Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021; Second Reading
No need for you all to leave—this is going to be the best 56 seconds you'll ever hear! Indeed, I was right: in 1903 at the federal election, it was five votes, and of course our friend Mr Blackwood won that ballot but unfortunately lost the subsequent ballot, following the irregularities that had been discovered.
Voter identification in the 2022 election will be important. It will make sure that that and future ballots will be conducted in the right and proper way—in fact, in a better way. They have always been conducted in the right and proper way, but this is going to strengthen, indeed, that voting process.
Mr Speaker, congratulations on your elevation to that office. I am very pleased to speak to this bill, the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021, and particularly in support of the second amendment moved by the member for Scullin. Everyone in the Australian community should understand that this bill will make voting harder for all Australians. The bill will have the effect of ensuring some Australians don't vote at all, and that is exactly what the government is hoping for; that is exactly what this measure is intended to deliver. Why? Because the government has calculated that the people who will be most affected by these pointless, unnecessary, heavy-handed new voting requirements will be people who are less likely to vote for them. It is called voter suppression. It's been practised by right-wingers in the United States for a long time. So here we are, at the very end of a difficult year, in the time of a pandemic, after eight years of the government doing nothing about climate change and energy, eight years doing nothing about wage stagnation and insecure work, and eight years rolling out a broadband network based on 19th century copper, which is obsolete on delivery.
With so many areas needing the attention of good, hardworking, problem-solving government, they come along with this rubbish. Why? Because this government, the Morrison-Joyce government, having abandoned all pretence of doing anything substantial and constructive in the national interest, is desperate to protect its own interests by almost any means. It is desperate to find a way by hook or by crook, by rorts and dishonesty, by scare campaigns and by fomenting confusion and division in the Australian community, through any and all of the dark arts and by every low road, just to give itself the chance of sneaking back into office—sneaking back into a second decade on that side of the House. By introducing this bill, burdening Australian democracy with this cunningly designed and heavy-handed regulation, which was obtained by express mail from the hard-Right manipulators who practise this kind of game in American politics, they are hoping to squeak back into office.
Again, everyone in the community should understand that this bill, if passed, will make it harder, slower, and more frustrating for every Australian who goes to do their democratic duty and vote next year. But the particular evil in the design of this measure is that it seeks to ensure that some Australians don't vote at all. The Australians who likely won't vote because of this bill are people who need to be heard. They will most likely be First Nations Australians, young Australians, Australians from culturally diverse backgrounds and Australians facing severe disadvantage—in other words, Australians who can be marginalised from the political process and who tend to experience disadvantage and social exclusion. These are precisely the people who need to participate in the political process and be heard by all of us in this place so their circumstances can be understood and so we can do our job, which is to deliver fairness, justice and social inclusion. This bill seeks to blank out as many of those people as possible from our democracy.
Let's be clear: the government doesn't need to suppress the vote to any great degree. It doesn't need to knock out, silence and disenfranchise that many people in order to sneak across the line in a close election. Elections in this country are generally determined by a percentage point here or there. This measure is precisely the thing that those opposite hope will make that marginal difference and allow them to sneak back into office. That's why the member for Kennedy, no particular friend of this side of the House, has described the measure as blatantly racist. That's the view of the Northern Land Council. That's the view of the Central Land Council. That's the view of stakeholders in the social justice and social inclusion world.
What are the circumstances of the forthcoming election likely to be? It will be a pandemic election. We know it's going to be difficult. We know we're going to have additional challenges, because we will be opening up next year, and as a result of opening up we expect to see infections rise, particularly in states like Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia, which have been virtually COVID infection free. So we will likely see measures that are needed to help control the spread of infection. That's going to put burdens on the process already. That's going to mean that having people in close proximity to one another in queues needs to be avoided. That's the sort of thing we should be thinking about: making sure that at the federal election next year, which will be a vital turning point in the history of this country, as many as possible of the millions of Australians who want to participate, quite rightly, in that election can do so as easily as possible, considering the challenges of the pandemic.
These measures will make that harder. These measures will require people to be in queues for longer. They will require people to be at polling booths for longer. They will actually work precisely in the opposite direction from the kinds of things we would otherwise like to see happen at polling booths in 2022, where people are allowed to come, move quickly through a polling booth and cast their vote. These bills are going to cause long queues. They are going to cause crowds. They are going to cause people to have to come together and stand in proximity to one another for longer, because the government wants to impose this new, pointless, useless form of regulation in their own self-interest.
We know that there's no benefit to be gained by those bills, because we know there's no problem. The AEC has described the fact that a tiny, tiny number of people are thought to have voted twice, but that problem is, in their own words, vanishingly small. At the last election, the suggestion was 2,000 votes may have been cast twice—2,000 out of 15 million votes. That's not one in a thousand; that's a fraction of one in a thousand.
All of the analysis by the AEC shows a number of things. First of all, it shows that the majority of those people are older Australians, people who are 80-plus and who possibly vote once by postal vote and then have a child come on the day who doesn't know about the postal vote and say, 'Come on, Mum,' or 'Come on, Dad, let's go down to the polling booth.' The AEC believes that in some cases the thought that people have voted twice is really just because an official marking the roll at the polling booth has made a mark in the wrong place, which the Leader of the Opposition described to us earlier. In any case, after the last election there was an investigation by the AEC into only 19 cases where somebody may have voted more than once, and none of those led to a prosecution.
The AEC has been crystal clear that, in any circumstances in which there's evidence that there may have been double voting that goes to the question of whether or not an election in an individual seat can be in question, there are provisions that would allow for that election to be re-held. So, if that had ever been the case, if there'd ever been any evidence that there was a problem, that could have been dealt with. But it's never happened. It's never, ever happened in 121 years. There's no risk of it. There's no evidence of it. It has never ever occurred. Talk about a solution in search of a problem. The AEC, all of the evidence and all of our history show that we have a robust and high-integrity electoral system, but the government is coming along, with no basis at all, seeking to impose additional burdens on Australians who want to exercise their democratic right.
If there was any problem at the moment in terms of a concern about integrity and politics, if people on that side of the House could without massive hypocrisy, which we have heard in this debate so far and we'll continue to hear in this debate, or with any semblance of personal responsibility or anything other than shamelessness on the issue of integrity, there are only about 500 or 600 different things they could do. I mean, we talk about donation reform. When we were in government, we reduced the threshold down so that donations of $1,000 or more had to be properly disclosed. They came in and they straightway put it back to $14,500. They've got no interest in real-time disclosure of donations. For a government that comes along with this voter suppression rubbish at the last moment of a parliamentary year, when there are 6,000 things that need doing in this country, is it any surprise? From a government that is known widely, not just in Australia but unfortunately internationally, to be dishonest, to be characterised by rorts and scandals and waste, is it any surprise that this is what they come up with? This is what they hang their integrity hat on. They can't be bothered. They promised an integrity commission. We don't get an integrity commission; we get voter suppression. They talk about integrity! They've got no problem with ministers that come up with false documents and try to bully lord mayors, they've got no problem with pieces of land that are sold to Liberal mates for 10 times the price, they've got no problem with inflicting robodebt on the Australian people or being on the receiving end of a class action and then today coming in and making class actions harder for all Australians in future! They've no problem with any of that. They've got no problem with any of that. They've never shown the faintest interest in any real issue of integrity and now they're trying to pretend that this voter suppression, this attempt to make voter participation in Australian democracy significantly harder, is anything other than the dirtiest, grubbiest, low-road manoeuvre to give themselves a chance in 2022. So what? So they can continue on with what we've seen so far: rorts and waste and scandal. Is that what this bill is aiming to achieve? Anyone who stands up on that side and uses the word 'integrity' in their speech should hang their head in shame. This bill is what happens when a government gets so hollowed out, so valueless and so purposeless that all it can bring to mind is its own survival. It will crash and burn almost anything to cling onto power even though it has nothing in mind like a positive agenda and has a record of doing three-fifths of nothing.
The minister responsible, the member for Tangney, has made it clear that his defining purpose in public life is to reduce unnecessary regulation. Last year the member for Tangney announced a deregulation task force whose purpose was to eliminate unnecessarily burdensome and costly regulation. In his first speech, the member for Tangney said:
… I hate needless complexity and regulation because the more complex something is the more expensive it is to administer.
That's exactly what this bill achieves; it makes Australian elections more expensive and more complex. It imposes requirements that serve no purpose. It makes voting more difficult and more unpleasant for every single Australian. And, worst of all, it will do harm to the fundamental democratic principle that participation in elections should be enabled to the greatest degree possible. Not only does this bill seek to achieve voter suppression; it seeks to disenfranchise some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised Australians, so these changes are utterly inconsistent with what the member for Tangney has claimed to be the central principle of his political life.
This proposed regulation responds to no problem whatsoever and solves nothing. It is imported Republican voter suppression bastardry. That's what it is. It's the very definition of red tape that makes a perfectly functional and effective process more complicated, more unpleasant and more expensive. Make no mistake: this bill is a cheap and nasty piece of self-interested antidemocratic bastardry whose only purpose is to give this awful, hopeless, shameless, desperate, do-nothing, stand-for-nothing government a chance of squeaking back into office while Australians have their democratic rights trampled over by the rorters and the wasters and the scandalmongers of those opposite. It is disgusting.
I won't detain the House for very long, but I wanted to put my voice on the record in strong support of these voter ID laws and this integrity to our electoral system. I would also quickly and briefly make the point that once again the Labor Party is playing politics instead of putting people first by moving yet another second reading amendment which is designed for that fraudulent website theyvoteforyou.org.au to misrepresent the voting intentions of this House, especially those on this side of the chamber, while protecting their friends, while protecting the people who love front groups, because they know that, if Australians really saw who they were and what they stand for, they would never get elected even for dog catcher at their local council. That's how fraudulent the Labor Party has become.
