House debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021


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

5:49 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that this bill be now read a second time. I call the member for Scullin.

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I, too, take this opportunity to congratulate you on your elevation and wish you well in your high office.

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Scullin.

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021. Labor is opposing this bill and the attack on our democratic rights and institutions that it represents. It is simply disgusting that the title of this bill includes the word 'integrity'. This bill has nothing to do with integrity and neither does this government. In fact, the very opposite is the case. This bill is by its very design a vehicle to diminish electoral integrity by restricting, without a shred of evidence, people's capacity to vote and by raising unwarranted questions about the operation of Australian elections. It is part of a wider attempt to undermine our democratic institutions.

On the eve of an election, this government, in its desperation, is seeking to move beyond rorting public money and treating it as a political slush fund to rorting the electoral process itself, seeking to rig it to its own advantage following the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Political Campaigners) Bill 2021, shamefully rammed through this chamber on Monday with 35 separate amendments introduced at the very last minute, giving members no opportunity to consider their effect. That was a bad bill designed to shut out the voices of those who might be critical of this government, including some of the most important voices and perspectives that need to be heard in this place in our politics, diminishing our democracy again in the absence of evidence—indeed, in defiance of the evidence.

On this point of evidence, I note that, just as we were participating in the last decision, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights issued some guidance on this bill—the bill that's before the House right now—raising its concerns about the restriction on the right to vote that is set out in this bill—this bill which is all about voter suppression. It is part of a disturbing pattern which we see emerging, representing the very opposite of boosting electoral integrity. The bill before the House is a revealing piece of legislation. It speaks to the character of this tired, dysfunctional and directionless government and that of the man who leads it. He's a bloke you can't trust and who, through this bill, says to Australians that he doesn't trust them. In essence, that is what this bill is all about. He has clocked that Australians are working him out and that he has no record to run on—no record of achievement, no vision for the future. While he didn't 'hold a hose', he's now, in his audacity, telling Australians that they must bring particular forms of identity with them in order to exercise the most fundamental of democratic rights—that of casting a ballot on election day. He's making it harder to vote and pretending that this is somehow needed when it is a solution in search of a problem, notwithstanding the real danger that suggesting there is a problem here represents to maintaining trust in politics, and pretending that this bill is concerned with lifting democratic standards when the evidence tells a very different and much more sinister story.

On Monday, Mr Morrison's government moved to shut out opposing alternative viewpoints from the political debate, punishing charities and not-for-profits who might want to tell the truth about Mr Morrison's many failures. Today, his government is trying to suppress the vote. Through the pandemic, we saw a welcome increase in Australians' trust in government and political institutions. This increase in trust, though, is being undermined by the Morrison-Joyce government, which is taking every opportunity to dog-whistle to those with extremist and dangerous views, as we saw in question time today. In the past week, we've seen gallows displayed on the steps of the Victorian parliament and violent threats made against elected officials across the country and their families too. Instead of standing unequivocally against these threats, the Prime Minister has taken the opportunity to emulate Donald Trump. Mr Morrison has chosen time and time again not to make clear that all this conduct is unacceptable in our democracy. Instead, not wanting to upset violent extremists, he took the opportunity to tell them that he understood them.

This is at the same time that he claims credit for high vaccination rates without taking responsibility for those measures necessary to get those rates up. Indeed, he's undermining those measures, calling for restrictions on the unvaccinated to be rolled back, putting at risk the workers and healthcare systems that have kept us safe for the past two years. On the one hand, he's claiming he wants the government out of people's lives, and, on the other, he's limiting political debate and suppressing voters with additional regulations. This is a joke at the expense of Australians.

It is another opportunity of Mr Morrison, the Prime Minister, seeking to divide Australians, rather than unite them. He claims he believes in vaccines, claims credit for the vaccination rates, but at the same time he allows government members and senators to spread COVID and vaccine misinformation and disinformation, like Senator Rennick, who's been running scare campaigns about vaccine safety, including sharing posts from an antivaccination advocate who's called for the execution of Prime Minister Ardern for her country's vaccination program. And Senator Rennick has been rewarded for this conduct, as we learnt today. There's also Senator Antic, who has been feeding protests by claiming Australians are being coerced into getting vaccinated against their will, and of course there's the member for Dawson, who has promoted dangerous and banned COVID-19 treatments and compared vaccine mandates to apartheid, and he put in a disgraceful performance before question time today, a disgraceful performance matched by the failure of the Prime Minister to call it out, matched by the weakness of the Prime Minister who cannot even bring himself to say the name of the member for Dawson, which is George Christensen by the way. He deserves to be called out, instead of another nasty deflection and irrelevant attack on great Australian Sally McManus.

Australians deserve so much better. Australians deserves political leaders from right across the ideological spectrum who will stand up for integrity in politics, through our words, speaking honestly and telling the truth and matching those words with deeds. It's now well over 1,000 days since the Prime Minister promised a national integrity commission, but he won't establish one. If he did, he knows that it would be the members of his government who'd be the first to be hauled before it for this government's treatment of public funds, the Liberal Party's slush fund, and for the failure to disclose the source of secret donations hidden in something called a blind trust. Yesterday, Labor and the crossbench in the Senate sought to bring closer the national anticorruption commission that's so sorely needed in Australia, but the Liberals and the Nationals with their allies have again voted against this. They should be ashamed, and they should think about their obligations to our democratic and electoral system, instead of continuing to undermine these.

This bill is a cheap trick by the Morrison-Joyce government that it thinks will help it win the next election. This bill will require every Australian elector to prove their identity when they go to vote at the next election, and it has nothing to do with electoral or voting integrity and everything to do with this Prime Minister using any tactic available to him to stop people who might vote against him from having the opportunity to vote at all. This Prime Minister has only one motivation for everything he does. Nothing he brings before this House is ever genuine. Nothing is ever done in the public interest or the interest of Australians. Everything is done purely for this Prime Minister to somehow find a path to be re-elected, and this bill is part of that plan. It's a blatant voter suppression tool.

This government talks about how voter identification is required in other countries in all but 14 states of the US. The fact is, though, other countries don't have Australia's system of compulsory enrolment which makes the opportunity for voter fraud here almost nonexistent. Yes, voter ID is used extensively in the United States. It's straight out of Donald Trump's playbook. While we celebrated those famous and inspirational long waits in queues at ballot boxes—they were inspiring—let's remember that they were a triumph of resilience that should never have been required in the face of cynicism and often in the face of racism in that country, which we should not be seeking to emulate in this manner. There is simply no need for these laws. We know this because the Australian Electoral Commissioner has said the number of multiple votes cast in Australia is vanishingly small. It's something like 0.001 per cent. Of over 16 million people enrolled to vote at the last election, only 2,102 voters were found to have multiple marks next to their name. The commission wrote to every single one of them and found that many of the marks were simply administrative errors, where the polling official had mistakenly marked off the adjacent name. Others were mistakes by older people who voted again on polling day having already voted by post. On the few occasions where a person had more than two marks next to their name, some were found to have had issues in terms of their mental health. Out of 16 million voters, only 24 were referred for investigation. And how many were prosecuted?

Not a single one, as the member for Chifley reminds me. As well as investigating every single potential model to vote, the AEC also examines multiple marks by electorate to ensure there's never a situation where any instance of multiple voting is greater than the margin for the election. If this was to occur, the AEC would seek for the result to be overturned in the Court of Disputed Returns. The AEC has never had to do this.

