair elections.
The Liberal Women's Council first started advocating for this many years ago, certainly as far back as when I served as its president. I want to note in particular the advocacy of Anne Yule, Juliet Kirkpatrick, Linde Jobling, Carolyn Currie, Karen Howard and many others. I also note the advocacy and strong leadership of past presidents including Chantelle Fornari-Orsmond, Felicity Wilson, and of course the indefatigable, passionate and driven advocacy of Mary-Lou Jarvis.
A strong democracy depends on a robust electoral system with appropriate safeguards, and this bill enhances these protections to ensure our system continues to function effectively and efficiently into the future. It has been well considered by the government, and the introduction of the requirement for identification has been really carefully worked through. Polling officials will be able to accept a large number of identification documents, including current photographic ID such as a driver's licence, passport or proof of age card; government issued identification or documentation such as a Medicare card, birth certificate, citizenship certificate or AEC issued enrolment confirmation notice; or recent proof of name such as a utilities account statement, taxation notice of assessment, bank account statement, mobile phone account notice, credit card, debit card or document issued by an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land council or native title body. This is a broad range of identification documents that is far greater than able to be used in other nations. Proof of identity can also be provided in electronic form. Even if voters forget their ID or they're unable to bring it to a polling station, that's still catered for. A voter without ID will be able to complete a form to attest to their identity. This form is then kept as a record by the AEC to ensure voters do not vote multiple times. The government has committed additional funding of $5.6 million to the AEC to help implement these measures, including communication and community engagement activities to ensure that voters are well aware of this new requirement well before election day.
The opposition are opposing this bill and they've made a number of claims about it, including that it will impact voter turnout and disenfranchise vulnerable groups. I really would like to address both these points because, as the Special Minister of State noted, identification laws don't necessarily impact turnout at elections, but they provide confidence in the electoral system. The voter identification laws used at the 2015 Queensland state election had no discernible impact on voter participation. In fact, the voter turnout was higher at the 2015 state election when voter ID laws were in place than in the 2017 and 2020 Queensland state elections when the same laws were repealed. I'd really like to see high voter turnout at a federal level because I believe that this means even more people can have their say and help shape the future of our nation. At the 2019 federal election, the national turnout was 91.9 per cent, while in Robertson we had a higher turnout of 93.17 per cent. I am sure this bill will go some way to ensuring that this figure continues to rise at the next election and elections beyond.
Voting is such an important obligation and privilege, and compulsory voting, our system of democracy, helps to ensure that our parliament is truly representative of all groups regardless of their income, background or level of engagement with politics. I have always been a strong advocate of our compulsory voting system in Australia because it enfranchises those who might otherwise be the least likely to exercise their vote. That is why I have been such a strong supporter of our compulsory voting system here in Australia. I believe every vote should be given equal weight. Our nation is built on the idea that each and every voice and every vote matters and counts. So even one individual who chooses to vote multiple times reduces the weighted influence of others in that election.
So the reforms in this bill, along with the progressive implementation of the electronic roll, are sensible measures that I believe will be broadly accepted in our community despite some of the scaremongering we are seeing from those opposite, particularly given some of the other measures that are being contained to ensure that this is well known and that the identification options are as broad as they are outlined in this legislation. After all, voting should have at least the same safeguards and processes to ensure integrity as those required to collect a parcel at the post office or sign up to a phone plan.
The opposition argue that this bill will disenfranchise voters who are vulnerable. To ensure that this doesn't occur, the government is introducing measures to enhance electoral participation among these groups. The Australian Electoral Commission will receive an additional $9.4 million to continue to work with Indigenous communities and deliver targeted measures to support the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in elections. The AEC's community activities have seen Indigenous enrolment rates outperform the overall enrolment rate in Australia every year for the past four years, and I want to commend the AEC for their important work in this area. In fact, we have seen the estimated Indigenous enrolment rate lift year on year from 74.7 per cent in 2017 to 79.3 per cent in 2021, and an additional 52,350 Indigenous Australians have been enrolled since 2017. Additional funding will assist in building a capability to recognise multiple names to create better elector record matching, create a series of podcasts for culturally appropriate electoral education and help to undertake specialised Indigenous enrolment support. It will also assist in building a youth mentoring program to drive electoral participation and implement a targeted communication strategy. These initiatives, alongside this bill, are really important to help continue to facilitate greater Indigenous involvement in our democracy.
This bill also has several less significant but still important changes. These include reducing clerical errors, given that voters will provide documentary proof of their name and address rather than simply identifying themselves verbally. It also ensures that a voter's privacy is protected, as proof-of-identity documents must only be used by the AEC to establish the voter's identity and cannot be copied or retained.
I believe that this bill improves the confidence in the Australian electoral system and will help to increase voter turnout. It reduces the risk of voter fraud, implements appropriate safeguards and ensures our democracy will continue to thrive. I commend the bill to the House.