Let's make this very clear. What this bill does is it asks you to undertake one of the most minimum of standards for proving that you are who you say you are when you vote. Those opposite want to make it harder for someone to buy on Amazon than it is to vote in an Australian government. They want to make it harder to collect a payment from Medicare than it is to vote for the government of Australia. On that side, they want to make it harder to pick up a package at the post office than it is to vote for a government in Australia. Look, it's only democracy! It's not worth protecting, according to those opposite. It's not worth protecting! In fact, it should be a free-for-all! They keep saying that the incidence of fraud in the electoral system is vanishingly small. Let's make it perfectly clear—
The member for Burt should listen. He should be curious, not judgemental, as Walt Whitman would say. Be curious, Member for Burt, not judgemental. What he would realise is that what the Electoral Commission meant is that it is 'vanishingly small' to prove that someone committed fraud in our current electoral system, because it requires you to commit fraud and then the only way that we can prove that you actually committed the fraud is for you to admit it.
In other words, what the Labor Party is saying—and I absolutely agree with them—is that people who commit fraud are disinclined to admit to it. I agree; that's absolutely true. So what we are trying to do as a parliament is bring in a system that is actually a lower standard than what they have in the United Kingdom, in Canada, in the United States, in France, in Portugal, in Spain, in Italy, in Greece—even the Greeks have managed to do this! I suspect when you go to the polls in Russia they ask you to at least prove who you are. So the standard of the electoral system that the Labor Party wants this country to endure has less checks and balances in it than those that virtually every other Western democracy on the face of this planet has.
Then they claim—because we have the temerity over here to demand that there be at least a modicum of integrity in our voting system—that we are racist. I say to those opposite: keep telling the working men and women of Australia that when they disagree with you they are extremists. Keep telling them that they are Neo-Nazis and keep telling them they are racist. I'm sure that will go down incredibly well. No wonder you need so many front groups to hide behind at every election. No wonder you need The Vote for You, no wonder you need GetUp!, no wonder you need voices of front groups, no wonder you need whatever electorate rising/souffle, no wonder you need independents at every turn to hide behind, because you cannot stand up—
Opposition members interjecting—
What I really fear is that I've made the member opposite wait! I have gone over my three minutes. So I will stop there. But I will say this much: shame on those opposite. Shame on you for playing politics when you should be putting the people of Australia first. Shame on you for calling anyone who dares to disagree with you a racist, an extremist or a Neo-Nazi. Shame on all of you, because the fact of the matter is that this brings long overdue integrity into our voting system.
Member for Mackellar, that was two minutes over the promised time and five minutes too long. On the government benches are members of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights: the member for Mallee, the member for Moore and the member for Curtin. And of course there are members of the government in the Senate, Senator Small and Senator McLachlan, who are also on the committee. And we have sitting at the table an assistant minister who used to be a human rights commissioner and a freedoms commissioner—a freedoms commissioner, no less. Report 14 of 2021 from this parliament's human rights scrutiny committee brought to the attention of the minister and the parliament that this legislation engages with and has the risk of impermissibly limiting the right to participate in public affairs and the right to equality and nondiscrimination.
There's been a lot of yelling in this chamber and a lot of huffing and puffing about the need for this legislation. I haven't heard a government member refer to this report, which government members signed up to, which demolishes the response of the minister to their initial assessment that the bill engages the right to take part in public affairs and the right to equality and nondiscrimination and that it is unclear whether the measure addresses a pressing and substantial concern, will effectively achieve its objectives or will disproportionately impact particular groups, and whether alternative, less rights-restrictive approaches have been considered, which are the only justifications under international human rights law—under covenants that this parliament and this country have signed up to—for limiting those rights.
The committee gave the minister the opportunity to address those concerns, and the minister did in fact respond. But here are the committee's concluding comments: you could limit the right to take part in public affairs and equality and nondiscrimination with the justification of a legitimate objective. I quote from paragraph 2.15 of report 14 of 2021:
… the minister advised that the bill aims to reduce the potential for voter fraud and impersonation, and safeguard public confidence in the electoral process. The minister's advice notes that there is public concern relating to the importance of safeguarding public confidence in the Australian electoral process. To support this the minister states that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) stated in its report into the 2019 election that 'multiple voting is frequently the subject of media commentary and social media speculation'. However—
the committee goes on to say—
it is noted that this quote from the JSCEM's report was from the Australian Electoral Commission's submission to that inquiry. In this submission the AEC also stated that 'multiple voting is a very small issue in the context of the actual number of multiple votes', but that 'the perception of multiple voting is an important issue with respect to the integrity of election results'.
And, importantly, the committee noted:
No further information was provided by the minister, such as survey data, to demonstrate that there is currently a lack of public confidence in Australian electoral processes.
So that's argument No. 1 from the government demolished by members of this parliament, including members of the government. The minister also said that the measures were:
… designed to deter voters from intentionally voting more than once. However, the Australian Electoral Commission has noted that the majority of instances of multiple voting are unintentional. The Australian Electoral Commissioner has stated in relation to multiple votes, that the vast majority are cast by 'people over the age of 80 or people who have English as a second language issues or who are confused about the act of voting'.
What was the committee's response?
As such, it is not clear that the measures would deter most instances of multiple voting.
That's another argument from the government demolished by people who are members of this parliament, including the member for Mallee, the member for Moore and the member for Curtin. The report says in paragraph 2.17:
The minister also advised that the bill would help to avoid errors relating to accidental mark-offs against the wrong person by using identity documents to find the person's name and residence.
That's because, according to the minister, in the 2013 election, 'over 18,000 multiple mark-offs' were recorded. The human rights committee of this parliament says:
It is noted that the JSCEM's report stated that 'a significant number of apparent roll mark-offs that would seem to indicate multiple voting incidents is attributable to official error (an issuing officer marking a certified list incorrectly)'. The JSCEM noted that the use of electronic certified lists 'would offer a significant reduction in the official error rate'.
Paragraph 2.18 states:
The minister also advised that, critically, the bill would reduce the risk of electoral fraud in the form of voter impersonation, as requiring voter identification will mean that for those without identification, who must vote via the declaration process, only the first vote cast will be admitted to the scrutiny process.
What does the committee say in response to that?
However, no evidence has been provided as to whether there have been cases of voter impersonation in previous elections. As such, it is not possible to conclude that this issue addresses a pressing or substantial public or social concern.
That's another argument put up by this government demolished. Is there a rational connection to issues? Paragraph 2.2 states:
The minister's response did not address the question as to how voter identification requirements would be effective to prevent people from voting multiple times at different locations. The minister stated that the measures in the bill are designed to deter voters from intentionally voting more than once. Yet, as the Australian Electoral Commissioner has said, the vast majority of multiple votes are cast by the elderly, those with English as a second language or who are confused about the act of voting.
What does the committee say?
As such, it remains unclear how requiring such voters to show identification would prevent them from continuing to cast their vote multiple times (and showing their identification each time they do so). In relation to clerical error, it has also not been established how electoral officials would be less likely to make mistakes in marking voters off the roll if they see an identity document rather than by asking for the name of the elector.
Proportionality? No. The human rights committee demolishes the government's arguments on that as well. Paragraph 2.22 states:
… there is concern about how the measure will operate in practice in relation to certain vulnerable groups. As stated in the initial analysis, requiring proof of identity may have a disproportionate impact on particular groups who may face issues accessing identification documentation or having such documentation on them when voting.
And who are those people? People with no fixed address, people with disability, people of low socio-economic status, people from non-English speaking backgrounds, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and women escaping domestic violence. So when members of the government yell and scream and say Labor is making up all these arguments, that list, endorsed by the human rights committee, with members of this government on it, comes from a 2014 research report on multiple voting and voter identification prepared for the New South Wales Electoral Commission.
The committee also said: 'It's noted that the current declaration form provided by the minister for this legislation doesn't indicate that the provision of such information is optional, and, as such, it is not clear if electors would always understand the optional nature of the provision of some of the information.'
Paragraph 2.24 states:
The minister's response also did not address the questions as to whether consideration has been given to alternative, less rights restrictive, ways of achieving the stated objectives.
That is something I would have thought the former freedoms commissioner would be very interested in. One would think that the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Offences and Preventing Multiple Voting) Act 2021, commencing on 3 September 2021, was intended to address that issue. So what do we need this bill for? Not for that issue. Paragraph 2.25 addresses this:
Noting the intention of this legislation, which commenced operation less than two months before the current bill was introduced, it is not clear why any concerns regarding multiple voting are not able to be addressed by this new legislation (noting there has been no election since that legislation commenced, and so therefore no opportunity to determine its effectiveness).
Anyway, many instances of markings of multiple voting are as a result of clerical error.
The conclusion of the human rights scrutiny committee of this parliament at paragraph 2.27 is:
… it does not appear to have been demonstrated that seeking to address concerns regarding multiple voting addresses an issue that is pressing and substantial enough to warrant limiting human rights. In relation to the desire to reduce clerical errors, it is not sufficient that a measure simply seeks an outcome regarded as desirable or convenient. Administrative convenience, in and of itself, is unlikely to be sufficient to constitute a legitimate objective for the purposes of international human rights law. Finally, while public confidence in the electoral system is an important objective in a democracy, the minister has not provided any evidence that demonstrates a lack of public confidence, other than referring to 'media commentary and social media speculation' regarding multiple voting.
And I break in to add this thought, which is not in the report: if we were to legislate in response to media commentary and social media speculation, perhaps this Morrison government would have an actual legislative agenda.
Paragraph 2.30 states:
… the minister's response has not established: that the measure seeks to achieve an objective that addresses an issue of public or social concern that is pressing and substantial enough to warrant limiting these rights; that the measure is rationally connected to those objectives; or that it is proportionate. As such, there is a risk that this measure would impermissibly limit the right to participate in public affairs and the right to equality and non-discrimination.
