The government has been accused of using “authoritarian” and “Trump-like” tactics that disadvantage low income, elderly, regional and indigenous voters in attempting to “ram” a Bill through parliament on the eve of a federal election.
Following recomendations from the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, the government introduced its Voter Integrity Bill to the House of Representatives on Thursday, which seeks to legislate eligible Australian voters showing a valid form of identity when they vote at elections.
If a person is unable to present a form of identity, another voter with a valid form is able to attest for the unidentified person.
Angus Taylor, on behalf of the Special Minister of State, said the bill, based on reports into the 2013, 2016 and 2019 elections, would seek to ensure voter fraud was reduced and “reduce inadvertent mistakes”.
“The measures in this Bill will bring the Australian electoral system into line with voter identification practices of other liberal democracies such as Canada and Sweden, and with other everyday activities in Australia that require proof of identification, such as driving, opening a bank account, or collecting a parcel from the post office,” Mr Taylor said.
But, the bill has been met with backlash by the Opposition, who say introducing the new legislation now, on the last sitting day “on the eve of a federal election” was a “desperate attempt to undermine democracy”.
“What is the problem you’re trying to solve?” Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke asked.
“After the last election, the Australian Electoral Commission did a check … Guess how many people were prosecuted? Zero.
“So, for the sake of fixing a problem involving no Australians, they want to stand in the way of thousands of Australians voting.
“(This debate) should be put off until well after the election.”
In his attempt to suspend standing orders, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said voter fraud was, according to the AEC a “vanishingly small issue”.
In attempting to defer the debate, and therefore the bill, until early 2023, Mr Burke said the government was using the “exact (far right) tactics we saw from Donald Trump”.
“Let’s make no mistake who gets affected by this – people who are homeless and poor, people who live in remote communities, people who are elderly who have given up their licenses, everybody who turns up and sees endless queues (on election day) gets affected by this,” Mr Burke said.
“The … government is trying to make sure people don’t vote.”
Member for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon, says his constituents in the Northern Territory would be largely disenfranchised by the “racist” bill.
“I’ve been here 33 blood years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.
“It’s racist, it’s discriminatory, and it’s all about suppression.
“I know what will happen in my area … (people won’t be able to vote). It’s an absolute assault on our democracy.”
Labor MP Malarndirri McCarthy echoed those concerns, calling the move “outrageous” that would further disenfranchise voters.
“This is an attack on democracy,” she said on Twitter.
“Making deals with the far-right to supress Australians from voting shows how desperate
Scott Morrison is to stay in power. He is prepared to destroy democracy. Hasn’t he destroyed the Australian way of life enough.”
Independent Zali Steggall said the move by the government was “authoritarianism, not liberalism”.
“(They) want to ram through last minute legislation that risks preventing people from being able to vote at the next election,” she said.
“This is authoritarianism, not liberalism.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was “standard practice”.
“I think it’s fair enough that in a democracy, if I turn up at the ballot box in Lilli Pilli and say my name is Scott Morrison and I give them my address, then I should be able to say, here’s a form of identification … to substantiate that,” he said.
“And if you don’t, well you do a declaration vote and that’s sorted out.”
Under the proposed bill, the following forms of identity could be presented at the ballot box:
- Current photographic identification i.e. driver’s licence, passport, or proof of age card;
- Government issued identification card or documentation, including Medicare card, birth certificate, Commonwealth seniors health card, taxation notice of assessment, Australian citizenship certificate, and Commonwealth pensioner concession card;
- An account statement or notice issued by an Australian financial institution, local government body, utilities provider, or carriage service in the last 12 months;
- A current credit or debit card issued by an Australian financial institution;
- A document that relates to the affairs of a particular person, that specifies the person’s name, issued by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander land council or land trust, or a body corporate prescribed by regulations under the Native Title Act 1993; and
- An AEC-issued enrolment confirmation notice.
The bill will be debated in the next sitting week.