Despite all this evidence to the contrary, this government is desperately pushing this legislation through in the final sitting fortnights of the year, potentially the final sitting fortnights before an election and the very end of this parliament. So you have to ask: why is this government prioritising this voter suppression bill and the other measures designed to diminish electoral integrity over its national integrity commission? Well, the government knows, for example, that people in remote Indigenous communities are less likely to have or to carry identification with them. Enrolment and turnout are already much lower amongst Indigenous Australians than non-Indigenous Australians, with just 79.3 per cent of Indigenous people enrolled to vote nationally, compared to an overall enrolment rate of 96.1 per cent. And this is even worse in the Northern Territory, with an Indigenous enrolment rate of 69.6 per cent. More needs to be done to address this, including investigating how people living in remote communities can be added to the roll through federal direct enrolment and an update program. Requiring voters to provide identification will be yet another barrier to prevent First Nations people from voting and from their voices being heard in this place. The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation has previously submitted to a government review that:

Many of our Aboriginal patients use their Medicare card as their only form of identification—many do not have a Drivers' License or a Proof of Identity card.

With many relying on a Medicare card as their only proof of identity, if someone replaces an expired or lost card when an election is called, they may very well not receive their card in time to vote, especially if that card has to be delivered to a regional or remote area. These are issues that you would be very familiar with, Deputy Speaker. This is a particular issue for those trying to attest someone else's identity. While there is a wider range of identity documents available to show when identifying themselves, when attesting to vote you can only use a Commonwealth or state issued identity document and not things like bank statements, rates notices or credit cards, which the government has promoted as making the vote process under the bill accessible. In combination with the polling officer's discretion and the possibility of names not matching on documents, introducing these changes this close to an election is a recipe for a disaster on polling day.

When the Northern Territory was about to be reduced to just one seat in the House of Representatives, we had to fight tooth and nail to save the seat of Lingiari and ensure Territorians had the representation they deserve. I want to acknowledge the tireless efforts of the member for Lingiari in that respect. In lieu of reducing the Territory to just one seat, this government is now using the bill to help it win Lingiari by suppressing the votes of First Nations people in the Territory. And, as the member for Kennedy has rightly pointed out, these laws are blatantly racist and will prevent First Australians living in community areas from voting, and I quote him, 'How hypocritical is it of this government to pretend to support a voice to parliament while taking steps to actively prevent First Nations people from participating in our democratic process.' Of course, it doesn't end here. People who are experiencing homelessness, women subject to family violence who have had to leave their home and many young people do not have easy access to identification that many of us take for granted.

In my role as the shadow minister for multicultural affairs, I've also heard from multicultural communities about the effect that this proposal will have on them. FECCA says that the government's proposed changes would disenfranchise voters from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds who often face substantial hurdles in proving their identity. Identity documents can become mismatched for many reasons, including the anglicisation of personal names, difficulties in adapting cultural naming customs to standardised forms and government data entry or transliteration errors.

In this bill, if a polling official is not satisfied with someone's proof of identity, they can reject someone's claim to vote, allowing a declaration vote should certain circumstances be met. It's unclear the extent to which the name on somebody's identity will have to match their name on the roll. When confronted with someone with identity documents with a variation of their name due to registration differences, how much discretion will be left to the polling officer to allow or to deny someone their vote? Will they be directed to reject someone whose name isn't an exact match? How many forms of identity will someone be allowed to produce to try and prove their identity before they may be considered a fraud? If someone's identity is rejected, how many people will go home and find a document up to the polling staff's standard, and how many people would simply risk the fine rather than go back to the booth, and, particularly in a summer election in parts of the country that are a bit warmer than the northern suburbs of Melbourne, this may be a challenge.

Filling out a declaration envelope is not the easy solution the government makes it out to be, either. Currently, to complete a declaration envelope, you're required to provide your full name, address, phone number, date of birth, town and country of birth, and either your drivers licence or passport number, or have the envelope filled out by somebody who can attest to your identity. If you have to fill out a declaration vote because you don't have identification or someone to attest to your identity, how can you provide a driver's licence or passport number or have someone to attest to your identity to receive a declaration vote? It is absurd.

The AEC Commissioner has stated that the vast majority of multiple votes are cast by people over the age of 80 who have English as an additional language or are confused about the act of voting. At the last election, only 64 per cent of provisional votes were counted, with more than 56,000 votes excluded from the count—56,000! An AEC analysis indicates that provisional votes are roughly 50 per cent more likely to be informal. These are serious considerations that raise serious questions for anyone who is concerned about the strength of our democracy.

Given the complexity of completing a declaration vote, especially if you speak English as an additional language or have low literacy skills, many votes submitted by eligible voters may be excluded due to informality—votes excluded as a result of this proposal; votes that would have been counted if these electors had been allowed to vote in the same manner as every other election they have participated in. Indeed, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights noted in their scrutiny report that it was unclear if declaration voting was an accessible alternative for voters. This is a very, very serious concern that goes to the heart of this bill and demonstrates the cynicism that animates it.

These changes are being rushed through without consultation or regard for the particular impacts on multicultural communities—a major failure of process, compounding the substantive problem that underpins the bill. Instead of listening to our independent Electoral Commission, who have made clear that voter impersonation is not a problem in Australia, the Morrison-Joyce government is acting on suggestions from the Institute of Public Affairs. As the member for Moreton would be well aware, that is the same right-wing group that has long campaigned for repealing section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act to allow for hate speech. The government are listening to the IPA and not considering the facts before us, which is that these laws in the bill before us are unnecessary, burdensome and a deliberate, shameful and dangerous attempt by the Prime Minister to undermine public confidence in our electoral system.

I draw the attention of members to the evidence of Professor Graham Orr, from the University of Queensland, one of Australia's leading experts in electoral law. He said:

The "evidence" to support voter ID is the intuition that voters should produce ID. The benefit of voter ID is said to be enhancing perceptions of integrity.

…   …   …

Perceptions of risk can also be circular, if not manipulated. By playing up integrity risks, regardless of the actual evidence, you can generate concerns that you then use to justify new rules.

These are the exact tools that the US Republicans and Donald Trump used—and there are still people in the United States who believe, shockingly, that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. There are real dangers to our democracy here and they need to be called out by all of us engaged in democratic politics.

While requiring identification will affect the most marginalised in our communities, make no mistake: this change, which has not been required in 120 years of federal elections, will make voting take longer all of us. There will be queues around the block on election day, with over 16 million identities being checked, with AEC officials needing to verify the authenticity of documents, making sure the name and address match that on the roll, then issuing and explaining declaration votes for people who've failed this unnecessary test—often an unfair test.

The member for Moreton reminds me—and during a pandemic. That's something that I'm glad he raised, because there is an important electoral bill that needs to be debated to put in place provisions that will enable the conduct of an election should pandemic circumstances render challenges on election day or during the course of the election period. But we're not debating this, are we? It is still sitting on the Notice Paper, where these bills, fulfilling an ideological agenda on the one hand and a desperate and cynical power grab on the other, are being pushed through this House, and, I'm sure government members hope, being pushed through the other place as well.