Paragraph 2.33 notes:
… the potential for the bill to disproportionately impact on certain groups (such as Indigenous persons in remote communities, people experiencing homelessness and those fleeing domestic violence), and that it has not been established that there are no less rights restrictive ways to achieve the stated objectives, the committee considers the measure has not been demonstrated to be proportionate to the stated objectives. As such, there is a risk that this measure would impermissibly limit the right to participate in public affairs and the right to equality and non-discrimination.
It's really, really important that those conclusions of this committee of the parliament, made up of Labor, National Party, Liberal Party and Greens members of the parliament in the upper and lower houses, is taken into consideration, particularly because the minister provided to that committee all of the arguments that all of the Liberal and National Party members on that side of the chamber have been putting in defence of this legislation and it demolished all of them. So, when people like the member for Mackellar, the member for Barker and others come into this chamber and rant and rave and accuse Labor of making up arguments for why this bill is unacceptable, undermines democracy, doesn't protect it and doesn't lead to further integrity, remember this report of a very important committee of this parliament.
I expect the member for Mallee, the member for Moore and the member for Curtin to come into this chamber and oppose this legislation on the basis that it impermissibly breaches human rights and undermines democracy in the way the human rights committee has set out. We don't have a national charter of human rights in this country, so we have to rely on engagement with these international covenants that we have signed up to. It is one of the reasons we need a bill of rights in this country—so that legislation like this can be assessed in a coherent rights framework and be identified for what it is and what it does. If nothing else, I urge members of the government to read the report in full and to search their consciences and ideological beliefs and ask themselves, 'Can I really vote for this legislation which undermines democracy and human rights and what Liberals are supposed to believe in, which is not breaching people's ability to—
I rise to speak in support of the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill. The bill requires that an individual provide identification when voting in person at federal elections, and it is a bill that will help to improve public confidence in the integrity of Australian elections by reducing the risk of voter fraud. It responds to recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters from its reports on the 2013, 2016 and 2019 federal elections. The measures contained in this bill will bring Australia into line with voter identification practices of other advanced democracies, such as Canada, France, Sweden, Belgium and a number of states in the US. It recognises that Australians require proof of identification for a range of activities, things we accept ordinarily and every day, including driving, opening a bank account or collecting a parcel from the post office. Even, as I recently discovered, buying a new phone requires identification. But, currently, that same ID is not required when carrying out one of the most sacred duties of a citizen in this nation—selecting representatives in this parliament and the parliaments to come.
I was a member of the JSCEM that looked into the 2019 federal election, and I was really pleased to note, when I did read the report, again recently, that a number of the recommendations from that report have actually now been accepted and implemented by the government, which shows the strength of that report. Some of these recommendations include recommendation 6, which encourages the Electoral Commission to bring forward a costed proposal and timeline for the introduction of an electronic certified roll before the next federal election.
I note that, as part of the 2021 budget, the government provided the AEC with additional funding to increase the number of electronic certified lists, which enable communication between polling booths in real time, ensuring that voters marked off the roll in one area are prevented from voting again in another. The AEC used over 4,500 electronic devices to mark off voters at the last election, and they were available at all the prepoll voting centres. This is a common-sense measure, resulting from this recommendation, that will not only make elections more efficient for polling staff but, in conjunction with the measures contained in this bill, provide further safeguards against tampering and fraud or the potential of tampering and fraud, and help to bring the voting process into the 21st century.
Another recommendation, recommendation 15 of the 2019 report, recommends that the Electoral Integrity Assurance Taskforce be engaged permanently to prevent and combat cybermanipulation and foreign interference in our democratic process. In an ever-connected world, where information is shared almost instantaneously with others, the threat of misinformation and from both extremist organisations and foreign actors continues to grow. That's why this recommendation was important—to ensure that those with malicious intent are prevented from influencing public opinion for their own interests, protecting our democratic process and ensuring that elections genuinely reflect the interests of voters.
I understand that the AEC is engaging with government security partners, including the Australian cybersecurity Centre, to enhance our nation's cybersecurity posture prior to and during elections, and that the AEC has also implemented the ACSC's essential aid strategies to mitigate cybersecurity incidents and uses these strategies to help guide implementation of various measures. This is also important in light of other measures, such as those contained in this bill and of course the use of electronic certified lists.
Another recommendation, recommendation 16, states that a new offence of 'electoral violence' should established to address acts of violence, obscene or discriminatory abuse, property damage or stalking during an election. The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Offences and Preventing Multiple Voting) Act 2021 clarifies the existing offence of 'interference with political liberty' under the Electoral Act to include the above behaviour, and it increases the interference with political liberty from imprisonment for six months or 10 penalty units or both, to imprisonment for three years or 100 penalty units or both. I can think of numerous times when my team, myself and my volunteers have been subject to, frankly, pretty horrific treatment by representatives of groups purporting to be supporting democracy by standing up for views but in fact are behaving in a vile, offensive and unacceptable manner. I really hope that these changes will deter this behaviour.
Recommendations 21 and 22 also advocate further changes relating to the need for identification when voting and enrolling or changing enrolment details. These, also, are sensible measures, outlined in this report, that are being addressed through this bill which will help improve the integrity, transparency and robustness of our democratic system so that it can not only be beyond reproach but also can be seen to be. The need for voter identification is something that is raised regularly with me, especially during prepoll—in fact, at every prepoll—and in the many community forums that are held on a regular basis around my electorate, particularly pre-COVID, before we were not able to gather in the way that we have been accustomed to. It would surprise me if there were a community forum where that question was not raised by at least one person. It is an issue that is out there. It is an issue that is a concern to voters, and it's important that it is addressed through this legislation.
I disclose as a very proud longstanding member of the Liberal Party, I'm also a very proud longstanding member of the NSW Liberal Women's Council. This is an issue that has been dear to the heart of the NSW Liberal Women's Council, a wonderful organisation of the Liberal Party. I had the honour to serve as its president in 2011-12 prior to being selected as the Liberal candidate for Robertson. This is an important body in the Liberal Party. It has been a very important voice for women and for progressive policy reforms in the Liberal Party since the inception of the party. I must recognise the influence that the Liberal Women's Council has had in my own life in encouraging me to run for parliament and supporting me in this endeavour. That's certainly an honour that I appreciate and that I've always sought to pay forward to other women who are seeking to represent their community. In thanking the Liberal Women's Council for their support, for their mentoring and for the honour of enabling me to serve as their president, I also acknowledge that this has been one of the longstanding reforms that the New South Wales Liberal Women's Council have long advocated for: voter identification in elections. As the current president of the Liberal Women's Council, Mary-Lou Jarvis, said to me today, the council has been advocating for voter ID for more than a decade and believes it will be an important step to ensure fair elections.
The Liberal Women's Council first started advocating for this many years ago, certainly as far back as when I served as its president. I want to note in particular the advocacy of Anne Yule, Juliet Kirkpatrick, Linde Jobling, Carolyn Currie, Karen Howard and many others. I also note the advocacy and strong leadership of past presidents including Chantelle Fornari-Orsmond, Felicity Wilson, and of course the indefatigable, passionate and driven advocacy of Mary-Lou Jarvis.
A strong democracy depends on a robust electoral system with appropriate safeguards, and this bill enhances these protections to ensure our system continues to function effectively and efficiently into the future. It has been well considered by the government, and the introduction of the requirement for identification has been really carefully worked through. Polling officials will be able to accept a large number of identification documents, including current photographic ID such as a driver's licence, passport or proof of age card; government issued identification or documentation such as a Medicare card, birth certificate, citizenship certificate or AEC issued enrolment confirmation notice; or recent proof of name such as a utilities account statement, taxation notice of assessment, bank account statement, mobile phone account notice, credit card, debit card or document issued by an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land council or native title body. This is a broad range of identification documents that is far greater than able to be used in other nations. Proof of identity can also be provided in electronic form. Even if voters forget their ID or they're unable to bring it to a polling station, that's still catered for. A voter without ID will be able to complete a form to attest to their identity. This form is then kept as a record by the AEC to ensure voters do not vote multiple times. The government has committed additional funding of $5.6 million to the AEC to help implement these measures, including communication and community engagement activities to ensure that voters are well aware of this new requirement well before election day.
The opposition are opposing this bill and they've made a number of claims about it, including that it will impact voter turnout and disenfranchise vulnerable groups. I really would like to address both these points because, as the Special Minister of State noted, identification laws don't necessarily impact turnout at elections, but they provide confidence in the electoral system. The voter identification laws used at the 2015 Queensland state election had no discernible impact on voter participation. In fact, the voter turnout was higher at the 2015 state election when voter ID laws were in place than in the 2017 and 2020 Queensland state elections when the same laws were repealed. I'd really like to see high voter turnout at a federal level because I believe that this means even more people can have their say and help shape the future of our nation. At the 2019 federal election, the national turnout was 91.9 per cent, while in Robertson we had a higher turnout of 93.17 per cent. I am sure this bill will go some way to ensuring that this figure continues to rise at the next election and elections beyond.
Voting is such an important obligation and privilege, and compulsory voting, our system of democracy, helps to ensure that our parliament is truly representative of all groups regardless of their income, background or level of engagement with politics. I have always been a strong advocate of our compulsory voting system in Australia because it enfranchises those who might otherwise be the least likely to exercise their vote. That is why I have been such a strong supporter of our compulsory voting system here in Australia. I believe every vote should be given equal weight. Our nation is built on the idea that each and every voice and every vote matters and counts. So even one individual who chooses to vote multiple times reduces the weighted influence of others in that election.
So the reforms in this bill, along with the progressive implementation of the electronic roll, are sensible measures that I believe will be broadly accepted in our community despite some of the scaremongering we are seeing from those opposite, particularly given some of the other measures that are being contained to ensure that this is well known and that the identification options are as broad as they are outlined in this legislation. After all, voting should have at least the same safeguards and processes to ensure integrity as those required to collect a parcel at the post office or sign up to a phone plan.
