ABC NORTH AND WEST SA WITH NARELLE GRAHAM
SUBJECT: Voter Integrity Bill.
NARELLE GRAHAM, HOST: Would bother you if you had to present ID when you go to vote? Did you ever remember that at the moment it is not necessary to show ID at a polling booth? Some pollies are worried that the system is open to abuse. You are asked when you go along to a polling booth have you voted anywhere else today? But there's the chance that people can pretend to be someone else, and you know, vote early, and vote often. The Liberal Senator James McGrath who is the Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Electoral Matters, he’s saying we need more safeguards. So, the Government wants to introduce the need to show ID at a polling place. Federal Labor, not keen on the idea. I’ll first of all go to Tony Pasin who is the Federal Liberal Member for the seat of Barker. Welcome to you Tony.
TONY PASIN, LIBERAL MEMBER FOR BARKER: Afternoon Narelle.
GRAHAM: I have established the why, I’d like to know from you why now?
PASIN: Well, it’s important Narelle that we ensure Australians maintain public confidence in our electoral system and the reality here is we’ve identified a risk. That risk is that there is the opportunity for people to impersonate voters at election time. It has the off, it runs the risk of perverting the Electoral Act and accordingly we’ve introduced the Voter Integrity Bill. If passed we’ll follow liberal democracies across the world like Canada, France, Sweden, Belgium, 14 States in the USA as well as the UK that's introduced this law to the House of Commons so it's not by any means a radical idea. I sit on the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters with Senator McGrath and the reality is we've got to make sure we're maintaining the confidence of the Australian public when it comes to electoral results.
GRAHAM: Okay well I get that showing ID stops people from pretending to be someone that they’re not, but it doesn’t stop people from going to more than one polling booth and casting a vote.
PASIN: No but the reality is at the moment almost nobody is prosecuted for instances of multiple voting because it’s very hard to prove to people intended to mislead electoral officials. If on the other hand, there’s evidence that Tony Pasin, for example, voted 6 times at the last federal election and on each occasion Tony Pasin had to provide identification in the form of either of driver's licence, a Medicare card, a credit card or electricity bills, it would be much easier for authority to pursue that person for effectively affecting the fraud on all of us and ultimately Narelle if it's good enough to hire a car, buy alcohol, board a flight, get a COVID test or open a bank account, it's good enough in those circumstances that you need to present identification. I think for the very important task of choosing our elected officials and ultimately our government, I think that’s a very small price and inconvenience to pay for as I said public confidence in our electoral system.
GRAHAM: Let’s go to Senator Marielle Smith who is the Labor Senator for South Australia. Welcome to you Senator.
MARIELLE SMITH, LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Thanks Narelle, good to be with you.
GRAHAM: Why is the Labor Party against the introduction of showing ID at a polling booth?
SMITH: Well Narelle, firstly because for some of your listeners, this may not seem like a big deal. For many vulnerable people in our community, it is. If you’re someone experiencing homelessness, fleeing domestic violence if you’re an Aboriginal person in a remote community, actually getting ID and presenting ID at a polling station can be very difficult. On top of it disenfranchising these vulnerable groups, it's also going to create a huge burden for the AEC whose resources are already stretched and it's going to make it much longer for you to vote when you turn up to a polling station. It already takes a long time to cast your vote, when we add the COVID restrictions which we expect to have in place at the next election and then we combine the need for identification, your listeners could be spending up to twice as much time to vote when they turn up to a polling station.
GRAHAM: You reckon that the waiting time is going to blow out?
SMITH: Well yes because they would need to present ID. That’s going to cause an administrative burden for the AEC but also, I’m most concerned about the vulnerable populations who are at risk of being disenfranchised by this Bill. I think this Bill is about suppressing the vote. I sit on the Committee that Tony Pasin has referred to as well. That Committee heard evidence that this problem is vanishingly small, that’s what the Electoral Commissioner said. There’s not an issue of widespread fraud in our elections in Australia. We’ve run these elections for 120 years without the need to show identification. Only 24 voters were referred to the AFP even for investigation for any of these issues and we know where there are issues, things like multiple voting, normally it's sad issues like mental health, it’s by elderly people or people who struggle with English as a second language. You fix those problems by providing extra support for our community, not by trying to suppress the vote.
GRAHAM: Sorry, can you tell me that figure again? How many were referred?
GRAHAM: 24 people, so is that 24 people, help me to understand that, 24 people that were suspected of voting more than once?
