House debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021


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

9:12 pm

Photo of Matt KeoghMatt Keogh (Burt, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | Hansard source

The Prime Minister is working to ensure those who might not vote for him can't vote against him. The Prime Minister's proposal would see Australians turned away from voting, voting taking longer for everyone and our democracy weakened as a result. There is no evidence that this is needed. This is a disgraceful proposal, and we will fight it to protect our democracy. This is a solution looking for a problem to solve. You would think, with all of the things that this government should be doing during this limited time in the parliament, even more limited through COVID, limited as even the Prime Minister himself was describing in question time today—that it's held up some of the government's actual priorities—that maybe it wouldn't be wasting legislative time on legislation designed to fix a problem we don't even have.

The Australian Electoral Commissioner has said 'evidence of multiple voting to date is vanishingly small'. This is very important because many of the speakers on the government side during this debate have tried to say, 'We don't really know how big the problem is, because how can we tell?' It is very simple. We just go and count how many times someone has been marked off the roll more than once, and the Electoral Commission does that after every election. We have a very good statistical understanding of how much multiple voting is happening in this country, and it is infinitesimally small. Indeed, the AEC said it is 'vanishingly small'. Most instances of multiple voting are by the old or infirm who have forgotten that they've already voted. There is no attempt at voter fraud there. There is no evidence of voter fraud at elections, with only 2,102 electors having been identified as having multiple marks against their names at the last federal election. That's out of over 15 million votes that were cast. Some of the multiple marks would have been mistakes by polling officials when marking off the adjacent voter from the roll. It's a long day. We don't criticise them for it. But that is part of what we are seeing here in the count. Only 24 of the more than 2,000 cases that were investigated after the last election were prosecuted, which gives you a sense of the scope. There are difficulties in prosecuting this offence. I'm not denying that. But we are talking about such a small number of people in the first place. It represents just 0.03 per cent of the votes cast.

It's also worth noting that, of that number, this law won't stop all of that, if that is your actual concern, because what it won't do is stop somebody from rocking up with ID to multiple polling booths to vote. It won't stop someone who actually intends to defraud the system. What it will do is prevent people who would like to vote from being able to vote. Our compulsory system means that people should have the opportunity to vote, and that is being limited through this legislation.

In its submission to the finance and public administration committee's inquiry into this bill, the Australian Human Rights Commission noted that at no time have the very few instances of multiple voting ever affected the outcome of a federal election. It said:

… the requirement for voter identification does not appear to be necessary or proportionate to the aim of addressing voter fraud and likely constitutes an unreasonable limitation on a person's right to vote. It may also create an obstacle to voter participation, particularly for vulnerable groups, and unduly impinge on their exercise of the right to vote.

The bipartisan, government chaired Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has reported that the proposed laws might 'reduce public confidence in the electoral system and discourage some voters from voting' and that the committee has seen:

… no evidence of, or concern about, a lack of public confidence in the integrity of the electoral system or any evidence of voter impersonation.

It also said:

… additional requirements imposed before a voter can cast their vote engages and may limit the right to take part in public affairs and the right to equality and non-discrimination.

These are important points being made by a committee of our own parliament.

This bill will have a disproportionate effect on people living in remote Indigenous communities and other First Nations people. Those dealing with homelessness and Australians escaping domestic violence often, through no fault of their own, don't have easy access to identification. Young people and culturally and linguistically diverse communities will also be adversely affected. Cassandra Goldie, the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service summed it up when she said, 'It will hit hardest the people who already face barriers to voting.' She said: 'It would create an intimidating process and significant confusion as to what is required to vote. It would deter many from turning up at voting booths at all.' The priority of government should be to make sure it supports everyone to exercise their right to vote. Governments should be removing barriers to voting, not creating them. It should not be making it harder to vote for people who already experience discrimination and exclusion. But that's what this government, through this bill, is determined to do. It will also deter some older Australians who've handed back some of their identification due to no longer being able to drive. It will, as I said, definitely impact on people who are escaping domestic violence, unable to access their ID, fleeing without their ID, not able to go back and collect any form of identification.

Rebecca Stokes, from the Southern Goldfields, backed this up when she said:

Isolation combined with cultural differences and low confidence in government, means the number of votes cast by Aboriginal people is consistently low. And this will just continue to erode Aboriginal people's confidence. They're already not very trusting of the system. Places where the voting has to go to them—how do they expect people to show ID when they live in those communities? A lot of Aboriginal people don't vote because they don't understand what they're voting for. People are scared. They don't really want to go in there and embarrass themselves.

