Thursday, 6 December 2018
Electoral Matters Committee; Report
This report which I'll be speaking on today, Report on the conduct of the 2016 federal election and matters related thereto, is an important document. It's an important document for democracy in this country, and also an important document to learn from the lessons of the 2016 election. It has had an incredible amount of work put into it. I want to start by acknowledging the secretariat of the committee, who have done an outstanding job in pulling together basically a 2½-year body of research. I also want to thank the former chair, Senator the Hon. Linda Reynolds; the current chairman, Senator James McGrath; and my colleague and friend the Deputy Chair, the member for Scullin, Mr Giles, for all of his work. It's been a collegiate effort. It's been a team effort with cross-party members and some new members as well to the committee.
The report covers significant matters. There is one in particular that I will be talking about today which has raised a lot of concern already. I am deeply concerned about the government's approach to this matter. For five years the Australian people have put up with the shambles of this government. Today is no different, where we're going from crisis to crisis. But the incompetence and overreach of this government may have peaked in this report that I'm holding today. I'm going to particularly focus on recommendation 12, put forward by government members of the committee, which concluded that voters must present identification to be issued with ordinary prepoll or election-day votes.
Government members interjecting—
The member for Hinkler in this chamber has just issued his support for that recommendation. He's saying it's a great idea. Where have we heard this before? Not content with tearing the government apart by their own hand, they are now trying to make it harder for Australians to have a say at elections. No wonder the government is so out of touch. I note that even the LNP leader of the state which the member for Bowman and the member of Hinkler hail from has said that their government is out of touch. That's not the Premier of Queensland or any Labor politician saying that—that is the elected leader of the state LNP.
Those opposite have gone pretty quiet now as I've issued to them—
Government members interjecting—
No, they've woken up again. The state LNP leader has said they are out of touch. No wonder!
We know, and the Australian community knows, that the government are out of touch and are incompetent. Now their only hope appears to be making it harder for the Australian public to show ID when they have to turn up to the election. This proposal, in my opinion, is a pathway to voter suppression. This is exactly what we saw with the former Queensland LNP state government, the toxic Newman state government. This is what they did when they were in power. I can appreciate that the member for Hinkler is a strong supporter of the former Newman government, but they were thrown out of office. There are similarities between recommendation 12 in this report and what the Newman government did. Queensland was the first and only Australian state or territory to introduce a voter ID requirement, despite no evidence suggesting the need for change.
Mr Pitt interjecting—
I started with this comment. The member for Hinkler said that he supports this proposal. Through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the member for Hinkler wants it to make it harder for voters when they go to vote.
Even a discussion paper initiated by the Newman government and released in January 2013, which canvassed voter proof of identify—the very recommendation we're talking about in the chamber today—stated that there was no specific evidence of electoral fraud and no requirement for this measure. But they did it anyway, resulting in a huge impact on voter turnout, which was the lowest in 30 years. They brought in this change in Queensland, and what happened? Voter suppression—the lowest turnout in 30 years. In fact, the ECQ website showed that over 15,000 voters without proof of identity documents were inconvenienced on election day and were required to make declaration votes. Further to that, the director of the Queensland Association of Independent Legal Services, James Farrell, told a subsequent parliamentary inquiry that voters who did not have appropriate ID were in some instances turned away and unable to cast their votes. That's what the member for Hinkler supports today—
Honourable members interjecting—
voters being turned away.
Those opposite are big on talk on freedom of the individual, except when it comes to voting. They are the government that are supporting a recommendation to stifle the voting processes for tens of thousands of Australians, making it harder for them to vote and have their say.
On this side of the House, my Labor colleagues and I share—
Mr Pitt interjecting—
I do point out to the House that the member for Hinkler is a member of this committee. So I ask, through you, Mr Deputy Speaker, where was the evidence to this joint standing committee about this issue? We are particularly concerned for those citizens most likely to be disenfranchised through such changes, including First Nations Australians, people affected by family and domestic violence, younger Australians, homeless people and itinerant people. That's why the Queensland Labor Palaszczuk government did the right thing and, with their very first bill of the 2015 parliament, did away with these draconian voter ID laws. They removed discriminatory and unnecessary voter proof of identity requirements introduced by the toxic former Newman government.