The opposition argue that this bill will disenfranchise voters who are vulnerable. To ensure that this doesn't occur, the government is introducing measures to enhance electoral participation among these groups. The Australian Electoral Commission will receive an additional $9.4 million to continue to work with Indigenous communities and deliver targeted measures to support the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in elections. The AEC's community activities have seen Indigenous enrolment rates outperform the overall enrolment rate in Australia every year for the past four years, and I want to commend the AEC for their important work in this area. In fact, we have seen the estimated Indigenous enrolment rate lift year on year from 74.7 per cent in 2017 to 79.3 per cent in 2021, and an additional 52,350 Indigenous Australians have been enrolled since 2017. Additional funding will assist in building a capability to recognise multiple names to create better elector record matching, create a series of podcasts for culturally appropriate electoral education and help to undertake specialised Indigenous enrolment support. It will also assist in building a youth mentoring program to drive electoral participation and implement a targeted communication strategy. These initiatives, alongside this bill, are really important to help continue to facilitate greater Indigenous involvement in our democracy.
This bill also has several less significant but still important changes. These include reducing clerical errors, given that voters will provide documentary proof of their name and address rather than simply identifying themselves verbally. It also ensures that a voter's privacy is protected, as proof-of-identity documents must only be used by the AEC to establish the voter's identity and cannot be copied or retained.
I believe that this bill improves the confidence in the Australian electoral system and will help to increase voter turnout. It reduces the risk of voter fraud, implements appropriate safeguards and ensures our democracy will continue to thrive. I commend the bill to the House.
The Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021 is a bad bill from a bad government. It's a very unnecessary bill. It's a bill that pretends to be strengthening our democracy, like the former speaker just said, while in fact undermining it. At its heart, this bill is a voter suppression bill from this bad, unethical government. It is a deliberate attempt to suppress the votes of those that they don't think are as likely to vote for them. There are so many problems with this bill and with what the government is proposing to do that it's really hard to know where to begin.
But the last two Liberal Party MPs who spoke, when I listened to them just now, alerted me to something I may not have considered fully before. To perhaps give them the benefit of the doubt in a way, they've sort of got an impairment. The impairment is an inability to understand that not everyone lives as they do. It's an impairment that I wouldn't say the member for Grey necessarily has, although I'm looking forward to listening to what he spouts and seeing if it's the same as the ignorant contributions that I've heard from other Liberal Party members in the government trying to defend this bad bill. I'm looking forward to hearing that. This impairment is serious. Government members from the North Shore of Sydney and the Central Coast, where everyone goes around with their phone full of all sorts of cards and IDs, think: 'Doesn't everyone have a wallet? Doesn't everyone have a phone? Doesn't everyone have a bill for their tennis club? Doesn't everyone have that one?' Doesn't everyone have streams of identification available and ready to go in their ladies clubs or wherever?' I would love to hear what the gentlemen opposite, from the government, have to say. They at least live in places where perhaps they might have a better appreciation for the fact that not everyone lives as most members opposite live. Obviously, those opposite would understand that I'm from the Northern Territory, and our citizens are very much under the gun of this bad bill.
Those opposite are trying to make it more difficult for Australians across the board to vote. We're already looking at an election, in the first few months of next year, that will be heavily impacted by COVID-19. It's already been called a logistical nightmare for the AEC. Voters will already have to do a QR code check-in. There will be social distancing. People understand that there'll be new requirements. There'll be another new requirement if this bad bill gets through, and that is to produce some sort of ID. The story is that we'll have far longer waiting times at polling booths—unnecessarily long waiting times. Australians haven't had to deal with that as much, but, if you think you've ever been in a long polling line, this bill is designed to make you wait even longer and to slow the whole process down, in the hope that some people will just leave the queue and maybe come back later or maybe not. That's what they hope. It's going to be particularly tough in the Northern Territory, where my electorate is. We're already facing, at this time of year and early next year, extremely high temperatures. It's hot, and long waits in extreme heat won't just be a hassle in northern Australia; they could actually be very harmful to voters' health around the country, particularly senior voters and those with compromised health.
Requiring polling officials to check ID will further increase delay, because they'll have to check the authenticity of the document and there may be confusion as to which documents are accepted. Those voters whose ID is rejected will have to join separate queues to make a declaration vote, all taking longer, and they won't be told whether their provisional vote was ever accepted into the count. So this is going to diminish trust in our electoral process. As if the Prime Minister's performance in question time today hadn't diminished voters' belief in democracy and what goes on in this place, this is going to further drive down the trust that Australians have in this electoral process, not enhance it.
What the coalition's proposal would see is Australians turned away from voting, voting taking a lot longer for everyone and our democracy being weakened overall, when really what they should be doing is facilitating voting for more Australians around the country. There are tens of thousands of unenrolled Australians around the country who are currently not participating in our democracy. That's a problem.
If the coalition government were serious about improving Australia's democracy, there are plenty of things they could be doing. If Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, were serious about electoral integrity, he would support Labor's bills for real-time disclosure of political donations and lowering the disclosure threshold from $14,500 to a fixed $1,000 so political donations are transparent. If he were serious, he would reform electoral expenditure laws. He would provide more resources to the AEC to increase enrolment and turnout of voters—not at a minute to midnight. Instead, in the NT, where we have the lowest rate of enrolment in the country, the AEC has been bleeding staff and resources for years.
Those opposite have deliberately been cutting AEC staff out of the Northern Territory in order to have fewer Aboriginal Territorians, in particular, but also other Territorians, getting enrolled. That is scandalous, unethical, shameful and un-Australian, but it's the mark of those opposite. In our local AEC office in my electorate, the number of staff was over 20 in the past, then it went down to 15, and then it went down to three—three AEC staff in the jurisdiction with the lowest enrolment in the country by far. Why would a government deliberately do that? Because they want to steal some seats. They want to take the vote away from Aboriginal Territorians, in particular, so they can try to win a seat. It's a disgrace. There was an Indigenous Electoral Participation Program, but what did they do with those personnel, the people who went out and enrolled people and educated them about the process? They sent them to Brisbane to enrol people in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. Guess what: from Brisbane, those AEC staff didn't enrol many Territorians in remote communities—none. That was deliberately done so there are fewer voters in the seat of Lingiari. There are three people in an office for somewhere the size of the NT. There's a boss, someone who answers the phone, and another person who might have done something else—very professional public servants, but it is pretty limited capacity in the jurisdiction with the lowest enrolment in the country. It kind of sounds like a deliberate thing to do, eh?
If the Prime Minister wanted to, he could do something to fight dangerous misinformation and disinformation, which has been spreading all over social media. If he wanted to strengthen Australians' faith in the democratic process, he would also legislate for a powerful and independent national anticorruption commission, he would stop pork-barrelling in marginal seats, and he would make laws so people like the former Attorney-General couldn't take secret donations through a so-called blind trust. There are lots of things the Prime Minister could do, but instead of that the Prime Minister has decided, on the eve of an election, to make it harder for some Australians to vote, so the people who won't vote for him maybe can't vote at all.
Really, this is what it's all about. It's about voter suppression. We've seen it in the United States, where the Republican Party have spent years finding new ways to block voters who they think will vote Democrat from getting into ballot booths. This has got that sort of mentality and that sort of prejudice written all over it. This bill will have a disproportionate impact on people living in remote Indigenous communities. If those opposite were truthful, they would agree with that. It has a disproportionate impact on those dealing with homelessness, and it has a disproportionate impact on those escaping domestic violence, who often don't have easy access to identification because they've had to flee. So it's making it harder for all those groups.
Young people and culturally and linguistically diverse communities will also be adversely affected. Many young adults move around a lot, and they rent temporary accommodation, which makes it harder to keep their ID up to date. They're also less likely to have other forms of ID such as passports. Many probably don't have a passport yet. A lot of young kids aren't getting their driver's licence. They may not have any tax documents or bank cards. They might lose their wallet when they're out having a couple of beers. There could be any reason why a young person or anyone might not have ID on the day. It's passing strange, isn't it—these groups that I'm outlining and their vulnerability. Perhaps the Prime Minister has made an assessment: 'You know what? We're probably better off with those people not having a vote. We might get across the line in a couple of seats.' It is so shameful. Older people can face similar problems, such as they're no longer driving and haven't got a licence. They will be worried about this. They might think that they don't have the right form of ID. The magical sprinkling of fairy dust that we've heard about from previous speakers doesn't get to everyone.
The federal government have had the worst communications campaigns to do with the vaccines and action around the pandemic. What makes us any more confident that there will be good communications programs coming out about the ID stuff in the lead-up to the election? We know it just won't happen because they don't want those people to vote.
Migrant communities also face substantial barriers. Many people in some of those communities have struggled for years with formal name and identity issues such as bad transliterations from other alphabets and having their names anglicised when they've arrived in Australia—in other words, different forms of names. We're supposed to believe that all this is magically taken into account, but we know that that's unlikely. We saw in the 2015 Queensland election that voter ID requirements led to voters being turned away from polling places without being given the option to complete a declaration vote, because polling officials did not understand the new system. We're supposed to believe that 100,000-plus AEC people are going to be trained up over Christmas for the election in the new year.
The government say that voters will be able to have someone else sign a declaration form attesting that they are who they say they are, but they've offered no guidance on how those declarations will be followed up to ensure that anyone is telling the truth anyway. You can see, Deputy Speaker Vasta—at least I can, clearly—that it's all a crock. They're yet to explain what happens if a person's ID doesn't have the same address as their enrolled address. Under these proposed changes a person could still vote multiple times in their own name by going to different polling places. That bells the cat; they can't even stop people from doing the thing they say is a problem, which isn't really a problem. It's just so obvious. I hope enough members in this place have the integrity to make a wise decision when they vote on this bill.
The Electoral Commissioner has said many times that existing measures have effectively addressed that issue of multiple voting, as small as it is. Three months ago this very parliament created a designated electoral register for those who were identified as having voted more than once, and they will only be able to vote by declaration vote.
