House debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021


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

8:23 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021 is a bad bill from a bad government. It's a very unnecessary bill. It's a bill that pretends to be strengthening our democracy, like the former speaker just said, while in fact undermining it. At its heart, this bill is a voter suppression bill from this bad, unethical government. It is a deliberate attempt to suppress the votes of those that they don't think are as likely to vote for them. There are so many problems with this bill and with what the government is proposing to do that it's really hard to know where to begin.

But the last two Liberal Party MPs who spoke, when I listened to them just now, alerted me to something I may not have considered fully before. To perhaps give them the benefit of the doubt in a way, they've sort of got an impairment. The impairment is an inability to understand that not everyone lives as they do. It's an impairment that I wouldn't say the member for Grey necessarily has, although I'm looking forward to listening to what he spouts and seeing if it's the same as the ignorant contributions that I've heard from other Liberal Party members in the government trying to defend this bad bill. I'm looking forward to hearing that. This impairment is serious. Government members from the North Shore of Sydney and the Central Coast, where everyone goes around with their phone full of all sorts of cards and IDs, think: 'Doesn't everyone have a wallet? Doesn't everyone have a phone? Doesn't everyone have a bill for their tennis club? Doesn't everyone have that one?' Doesn't everyone have streams of identification available and ready to go in their ladies clubs or wherever?' I would love to hear what the gentlemen opposite, from the government, have to say. They at least live in places where perhaps they might have a better appreciation for the fact that not everyone lives as most members opposite live. Obviously, those opposite would understand that I'm from the Northern Territory, and our citizens are very much under the gun of this bad bill.

Those opposite are trying to make it more difficult for Australians across the board to vote. We're already looking at an election, in the first few months of next year, that will be heavily impacted by COVID-19. It's already been called a logistical nightmare for the AEC. Voters will already have to do a QR code check-in. There will be social distancing. People understand that there'll be new requirements. There'll be another new requirement if this bad bill gets through, and that is to produce some sort of ID. The story is that we'll have far longer waiting times at polling booths—unnecessarily long waiting times. Australians haven't had to deal with that as much, but, if you think you've ever been in a long polling line, this bill is designed to make you wait even longer and to slow the whole process down, in the hope that some people will just leave the queue and maybe come back later or maybe not. That's what they hope. It's going to be particularly tough in the Northern Territory, where my electorate is. We're already facing, at this time of year and early next year, extremely high temperatures. It's hot, and long waits in extreme heat won't just be a hassle in northern Australia; they could actually be very harmful to voters' health around the country, particularly senior voters and those with compromised health.

Requiring polling officials to check ID will further increase delay, because they'll have to check the authenticity of the document and there may be confusion as to which documents are accepted. Those voters whose ID is rejected will have to join separate queues to make a declaration vote, all taking longer, and they won't be told whether their provisional vote was ever accepted into the count. So this is going to diminish trust in our electoral process. As if the Prime Minister's performance in question time today hadn't diminished voters' belief in democracy and what goes on in this place, this is going to further drive down the trust that Australians have in this electoral process, not enhance it.

What the coalition's proposal would see is Australians turned away from voting, voting taking a lot longer for everyone and our democracy being weakened overall, when really what they should be doing is facilitating voting for more Australians around the country. There are tens of thousands of unenrolled Australians around the country who are currently not participating in our democracy. That's a problem.

If the coalition government were serious about improving Australia's democracy, there are plenty of things they could be doing. If Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, were serious about electoral integrity, he would support Labor's bills for real-time disclosure of political donations and lowering the disclosure threshold from $14,500 to a fixed $1,000 so political donations are transparent. If he were serious, he would reform electoral expenditure laws. He would provide more resources to the AEC to increase enrolment and turnout of voters—not at a minute to midnight. Instead, in the NT, where we have the lowest rate of enrolment in the country, the AEC has been bleeding staff and resources for years.