SMITH: Yes, that’s who the Electoral Commissioner referred to the AFP for further action and investigation. No one was prosecuted. So in the last election and the one before that, no one was prosecuted for this as an issue and the Electoral Commissioner himself has said this is a vanishingly small problem.
GRAHAM: Okay, so 24 people – is that across Australia?
GRAHAM: Senator Marielle Smith, do you think the federal government has a hidden agenda with this?
SMITH: I think they’re seeking to suppress the vote. This is straight out of Donald Trump’s playbook and I think at t the moment in Australia, we’ve got some pretty significant challenges with climate change, with foreign policy at the moment, with the COVID recovery and instead of focusing on those big issues, the Federal Government is trying to ram through voter ID legislation which the Electoral Commission says is not a problem which this is will seek to address or solve. It just makes no sense to me, why would you be doing it unless you were trying to stop vulnerable populations from voting?
GRAHAM: Okay, so that when you say suppress the vote, you think that this is a tactic it to prevent certain sectors of the community from wanting to turn up a poll polling booth?
SMITH: Yes, I think we’ll see it have a deterring impact on those who aren’t able to produce identification or those who are turned off by this idea when they are looking turning up to vote. In addition to these vulnerable groups, it will also affect every voter. There’s 16 million Australians expected to vote at the next election. They will all be impacted by this.
GRAHAM: I’m getting a few comments on this, Tony Pasin, we’ve heard obviously, and you would’ve had these discussions in Parliament also, Senator Marielle Smith for the ALP saying we think that the Government's trying to suppress the vote how do you respond?
PASIN: Well, it’s complete rubbish Narelle. The fact is that the legislation makes it clear that no elector, I repeat no elector, will be turned away from a polling booth or denied the opportunity to vote because of course electors will be able to make a declaration vote, even in the event that they don't have that identification and allow the AEC to make the requisite enquiries. The issue around no one being referred for prosecution, I dealt with earlier in relation to the difficulty in finding evidence.
GRAHAM: You reckon that it’s a bigger problem?
PASIN: It's beyond reasonable doubt and Narelle, I’ve been in politics long enough to remember the seat of Herbert in the 2016 Election was won by the Labor Party, lost by the Liberal Party with less than a handful of votes. Every single vote counts and whilst there might have only been 24 occasions where the Electoral Commissioner referred matters for investigation, there were many hundreds, hundreds of occasions where there were instances of multiple voting. This is just about having confidence in the electoral outcome. We have a Rolls Royce electoral system in Australia that Australians can have confidence in. We want Australians to maintain the confidence of that system and not only that, when we wake up Sunday after the election, that the result is final we move on and we got confidence in the AEC and the Australian people can accept that outcome move forward with confidence.
GRAHAM: A couple of that texts coming through: ‘More time to buy a snag’ says one texter, ‘maybe when we registered to vote, we could be automatically issued with a proof of age identity card’ says another and Lorraine from Laura, really thoughtful question, what ID will be needed for postal voting? Tony Pasin.
PASIN: Narelle, this is legislation that deals with voting in person. In order to obtain a postal vote, there are other safeguards embedded in the system in relation to addresses and other things in relation to postal votes being mailed out to electors. So, as I said, the Voter Integrity Bill, relates only to people in vote in person at a polling booth.
GRAHAM: And Senator Marielle Smith, sorry you have another point to add?
SMITH: Yeah look, I will just say this as well, I mean, for Indigenous Australians particularly, we know that the enrolment rate is just 75% in South Australia and in some parts of the country, it's less than 70%. We know these laws will act as a deterrent for people in remote communities, people who struggle to produce ID for many reasons, some of which are historic and institutional. Now I want to see more people participate in our democracy. I particularly want to see vulnerable populations who stand to gain and lose the most from who their Government is, participate in democracy and this legislation will suppress that. This legislation is about making it harder for them to vote. If the Electoral Commission doesn't see a problem with this, if as Mr Pasin says, we have a Rolls Royce electoral system in Australia then why are they doing this legislation? It doesn't make sense. They should be focused on the big economic issues facing our country. This is a distraction and it's just Trump style politics. I think it's nonsense and rubbish and a waste of our Parliament's time.
GRAHAM: Senator Marielle Smith, thank you, ALP Senator for South Australia. You also heard the Federal Liberal Member for Barker, Tony Pasin.