In summary, in the time remaining, this is a very disappointing piece of legislation, particularly for people that I represent. They know what this is designed to do—to have fewer people having a vote. That is un-Australian.
I rise to speak on the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021. I'm surprised that the member for Solomon—as he leaves the chamber—has so little faith in Labor's candidate in Lingiari, Marion Scrymgour. I can tell him that the seat of Grey has a far longer boundary with the seat of Lingiari than Solomon does. My assessment, looking over the border, is that we've got Buckley's chance in Lingiari. But, let me tell you, we're coming after Solomon, because we've held that seat much more recently. I think that is a far better chance than Lingiari, and any effects you're talking about in this area that you promote would not affect Solomon in the same way if, indeed, they were right.
I've got to say I've nearly always voted in the electorate in which I live—prior to becoming a member of parliament, of course. I well remember my first vote. I was 18 and it was 1975. I made my first very wise political decision. I voted to get rid of the Whitlam government. What a disaster that was. All I did was walk into the Buckleboo hall—we don't have a voting place there anymore; we have to go to Kimba now—and they knew who I was and they crossed my name off the list. It has always surprised me since that time—and I've nearly always voted in Grey, as I said, or in the state seat—when I have been out of the seat, in Adelaide, and I've walked into a polling booth and they say, 'Who are you?' and I say, 'I'm Rowan Ramsey from Kimba.' I go to the correct polling booth and they say, 'Here you are; you live at 301 Ramsey Road'—good name for a road!—and I say, 'That is correct.' 'We'll cross you off, Mr Ramsey; here are your voting papers.' That's a pretty low threshold, isn't it? I don't think I could get a bank account like that. I certainly couldn't get a credit card. I couldn't get a Medicare card. I couldn't enrol my kids at school. I couldn't get a drivers licence or a passport. I definitely couldn't get married. I couldn't pick up a parcel from the post office. I couldn't buy a mobile phone. It seems to me you need it to get registered on the electoral roll; you need to prove your identity. The one thing you don't need it for is to vote. That is patently absurd. Not only do I think it's absurd; the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, after the 2013 election, after the 2016 election and after the 2019 election agreed with me. They, too, think it's absurd, that it should be fixed up and that we should show proof of identity when we go to vote. After all, it should be one of the most important things that we do as citizens of Australia. We should hold this up not only as something that we should be proud of but as an obligation that we are absolutely committed to deliver.
Australia is the fourth longest uninterrupted democracy in the world. I think that's a remarkable outcome. It probably sheds a bit of light on the troubles that have beset the rest of the democratised world. That's something I'm particularly proud of. I think our democracy's enfranchisement of every citizen is a very important fundamental, and it should be absolutely defended against any attack. The public space in our electoral system should be absolutely undeniable; it should be fundamental. We need to ensure that they trust the system. It's one of the reasons that I do not favour any kind of move to electronic voting. It comes up from time to time: 'Oh, why can't we vote electronically?' We can't vote electronically, because it's just too easy to rort, to corrupt. It's not easy for me. I'm quite proficient on a computer, but I can't reprogram one and I can't write new programs. But I certainly know plenty of people who can. I think as recently as in the last two decades at least a 12-year-old broke into the NASA computers. Every time somebody comes up with a brand-new block to stop corruption and people accessing information on computers, there's a new way. It's a bit like changing tax law. As soon as you change it, the best minds in the country are working out how to get around it. That's why we don't go to electronic voting. Of course, that's not what we're discussing today. I'm using that as a point about how I value our voting system and how it needs to be completely trustworthy.
I'm one of a diminishing number of people in this chamber who remember Fran Bailey, former member for McEwen. You would, Mr Deputy Speaker—you've been here that amount of time. In 2007, Fran Bailey, on initial count, lost her seat of McEwen by six votes. There was a recount. She won by 12 votes. Then there was a court of appeal and she eventually won by 27 votes. In Herbert, in 2016, we lost a very good man out of this parliament in Ewen Jones by a margin of 37 votes. In fact, my advice to Ewen at the time was to challenge that result, because we had a large defence exercise going on at Cultana range, just out of Port Augusta, and there were a whole host of people who came from Townsville who went to vote that day and they ran out of interstate voting slips for them. It was a bit of a failure on the Electoral Commission in that area. I thought that result should be challenged. He chose not to. He took it on the chin and moved on. He's still a good man, doing good work in his community. The reason I raise those two results—I think they're the two most marginal that I remember in my time in this place at least, and I can't go back a lot further—is it does prove that one vote can make the difference. It can change government. One vote could change a government. One corrupted vote could change a government. We should do everything we can to ensure that that vote is not corrupted.
Proof of identity is pretty common place around the world in most advanced democracies. Why on earth, here in Australia, we should propose that we should be different, I have no idea. I have great faith in Australians, but not so far as to think there is not one Australian that would rort the system. Unfortunately, there are, and we need to make sure that those avenues are not open to them.
I come to the point that many on the other side of the chamber are making now—that is, this disenfranchises Indigenous people, and they calling us racists. Close to eight per cent of my electorate are Indigenous, and I spend an enormous amount of time working on their issues. I'm pretty sick of some of the condescension and the disrespect that is shown to them, like, 'You poor black fellas couldn't be expected to work out who you are or prove who you are.' For goodness sake! What a low opinion those on the other side have of our Indigenous people. I spend, as I said, quite a bit of time with them and I know many personally. My electorate is pretty big, just like the member for O'Connor's. I drive about 80,000 or 90,000 kilometres a year.
I apologise to the people of APY Lands, I haven't been there in the last 18 months. Normally I try to get there twice a year, and I drive there, so I can drive from community to community and talk to the people on the ground. I haven't gone there. I've tried three times in last 12 months, and every time a COVID ban has caused me to cancel. I stay in touch by telephone. As an aside, I'm pleased to report that vaccination rates on the APY Lands, at least, are only running about five per cent behind the rest of South Australia, and I think in terms of remote Indigenous communities that's an outstanding outcome. I congratulate Nganampa Health for the hard work they're doing up there.
What I've got to say though is: I've been the member for Grey for 14 years, and my results out of those remote lands are actually pretty good when it comes to election time. I've got to say I trust them with their vote. I trust them with their judgement. I think I was just in front last election, with over 50 per cent of the vote on the APY Lands. So, to anyone that would suggest that any disenfranchisement of any individuals would be in the Liberal Party favour, I say no. I have a good Aboriginal acquaintance, where there's been some investment in their community—not on the lands. He said to me one day: 'All my life I've been told to vote Labor. We get told to vote Labor all the time. You got to vote Labor! The Liberals are terrible! I tell you what, you lot have done more for my people than they have ever done. I'm voting for you.' He's a community leader, and that's how you win votes. You get on the ground, you talk to people, you listen to their issues and you do something about it. So I'm not worried at all in any way that that is going to affect my vote, even though I'm getting the majority of the vote in those booths already. So, I'll tell the member for Solomon, who prattled on over there for a while and said, 'These people don't have mobile phones,' there are more mobile phone towers per capita in the remote Indigenous lands of Australia than there are in the rest of Australia. They are in every community. We've got a couple to go in the APY Lands that have populations of around 80, but all the bigger communities—and I mean communities of 200—have mobile phone towers. And I can tell you that there are not many people in those towns who don't have mobile phones, and as surprising as it might be for opposition members, they actually know how to use them. So, once again, there is this condescending and just disgusting attack on their capabilities, which I find absolutely inconsistent with this whole argument.
The member for Solomon mentioned the Queensland election in 2015 when they did have voter identification. He said, 'There were 100,000 people who didn't vote.' Well, there were fewer in the 2017 and 2020 elections, when they took away the voter identification. I don't know how he links any kind of argument about that. You are from Queensland, Mr Deputy Speaker Vasta, and you would know that the turnout in 2015 was higher than it was in 2017 or 2020. So it obviously wasn't any great disenfranchisement of anyone.
When the Labor Party speak of the very low rates of rorting of the current system, they know that that's because it's almost impossible to find anyone who is voting multiple times when you've got no proof of identity. I look remarkably like Ross Vasta, even though I'm sure our haircuts are quite different and our age is quite dissimilar. But, if all I have to say is that that is who I am and that is where I live—I don't know what your address is, but I could find out, Mr Deputy Speaker—who would know? We've got absolutely no idea how deep this goes. What we do know is we know how to fix it. That's what this legislation does. It's overdue. Bring Australia into the 21st century. Proof of identity is ubiquitous and mandatory on many occasions in most services that we access in the 21st century. So it's a faux argument that the opposition put forward. The opposition's amendment is completely out of line, and I support the original legislation.
[by video link] Let's call this bill for what it is: voter suppression—a government blocking its ears and closing its heart to Australians, because this government is worried that if all Australians vote they might not vote for them. It's a gutless move from a gutless Prime Minister, who steals his best and most evil ideas from the mind of Donald Trump.
Election day in Australia should be a celebration, a day when Australians are free to exercise their democratic rights. We've got a pretty good system in Australia, and speakers on both sides have pointed that out. It works well, it's efficient and at least most of us in this House, if not most of us across Australia, enjoy the experience. But this bill, the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity Bill) 2021, would change that. It would Americanise our voting system. It would add unbearable delay and it would reduce the number of Australians who would vote. It would literally cut them out of money that local P&Cs would get when they run their democracy sausage sizzles. They will get less money, because there are fewer voters rocking up.