Let us think about the people who can't wait around on election day or at prepoll—shift workers, parents with young kids and older people who can't stand in queues for hours who might just give up and go home without voting. This law will potentially disenfranchise thousands of Australians. When voter ID was introduced at the 2015 Queensland state election, voter turnout was the lowest it had been since 1980—the lowest for 12 consecutive elections. Polling officials turned people without ID away because they were confused about the rules and didn't offer them declaration votes. Voters were also confused, so they didn't turn out if they didn't have ID or didn't vote at all if they had forgotten their ID.

With this government rushing this legislation through, this experience could well be replicated at the next election, with very, very serious consequences for our democracy. Even the government-controlled Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights said that these laws could reduce public confidence in the electoral system, that these laws could discourage some voters from voting and that these laws may be discriminatory. It is my hope that the members of the government who recognised these things in the committee will make that recognition clear on the floor of this place and of the other place, and join us in voting down these unnecessary, discriminatory and dangerous proposed changes.

The substantive impact of this is also impacted by the failure of the government to support the independent umpire in the Australian Electoral Commission. I note the government has provided just $5.6 million this financial year for the AEC to implement this change. This won't even touch the sides of what's required. You don't need to be a mathematician to work out that that won't be enough for the AEC to write to every single voter to provide them with a letter of enrolment that they can take along as proof of their identity. Yet, somehow, that $5.6 million has to cover: a public education campaign; training on the new rules for over 100,000 polling day staff; and additional staff that will be required at every polling place to manage the increase in the number of declaration votes. That's before we get to some of the challenges that the global pandemic may impose on the conduct of the election. I really feel for the AEC, who do such important work for all of us and for our country, having this change dumped on them months out from conducting the biggest peacetime logistical exercise in Australia's history under the cloud of COVID—a change which they have said is entirely unnecessary. And they would know; they are our election experts.

In addition to checking every single multiple vote, the AEC has other systems in place to protect the integrity of our elections. The AEC is increasingly rolling out electronic certified lists, an improvement on the paper rolls, lessening the chance of administrative errors and providing real-time updates on whether an elector has already voted. In addition, earlier this year this parliament passed legislation to establish a designated electoral register. If someone has been identified as a multiple voter they will be placed on this register and will only be able to vote by declaration vote, ensuring only one vote is counted. The Electoral Commissioner has said both of these initiatives will greatly assist in dealing with a very small number of multiple voters—a real solution, instead of this cynical exercise in power grabbing.

That brings us to the real question before the House: why is the government doing this? There is simply no warrant for changing the voting rules at what may well be the eleventh hour. This has nothing to do with electoral integrity or voting integrity but everything to do with this Prime Minister's character. Instead of this change here, there is much so more we could be doing to improve electoral integrity. To that end, I move the following as a second reading amendment:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"the House declines to give the bill a second reading and:

(1) notes that the bill's stated intention is to improve public confidence about the integrity of ballot-issuing practices;

(2) notes further that the independent Australian Electoral Commissioner has said that the issue of multiple voting is 'vanishingly small'; and

(3) calls on the Government to implement electoral integrity measures that would make a real difference including:

  (a) lowering the disclosure threshold from the current $14,500 to a fixed $1,000 so political donations are transparent for all to see;

  (b) requiring real time disclosure of political donations; and

  (c) reforming electoral expenditure laws;

  (d) providing more resources to the AEC to increase enrolment and turnout;

  (e) addressing the spread of dangerous misinformation and disinformation;

  (f) legislating for a powerful and independent anti-corruption commission;

  (g) making laws to prevent governments from pork-barrelling in marginal held seats; and

  (h) requiring parliamentarians to disclose secret donations".

We have an electoral system in Australia to be proud of, which gives everyone their say, and we on this side of the House will defend it and seek to strengthen it, not undermine it for cheap electoral politics. But this is a government that has long since given up on governing. Its threadbare legislative agenda this fortnight shows that they aren't even trying to advance our national interest. Instead, we see this: a desperate attempt to cling to power, whatever the cost.

This bill is an attack on our democracy—another one. It's an attempt to import the very worst of United States politics to mandate voter suppression, to frustrate millions and to exclude many thousands from casting their ballots, knowing the disproportionate impact on First Nations people and on Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, not just to seek to buy votes by treating public money as their slush fund but to go further and to seek to effectively restrict the franchise of those who they feel might not support them. They should be ashamed, but they are shameless. Australians deserve better. They deserve respect for them and for the democratic institutions that Australians have built up.

Labor knows this and we are resolutely committed to standing up for electoral integrity, starting with voting against this rotten and dishonest bill, which we will fight all the way. For us, Australian democracy is not for sale, and defending it—indeed, extending it—is nonnegotiable. I'm proud of us and I'm proud that my friend Senator Farrell has committed an Albanese Labor government to repealing this law as its first act should it be enacted. But it shouldn't come to this, and it needn't come to this. This bill can be withdrawn today—or this House should reject it.

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To that, the honourable member for Scullin has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House, I will state the question in the form that the amendment be disagreed to.

6:17 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I'm not sure that I know the member for Scullin well enough to know what qualities of his I admire, but I have to say that he's got a vivid imagination if that contribution on the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021 is anything to go by. So I can confidently say that I admire the member for Scullin's imagination, if nothing else. I'm sure if I had more time on a personal basis with the member for Scullin there would be other things that I admire as well. But, quite frankly, given that contribution, it's his imagination that I am in awe of.

In sitting on the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and considering this matter, I have to say that after the report was finalised and the matter came to this place, I've been surprised by the level of objection raised by those opposite. It's come as a bit of a surprise to me, quite frankly—and I might want to try and unpick why that might be. It's got me thinking—exercising my own imagination—as to why those opposite are so voraciously opposed. But I might make a contribution about that a little later.

I want to make clear that this is a bill about voter integrity and, whilst it's true that the Electoral Commissioner has said that this issue is small, small issues can create big problems. It's estimated that something in the order of 2,000 or so multiple votes took place at the last federal election. Indeed, one individual voted 13 times. Those opposite say, 'Oh, well, nobody was prosecuted in relation to those matters,' and true that is. But that has much more to do with how difficult it would be to bring a successful prosecution in these matters than the fact that there were no occasions of multiple voting. Equally, many of us in this place have been here long enough to remember the election for the seat of Herbert in 2016. That was an election that was so finely balanced, and ultimately led to a chamber that was equally finely balanced. A small handful of multiple votes in that particular division could have changed the course of that election.

Quite frankly, I personally find a number of the contributions that have been made by those opposite deeply offensive. The suggestion that this is being brought to this place so as to, in particular, disenfranchise First Australians from exercising their right to vote is not only offensive to me; I'd suggest respectfully to the House it's offensive to First Nations people. This week we had the member for Ballarat telling the people of Australia that she was gobsmacked, in effect, that the chair of Infrastructure Australia might live in regional Australia, might've been a mayor in regional Australia, and wasn't ipso facto adequately qualified to be in that role. Now we have members of the Labor Party implying that First Australians don't have the wherewithal or documentation to effectively prove their identification on polling day. I think a lot more of Australia's First Nations people than those opposite.

Before I go into much more detail, let's be clear about what this bill does. It effectively says that if you want to vote in person on polling day then you're required to provide identification. That can be in the form of a current photographic ID: a drivers licence, a passport or a proof-of-age card. It could also be a government issued identification card or documentation—for example, a Medicare card, a birth certificate or a citizenship certificate. It could be recent proof of name, such as utilities account statements, tax notices, bank accounts, a credit or debit card, or a document issued by an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land council or native title body. If it's good enough to require ID to hire a car, take out a loan from your local library, buy alcohol or buy cigarettes, then I for one think it's quite acceptable for ID to be shown when it comes to exercising that most fundamental and most important right to vote on election day.