Much effort has been put into increasing electoral participation in Australia and into engaging with population groups which have historically been less likely to vote or which face particular barriers to electoral involvement. You would think a government of Australia would want more Australians participating in the democratic process. You would think that members from my home state, such as the member for Hinkler, would want more citizens to have their say. But, at this particular junction in our nation's history, is there perhaps a reason why the LNP do not want voters to have their say?
I invite the member for Hinkler to speak on this report today.
Mr Laming interjecting—
Well, he wasn't listed. He wasn't going to bother to speak, but now he's going to scribble down some notes! I want him to provide the evidence—not the evidence that he's given to the chamber today, saying, 'You need to provide ID when you go to the RSL.' That's apparently what you've got to do. We have had a parliamentary inquiry into this for 2½ years. I know that, before the member for Hinkler became a member of this committee, he may not have been as interested in this. I sat through evidence in hearing after hearing.
Mr Laming interjecting —
If the member for Bowman has evidence to provide—it is a little bit late after the fact—if there is strong evidence which the committee hasn't received, which no member of the government provided, which no member bothered to turn up and provide to the committee, let's have it today. We'll be grateful if we've got experts, academics, members of the public, who are calling for this—not members of the LNP government in Australia, who are trying to suppress voters. It is unnecessary. It was unnecessary under Campbell Newman and it is unnecessary now. I simply ask members of the government to reject these draconian and out-of-touch propositions that the government has put forward.
I note that the Queensland LNP state leader, as I said earlier in my remarks, called the government 'out of touch' today. We know that on this side of the chamber. The Australian community know that this government has lost its way, isn't governing, is only worried about tearing itself apart. But we are seeing a proposition in this report today, in recommendation 12, that the government wants to suppress voting in Australia. It tried this before, in 2013. It tried that as part of this committee, and it was rejected. Yet we are seeing the chair today, Senator McGrath, going out and saying that people should be forced, compelled, to provide photographic identification when they turn up. We know what happened when Queensland was the only state or territory in the nation's history to demand that. Voter suppression increased; 15,000 people weren't able to have their say in an easy manner. If there is evidence about voter fraud, if there is evidence that this is an issue, sure, let's have that discussion. No evidence? No result. We will not be supporting that recommendation. (Time expired)
I take the opportunity to make some brief comments, particularly in rebuttal of the member for Oxley. He did get off to a good start, I'll give him that. It is a collegiate committee, where people work very well together. But it did go downhill from there, I've got to say. The purpose of this recommendation is quite simply to ensure that people understand their democratic responsibility. I am absolutely certain that every single member of the Labor Party in this place could be found making a quote that sounds exactly like this—they say to their constituents and supporters: 'Vote early and vote often.' I have heard it dozens and dozens of times.
This is a strong recommendation for democracy in this place. You need a licence to get into a sporting club. You certainly need identification to open a bank account. You need a driver's licence in order to drive, and you have to have it with you. There are any number of places where you need identification—why not for our democracy? Quite simply, you get your opportunity to vote and you are aware of what is required. It is a good recommendation. I support the position of the chair, Senator James McGrath. I say to the member for Oxley: we gave him the authority to make statements on behalf of the committee, as we have done for others, and I think there is absolutely the ability for him to do that. He is well informed, he is well versed and it is a very strong position. I would also say to the opposition, given that they raised the Queensland government many times, that it was a Queensland Labor government that went against the Fitzgerald inquiry recommendations and brought back full preferential voting for the state parliament. It is just hypocrisy to stand in this place and make those claims.
I absolutely accept that. It was an inquiry into corruption, and this was one of its strongest recommendations, which the Queensland Labor government went against. However, I'll go back to the beginning. It has been a collegiate committee. The committee members have worked very well together in the short time that I've been on it. We support all of the recommendations bar a couple. I think that is a good outcome for democracy. I support Senator James McGrath, the chair.