If we want to really understand the impact of this we need to put ourselves in the shoes of a typical voter. Imagine election day 2022. They wake up on a Saturday morning after having a bit of a sleep in. They decide to go about their day, but they are going to get the voting out of the way first. So they drive to the booth and, on the way there, they see the crowds. It's not like normal; there's traffic everywhere and they can't get a car park. When they finally get to the booth, they can't believe what they see: people queued up everywhere; a line as long as the eye can see. Their neighbours, friends and community members are standing out in the sun waiting endlessly—all because they want to do what they have done at every election, which is vote. So they collect their how-to-vote card for their preferred candidate—and they get given the how-to-vote cards from all the nut-job right-wing parties, who preference the Liberal Party. The minutes tick past and the sweat begins to stick. They start to worry about how long they've been in line. They didn't put any suncream on; they're getting worried. They look at their phone. Twenty minutes have passed, and their battery might not last as long as they need it to, given how long the queue is. They look over at the sausage sizzle. They wish they'd got a sausage before they got into this never-ending queue. They start to wonder if they've been transported to somewhere in the United States. Finally the line starts moving. That's not because the electoral commission is processing people's identity checks quicker; the line's moving because people ahead of them are walking out of the queue. They've given up on democracy. Then, this poor voter, after 200 minutes, finally makes it to the front. They've been in line longer than the latest James Bond movie takes to watch. They're now behind for the rest of the day—late to pick up the kids, haven't started any of their Saturday weekend tasks. Finally they get to the desk and are asked for their drivers licence. They proudly hand it over. Nice and organised. Then the booth worker from the AEC tells them: 'Sorry. Your licence expired three days ago. You can't vote.' They look around desperately, trying to find someone to verify their identity. They can't find anyone who can verify them. All their neighbours and friends have given up and left the queue. So there they are. Stuck and unable to have their rights heard. So, having given up—because this government has given up on them—they go, 'I will console myself by getting a democracy sausage'. But we all know what it's like later in the day—
The point of order is on relevance. The speaker who's addressing the House has just said that they wouldn't be able to vote. Clearly the legislation indicates that whether or not they have ID they will be able to vote on the day. I ask you to contain his comments to relevance. That would assist the House.
In my hypothetical example—which, clearly, the government acknowledges might actually be something that someone would experience—this particular hypothetical voter has just given up, not because of the legislation but just because of the ridiculous experience they have had of standing in the queue for hours and hours, having their ID demanded, being required to go through all these other obstacles they have never had to put up with before, and now this hypothetical voter just wants to go and get a democracy sausage. But they've been in the queue for hours. The sausages are a bit burnt, the bread has gone hard and, worst of all, there's no tomato sauce left. Talk about an unfair shake of the sauce bottle. That's what the Morrison government wants to do to our democracy—to destroy the experience that Australians love so much and to follow the American path rather than the Australian one that's served us well for more than a century—from tomato sauce on the democracy sausage to ketchup on the undemocratic hot dog.
And we know that just a few months ago the following was said about voter identification laws: 'All states should pass voter ID laws. Anyone who wants to vote should show photo ID to eliminate corruption and fraud, so we never again have an election rigged and stolen from us.' These are the words of Donald Trump, sending a message out to the conservatives across the world that they should jump onto voter ID laws. What does the cabinet and the Morrison government do just a couple of weeks later? They go and follow the words of Donald Trump and try to put them into legislation here in the parliament.
We know that here in Australia it was Clive Palmer's star candidate in Queensland, Campbell Newman, who first introduced voter ID laws in Australia. Let's talk about this. Donald Trump, Clive Palmer and Prime Minister Scott Morrison are all pushing in the same direction. That should tell the Australian people what is really behind these laws—implementing Donald Trump's and Clive Palmer's agenda here in Australia and writing rules to suit themselves. We know that when the United Kingdom passed voter identification laws earlier this year, former President Trump couldn't hide his excitement. I'm sure that as soon as he sees these laws—if the government get them passed—he will be busily saying what a fantastic job the Prime Minister is doing. He might even give him a call to say congratulations. We know how much former President Trump loved talking to former Prime Minister Turnbull.
I do wonder, as we look at digging out these ideas from the United States, what comes next? Will we move elections to Tuesdays to suppress the vote even further? Is that on the government's agenda? Maybe they could have an election Christmas Day to really mess things up for people who might find it hardest to vote or have ID? And then if we look at—
The DEPUTY SPEAKE R: The minister, on a point of order?
A point of order on relevance: does the member who's speaking in the House at the moment really believe that future elections of this government will be held on Christmas Day? That is just absurd and bizarre.
Order! The minister knows that that's not a point of order. He can seek the forms of the House to ask for an intervention if that was what he was trying to achieve, but that is certainly no point of order. The member for Perth may continue.
I've clearly struck on a sore point for this government. Indeed, Christmas Day this year is a Saturday so it could be a day the government could choose to have an election. When I suggest that they might be looking to move elections to a Tuesday like the United States, all of a sudden we have the minister at the table raising points of order. To me, that tells you everything about the direction of democracy under the Morrison-Joyce government.
Looking at some of the challenges that happen when you start to suppress the votes of Australians, I want to talk particularly about a cohort of vulnerable Australians who do find it hard to have up-to-date ID. We know that there are an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 rough sleepers on any one night, and they are often escaping domestic violence or a particular risk because of other health or social challenges. These voters will be disproportionately affected by these laws, and, again, are a group of voters who have been disproportionately ignored by this government. I want to echo the words of Cassandra Goldie, the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service, who put it so clearly. She said:
Requiring voter IDs would hit hardest those people who already face barriers to voting - people who are homeless, people living in remote communities, First Nations people, recent immigrants, younger people.
I know here in Western Australia that the government and the resourcing they provide to the Australian Electoral Commission has failed on the task of getting Indigenous voters on the roll. Here in Western Australia the estimates are that only 69.7 per cent of all eligible Indigenous voters are on the electoral roll. That is 20,954 people who are eligible to vote in Western Australia and are not on the roll. This government's legislation doesn't do anything to fix that. All it does is make it harder for those who are on the roll to actually be able to vote. It is so disappointing. When it comes to young people, we saw in 2016 that over one-third of Victorians aged 18 to 24 do not hold a drivers licence. Again, young people are disproportionately affected by these laws.
Most of all, this is going to reduce trust in government. It is government saying that they don't want to hear from people, and choosing to do something that's in their political interests rather than the interests of democracy. If you want to do something about improving democracy, start by looking at electronic electoral rolls. It's worked well in Western Australia. Start by looking at donation disclosure, making sure that we clean up all of the problems with this unrealistically high threshold for political donations. And maybe, just maybe, this government could match their words to actions when it comes to an anticorruption commission. Labor will oppose this legislation. We will fight it. We will make sure this is an issue at election time. If an Albanese Labor government is elected, we will repeal this mean, tricky legislation.
Australia is proud to have a free, fair and robust electoral system. In fact, the latest evidence from the Pew Research Center shows that our current electoral laws are among the best in the world and the envy of many democracies. I believe that we should be doing all we can to ensure every Australian has the opportunity to vote at elections, especially given it's compulsory. We should be very cautious of any laws that could possibly undermine this right.
This bill, if passed, will nominally require all Australians to present a valid form of identification before casting a vote. If a person cannot produce valid ID or have another person attest to their identity, they'll be offered a declaration vote, which will require them to list their address and other personal details. I believe these measures are unnecessary, poorly timed, and will create barriers that disincentvise people from participating in elections. And that's simply not healthy for our democracy. As an independent, I scrutinise every bill that comes before me in this place on its merits. I ask whether the bill is based on evidence and community need. I'm afraid to say that this is a bill in search of a problem that I can't possibly see exists.
I have met with the Special Minister of State about this bill and, when I did, he could not point to any hard evidence that demonstrates voter impersonation or multiple voting is a systemic problem in Australia that requires an intervention such as this. In fact, the evidence is quite the opposite. This idea originated from a government majority committee, nowhere else. The Australian Electoral Commission recently described multiple voting issues in Australia as 'vanishingly small' and I've heard so many members in this place describe that exactly. And, at the last federal election, the AEC only referred to a handful of suspected cases of fraudulent voting to the Australian Federal Police, which led to zero convictions.
The government is also trying to argue that perceptions of fraud in elections are a problem in Australia. And there's absolutely no evidence for this—in fact, quite the opposite. New voter ID laws in the US, pursued under the Trump administration, clearly show that such laws are discriminatory and discourage many from voting on election day, particularly in underprivileged communities. The political language used around voter ID laws also encourages scepticism and further distrust in a system that is already working. That's why I am particularly concerned to see the government partner with senators on this bill who actively stoke this kind of scepticism, without basis.
Mandating voter identification will also create harmful, unintended consequences that aren't proportionate to the supposed problem that the government is seeking to solve. For example, it's unclear what the administrative impact on polling booths would be if election staff need to check voter ID for every voter who walks through the door. Last election, some eight million Australians voted at polling stations on election day. At some booths, people waited for over an hour to vote. Potential administrative blowouts from checking eight million ID documents could see longer lines around street corners and drive some Australians to just pay the $20 fine for failing to vote instead. Perhaps some members could be overstating this; we don't know. But the thing is that the need for change is simply not compelling. And to make these changes, when they're not clearly necessary, is absolutely unhealthy for what is a thriving democracy.
The government also intends to introduce these ID requirements before the next election, which could be called anytime between now and May. Even if the bill passes, there's simply no time to effectively administer a voter ID scheme with appropriate safeguards and an effective communications campaign. And that's really important, particularly for people who might now misinterpret the new rules as a sign that they're ineligible to vote if they don't have valid ID. And this includes, as we've heard from many members, members of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, where voter turnout is already low; people with a disability; culturally and linguistically diverse people; low-income communities; and many among the elderly. To think that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons in remote communities have immediate access to a hardcopy letter from a local land council or trust is, frankly, farcical. The $5.3 million the government has committed to community engagement and a communications campaign is really abysmally small for a major, sweeping and unnecessary reform so close to an election. Voting, Mr Deputy Speaker Zimmerman, as I know you know, is an absolute right under our Constitution. It's not a luxury. It's not a privilege. We should respect it as such. The government has argued that Australians need to present ID to collect a parcel from the post office or to visit a member's club. While this may be so, collecting mail or having a meal at an RSL are not activities that are absolutely core to our democracy like voting and to compare the two is a very dangerous distraction.