In that broader context, why on earth would we be making it even more difficult? Let's just reflect: this is against a background where we saw in Western Australian state elections only a few decades ago efforts by members of the party opposite to actually suppress Aboriginal voting in our remote electoral districts in Western Australia. The case of Ernie Bridge in the 1977 and 1980 elections definitely goes to the case in point. I won't repeat the details now because the people for Lingiari already gave them. But that should ring in the ears of the government. The central premise of the Closing the Gap initiative is to overcome Indigenous disadvantage in Australia, to empower First Nations Australians to be part of our shared decision-making. However, this legislation deliberately widens that gap, further disempowering First Nations Australians.

Constitutional law expert Professor Anne Twomey said the evidence of the use of voter ID in the United States has shown that 'voter ID laws diminish the turnout of racial and ethnic minorities in elections' and that they 'produce a clear partisan distortion', favouring conservative candidates. In simple terms, the only reason the Prime Minister and his government are introducing these laws is in an attempt to make it harder for people who are unlikely to vote for him to vote at all. The rub in this is pretty clear, because when the minister who is responsible for this legislation raises this issue he says, 'Labor's only opposing the legislation because it will make things harder for them.' That's from the minister responsible for this legislation. Just think about what that means. The minister is saying, in effect, that this legislation will make it easier for the government to win the election. He is actually saying that on the record—that there is a partisan effect to these changes to our electoral law. And somehow this government thinks not only is it a good idea but that it's fair.

This is not how democracies are supposed to work. We've already seen laws like this have a negative impact on communities in Australia, with the introduction of voter ID requirements for the 2015 Queensland election. That election saw many voters being turned away from polling places without being given an opportunity to vote. The Queensland election in 2015 saw a lower voter turnout than the 12 previous state elections. Interestingly, the Special Minister of State tried to say that that 2015 Queensland election had the highest voter turnout in the last three Queensland elections. What he neglected to point out is that if you go back over the last 15 elections in Queensland there has been a continual decline in voter turnout. These voter ID laws cannot be held up as some way of showing that they increased voter turnout when they most certainly did not.

We know that the next election is already likely to be a logistical nightmare. We've got to run a national election with the varying COVID restrictions that may be in place in different jurisdictions, and with good reason. But that will be challenge enough. We'll need to have social-distancing requirements and COVID check-ins. People will definitely need to spend more time at polling booths than they previously have. This legislation will require officials at polling booths to also check IDs, further increasing delays and further increasing the amount of time that people have to queue, that people have to wait in the rain or the sun. This might be great for the P&Fs and the P&Cs that are selling democracy sausages—and that's a great fundraising outcome for them. But just bear a thought for a moment for the people with disability, for the people who already have mobility concerns and can't spend a long time standing, waiting to vote. They already look for the short-queue polling booths. If there are none available because of the additional delays brought around by this voter suppression legislation, it will just make it even harder.

While the Australian Electoral Commission says the introduction of a system of voter ID is 'not impossible'—which is hardly a ringing endorsement—it notes it would involve significant start-up and ongoing costs, voter inconvenience, possible disenfranchisement of a number of voters and possible delays in the delivery of election results because of an increase in the level of declaration voting. The Morrison government has identified that $5.6 million will need to be provided to the AEC to implement the bill's provisions. This is entirely inadequate to cover the increased training required for the AEC's large temporary workforce—some 100,000 people—as well as public information campaigns and the need for more bodies on the ground at polling booths. I can tell you: I have already been contacted by some of those 100,000 people who work on polling booths during our elections—people who give up their time to make sure our democracy is functional—and they have identified for themselves just how problematic this system is going to be for our nation. It is simply not adequate.

The Morrison government's argument that this legislation will prevent people voting multiple times is also just plainly not true. When you take a moment to consider the proposition, a person can still go and vote multiple times if they have ID. What a great system they have set up! The parliament already passed legislation in August this year to try and deal with these multiple-voting issues. We saw that with the designated electoral register, which we agreed to; this has been set up in legislation already passed. We've got a system now to try and minimise that. We don't need this in addition, because it is, as was said before, disproportionate to the issue. It is legislation that is a solution for a problem that does not exist.

This legislation is a blight on our economy. It is indeed a slippery slope. We already have the lived example in other countries of the effect—the disproportionate effect, the partisan effect, the unfair field balance shifting effect—of legislation like this. It is a disgrace that this legislation is before our parliament. It is a blight on our democracy, and Labor will oppose it.


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