Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021. I'm surprised that the member for Solomon—as he leaves the chamber—has so little faith in Labor's candidate in Lingiari, Marion Scrymgour. I can tell him that the seat of Grey has a far longer boundary with the seat of Lingiari than Solomon does. My assessment, looking over the border, is that we've got Buckley's chance in Lingiari. But, let me tell you, we're coming after Solomon, because we've held that seat much more recently. I think that is a far better chance than Lingiari, and any effects you're talking about in this area that you promote would not affect Solomon in the same way if, indeed, they were right.
I've got to say I've nearly always voted in the electorate in which I live—prior to becoming a member of parliament, of course. I well remember my first vote. I was 18 and it was 1975. I made my first very wise political decision. I voted to get rid of the Whitlam government. What a disaster that was. All I did was walk into the Buckleboo hall—we don't have a voting place there anymore; we have to go to Kimba now—and they knew who I was and they crossed my name off the list. It has always surprised me since that time—and I've nearly always voted in Grey, as I said, or in the state seat—when I have been out of the seat, in Adelaide, and I've walked into a polling booth and they say, 'Who are you?' and I say, 'I'm Rowan Ramsey from Kimba.' I go to the correct polling booth and they say, 'Here you are; you live at 301 Ramsey Road'—good name for a road!—and I say, 'That is correct.' 'We'll cross you off, Mr Ramsey; here are your voting papers.' That's a pretty low threshold, isn't it? I don't think I could get a bank account like that. I certainly couldn't get a credit card. I couldn't get a Medicare card. I couldn't enrol my kids at school. I couldn't get a drivers licence or a passport. I definitely couldn't get married. I couldn't pick up a parcel from the post office. I couldn't buy a mobile phone. It seems to me you need it to get registered on the electoral roll; you need to prove your identity. The one thing you don't need it for is to vote. That is patently absurd. Not only do I think it's absurd; the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, after the 2013 election, after the 2016 election and after the 2019 election agreed with me. They, too, think it's absurd, that it should be fixed up and that we should show proof of identity when we go to vote. After all, it should be one of the most important things that we do as citizens of Australia. We should hold this up not only as something that we should be proud of but as an obligation that we are absolutely committed to deliver.
Australia is the fourth longest uninterrupted democracy in the world. I think that's a remarkable outcome. It probably sheds a bit of light on the troubles that have beset the rest of the democratised world. That's something I'm particularly proud of. I think our democracy's enfranchisement of every citizen is a very important fundamental, and it should be absolutely defended against any attack. The public space in our electoral system should be absolutely undeniable; it should be fundamental. We need to ensure that they trust the system. It's one of the reasons that I do not favour any kind of move to electronic voting. It comes up from time to time: 'Oh, why can't we vote electronically?' We can't vote electronically, because it's just too easy to rort, to corrupt. It's not easy for me. I'm quite proficient on a computer, but I can't reprogram one and I can't write new programs. But I certainly know plenty of people who can. I think as recently as in the last two decades at least a 12-year-old broke into the NASA computers. Every time somebody comes up with a brand-new block to stop corruption and people accessing information on computers, there's a new way. It's a bit like changing tax law. As soon as you change it, the best minds in the country are working out how to get around it. That's why we don't go to electronic voting. Of course, that's not what we're discussing today. I'm using that as a point about how I value our voting system and how it needs to be completely trustworthy.
I'm one of a diminishing number of people in this chamber who remember Fran Bailey, former member for McEwen. You would, Mr Deputy Speaker—you've been here that amount of time. In 2007, Fran Bailey, on initial count, lost her seat of McEwen by six votes. There was a recount. She won by 12 votes. Then there was a court of appeal and she eventually won by 27 votes. In Herbert, in 2016, we lost a very good man out of this parliament in Ewen Jones by a margin of 37 votes. In fact, my advice to Ewen at the time was to challenge that result, because we had a large defence exercise going on at Cultana range, just out of Port Augusta, and there were a whole host of people who came from Townsville who went to vote that day and they ran out of interstate voting slips for them. It was a bit of a failure on the Electoral Commission in that area. I thought that result should be challenged. He chose not to. He took it on the chin and moved on. He's still a good man, doing good work in his community. The reason I raise those two results—I think they're the two most marginal that I remember in my time in this place at least, and I can't go back a lot further—is it does prove that one vote can make the difference. It can change government. One vote could change a government. One corrupted vote could change a government. We should do everything we can to ensure that that vote is not corrupted.
