BILLS (Second Reading): Electoral Legislation Amendment (Voter Integrity) Bill 2021

24 November 2021


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.