Those opposite have deliberately been cutting AEC staff out of the Northern Territory in order to have fewer Aboriginal Territorians, in particular, but also other Territorians, getting enrolled. That is scandalous, unethical, shameful and un-Australian, but it's the mark of those opposite. In our local AEC office in my electorate, the number of staff was over 20 in the past, then it went down to 15, and then it went down to three—three AEC staff in the jurisdiction with the lowest enrolment in the country by far. Why would a government deliberately do that? Because they want to steal some seats. They want to take the vote away from Aboriginal Territorians, in particular, so they can try to win a seat. It's a disgrace. There was an Indigenous Electoral Participation Program, but what did they do with those personnel, the people who went out and enrolled people and educated them about the process? They sent them to Brisbane to enrol people in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. Guess what: from Brisbane, those AEC staff didn't enrol many Territorians in remote communities—none. That was deliberately done so there are fewer voters in the seat of Lingiari. There are three people in an office for somewhere the size of the NT. There's a boss, someone who answers the phone, and another person who might have done something else—very professional public servants, but it is pretty limited capacity in the jurisdiction with the lowest enrolment in the country. It kind of sounds like a deliberate thing to do, eh?

If the Prime Minister wanted to, he could do something to fight dangerous misinformation and disinformation, which has been spreading all over social media. If he wanted to strengthen Australians' faith in the democratic process, he would also legislate for a powerful and independent national anticorruption commission, he would stop pork-barrelling in marginal seats, and he would make laws so people like the former Attorney-General couldn't take secret donations through a so-called blind trust. There are lots of things the Prime Minister could do, but instead of that the Prime Minister has decided, on the eve of an election, to make it harder for some Australians to vote, so the people who won't vote for him maybe can't vote at all.

Really, this is what it's all about. It's about voter suppression. We've seen it in the United States, where the Republican Party have spent years finding new ways to block voters who they think will vote Democrat from getting into ballot booths. This has got that sort of mentality and that sort of prejudice written all over it. This bill will have a disproportionate impact on people living in remote Indigenous communities. If those opposite were truthful, they would agree with that. It has a disproportionate impact on those dealing with homelessness, and it has a disproportionate impact on those escaping domestic violence, who often don't have easy access to identification because they've had to flee. So it's making it harder for all those groups.

Young people and culturally and linguistically diverse communities will also be adversely affected. Many young adults move around a lot, and they rent temporary accommodation, which makes it harder to keep their ID up to date. They're also less likely to have other forms of ID such as passports. Many probably don't have a passport yet. A lot of young kids aren't getting their driver's licence. They may not have any tax documents or bank cards. They might lose their wallet when they're out having a couple of beers. There could be any reason why a young person or anyone might not have ID on the day. It's passing strange, isn't it—these groups that I'm outlining and their vulnerability. Perhaps the Prime Minister has made an assessment: 'You know what? We're probably better off with those people not having a vote. We might get across the line in a couple of seats.' It is so shameful. Older people can face similar problems, such as they're no longer driving and haven't got a licence. They will be worried about this. They might think that they don't have the right form of ID. The magical sprinkling of fairy dust that we've heard about from previous speakers doesn't get to everyone.

The federal government have had the worst communications campaigns to do with the vaccines and action around the pandemic. What makes us any more confident that there will be good communications programs coming out about the ID stuff in the lead-up to the election? We know it just won't happen because they don't want those people to vote.

Migrant communities also face substantial barriers. Many people in some of those communities have struggled for years with formal name and identity issues such as bad transliterations from other alphabets and having their names anglicised when they've arrived in Australia—in other words, different forms of names. We're supposed to believe that all this is magically taken into account, but we know that that's unlikely. We saw in the 2015 Queensland election that voter ID requirements led to voters being turned away from polling places without being given the option to complete a declaration vote, because polling officials did not understand the new system. We're supposed to believe that 100,000-plus AEC people are going to be trained up over Christmas for the election in the new year.

The government say that voters will be able to have someone else sign a declaration form attesting that they are who they say they are, but they've offered no guidance on how those declarations will be followed up to ensure that anyone is telling the truth anyway. You can see, Deputy Speaker Vasta—at least I can, clearly—that it's all a crock. They're yet to explain what happens if a person's ID doesn't have the same address as their enrolled address. Under these proposed changes a person could still vote multiple times in their own name by going to different polling places. That bells the cat; they can't even stop people from doing the thing they say is a problem, which isn't really a problem. It's just so obvious. I hope enough members in this place have the integrity to make a wise decision when they vote on this bill.

The Electoral Commissioner has said many times that existing measures have effectively addressed that issue of multiple voting, as small as it is. Three months ago this very parliament created a designated electoral register for those who were identified as having voted more than once, and they will only be able to vote by declaration vote.

In summary, in the time remaining, this is a very disappointing piece of legislation, particularly for people that I represent. They know what this is designed to do—to have fewer people having a vote. That is un-Australian.


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