As a parliament, we should be debating laws that would clearly improve our democracy, like the need for a robust federal integrity commission to stamp out corruption or political donations reform. The government has repeatedly blocked my bill, for example, for an Australian federal integrity commission for over a year and has sat on its own dud model for almost three years. It's clear to me where the government's priorities lie when it comes to true democratic reform in this country. In my electorate of Indi we are passionate about encouraging everyone to get involved in their democracy, to step up, to use their voice, and there are few times when it's more important to use your voice than voting during an election. I'm committed to promoting and defending that right—by golly I am!—and I'll call out any attempts to water it down. I have serious and very considered reservations about this bill, and it's on that basis that I simply cannot support it.
I have to start by saying that this proposed legislation by the government is absolutely outrageous. This government has learnt absolutely nothing from the years, the decades, of watching what we have seen in other democracies and the learnings that we should be taking out of that. When I look across the ocean to some of the negative things we see in some of our counterpart democracies around the world, things that undermine those democracies, I think, 'Thank God those things are not happening here in Australia,' yet, low and behold, on the eve of a federal election in this country, we see the Morrison government trying to push through voter ID laws that are designed to, and will have the effect of, suppressing voting in this country. Australia is about enfranchising the vote. We are one of the first democracies in the world to give women the vote and that is something that we should and can be proud of. We have been about giving more people the vote over the time of this democracy.
What do we have now? I think it's a virtue that we have compulsory voting, that we try to encourage as many people to vote as possible, including by making it compulsory, but we now have a government putting in place measures that will make it more difficult for people to vote, the exact opposite of what our democracy is all about. We should always be trying to get more people to vote, yet the Morrison government has introduced legislation here that, quite frankly, Donald Trump and his Republican Party in the US would be very proud of. This will undermine our vote and our democracy. On this side of the chamber, Labor believes in our Australian democracy. The Morrison-Joyce government is actively trying to weaken it through this bill. This is, as I said, a thought bubble straight out of the Republican playbook. Instead of working for all Australians, Scott Morrison is working to ensure those who might not—
The Prime Minister is working to ensure those who might not vote for him can't vote against him. The Prime Minister's proposal would see Australians turned away from voting, voting taking longer for everyone and our democracy weakened as a result. There is no evidence that this is needed. This is a disgraceful proposal, and we will fight it to protect our democracy. This is a solution looking for a problem to solve. You would think, with all of the things that this government should be doing during this limited time in the parliament, even more limited through COVID, limited as even the Prime Minister himself was describing in question time today—that it's held up some of the government's actual priorities—that maybe it wouldn't be wasting legislative time on legislation designed to fix a problem we don't even have.
The Australian Electoral Commissioner has said 'evidence of multiple voting to date is vanishingly small'. This is very important because many of the speakers on the government side during this debate have tried to say, 'We don't really know how big the problem is, because how can we tell?' It is very simple. We just go and count how many times someone has been marked off the roll more than once, and the Electoral Commission does that after every election. We have a very good statistical understanding of how much multiple voting is happening in this country, and it is infinitesimally small. Indeed, the AEC said it is 'vanishingly small'. Most instances of multiple voting are by the old or infirm who have forgotten that they've already voted. There is no attempt at voter fraud there. There is no evidence of voter fraud at elections, with only 2,102 electors having been identified as having multiple marks against their names at the last federal election. That's out of over 15 million votes that were cast. Some of the multiple marks would have been mistakes by polling officials when marking off the adjacent voter from the roll. It's a long day. We don't criticise them for it. But that is part of what we are seeing here in the count. Only 24 of the more than 2,000 cases that were investigated after the last election were prosecuted, which gives you a sense of the scope. There are difficulties in prosecuting this offence. I'm not denying that. But we are talking about such a small number of people in the first place. It represents just 0.03 per cent of the votes cast.
It's also worth noting that, of that number, this law won't stop all of that, if that is your actual concern, because what it won't do is stop somebody from rocking up with ID to multiple polling booths to vote. It won't stop someone who actually intends to defraud the system. What it will do is prevent people who would like to vote from being able to vote. Our compulsory system means that people should have the opportunity to vote, and that is being limited through this legislation.
In its submission to the finance and public administration committee's inquiry into this bill, the Australian Human Rights Commission noted that at no time have the very few instances of multiple voting ever affected the outcome of a federal election. It said:
… the requirement for voter identification does not appear to be necessary or proportionate to the aim of addressing voter fraud and likely constitutes an unreasonable limitation on a person's right to vote. It may also create an obstacle to voter participation, particularly for vulnerable groups, and unduly impinge on their exercise of the right to vote.
The bipartisan, government chaired Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has reported that the proposed laws might 'reduce public confidence in the electoral system and discourage some voters from voting' and that the committee has seen:
… no evidence of, or concern about, a lack of public confidence in the integrity of the electoral system or any evidence of voter impersonation.
It also said:
… additional requirements imposed before a voter can cast their vote engages and may limit the right to take part in public affairs and the right to equality and non-discrimination.
These are important points being made by a committee of our own parliament.
This bill will have a disproportionate effect on people living in remote Indigenous communities and other First Nations people. Those dealing with homelessness and Australians escaping domestic violence often, through no fault of their own, don't have easy access to identification. Young people and culturally and linguistically diverse communities will also be adversely affected. Cassandra Goldie, the CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service summed it up when she said, 'It will hit hardest the people who already face barriers to voting.' She said: 'It would create an intimidating process and significant confusion as to what is required to vote. It would deter many from turning up at voting booths at all.' The priority of government should be to make sure it supports everyone to exercise their right to vote. Governments should be removing barriers to voting, not creating them. It should not be making it harder to vote for people who already experience discrimination and exclusion. But that's what this government, through this bill, is determined to do. It will also deter some older Australians who've handed back some of their identification due to no longer being able to drive. It will, as I said, definitely impact on people who are escaping domestic violence, unable to access their ID, fleeing without their ID, not able to go back and collect any form of identification.
Rebecca Stokes, from the Southern Goldfields, backed this up when she said:
Isolation combined with cultural differences and low confidence in government, means the number of votes cast by Aboriginal people is consistently low. And this will just continue to erode Aboriginal people's confidence. They're already not very trusting of the system. Places where the voting has to go to them—how do they expect people to show ID when they live in those communities? A lot of Aboriginal people don't vote because they don't understand what they're voting for. People are scared. They don't really want to go in there and embarrass themselves.
In that broader context, why on earth would we be making it even more difficult? Let's just reflect: this is against a background where we saw in Western Australian state elections only a few decades ago efforts by members of the party opposite to actually suppress Aboriginal voting in our remote electoral districts in Western Australia. The case of Ernie Bridge in the 1977 and 1980 elections definitely goes to the case in point. I won't repeat the details now because the people for Lingiari already gave them. But that should ring in the ears of the government. The central premise of the Closing the Gap initiative is to overcome Indigenous disadvantage in Australia, to empower First Nations Australians to be part of our shared decision-making. However, this legislation deliberately widens that gap, further disempowering First Nations Australians.
Constitutional law expert Professor Anne Twomey said the evidence of the use of voter ID in the United States has shown that 'voter ID laws diminish the turnout of racial and ethnic minorities in elections' and that they 'produce a clear partisan distortion', favouring conservative candidates. In simple terms, the only reason the Prime Minister and his government are introducing these laws is in an attempt to make it harder for people who are unlikely to vote for him to vote at all. The rub in this is pretty clear, because when the minister who is responsible for this legislation raises this issue he says, 'Labor's only opposing the legislation because it will make things harder for them.' That's from the minister responsible for this legislation. Just think about what that means. The minister is saying, in effect, that this legislation will make it easier for the government to win the election. He is actually saying that on the record—that there is a partisan effect to these changes to our electoral law. And somehow this government thinks not only is it a good idea but that it's fair.
This is not how democracies are supposed to work. We've already seen laws like this have a negative impact on communities in Australia, with the introduction of voter ID requirements for the 2015 Queensland election. That election saw many voters being turned away from polling places without being given an opportunity to vote. The Queensland election in 2015 saw a lower voter turnout than the 12 previous state elections. Interestingly, the Special Minister of State tried to say that that 2015 Queensland election had the highest voter turnout in the last three Queensland elections. What he neglected to point out is that if you go back over the last 15 elections in Queensland there has been a continual decline in voter turnout. These voter ID laws cannot be held up as some way of showing that they increased voter turnout when they most certainly did not.
We know that the next election is already likely to be a logistical nightmare. We've got to run a national election with the varying COVID restrictions that may be in place in different jurisdictions, and with good reason. But that will be challenge enough. We'll need to have social-distancing requirements and COVID check-ins. People will definitely need to spend more time at polling booths than they previously have. This legislation will require officials at polling booths to also check IDs, further increasing delays and further increasing the amount of time that people have to queue, that people have to wait in the rain or the sun. This might be great for the P&Fs and the P&Cs that are selling democracy sausages—and that's a great fundraising outcome for them. But just bear a thought for a moment for the people with disability, for the people who already have mobility concerns and can't spend a long time standing, waiting to vote. They already look for the short-queue polling booths. If there are none available because of the additional delays brought around by this voter suppression legislation, it will just make it even harder.
While the Australian Electoral Commission says the introduction of a system of voter ID is 'not impossible'—which is hardly a ringing endorsement—it notes it would involve significant start-up and ongoing costs, voter inconvenience, possible disenfranchisement of a number of voters and possible delays in the delivery of election results because of an increase in the level of declaration voting. The Morrison government has identified that $5.6 million will need to be provided to the AEC to implement the bill's provisions. This is entirely inadequate to cover the increased training required for the AEC's large temporary workforce—some 100,000 people—as well as public information campaigns and the need for more bodies on the ground at polling booths. I can tell you: I have already been contacted by some of those 100,000 people who work on polling booths during our elections—people who give up their time to make sure our democracy is functional—and they have identified for themselves just how problematic this system is going to be for our nation. It is simply not adequate.