Those opposite want to contend, in an attempt to scare people about what this bill does, that people will be disenfranchised from voting. It's complete rubbish because, were you to attend a polling place and not have any of those documents that I just referred to, you would be invited to make a declaration vote. No-one, and I mean no-one, will be disenfranchised by this provision. What it will do is stop people from exercising that right to vote multiple times. Which brings me to why those others are so energised or exercised on this. You might be quite critical of me for saying this, but, to be honest, I think it's evidence that Trump derangement syndrome has entered this place. Quite frankly, those opposite, in almost every interview I've heard, every contribution that has been made, have quickly run to making a reference to this being a Trumpism attempt by those nasty coalition members to disenfranchise people from voting, to suppress the vote.

The truth is that this provision is much more European than it is from the United States. I'm sure those opposite know, for example, that this kind of ID requirement is in France, Sweden and Belgium. It's also a requirement in Canada. For those opposite to simply try pretend that this is just the coalition in lock step with the Republicans in America is quite frankly just another attempt to run the age-old lines you run at about this time in the lead-up to an election. If it's not scaring pensioners about the rubbish you're running around with in relation to the cashless debit card; if it's not ringing pensioners in the middle of the night to scare them about other things; and if it's not 'Mediscare', it's now this. It's now: 'You won't get to vote on election day because of these Trump-esque coalition members in the LNP.'

The member for Scullin made a virtue of the fact that, when the 2015 Queensland state election took place, an election at which voter ID was required, it had the lowest turnout in 12 years. But what the member for Scullin didn't then go on to say, but I will, is that the turnout at the 2015 Queensland state election that involved voter identification was in fact higher than the turnout for the 2017 and 2020 Queensland state elections when the identification laws were repealed. It's worth repeating—voter ID was required in the Queensland state election in 2015, it was repealed subsequently such that the 2017 and 2020 elections did not require voter ID and in fact the turnout without the need for voter ID declined. It went down. So, whilst the member for Scullin is quite right to come in this place and accurately say that the 2015 turnout was the lowest it had been in 12 years, the reality is that the turnout was higher in 2015 with voter ID laws than it was when those laws were repealed in 2017 and 2020. So the argument that voter ID in the Queensland context suppressed the vote, quite frankly, is rubbish. But it suits the argument of those opposite, of course, to point to that.

The reality here is that this legislation doesn't seek to disenfranchise voters. It seeks to improve voter integrity and ensure that, the day after election day, we are not in arguments about what the outcome may have been. We can have trust and confidence, and the Australian people can have trust and confidence, in that outcome. As we have seen recently in the American setting, that is so, so important. I want to wake up on election day in 2022 hopefully celebrating a win, but, if we are not, I don't want to be thinking to myself, 'I have concerns about the integrity of that election,' and, deep down, I think those opposite don't want to be having those concerns either.

This is not a proposal that seeks to suppress the votes of those that those opposite think we aren't going to successfully attract. It's certainly not a bill that's intended to operate in some sort of racist matrix, like those opposite are attempting to suggest. As I've said, I find that assertion offensive. I am sure many others do. But the people most offended by that assertion should be Australia's First Nations peoples. It effectively says that those opposite don't have the respect that they need to have for Australia's First Nations peoples. The reality is that their argument consistently in this place is that this is racist and an attempt to suppress the votes of First Nations people. The member for Scullin said exactly that. He mentioned Lingiari and he said it was an attempt by the coalition to win that seat. I didn't say that. He said that. The member for Scullin said that. The reality is that that is deeply offensive to me, and I'm sure it's deeply offensive to many First Nations Australians.

The reality is that this is about integrity. I began this contribution by saying that I can't understand why those opposite are so exercised about this. I said something about the member for Scullin's imagination. I also said that their attitude in relation to this bill has me exercising my imagination. Every time my imagination runs off in this direction, I pull myself up, because, quite frankly, I think too much of those opposite to think this. But it has me thinking: what are you trying to cover up?

Ah, the member for Eden-Monaro has just belled the cat. The motivation here from those opposite is that they think that this is in fact an attempt by us to suppress the votes of Australians. It's complete rubbish. Those opposite need to accept that, by their arguments daily in the media and in this place, they're effectively saying that, as a class, the First Australians don't have the wherewithal to come to polling booths with the documentation, nor can they make a declaration vote. You've got to own the arguments you make. Those are the arguments the member for Scullin made. Own them, because they are deeply offensive.

6:30 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

ALBANESE (—) (): Labor opposes this voter suppression legislation introduced during the pre-caretaker period for the upcoming election. It's unnecessary. It weakens our democracy; it doesn't strengthen it. If passed, this bill, the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021, will make it harder for Australians to cast their votes. It demonstrates how far this Prime Minister will go to try to maintain power. First he abandoned the truth, and now he seeks to attack Australians' right to vote.

We should be really proud in this country that we have one of the most democratic voting systems in the world, the envy of the world. Today our electoral system is underpinned by two core principles: the franchise is universal, and our elections are run by an independent Electoral Commission. This bill attacks the franchise, because it puts a barrier between voters and the ballot box. A Prime Minister who can't be trusted is saying that he doesn't trust Australians. That is what this legislation is about.

Under this legislation, Australians won't be able to do what they've done for 120 years: turn up to a polling booth on a Saturday in the relaxed way that Australians behave, get their democracy sausage to assist the P&C at the local school, and go through and give their name and cast their vote in secret, according to who they want to represent them in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. Under this, voters will have to show ID before they can receive their ballot paper and put it in the box to be counted on election night.

It's not right to say that the Prime Minister doesn't understand what this bill means for Australians in remote communities, those who don't have English as a first language, young people and new voters. He knows exactly what he's doing. The extraordinary speech from the bloke opposite, I think, just says it all. He purported to say that he understands what First Nations people think about this legislation. While the member for Barton was in the chamber, he had the temerity to question her standing up for First Nations people. He should listen to what the Northern Land Council and the Central Land Council have to say and to what Indigenous communities are saying. This is largely based upon an assessment about Lingiari. That is part of the objective of what's going on here. It is as simple as that. He knows that many First Nations people in the remote communities don't carry around their birth certificates or their ID. Many of them don't have a wallet. They don't have a licence. So many of them, because of this government's cuts to the AEC, won't get a vote, because they haven't been put on the roll.

Here is some of the absurdity of the arguments: one of the members opposite who are supporting this has suggested, 'Well, as part of an arrangement, we'll get extra people to go and enrol First Nations people.' It's the wet season! You can't get into these communities. There's COVID, so you can't get into these communities. If there were any time to introduce this legislation, it's not during a pandemic. When local government elections are held next Saturday, in 10 days time, no one's allowed to hand out how-to-votes, because of the conditions in New South Wales. And that's far better than other parts, such as in vulnerable remote communities. But here it is—legislation that was never anticipated by conservative governments or by Labor governments that have been here for 120 years. Here it comes because nothing is beneath this Prime Minister. He's adopting the playbook of the right-wing Republicans in the United States, a playbook of voter suppression, of making it more difficult to vote. That's exactly what this is about. The Prime Minister hopes that voters will get turned off by the long queues that will appear at polling booths if this legislation is passed.