Proof of identity is pretty common place around the world in most advanced democracies. Why on earth, here in Australia, we should propose that we should be different, I have no idea. I have great faith in Australians, but not so far as to think there is not one Australian that would rort the system. Unfortunately, there are, and we need to make sure that those avenues are not open to them.
I come to the point that many on the other side of the chamber are making now—that is, this disenfranchises Indigenous people, and they calling us racists. Close to eight per cent of my electorate are Indigenous, and I spend an enormous amount of time working on their issues. I'm pretty sick of some of the condescension and the disrespect that is shown to them, like, 'You poor black fellas couldn't be expected to work out who you are or prove who you are.' For goodness sake! What a low opinion those on the other side have of our Indigenous people. I spend, as I said, quite a bit of time with them and I know many personally. My electorate is pretty big, just like the member for O'Connor's. I drive about 80,000 or 90,000 kilometres a year.
I apologise to the people of APY Lands, I haven't been there in the last 18 months. Normally I try to get there twice a year, and I drive there, so I can drive from community to community and talk to the people on the ground. I haven't gone there. I've tried three times in last 12 months, and every time a COVID ban has caused me to cancel. I stay in touch by telephone. As an aside, I'm pleased to report that vaccination rates on the APY Lands, at least, are only running about five per cent behind the rest of South Australia, and I think in terms of remote Indigenous communities that's an outstanding outcome. I congratulate Nganampa Health for the hard work they're doing up there.
What I've got to say though is: I've been the member for Grey for 14 years, and my results out of those remote lands are actually pretty good when it comes to election time. I've got to say I trust them with their vote. I trust them with their judgement. I think I was just in front last election, with over 50 per cent of the vote on the APY Lands. So, to anyone that would suggest that any disenfranchisement of any individuals would be in the Liberal Party favour, I say no. I have a good Aboriginal acquaintance, where there's been some investment in their community—not on the lands. He said to me one day: 'All my life I've been told to vote Labor. We get told to vote Labor all the time. You got to vote Labor! The Liberals are terrible! I tell you what, you lot have done more for my people than they have ever done. I'm voting for you.' He's a community leader, and that's how you win votes. You get on the ground, you talk to people, you listen to their issues and you do something about it. So I'm not worried at all in any way that that is going to affect my vote, even though I'm getting the majority of the vote in those booths already. So, I'll tell the member for Solomon, who prattled on over there for a while and said, 'These people don't have mobile phones,' there are more mobile phone towers per capita in the remote Indigenous lands of Australia than there are in the rest of Australia. They are in every community. We've got a couple to go in the APY Lands that have populations of around 80, but all the bigger communities—and I mean communities of 200—have mobile phone towers. And I can tell you that there are not many people in those towns who don't have mobile phones, and as surprising as it might be for opposition members, they actually know how to use them. So, once again, there is this condescending and just disgusting attack on their capabilities, which I find absolutely inconsistent with this whole argument.
The member for Solomon mentioned the Queensland election in 2015 when they did have voter identification. He said, 'There were 100,000 people who didn't vote.' Well, there were fewer in the 2017 and 2020 elections, when they took away the voter identification. I don't know how he links any kind of argument about that. You are from Queensland, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, and you would know that the turnout in 2015 was higher than it was in 2017 or 2020. So it obviously wasn't any great disenfranchisement of anyone.
When the Labor Party speak of the very low rates of rorting of the current system, they know that that's because it's almost impossible to find anyone who is voting multiple times when you've got no proof of identity. I look remarkably like Ross Vasta, even though I'm sure our haircuts are quite different and our age is quite dissimilar. But, if all I have to say is that that is who I am and that is where I live—I don't know what your address is, but I could find out, Mr Deputy Speaker—who would know? We've got absolutely no idea how deep this goes. What we do know is we know how to fix it. That's what this legislation does. It's overdue. Bring Australia into the 21st century. Proof of identity is ubiquitous and mandatory on many occasions in most services that we access in the 21st century. So it's a faux argument that the opposition put forward. The opposition's amendment is completely out of line, and I support the original legislation.