The Morrison government's argument that this legislation will prevent people voting multiple times is also just plainly not true. When you take a moment to consider the proposition, a person can still go and vote multiple times if they have ID. What a great system they have set up! The parliament already passed legislation in August this year to try and deal with these multiple-voting issues. We saw that with the designated electoral register, which we agreed to; this has been set up in legislation already passed. We've got a system now to try and minimise that. We don't need this in addition, because it is, as was said before, disproportionate to the issue. It is legislation that is a solution for a problem that does not exist.
This legislation is a blight on our economy. It is indeed a slippery slope. We already have the lived example in other countries of the effect—the disproportionate effect, the partisan effect, the unfair field balance shifting effect—of legislation like this. It is a disgrace that this legislation is before our parliament. It is a blight on our democracy, and Labor will oppose it.
I rise to address the House on the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021. Let me start at the start, which is not actually the start but a problem the government wants to make you believe is at the start. Those opposite want you to think that there's an issue with voting, that some large group of Australians is practising voter fraud. They want you to believe that Australia's democracy is under threat from First Nations communities, from those who have experienced homelessness without a stable address, from those who struggle with literacy and navigating bureaucratic systems. Really? These are the people putting Australia's democracy under threat? Honestly, this egregious bill is an answer looking for a problem.
This bill is a window into a new sort of Trumpian dystopia that is still, thankfully, foreign on our shores. It is an established tactic of the far Right that seeks to silence those who may not vote for those opposite. This is a play straight from Donald Trump's handbook. On one hand we have some Australians marching with nooses in our capital cities, including my hometown of Melbourne, playing a terrifying game of hangman. Only it's not a game; it's very real, because they are inciting very real violence on our streets, trying to create a climate of fear. There are those who are peddling death threats, for heaven's sakes, all the while working to drum up fear of science and vaccines. And what are they on that side? What are the government of the day doing about it? They're refusing to condemn this action outright. They're trying to hedge their bets. They're trying to court the vote of extremists. It's hard to believe that, instead of being the leaders this country is screaming out for, those opposite have fixed their sights on silencing those they consider their most frightening political opponents, those they can't be bothered courting, those they can't be bothered responding to, those they'd happily give up on. Let me repeat: these are people without fixed addresses. They're our First Nations communities who may not carry regular IDs. They are people who live remotely, who have dementia, who struggle with the bureaucratic system. These are people that the government of our day is frightened of. These are the people that the government of this day is saying are threatening our democracy. This bill is an outrage.
I'd like to quote Aunty Naomi Wilfred, an Alawa native title holder from Hodgson River, around 300 kilometres east of Katherine, who is reported to have made a similar observation:
Indigenous voters in remote areas already faced difficulties such as poor disability access and waiting "a long time" in temperatures above 40C.
The Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance has written to the Prime Minister expressing its serious concerns about the bill, saying that the bill will discriminate against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote communities in the Cape York, Torres Strait and Gulf regions. Samuel Bush-Blanasi, the chairman of the Northern Land Council, pointed out that the government and the AEC should be making it easier for First Nations people to enrol to vote. He wrote in the Northern Territory News that there are simpler ways to enhance the process of democracy, that you can actually help people to enrol to vote. He called this 'a bad law', because it doesn't do that; it does the opposite. He said:
Any changes that diminish the democratic rights of one group of citizens in the NT diminish the rights of us all.
That, in a nutshell, says everything.
The member for Cook's tactic is making it more difficult for Australians to vote. This bill will diminish us all. It will diminish us as a nation. In this proposal, we will see Australians turn away from voting. We will see voting take a lot longer for everyone in Australia. It will see voting lines snake around blocks. It will see fewer people turn out, given the longer, arduous waiting times to cast one's vote. The processes will already be lengthened due to COVID restrictions, and having to prove ID will make it worse. Lines will be so long that voters will get sunburnt due to the wait times.
I'd like to remind those opposite just how many people don't have ID. These are people that would be excluded from voting. My team and I have recently been helping people in our electorate of Cooper set up their myGov and Medicare accounts to make sure they can get their COVID vaccination certificates on their phones. To complete this process, you generally need a few different kinds of identification and they have to match across the two sites. We have met so many people who simply do not have the required identification. They don't have driver's licences, they don't have passports, they don't have ID cards. Some don't even have bank cards. In these cases, though, thankfully, we were able to call Medicare to get around this requirement, but it took, on average, 40 minutes to an hour to sort it out for each person, with lots of toing and froing. Forcing this additional step and barrier onto people to vote will be extremely restrictive. When we make it harder for people to vote by introducing new barriers, the outcome is very clear: fewer people vote; our democracy is weakened; and different communities' interests are not represented in the process of governing. Some electorates, like Lingiari, which spans the Northern Territory, have over 100 mobile booths that go from remote area to remote area, working around the clock to give people—mostly in First Nations communities—a political voice. I don't have to spell out to this House how, by voting, even our remotest and indeed marginalised Australians are able to have their voices heard, to make sure that all people and the issues they care about can be represented, debated and sorted in this parliament.
This is one part of the problem; the other is potentially worse. When you freeze out a whole demographic from voting, when you freeze them out of our democratic process, it means you can quite ruthlessly ignore their needs and issues. Less scrupulous governments only respond to electoral pressure, so, if you don't want any pressure from certain people, you cut out their ability to apply that pressure. It's as simple and as Machiavellian as that. It is clear by this bill that those opposite don't want remote or First Nations communities to vote. They don't want homeless people to vote. They don't want those at the margins to vote. They don't want aged and vulnerable people to vote. Because they don't want to offer these Australians anything.
Over the last eight years you just have to look at things like robodebt and debt recovery from pensioners verses JobKeeper billions for multinationals; terrible, piecemeal aged care reform verses no reform for the banking sector; and no commitment to treaty verses deals to buy land from mates at an exceptionally over-priced rate for airports. They don't want to create a plan that these important groups could vote for. There's nothing other than a ridiculous barrier from a conservative government seeking to silence those who probably don't vote for them because they deliver them nothing.
Let me be clear: Labor believes in Australia's democracy. We will always, always fight for our democratic system, and we will always call out false problems like this, scams like this. You see, there's no evidence that this bill is needed. The independent Electoral Commission has said the issue of multiple voting is extremely small. In the 2019 election there were more than 15 million votes cast and there were only 2,000 incidences of multiple marks against the names of voters. That's 0.03 per cent of the votes cast. And we know that some of these votes could have been and probably were mistakes by polling officials accidentally marking off adjacent voters on the roll, marking down a 'Christine Smith' instead of Christina Smith', for example. Most of those who voted more than once were elderly and had forgotten they'd already voted by post. There were others who spoke English as a second language and didn't fully understand the voting process. Others had mental health issues. Following the 2019 election, not a single person was prosecuted for multiple voting. It was the same for the 2016 election; not a single person was prosecuted for multiple voting.
These measures may be named 'voter integrity' but let me tell you there is no integrity in what those opposite are seeking to do. To borrow a phrase from another portfolio, they are failing. There is net zero integrity to these measures. Integrity is about empowering people, giving opportunities to those who don't have a platform or a loud voice. Integrity is turning up and listening. Integrity is about doing things that are right, really right and sometimes hard. If those opposite were really serious about electoral integrity, they would support Labor's bill for real-time disclosure of political donations and lowering the disclosure threshold from the current $14,500 to a fixed $1,000, so political donations are transparent for all to see. They might consider reforming electoral expenditure laws. They might actually follow through with a national anticorruption commission. But why chase integrity when there are car parks to rort, sporting clubs to fund through dodgy means and barrels of pork to throw at marginal electorates?
We have a leader who is willing to turn a blind eye to a blind trust, but he wants to throw the book at the disenfranchised among us who don't have IDs and stop them from voting. This smacks of someone who is scared. The Prime Minister is the guy at the barbecue who's so worried that people won't like him he tries to stop them turning up in the first place. He's the guy who's cutting First Nations Australians out of our democratic system. Those opposite are scared that on the eve of an election voters will turn up in droves railing against their poor performance, their botched vaccine rollout, their diplomatic faux pas which saw the French President label our leader a liar and their inability to take real action on climate change.
Again, this bill is a solution in search of a problem. It is essentially a ban on voting for many people who may be for good reasons sceptical of the coalition's track record. I want you to consider the situation in Queensland, where they adopted a system for the 2015 election where voter ID was required. Voters were turned away from polling places without being given the option to complete a declaration to vote because polling officials didn't understand the process. When voter ID was required, voting was the lowest it had been in the last 40 years, the lowest turnout in 12 state elections.
With an election in 2021 the AEC is already facing a logistical nightmare in navigating the challenges of an election during a pandemic, with social distancing measures already expected to make queues longer. If polling officials were required to check ID, this would further increase delays as officials have to verify the authenticity of documents and deal with confusion about which documents are accepted. These longer wait times will discourage people, including shift workers or people with a disability or those reluctant to line up for a long time, from voting at all.
Don't take our word for it. Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service said: 'Requiring voter IDs will hit hardest those people who already face barriers to voting: people who are homeless, people living in remote communities, First Nations people, recent migrants, younger people. It will create an intimidating process and significant confusion as to what is required to vote. It will deter many people from turning up at the voting booths at all.'
We already know that filling in a declaration vote will be difficult for voters whose first language is not English. It will be alienating and off-putting for those who have limited literacy skills. But, instead of discouraging those opposite, this seems to be an appealing prospect. The more disadvantaged people it can bar from voting, the better. According to its ideology—and that ideology is clear—it's 'win at all costs'. This bill, while named after voter integrity, is a misnomer. There is no integrity in this bill.