Why is this occurring? Because this bill is a solution looking for a problem. In the 2019 and 2016 elections, there was not a single prosecution. There has never been such a suggestion in this country at any election—not the last one or the one before. I've been here for 25 years. No-one has said, 'Someone stole the election.' What does that sound like? Where have I heard that before? It's from former President Trump in the United States and the commentators in the right-wing media who undermined United States democracy. We heard it here in this chamber from the previous speaker, who spoke about how he doesn't want to wake up and not be certain that an election has been legitimate. It's a shameful thing to do—undermining democracy and undermining Australia's capacity to have the best democratic system in the world, something that we should be proud of.

The truth is that the Australian Electoral Commissioner, Tom Rogers, has said that the number of multiple votes in Australia is 'vanishingly small'. According to the AEC, out of more than 15 million votes cast at the last election, there were just over 2,000 multiple votes recorded. Some of these mightn't have been multiple votes at all; they could have been due to human error—someone's on the roll as Richard Marles and someone's below them as Ricardo Marles, and they've just crossed the wrong name off. Human error can occur. But what we do know is that there were no prosecutions and that the Electoral Commission—independent—has said that multiple voting is not a problem. Under this bill, of course, a person who has ill intent could attend, have some form of voter ID—a false ID—and vote at multiple booths. All they would need to do is take along a fake ID. But there's no evidence. Quite frankly, if you're going to spend all that time working out cleverly how to get an extra five or six votes for the member for Brisbane—the member for Brisbane would be better off going and talking to constituents and winning over many more of them than spending hours and hours and hours plotting. That mightn't be successful, it must be said, because Madonna Jarrett's coming for him!

Let me say this. There are not just concerns about First Nations people; there are concerns as well about the people from CALD communities.

    The truth is, for a whole range of cultures, particularly for older people in those cultures, people who came here after the Second World War, people sometimes change their names. The Morris brothers, who sat in this chamber, didn't start off as Morris. They were Greek. They anglicised their names. People shortened their names. Demetri becomes Jim. Giuseppe becomes Joe. I'll give you another example. Joe Hockey, his name was Hokeidonian. I knew his late father—a great man who came to Australia for a better life. As part of creating that better life and the success he had as a real estate agent in the northern suburbs of Sydney, he changed his name—in part because you could be more successful and open more doors. So he changed his name to Hockey. He was an Armenian, from ethnic descent, born in Palestine.

    It happens, and it will create confusion in many Asian cultures. It is very common to have a name and then what is often referred to as a Chinese name. In communities, when the Pakistan cricket team are here, you never know whether it's Imran or Khan. You never know, because in some cultures the first name is the family name, and, in other ways, these things get sorted out. There are going to be all sorts of issues raised here, and I suspect that that is part of the issue.

    But of course it comes from a Prime Minister who is the only leader of a democratic nation in the world who refused to call out the attacks on the Capitol building on 6 January—attacks on United States democracy, encouraged by the outgoing US president, which got the condemnation they deserved from democratic leaders right around the world. Angela Merkel, Boris Johnson, Jacinda Ardern—right throughout the world, they all joined in. But not this Prime Minister. Of course, he was a close observer of former president Donald J Trump. In 2019, he told journalists that the two of them share a lot of the same views, and of course he attended a rally for the president in Ohio.

    But, for those opposite, I just say that this sort of attempted manipulation in a precaretaker period is not in keeping with the high standards that this parliament should be conducting itself according to. It's an attempt to go out and once again cast aspersions against our democratic processes, which the previous speaker just did. If you're going to do that, then you have to argue that there is a reason for it. You have to argue whether it is legitimate that people are sitting in this place or not.

    I have been, unfortunately, on the wrong side of most election outcomes. Guess what? In this country, the person who loses the election stands up and concedes first. And then the winner of the election, be they a prime minister or a premier or chief minister, accepts the outcome, and people come here and it's not controversial. Why is it that we are questioning the legitimacy of our democratic processes? Someone once said in this place, 'If you change the government, you change the country.' This bill shows that if a political party in government changes the Prime Minister, you change the nature of that political party. Tony Abbott never tried this. Malcolm Turnbull never tried this. But the bloke we have now has no foundation of values. That is what we are seeing played out throughout this system. We have a Prime Minister who is just focused on doing whatever it takes, on political preservation at all costs. It is extraordinary that the Liberal party room has been so cowed that it has agreed to a bill like the one before us. The Liberal Party of Ian Macphee, Peter Baume and so many fine people would just not have copped this. They would not have copped this for a minute. But this Liberal Party is liberal in name only these days. There's nothing liberal about it. Having suppressed liberalism inside his own party, the Prime Minister is now determined to suppress voting rights.

    Well, Labor will oppose this bill in this place and in the other place. The fact is that this is not appropriate legislation. It undermines rather than strengthens our democracy. Labor trusts Australians. Labor trusts our democracy, and we will always defend it.

    6:45 pm

    Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

    Can I start by pointing out for the benefit of the House that 'Ricciardo Marles' would be above 'Richard Marles' on the electoral roll, not below him, just to be clear. As proudly representing the largest Italian electorate in the country, I think it's important to correct that mistake. Can I equally say as a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters that I have been part of the inquiry that has led to recommending this measure. So I speak in support of it, and having come from the position of having participated in a process of reviewing the 2019 election. But this is not a new proposition from the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters; it's of course been a recommendation from a number of recent elections. I support it because fundamentally of course it is a matter of the integrity of our elections—ensuring that the way in which we conduct our elections is not open to or at risk of any unnecessary fraud or incorrect voting that could lead to incorrect outcomes. And how anyone could not support those fundamental principles is difficult for me to comprehend, but the Labor Party are breaking new ground on some of these principles every day of the week right now, so there it is—not the surprise that it might have been in the past.

    Anyone that comes to this House has a lot of experience and understanding of the way in which we conduct elections in this country. It's pretty difficult to be elected to the House of Representatives and not be an expert on the rules and practices and experiences of our campaigns. It's also pretty rare, frankly, for someone's first election campaign experience to be their own. I'm someone that's been proudly involved, as a member of the Liberal Party, in federal elections dating back to 2001. My good friend the member for Leichhardt, of course, has been involved in federal elections since even before then. It's important that we're always defending and enhancing our robust democracy. That's why we have the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and why, after every election, we conduct an inquiry into those elections and we determine whether there are ways that we can improve our democracy.

    I think we have the greatest democracy on the planet. I start by saying that I think the Australian Electoral Commission is excellent, at least the equal best electoral commission in the world. In all of my experience with them, they do an excellent job in operating our elections. I actually concur with the Leader of the Opposition: I don't reflect on or think of any example in my own experience and in the public domain where people have criticised the AEC for the way in which they conduct elections from an impartiality point of view. So we have an excellent system, but we need to keep improving it. Making sure that we have the highest confidence possible that, when people are voting in elections, the conduct around that is completely legitimate, is very important.

    To break down some of the bogus claims that are being put forward by the other side in this debate, we should clarify exactly what this proposes. We are requiring people, when they vote, to identify themselves when they mark themselves off on the roll. This is not dissimilar to back in the days when—some people here might remember—if you joined the local video club you had to show your drivers licence and some identification before you could rent a video. When you go to the post office to collect a parcel, you show some identification to do that. In our society, where the right to vote and the responsibility to vote are so spectacularly significant, the fact that people would have a problem with not having to meet the same standard as hiring a video or collecting a parcel from Australia Post surprises me.

    More importantly, that's not even the standard we are requiring in this bill—far from it. What we are saying is that we want people to identify themselves when they vote. That doesn't have to be photographic identification. The bill makes very clear all the different ways in which you can identify yourself to mark yourself off the roll. If you're not in a position to do that when you attend the polling booth, that in no way means you don't vote—far from it. The next option you've got is that someone that has identified themself can vouch for you. They can say, 'This is my spouse,' or, 'This is my friend,' or, 'I know this person to be James Stevens.' That's all that's required if you're not in a position to provide the relevant identification to be issued with a ballot paper.

    Most importantly, even if that's not possible, all this bill requires in the circumstance where a person can't produce identification to validate that they are the person that has attended that polling booth to vote is that they undertake a declaration vote. Anyone who undertakes a postal vote or votes at a booth not in their electorate on polling day already undertakes a declaration vote. That merely means that, if I attend a polling booth and say that I'm James Stevens but I can't identify myself, they mark me off the roll as having attempted to vote there. I'm given a declaration ballot, which is the ballot paper for my division, and the envelope that it goes into, where I sign declaring that I am James Stevens and that I am voting there for the first and only time. When those declaration votes are counted, provided that I didn't attempt to vote multiple times or someone else didn't attempt to vote as me in multiple ways across the electorate that day, the vote is counted like already happens under the system.

    The only thing that occurs through this measure is that, if someone attempts to vote on multiple occasions, which can conceivably happen and does happen—people have been dismissive of the concept of 2,000 multiple votes occurring. It is hardly acceptable to say that we're very happy and encouraging of potentially 2,000 different cases of breaching the Electoral Act. That's not acceptable. It's not acceptable at all. We're trying to make sure that there is a higher standard that, where that is happening maliciously, can prevent that from occurring. Through this measure, we're adding another step in the process, which I am very confident will deter anyone seeking to abuse our voting system and our election system by voting many times in the one electorate from identifying themselves as someone in multiple booths and thus being able to vote many times and defraud the process.

    Having this higher standard in place means two things. Firstly, if the person were pretending to be someone else, going into polling booths and trying to vote on multiple occasions, they wouldn't be able to satisfy the identification requirement and they'd have to fill out and forge a declaration ballot. I think it's much more significant for someone to do that than what the current standard is. Secondly, if they are doing it and identifying themself but they go and proceed to vote in multiple booths, they are committing an offence. We shouldn't accept that, and we shouldn't say that the standard we have around the integrity of voting in our elections in no way seeks to stamp that out if it's possible to do so. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters recommended to do just that.

    The suggestion that we're doing this to benefit our side of politics is complete rubbish. We've won seven of the last nine elections under the current system, and the eighth was a draw. We would hardly be seeking to change a system that has seen us win seven of nine elections. Of the last nine elections, without this measure in place, the Labor Party has won one. This measure would in no way benefit the Liberal party, because all it's doing is adding another layer of integrity to the system of voting.

      If the Labor Party believes that having a stronger system of integrity for voting benefits the Liberal Party then they're just conceding that, for whatever reason—they can explain because they are advancing the argument—having loopholes that can be exploited is good for Labor. That concept needs to sink in in this chamber: why would Labor think that making it easier, or not supporting measures that make it more robust, to stamp out multiple voting is bad for the Labor Party. That kind of says it all. This is a provision that is in existence most broadly in Western Europe, particularly across jurisdictions that have compulsory voting as we obviously do in this country. Allegations that this is some kind of American concept are rubbish. This is something that is regularly required in some of the most robust and highly regarded democracies across the world—whether that is Belgium or Sweden, which are hardly renowned for being jurisdictions that have low standards when it comes to the integrity of their voting systems. So we're merely seeking to bring in the sorts of standards that are in place in other democracies like ours that are so highly regarded.

      The most important thing is that not a single person, under this measure, would be turned away from voting. That is not what we are doing in any way, shape or form. What we are doing is seeking to have a robust standard around identifying your right to vote—and only vote the one time. As I have outlined, when we are in a circumstance at the booths when someone can't meet the broad standard of identifying themselves—you need a driver's licence or some kind of utility statement. You don't require photo ID. It can be someone that you know vouching for you. If you're not in a position to satisfy any of those requirements, you merely lodge a declaration ballot. And, as long as you haven't attempted to vote multiple times, that ballot will be counted. So in no way could anyone who is doing the right thing but is not in a position to identify themselves in all the various ways we are offering through this bill—they will all still be voting. So it is completely ludicrous to suggest that this would disenfranchise anyone who is seeking to cast a valid vote and seeking to vote only the one time.

      This standard is already in place for postal voting. This is what we require for postal voting. No-one has ever suggested that the standard is too high when you cast a postal vote. When you put the ballot paper inside the envelope that then goes in as a postal vote, you are declaring that you are who you say you are, and that you haven't voted before. To have a problem with that, to suggest that there are people out there that this is going to disadvantage, only means that we are disadvantaging people who aren't prepared to agree that they are who they say they are on the electoral roll and that they haven't voted before in this election. So you're quite right: those people won't be allowed to vote again because they are not entitled to. By definition they don't meet the requirement of voting, which is being the person on the electoral roll and only voting the one time. So to advance an argument against putting that standard in place, essentially says, 'We don't have a problem with people voting multiple times and we don't have a problem with someone pretending to be someone else and going in to cast a ballot,' and that means that you are in support of fraudulent voting.

      If we're going to be the proud democracy that we already are into the future, we have to constantly evolve our electoral system to make sure that we continue to safeguard the integrity of it. We have to always stand up for, and look for ways to reform and advance, the way in which we conduct elections so that no-one can ever—as I agree has not happened in the history of our democracy—claim that any of our elections have resulted in outcomes that weren't what the people voted for. People might not like the results of elections at times, but no-one in this country that I can recall has ever claimed with any credibility—in particular, no-one who's ever made it into this chamber—that the way in which we conduct our elections, and the results of those elections, have been inaccurate and have seen a result returned that wasn't what the people voted for. That hasn't happened, and I hope that in my lifetime, however long that is, it never happens in the future. To achieve that, we've got to constantly fight for and advance the robustness of our democracy, and we have to always look for ways to make it better and stronger so that the way in which the people of Australia vote is always the result that they get in our elections.

      That's what this measure is about. It is about reform and progress to ensure that the people of Australia have the highest confidence—such as they currently have and need to have in the future—that the way in which we conduct our elections is fair and the governments that the people of this country choose are the ones that they get. That will happen if we continue to ensure that we have the highest standards of integrity, and this bill delivers that. I commend it to the House.

      7:00 pm

      Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

      I am pleased to be able to contribute to the debate on the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021, but I am sad that it's happening. Despite what the member for Sturt has convinced himself of, there is no need for this legislation, and that is abundantly clear. I have experienced, as a candidate, 12 elections, and I've thought all along that our system of voting is fair and good. It's the best in the world, but it can be improved. But it will not be improved by discouraging people from voting, and that's precisely what this legislation will do. It will impact upon the most marginalised people in the country: people who have difficulty with language and people who may have an issue with their health. Most particularly, it will have a dramatic and negative impact on Aboriginal people who live in remote communities.

      Forty-two per cent or thereabouts of my electors in Lingiari are Aboriginal people. What will happen with this legislation is that an already very poor turnout of Aboriginal people will be further lowered. In June 2020, the proportion of eligible Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory on the roll was 68.7 per cent, so 31.3 per cent of Aboriginal people who were eligible to be on the roll were not. In the case of Western Australia, the figure was 67.6 per cent. At the last election, there were 42 remote polling teams covering 387 communities. There were 23,503 ordinary votes cast and 5,262 declaration votes cast. In the Northern Territory alone, for Lingiari there were 20 remote polling teams covering around 200 communities and outstations. With the combination of low voter enrolment and low turnout, it seems likely that only around 45 per cent of eligible Aboriginal people voted.

      These facts are very simple. What will happen as a result if this legislation were to be passed and enacted? We'd see fewer people voting. This is not just a recent phenomenon, but it goes to the whole question of what the government believes should happen in relation to Aboriginal people and the electoral process in remote communities. As the Leader of the Opposition said, this legislation will impact upon a range of people outside of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but it will have a significant impact upon Aboriginal people. It builds upon decisions previously taken by this government that have meant that the opportunity to vote or be enrolled to vote has been made extremely difficult by successive conservative governments in this country. The 2017 budget included a measure to restructure by downsizing and relocating functions from the Australian Electoral Commission's Darwin office to Queensland. They went from 15 staff to three. The decision to restructure was done without any public consultation or discussion or reference to the interests of AEC staff who were being told they were being made redundant. The only reason given in the budget papers in 2017 for the downsizing of this office was to provide savings of $8.3 million to offset expenditure provided to enhance laws around the authorisation of public political communications.

      We need to understand this is part of a piece. When the Howard government came to power in 1996, one of the first things it did was remove 25 education officers from the AEC, mostly in northern Australia. Sixteen of these officers operated in the north, and their function was to promote voter education and enrolment. We had this happen in 1996 and then we had it happen again in 2007, when the Australian Electoral Commission, because of budget cuts, took away staff who would otherwise be out in the field promoting Aboriginal enrolment and educating people on the voting system and their rights and obligations as Australian citizens. And we wonder why enrolment levels are low.

      We need to contemplate the population we're talking about here. It's a young population. Using 2016 census figures, as a proportion of the Northern Territory population Aboriginal people made up 30 per cent but comprised 46 per cent of 16- to 19-year-olds—a huge growth of young people moving into voting age and far higher than the rest of the population, given the proportion of the population that Aboriginal people comprise. Instead of trying to enhance the opportunity for these Aboriginal people to be enrolled to vote, we have seen the government pull the rug out from underneath any programs and policies that would have provided them the opportunity to do exactly that. This is just another example. Clearly, the member for Sturt has absolutely no idea—and I suspect many of his colleagues are in the same boat—about the population who are going to be impacted most by this stupid decision.

      We went and talked to communities where Aboriginal people make up the majority—they live in dispersed populations across, in the case of the Northern Territory, 200 polling places—over a fortnight. We went to 200 polling places over a fortnight. I know this, because I go to them. I know what happens at those polling places. We've got a lot of Aboriginal people who have very little English literacy and speak English as a second, third or fourth language. And they don't have identification. Many don't have a drivers licence or the opportunity to get one. They certainly don't have an Australian passport or a proof-of-age ID card. Many won't have a birth certificate, and, if they did, they wouldn't where to find it or how to get one. Most of them don't have a Commonwealth or state ID card, particularly these young people I'm referring to. They don't have a council rates notice because they don't pay rates. They don't have a telephone bill, and they won't have a utilities bill. They'll live in a house where there might be 20 or 25 people, and they're expected to have identification papers to turn up at a polling booth.

      What will happen, sadly, is that the impact of this will be that, even if we're able to get significantly higher turnout, we will get people turning up at the polling place, going up to vote and being asked their name and asked for their identification, which they won't be able to provide. Then they'll be told they need to fill out a form to apply for a declaration vote. They'll find that difficult if not impossible in some cases, and they won't be able to fill out the form. They may or may not have people who will identify them as local people who have got identification. But what we know is that this will be a huge deterrent to them turning up to vote—a huge deterrent. So the poor turnouts at the last couple of elections will be exacerbated as a direct result of these measures if they are passed. That's not what we want.

      What we should be doing is the reverse. We should be saying to people, 'We want to make sure you are educated and understand the voting system, that you are properly enrolled to vote and that, when you turn up to the polling place on voting day, you will get a vote by standing up and saying your name, as it is on the roll, and answering the question, "Have you voted anywhere else but here today?"' That's it, pure and simple.

      We know what may happen in some cases, because I know what happens at these polling places. There'll be a thuggish scrutineer who will make it extremely difficult for people to be able to exercise their rights. I've observed this over many, many years. What do you do? You upset people. I notice my friend the member for Newcastle is here. She will recall, or at least know of, the Court of Disputed Returns case taken by Ernie Bridge against Alan Ridge in Western Australia. What the Liberals did in Western Australia was to try and deny people a right to vote—Aboriginal people in remote communities in this case. They deliberately tried to deny people the right to vote. They used alcohol as a mechanism, a shameful practice. Whilst this is not that, what it is going to do will have a similar impact. It will mean that people who would otherwise have the right to vote as Australian citizens will not exercise that right, and that, to me, is what this is about.

      The previous speaker said, 'Well, you know, this is not about winning elections.' Pigs! You've been waiting for 12 elections to see me depart this place, and now you think it's your best chance to win the seat. You think: 'We'll have the best chance of winning the seat if we can minimise the opportunity for Aboriginal people to vote, because we know that when they voted for Snowdon at the last few elections he was getting 70, 80 or even 90 per cent of the vote in some booths. So how do we minimise that opportunity? Well, let's try and get fewer people to vote.' It is a very deliberate strategy. Of course the Prime Minister will stand up here piously saying, 'Of course that's not the case.' Well, we know about him. The Australian population are awake to him. We need to make sure that this legislation does not pass this parliament. This piece of legislation is discriminatory. In my view, the way it impacts on Aboriginal people in my community is racist. It would do entirely the opposite to what the member for Sturt claimed it would do. We as members of parliament have an obligation here to try and encourage people to participate in our democratic processes. If we are going to introduce this piece of legislation and pass it, what we are doing is discouraging them and taking away the opportunity to vote for many people who would otherwise have the right to vote. That can't be good. It's a dreadful thing to do to the Australian community. I hope that members of this parliament, even those on the government benches, see the merits of the argument about opposing this piece of legislation and do not support it. (Time expired)

      7:15 pm

      Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      At the outset I want to say that I fully respect the retiring member for Lingiari. I acknowledge the contribution that he has just made. I acknowledge moreover his contributions to debates and his knowledge of the Northern Territory. He knows the Northern Territory better than anybody else in the House of Representatives, and I recognise that fact. I know that the member for Solomon also has an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Top End and the Northern Territory more generally. I acknowledge that. I disagree with him that this bill before the House, the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021, is intending to just ensure that the ALP loses the seat of Lingiari and that it goes a CLP candidate, Damien Ryan. I have to say that the member for Lingiari knows full well the efforts to which I went to ensure that there were two seats in the Northern Territory, because as a regional member I understand how important it is to have representation and not to have to drive thousands of kilometres to see your local member, whether it is Warren Snowdon, Luke Gosling OAM or whoever, around and across this wide brown land. I acknowledge the fearless representation that Mr Snowdon has provided to not just—

      Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      Order! The member for Riverina will refer to members by their correct titles.

      Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

      I don't think he would be offended by the fact I didn't use his title. I know he's the member for Lingiari. But, as I was saying, it's not just Lingiari but indeed the Northern Territory, because the outgoing retiring member has indeed fearlessly represented those interests in the Northern Territory. I respect him and commend him for it. But, on this occasion, I do not agree with the arguments he's put forward that this bill before the House that we are debating tonight is in any way, shape or form racist, in any way, shape or form biased or in any way, shape or form just designed to ensure that the CLP wins the seat of Lingiari, which he has represented so well for so long.

      As I said before, he knows how hard I fought to make sure that there were two seats in the Northern Territory, not one, which was the Australian Electoral Commission's preferred option. He knows that. He knows that the AEC made that determination based on population, based on trends and based on where that organisation saw the future going with the Northern Territory population. I countered that, perhaps against the better judgement of others on this side of the House. But I was prepared to stake my integrity and my reputation on it and put forward my name and, indeed, the weight of the Nationals to ensure that we had two seats in the House of Representatives for the Northern Territory, because that is just, that is right and that is fair.

      As a National Party member, I would never, ever support a bill which gave regional areas less representation—I just would not do that—because I know how hard it is for constituents of ours to get that representation, to be able to see their local member who may live in a far-off town, a far-off city, hundreds of kilometres from where the constituents live. It wouldn't matter whether it's the seat of Nicholls or the seat of Riverina—indeed, I'd even throw Cunningham in that, because I know that electorate is not that small either and it has regional constituents. And I can hear the member for Cunningham supporting what I've just said.

      One vote, one value: that is a democratic principle, an inalienable right, so important in elections in our nation. This bill before us is an important piece of legislation—it truly is. Your identity is your access to life, to engaging in society, to being able to take part in normal, everyday living. Australia is regarded as one of the most respected, if not the most respected, democracies in the world, where all citizens have the right and have the obligation to vote in free and fair elections. That's why members of the Australian parliament are often asked to go to South-East Asian countries and elsewhere to ensure that their elections follow a due, proper, fair and equitable process.

      Everyone, no matter who you are or what your rank is, has one vote of equal value, and that one vote should be treasured—almost akin to being considered sacred. Therefore it should be a given that something which is precious be treated with equal importance. Think about the types of everyday activities and the processes for which you need proof of identity to access or be granted access, particularly in this day and age, as we hopefully come out of the back of COVID-19. You can't get into premises these days without some sort of proof of identity and without showing your double vaccination. And if I could encourage people to do just that, then that would be desirable. Daily, we are being asked to provide proof of identity to pick up parcels from the post office, to enter a nightclub or, indeed, an RSL, to drive a car, to open a bank account or to pick up tickets for a concert or for a show. Why then would we not protect and ensure the integrity of our democracy by asking voters to show proof of identification when they go to cast their ballot? Why would we not do that?

      The opposition and others have criticised the government because these amendments may disenfranchise voters who do not have adequate personal identification. This proposition, I would argue, is quite ludicrous. If they cared to look at the detail of the bill—and I appreciate that detail is not always a strong point of those opposite—they would see that the government has made provision for those without photo ID to be able to vote by supplying things such as a bankcard, a Medicare card, a birth certificate, a utility bill or—and this is important in the context of the arguments that are being put forward by those opposite, including the Opposition Leader—a statement from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Land Council or native title body. Additionally, if someone is not able to provide any of what I have just said, any of what I've just listed, any of what I have just described—that documentation—a companion, a partner or a friend can complete an attestation to verify the identity of a person, of a voter. Given the fact that we now have weeks of prepoll, if somebody arrives at a polling booth and they do not have what they need in order to cast their ballot, then the modern-day provisions ensure and enable them to be able to return. I appreciate that in some cases that is difficult because, for some people that requires extra effort, particularly in the Northern Territory, which has very remote polling booths. I understand that; I am a regional member. I know that Senator Sam McMahon drove something like 1,700 kilometres to ensure that Steve Edgington could win the seat of Barkly in the Northern Territory election, which he did by just a handful of votes. That showed her commitment, but that also highlighted and underlined how difficult it is for some voters, whilst appreciating that some of these electorates in the Northern Territory, in the territory elections or federal elections, are just massive.

      Comments have been made by those who oppose this bill that there is not enough evidence of documented cases to justify bringing in these provisions. Doesn't the saying go that prevention is better than cure? Why shouldn't we do what we can to protect our greatest institution, which is, after all, our democracy? Turning to pass elections, it is easy to appreciate how it can happen. Under the current arrangements, what stops someone from voting in an electorate multiple times over the course of several days, during what I would describe as the excessively long prepoll period, when one doesn't have to identify themselves at a polling booth? There is an oft-used phrase—it is slightly humourous—vote early, vote often. Of course, I wouldn't suggest people do that. I can see the member for Watson nodding amusingly, and I wouldn't suggest he would do it either. I certainly am not suggesting that to the House, but it is a phrase and it had to have originated from somewhere. Sometimes there would be that ability.

      I have to say that there are arguments that voter fraud is rife. Of course, they are always investigated by the AEC. They are always investigated, and anybody found to have engaged in voter fraud is quite rightly penalised, as they should be. Similarly, I have had constituents relay to me examples of when they went vote: they simply said their name and the polling official then suggested their address. You would argue that there should be more proof of identity. You would argue that, and this bill provides for just that.

      A couple of fraudulent votes could be what it takes to put a sitting member out of his or her seat, or indeed the opposite: deny somebody the rightful chance to represent their electorate, their community, in this place. The responsibility of being able to represent in this place is very near and dear to my heart. I know that whilst I fortunately have thousands of votes to spare—or have had in past elections; who knows what will happen at the next one—it wasn't always the case in the Riverina. Indeed, there was an election very early in the 20th century where a member by the name of John Chanter, the original member for Riverina, had to go to a second ballot to oust a bloke by the name of Robert Blackwood—who was an English boxing champion, would you believe! He was quite clever with his fists, unlike the current member Riverina. It came down to a handful of votes, and there were some irregularities in the voting process. Mr Blackwood has the distinct dishonour, I suppose, of having been elected to this place and never having given a speech in this place—more's the pity; I think he would have made a fine contribution.

      I understand that we as a nation are not the first to attempt to legislate in this area. Liberal democracies—even though that is the start of the sentence, I mean it with a small 'l'—with whom we share common values, including Canada, Belgium and Sweden have already introduced measures which require identification to be shown before being able to cast a ballot. So it's not as if we are testing the water, so to speak; we are, in a sense, catching up and ensuring that our electoral system is as secure and robust as it can and must be.

      These are the reasons why this bill should be voted upon and indeed agreed upon in this House. It is going to ensure, as the bill is actually called, the integrity of the system. That word is important. Integrity has to be the hallmark of everything that we stand for in this place. Integrity is important. If there were ever a word in this place that is important, as members opposite know, it would be 'integrity'. I believe that this is going to provide additional integrity to our voting system, to our democracy, to the institution that we hold so near and dear, to the institution that we hold sacred.